Leaving aside the emotions about John F. Kennedy and his death (of which others can speak with greater eloquence than I) the most fascinating aspect of his assassination is that it is such a precise mass snapshot in time.
Virtually everyone who was alive on Nov. 22, 1963 remembers exactly what he or she was doing when the news came out, and the sheer variety of the stories begins to give us an omniscient grasp of the vast complexity of this country. Somebody was buying meat at the butcher’s when he heard the news, or was being trained as a law-enforcement agent, or boarding a plane, or mining coal, or getting drunk, or hanging out the wash.
I was ten years old at the time, and my story is quite ordinary; in fact, I was walking across the school gym when a classmate (whose name I can still remember) ran through yelling the news. As the next few days unfolded, I heard strange new terms that have been associated in my mind with that event ever since: Motorcade. Cortège. Casket. Caisson. Eternal Flame.
Being a visual person, the images remain with me, too. After 50 years, the one that first comes to mind isn’t the grainy frame from the Zapruder film, or the famous shot of John-John saluting; it’s the riderless horse with the boots mounted backwards in their stirrups. The configuration symbolizes the fallen warrior, which Kennedy was. It was a spirited steed, as I recall, and the young soldier tasked with holding the reins and keeping it under control had his hands full.
To me, that weird image most perfectly represents the emptiness the nation felt, and still feels.
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