Letters to Jackie collection spurs memories

Letters to Jackie collection spurs memories

John Hallett recalls being terribly shocked and saddened on Nov. 22, 1963, the dark day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

"I was absolutely devastated by the news," says the Medford resident. "I was with a friend when we heard it on the news. It really shocked us. Nobody expected something like that to happen. It was terrible for our country."

At the time, Hallett was 18, a freshman in college who was in his Coalinga, Calif., home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Wanting to express his condolences, he sat down and wrote a short letter to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

"I told her how sad I was that this happened to her family and our nation," he says. "I wrote that he was a great man and that it was such a worldwide loss. I also told her that what happened in Dallas didn't represent the feelings of the country."

His letter was one of roughly 1.5 million letters of sympathy the president's widow would receive following JFK's death. Most of the letters were destroyed but some 200,000 were kept for the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, where they gathered dust until historian Ellen Fitzpatrick began pouring over them to write "Letters to Jackie: Condolences From a Grieving Nation." Published by HarperCollins, the book released earlier this month contains about 220 letters to the widow. Until now, none of the letters had ever been published.

Hallett's letter was not among those published but he plans to pick up a copy of the book nonetheless.

"Those letters represent the heartbeat of the people out there, the real everyday people," he says. "They reflect the emotion felt across the country. We all remember where we were that day."

Indeed, if you were in elementary school or older, you recall that dismal day in 1963 that left us all filled with unsettled despair about our country, a feeling we would not feel again until 9/11. The future looked as bleak as the grainy images of JFK's funeral on our black-and-white televisions back in the day.

After all, the Kennedys brought a youthful vigor to the nation's capitol. They were bright, young and worldly.

"It was a real addition to the White House when they both came aboard," Hallett says. "They gave it more sophistication, more class."

He remembers the photographs of the Kennedy children, John John and Caroline, romping in the White House.

"Their family represented a healthy young nation at that time," he says. "They were an inspiration to a lot of us."

After the assassination, that inspiration prompted Hallett, who would transfer to what is now Southern Oregon University and earn a degree in psychology, to join campus politics.

"Kennedy's assassination was kind of a catalyst for my political activity," he says. "I became more active in college politics, then later in city government."

For a quarter of a century, Hallett was involved in public service in Medford, serving on the city council and running for county commissioner. He is no longer involved in politics as a candidate.

Like all of us, he would later learn there were a few chinks in Camelot's armor, that not all was shiny and good in the Kennedy White House.

"JFK had his faults," Hallett says. "They all have faults. There are things he did that weren't the best. But he was still a great leader who made a lot of good, strong decisions."

About two months after writing his letter to the grieving First Lady, Hallett received a reply. He has framed both the envelope and the card it contained.

"You can see where I ripped the envelope open," he says of the envelope that had obviously been opened by excited fingers.

There is no stamp on the envelope, indicating that the First Lady had franking privileges. The upper right-hand corner simply has the name Jacqueline Kennedy. It's addressed to Mr. John Hallett at his old Coalinga address.

"Mrs. Kennedy is deeply appreciative of your sympathy and grateful for your thoughtfulness," reads a typewritten note.

"I didn't think I would get an answer to my letter," Hallett says. "That wasn't why I wrote it. I wrote it to express my feelings."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at

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