Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I was thirteen years old when John Kennedy was assassinated.  Like so many others from that time, the images of that Friday afternoon are riveted in my mind.  I was in my eighth-grade social studies class when the news was announced by a stunned teacher.  School ended shortly after.  I recall that long weekend being characterized by grief and watching, virtually nonstop, the black-and-white television coverage. 

Of course, it was shocking to see Lee Harvey Oswald shot live on television.  Then there was the return of Air Force One to Andrews Air Force Base and the continual updates on funeral arrangements.  The funeral on Monday was probably as dramatic and heartbreaking as possible.  I remember visiting my friend next door and I’ve never forgotten seeing his mother sobbing uncontrollably.

The Kennedy presidency was critical to me for several reasons.  Obviously, it was tied to a carefree time when my great joys were playing, watching and talking baseball while doing all the other fun things children did of that age.  But I also felt personally wounded because I had met Senator Kennedy when he was campaigning in 1960, and he inspired me; my interest in politics, government and history—all lifelong passions—were formed then.  And, finally, I had been deeply affected by the Cuban Missile Crisis, scared and worried as millions of other Americans were; that memory of the previous year was still fresh and associated with the president.

For successive generations the key dates, the ones where you always remember what you were doing when you learned of the tragic event were December 7, 1941, November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001.  I may forget some family member’s birthdays, but I never forget that day fifty-four years ago.

While some people are obsessed with details of the assassination, it is valuable to consider the many accomplishments of the 1,036 days of the Kennedy administration and legacy of that era.

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