No matter how old you are, no doubt you know that today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the great turning points in our nation’s history and our national conscience.
On this day in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was struck by two bullets as his motorcade passed through Dealey Square in downtown Dallas. Within a half-hour, the nation’s youngest president was declared dead.
It is worthwhile to consider how the death of one man in a world of billions could hold such fascination and emotion today, nearly two generations removed from the event. It tells us much about Kennedy himself and the values, hopes and myths that have been projected onto him.
JFK’s assassination swept a shock wave of horror and sadness across the nation and the globe. People who are old enough to remember recall exactly where they were when they heard the news. Those born later know the details, as the assassination and the unanswered questions surrounding it have never lost the public’s interest. Across the globe, many still have photos of Kennedy hanging in their homes, and Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery remains among the most-visited sites in the Washington, D.C., area.
Kennedy’s personal flaws are well known, but for many Americans, they cannot overshadow JFK’s accomplishments and the sense of a special time in American life that he has come to embody.
The nation had never seen a man of such youth and charisma in the Oval Office. His command of the newly invented television medium helped solidify his image as an energetic president and family man. His speechwriting was brilliant, and his humorous candor with the media won him many allies who perhaps overlooked his blemishes. Though his presidency certainly had its share of flaws, in more recent years, we have come to appreciate his intelligent response to challenges, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how he captured hope and fulfillment through policies such as the missions to the moon and the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement.