Saturday, August 18th, 2018

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Remembering death of John Kennedy still important to us, 50 years later


No doubt, there are people everywhere who are wondering what the fuss is all about this month: the 50th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy.

For so many of us, the tragedy in Dallas was a watershed moment in our lives. Up until November 22, 1963, life had proceeded peacefully, for the most part. We had finished college, married and had children. The world was a reasonably calm place. Vietnam was still in the future as was all of the world turmoil that has come upon us in these ensuing years, with the destruction of the World Trade Center as yet another watershed moment.

Murder is so common these days that we have almost become used to the fact that people and their guns kill other people all the time. Back in 1963 we were still basking in the glow of having come of age in the Fabulous Fifties, which as we all know now, weren’t so fabulous for a great percentage of the population. We were living perhaps in a fool’s paradise.

All that changed on a bright, sunny day in Dallas, Texas when a man with a gun took aim and shot the president of the United States. It was not the first time this had happened but it was the first time we had lived through it and there is no way we can ever forget it.

I’m not sure we need to celebrate an anniversary such as this and of course it is not a celebration but a remembrance, a memory of an event, word of which whirled around the world and stunned it. We all remember where we were on that day when the news came over the radio and all of us kept our television sets on for most off the next few days as the story continued to unfold, with a man named Jack Ruby, shooting the president’s assassin, live on television as he was being led to jail. It was as if the bad news couldn’t stop.

Then, finally, we watched the funeral, so sad, so somber. We were a nation united in grief. For those who were too young to understand or even to remember these days, it probably seems as if the continued interest in that sorrowful time is hard to understand.

In Jill Abramson’s wonderful essay in the New York Times Book Review, she wrote, “Was Kennedy a great president, as many continue to think, or was he a reckless and charming lightweight or, worse still, the first of our celebrities-in-chief?” She also writes that some 40,000 books have been written about President Kennedy since he died. And, she says, the definitive book about him still has not been written.

Well, he was reckless and, God knows, he was charming. He barely had enough time to prove himself in the Oval Office and he did a number of things that made him suspect, such as appointing his brother Bobby as Attorney General. That ended in another Kennedy tragedy.

There have been many over the years. The Kennedy family has been written about and photographed probably more than any other family in history, certainly any American family. There were so many of them and they did so much that it was impossible not to be fascinated by them. They reached the heights and the depths of human existence and we all watched.

John Kennedy’s arrival in Athens, Ohio in 1959 when I was a senior at Ohio University had the entire campus abuzz. He was a rock star before there were rock stars. As a member of the Ohio University Post staff, I was one of a group of three who were invited to a press op at a nearby motel. The only woman, I was the only one who even had chance to ask a question. “Senator Kennedy,” I asked, “do you think the fact that you are a Catholic will hurt your election?” He looked me in the eye and said, “There is nothing in the Constitution that says anything about religion.” By now this whole event should have faded from memory but I have a picture to prove it.

And then there’s Camelot, as the whole Kennedy story became known. Of course it wasn’t Camelot but, in a way it was — beautiful people living beautiful lives and yet, tragedy not only destroyed it, but guaranteed that the tale would live on.

Bust of President John F. Kennedy

Bust of President John F. Kennedy

Now we see it through a glass, darkly, but then we watched it unfold before our eyes. And we can’t forget it, even if we wanted to.



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