On Nov. 22, 1963, I was a pressman at the U.S. Mint, Denver, Colo.,
working the 7-to-3 shift. The phone rang after lunch and Hjlmar
Persman, press room general foreman, answered the phone. He waved at
me to come over and take the call. He gave me that “look,” which meant
no personal calls on the Mint phones.
The caller was my wife, who said that she had just heard on TV that
the president had been shot in Dallas, Texas. I was in shock. Someone
had shot the president. Unbelievable.
I told Hjlmar and he took off down the hall to the Mint police
control room where they had a police band radio.
He came back in a few minutes and told me — and everyone else in the
Press Room — that President Kennedy had been shot by an assassin and
died. The Denver Mint was now on a lock down.
As the word spread, a strange silence came over the production
areas. It was like the life had been sucked out of the building. Work
went on but in a different way, almost like everyone was in a daze.
The funeral service were scheduled for the next Monday, Nov. 25,
1963. The majority of federal agencies were going to be closed for the
funeral. The only ones scheduled to work were those involved with
national security and those considered essential. The Mint was
considered critical to the country due to the ongoing national coin shortage.
Shortly after President Kennedy’s death, Congress passed a bill
authorizing a new design for the half dollar honoring him. In less
than six weeks we were making these half dollars at the Mint.
Early in January 1964, the Denver Mint had a first-strike ceremony
for the new Kennedy half dollar. All of the presses were shut down.
The cameras rolled as Hjlmar stamped the first Kennedy half dollars
for the media. When everything was done he yelled out to the rest of
us, “Wind them up!” The coin presses started running, and Kennedy
halves were officially in production.
In late April 1964, the Kennedy half dollars were released by the
banks to the public. We at the Mint were allowed to purchase one of
the new Kennedy half dollars. I was able to purchase another one from
my bank, as my mother worked there at the time.
I still have both of them.
The Kennedy half dollars had become part of our nation’s history.