For those who are at least 55, the events of Nov. 22, 1963, are forever sealed in the collective memory. Ever fresh. Ever horrifying.
Whether in school, at home or in the workplace, we heard the dreadful news on that Friday: John F. Kennedy has been shot. The president is dead.
Decades before Twitter and other social media, the word spread almost instantly, and no one old enough to have understood what had happened can forget it.
The images of that day and the ones that followed are as familiar and enduring as the faces on Mount Rushmore: The first lady clambering over the car's back seat. A somber Lyndon B. Johnson, his right hand raised, taking the oath of office on Air Force One, next to the president's tearful widow. Lee Oswald gasping in pain as Jack Ruby fires point-blank at him. Three-year-old John Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's coffin.
They are part of the historical tapestry woven that November, a tapestry that has endured now for half a century.
A Pivot Point
For many, especially baby boomers, the assassination was not only a major event in American history, but a turning point in the way they viewed the world.
There is, to begin with, trust in government.
A week after the slaying, Mr. Johnson appointed the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known as the Warren Commission after its chairMAN, Chief Justice Earl Warren. Almost as soon as its findings were published 10 months later, doubts were raised about its finding that Mr. Oswald acted alone in killing the president.
In the past 50 years, dozens of assassination conspiracy theories have been proposed and debated. Today, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, 59 percent of Americans still believe multiple people were involved in a plot to murder Mr. Kennedy. Though the number has fallen from the 75 percent reported in a Gallup poll in 2003, it is still a clear majority.
Throughout the country's history, some — even many — Americans have mistrusted what their elected and appointed officials do and say. But the assassination gave birth to a new level of skepticism, fueled in part by the dashed hopes of so many who had embraced what Mr. Kennedy called the New Frontier.
And then there is the slain president's reputation. At the time of his death he was known as a World War II hero who had guided the United States through some of the most perilous days of the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis. He worked for civil rights: The universities of Mississippi and Alabama were desegregated during his administration. He established the Peace Corps, worked to put a man on the moon, and brought a new level of sophistication and elegance to the White House.
But he was president in a time when the press voluntarily held its collective tongue about executive naughtiness. Subsequent revelations about his many extramarital affairs have, for many, tarnished his stature.
A Dream Slain
Yet the power of that November day endures.
The loss of Mr. Kennedy was keenly felt throughout the world, but especially here in our state. A fellow New Englander, he had graduated from the Choate School in Wallingford (now Choate Rosemary Hall); he campaigned frequently here; he gave the final address of his presidential campaign at a late-night stop in Waterbury.
It wasn't until later that the term "Camelot" came to be applied to the Kennedy years. But the notion of a great period of promise was there from the day of his inauguration, when the torch passed, in his words, to "a new generation of Americans, born in this century."
To see film of that day in Dallas is to relive the festivity that turned to tragedy: The smiling faces of Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy as they are greeted by officials, receive flowers, get into the open limousine and wave happily at cheering crowds. Mrs. Kennedy's iconic pink pillbox hat. The motorcade making its way slowly through the city.
And then, the shots.
There was so much before him. There was so much before us all.
He was so young.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun