DALLAS -- The silence was in stark contrast to the somber tolling of the bells as thousands stood in the rain and cold of Dealey Plaza on Friday to mark the exact moments 50 years ago when shots rang out and killed President Kennedy.
The peals of the bells echoed through the city and through the hearts of millions of people around the world, all of whom shared the common moment memorializing the death of the president who urged a new generation to dedicate itself to saving the nation and eventually the world.
Then the quiet, which began at 10:30 a.m. PST, gave way to a rendition of “America the Beautiful,” sung by the U.S. Naval Academy men's glee club, honoring Kennedy’s service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. The ceremony wrapped up half an hour later.
On Friday, the nation paused to reflect on loss and legacy. Here in Texas, Dallas held its first official commemoration of that tragic day that remained a stain on the city for decades.
“Dallas was very young as well, barely a century old,” Mayor Mike Rawlings told the crowd. “And given the nature of youth, we all felt invincible. It seems we all grew up that day.”
A new JFK monument was unveiled during the ceremony. The inscription on the monument is the final paragraph of the speech Kennedy intended to deliver at the Dallas Trade Mart on Nov. 22, 1963. Kennedy's motorcade was en route to the Trade Mart and the speech notes that Americans are the “watchmen on the walls of world freedom.”
Thousands of spectators streamed into Dealey Plaza on Friday morning, the scene of the shooting at the motorcade carrying Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, wearing the famous Chanel pink suit destined to become an icon of American tragedy. She wore the suit, which was stained with the president’s blood, through the day and insisted on wearing it for the swearing-in of Lyndon B. Johnson as the new president.
Among those gathering Friday were top Texas officials and the 5,000 people, sporting yellow wristbands, to show they won their tickets through a lottery.
“It's part of history,” said Ronald McCoy, 57, a Realtor from Dallas, among those who won a coveted ticket. He added, “This is amazing just seeing people from all over the world standing in line.”
A pastiche of famous Kennedy moments, including footage from the fateful motorcade, played on large screens beside a stage set up in the center of the plaza as visitors streamed in. Those without tickets lined Elm Street and the area in from of the former Texas School Book Depository from where Lee Harvey Oswald fired. The sixth floor now houses a museum dedicated to chronicling the history of the assassination.
The shooting, the tragic aftermath, the days or mourning and grief were all captured on television which devoted itself to the coverage.
Despite the glare of publicity, hundreds of conspiracy theories have echoed over the last half century in tens of thousands of books, television re-creations and big-budget movies. Major investigations insisted that a single gunman had killed the president, yet the curiosity about the event is unstoppable.
“I’ve just always been fascinated by it,” said Judy Hicks, 67, of Kingston, Okla. She came to the plaza with her son and a friend who all won tickets in the lottery.
Hicks said she lived outside Dallas back then. “Those were terrible times. Dallas got a black eye -- they badmouthed Dallas for years.”
Most people agree that the shooting marred Dallas’ image for decades, but that the city had shed that pain. “I hope they see that Dallas is a unified city,” said David Hicks, 42, the son who lives in nearby Arlington.
On a stage atop the plaza, in front of a red, white and blue backdrop, the memorial began slightly later than planned because of the poor weather, which also forced the cancellation of a performance by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Earlier Friday, shortly after sunrise, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. paid his respects at Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Earlier this week, President Obama, accompanied by former President Clinton and their wives visited the site as well.
Flags were ordered to fly at half-staff around the country.
Some lawmakers, led by the New England congressional delegation, are pushing to make Kennedy’s birthday, on May 29, a national day of remembrance. Kennedy was a former senator from Massachusetts, a seat later held by brother Ted, for decades.
"Most, including myself, and especially the Kennedy family, would rather not dwell on the events that transpired on Nov. 22 and that ensuing weekend," Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) told colleagues Thursday. It is better to focus “on the president's birth, and celebrate his heroic service."
Staff writer Richard Simon contributed from Washington.
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