Today, the clouds envelop Tucson Arizona; the rain is reminiscent of the tears that fell 50 years ago today when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullets as his motorcade wound through Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was the youngest man elected President; he was also the youngest to die in office.
Do you remember where you were and how you learned of this tragedy? It was after lunch. Sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Keener entered the classroom and she was crying. We all sat quietly, respectfully until she composed herself. We knew it was something serious. She announced that President Kennedy had died. The resulting sound was that of the wind for all of our collective gasps of shock. The tears, like today’s rain, began to fall. Our Principal, Mr. Sneddon went from classroom to classroom and dismissed us for the remainder of the day. (We did not have a PA system at that time.)
Kennedy’s presidential campaign was the first one I recall as a child. I remember the televised debates with Richard M. Nixon and the one and only time a presidential candidate’s motorcade came through our small Ohio village. Our elementary school went to the town square to wave as he passed by. I was not among them as I had a case of the measles. I cried and cried. I so wanted to see this charismatic man as he drove through our town.
He was elected by a very narrow margin in the popular vote. His Inaugural Address offered the memorable injunction: "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country." Today, I relate this very quote to church… “Ask not what your church can do for you – ask what you can do for your church.”
I recollect Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy present the White House to “We the People” via television. Mrs. Kennedy was as close to royalty as this country had ever experienced and we loved her. She was a confident, poised woman, who suffered her share of sorrow with miscarriages and premature births; when she mourned – we mourned. Her fashion sense was copied and emulated not only nationwide, but worldwide. Who can forget the renowned pillbox hat?
The Kennedy years were and still are referred to as the Camelot Era. These were turbulent times with the pressing issues of the Berlin Wall; the Bay of Pigs; the Cuban Missile Crisis and our own nation’s civil rights issues. During this era, school children nationwide practiced not just fire drills, but also nuclear bomb attack drills. We also entered into the space age at the urging of the young President. We found hope and comfort watching this First Family.
It is 50 years later, and still we mourn… and still we remember.