Today marks 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For the past month, TV specials, magazines and newspapers have relived, recreated and remembered the 1000 days of “Camelot” and the horror of that day in Dallas.
What have we learned in the past 50 years? Are we smarter? Are we more prepared? What did we lose? What did we gain.
How would the world be different today if he’d lived? Would there have been a 9/11?
WWKD? What would Kennedy do? We can’t time-travel and the dead can’t speak. We can only speculate thoughtfully, read and re-read his words carefully and act deliberately.
Fifty years sounds like a long time – a half a century. But, it still seems so fresh.
I was 17 in 1963 and in love with a sandy-haired man who looked me in the eye and told me it was not only possible to be better than we are, it was expected of us.
He told me the world was bigger than I thought. He told me to question and search — to ask what I could do for my country. He told me to strive and to never stop thinking. He said education was the answer to peace and that we would go to the moon. He said ideals came before ideas.He spoke to the world. He spoke to me.
I heard him.
And I still believe.
Inside are four personal reflections on the assassination of President Kennedy, all by someone who was a young adult in 1963. Each of us remembers differently. But, we all remember …and we still cry.
The “torch” that was passed to a new generation with JFK’s inaugural address did not end with the eternal flame that marks his grave at Arlington. But equally, his assassination delineated two different ages in our American life and psyche. It was that “9/11” moment for what would become the tumultuous sixties, where everything was subsequently seen and understood with a far more sober reality. The American war in Southeast Asia begun under JFK would eventually be repudiated. The civil rights movement begun during JFK’s brief term in the White House would make significant strides; despite the assassinations of Bobby and Martin. Neil Armstrong would step foot on the moon, but that giant leap for humankind would otherwise elude us. The world went completely mad for a day in November, 1963, at the hands of a deranged ideologue with a gun. The flame has not gone out, but our violent history repeats itself with numbing regularity, while the hope and struggle continue.
John Bennison, Wordsnways.com
I was 14 and a student at a Catholic high school in Elyria, Ohio, a small city a bit west of Cleveland. Our 7th period Latin class was interrupted by a loud speaker announcement from the principal. President Kennedy was shot and injured in an assassination attempt in Dallas.The father of my good friend in that class was Elyria’s mayor. The mayor and his family had hosted the Kennedy family on a campaign stop a few years earlier. I remember thinking how bad my friend must be feeling.
After school we headed to the local downtown restaurant hang out, the Paradise Restaurant. In that era portable transistor radios were omnipresent. By that time it was confirmed that Mr Kennedy was dead. Walking through downtown all kinds of rumors were flying about. One specific one was that the killer was caught in a theater and “torn limb from limb.”
I’m sure we were numb sitting and staring at our lemon cokes and gravy fries that day. Many were crying. The restaurant was run by an older immigrant couple from Greece, Harry and Dorothy Zahars. If we got rowdy, Harry would stand up on one of the tables and give us a heavily-accented lecture on how he expected us to behave!
It was not unusual, then, for us to see Harry climbing up to his perch that day. His message that day was clear; even in the hardest times we have to remain strong… especially the young people.
That night I didn’t think I’d ever get to sleep. It was snowing outside. Lying in my bed watching the flakes flutter by the street light, I wondered if it was the end of the world
I was 20 at the time and married. I have tried to reflect on the assassination and what it all means and words largely escape me. I watched the two PBS specials last night and it refreshed the anger, the sadness and all the emotions in between from that time. It was my mother’s birthday but as you might imagine there was no celebration.
I remember the country pulling together for a time, just like after 9/11.
Watching the PBS special I reflected on the Cuban Missile Crisis – a big “what if Kennedy hadn’t been president” moment.
I think you will agree journalism has changed since Kennedy was president. At one time, there was a “gentleman’s” agreement that a politician’s private life was private. Today if the president’s fork is on the wrong side of his plate, it’s reported. If it’s not there Photoshop will put it there.
Just a few weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit the JFK Presidential Library in Boston. It was a destination that has been on my bucket list for some time. While the historical documents and photos were displayed beautifully, it was the sound of his voice in each exhibit that brought back vivid memories of those days of Camelot. It was a chilling reminder of what we had lost. I am glued to the television this month with all of the documentaries remembering his life and death. It was a sobering time and I don’t know if we will ever really find out all the details of that fateful day and how different our world would now be.