November, 1963. The city of Dallas, Texas, was buzzing with excitement. John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, was coming for a weekend visit. The trip was a Democratic Party fund raiser and an unofficial jump-start on Kennedy's re-election campaign. Speeches were written; banners were hung. People took off work just to catch a glimpse of JFK as he passed by in a limousine. Secret service agents checked out every street and every stop on the President’s route.
Kennedy was a young President—only 43 when he took the Oath of Office. Yet he had already accomplished much in his three years as President by founding the Peace Corps, by encouraging the space program, by fighting for Civil Rights, and by taking a decisive stand in the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were all stirred by the call to action in his Inaugural Address: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
|January, 1961: Kennedy takes the Oath of Office|
Finally, the day came. People lined the streets of Dallas and cheered as the motorcade passed. In the front seat of the open car were two secret servicemen. In the second seat, Texas Governor Connally and his wife. In the back seat, John and Jacqueline Kennedy.
Suddenly, a loud crackle, like a fire-cracker. And with that sound, it seemed as if the earth slowed on its axis and the world went into slow motion.
Two more bangs echoed through the plaza. A Secret Service agent ran toward Kennedy. The President raised his hands to his face, then slumped over. Jackie Kennedy climbed onto the trunk of the car, though later she would not remember doing so. Connally cried out in pain as he was hit. Some people screamed, and some were dumb with shock. The motorcade rushed to Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy was pronounced dead in the Emergency Room.
|The caisson bearing Kennedy's casket|
For days, the nation sat glued to their black and white television sets, watching. . .
- as Walter Cronkite relayed the news from Correspondent Dan Rather that the President was dead
- as Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who shot Kennedy, was shot and killed by Jack Ruby, on live tv
|Ruby steps forward to kill Oswald|
photo by Jack Beers Jr., Dallas Morning News
- as Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President
- as an endless stream of people filed through the U. S. Capitol to pay their final respects at the guarded casket
- as Kennedy’s grave was marked with “The Eternal Flame”
- as Kennedy’s young son John-John turned to his father’s casket and gave a touching farewell salute.
There have been many theories about what happened that day in Dallas—many books written and movies made. But even now, much of the story remains a mystery. And perhaps the biggest question is simply "How could this happen?"
|The Kennedy family leaving the Capitol|
Kennedy wasn't the first President to be killed in office, but he was the first to be mourned by a nation watching history unfold before their eyes.
These events happened a long time ago--50 years ago this month. But for those of us who remember, those images are etched in our hearts and minds forever. November 22, 1963. A defining day and a part of the American mythos. My fifteenth birthday. A day I will never forget.