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JFK assassination a collective memory for American children

Many children of the '60s can recall exactly where they were on November 22, 1963

Sarah LeTrent | 11/21/2013, 5 a.m.
As the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible rolled down Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, three shots rang out in Dallas, their ...
Derek Farthing, third grade: "The school's janitor came to the door and in a low voice spoke to Ms. Melvin, my third grade teacher. Her hands rose to cover her face and to still her sudden-shocked voice from raising our concerns. After composing herself, she turned to us and stated, 'The President, President Kennedy, was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.' " Derek Farthing/iReport

— These types of memories are similar to what later generations would experience after images were played on TV news of the second airplane crashing into the World Trade Center or of Columbine High School students running out of the building with their hands in the air. For some, it's even O.J. Simpson's white Ford Bronco leading a slow-speed chase on Interstate 405.

Oliker said a powerful reaction from a parent or another adult also makes a huge difference in how children encode a memory.

Then-5-year-old Natalie Montanaro remembers having to go to bed early on that day in 1963, amid the hushed whispers of her parents in the next room.

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." The iReporter remembers those words replayed over and over. She would later join the Peace Corps, which Kennedy established in 1961, to commit to that promise.

For many children, the events of November 22 signaled their loss of innocence most of all.

"Back in that era, prior to JFK's death, I think we lived in an idealized world, where it seemed that all things were possible, that nothing was foreclosed, and certainly that a presidential assassination was not even possible," Paula Matuskey, who was 15, told CNN's iReport. "It was an exciting time, in other words, and a pretty happy time."

Farthing echoed her sentiment: "I believe that the death of President Kennedy gave more awareness that there was more to just where I lived. I became more aware of the nation and the world."

Where were you when you learned of John F. Kennedy's assassination? Please share your experience in the comments below.

CNN's Daphne Sashin contributed to this report.

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