People around the world pause to remember JFK assassination


VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Many people are remembering where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot, exactly 50 years ago today.

He was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. The whole world was plunged into mourning for weeks afterwards.

“Even as a kindergarten student, those memories are really strong and clear,” says SFU history professor Joseph E. Taylor III, who was living in California at the time.

He was home recovering from the measles when a news bulletin interrupted the program he was watching on TV. He then broke the news to his mom.

“She was instantly in tears,” he says, pointing out his parents weren’t exactly Kennedy fans.

When he looks back, he now better understands the reactions he witnessed. “[It was the] only time ever we saw US news anchor Walter Cronkite take off his glasses and wipe his eyes twice. One was when JFK was shot, and the other was the landing on the moon.”

Kids were immediately sent home from school. Taylor says he knew people who were despondent for months afterwards.

“It was really a mass mourning. It was heightened by the rapid execution of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.”

And he says unlike other celebrities or leaders who’ve died because of accidents or ailments, this mourning was mixed with anger, over how a president could have been murdered so senselessly.

A secret service agent looks back on the day

Secret service agent Clint Hill was the first to get to the president’s vehicle, while the shooting was still happening. He told NBC News he vividly remembers how then first lady, Jackie Kennedy, reacted.

“All she said was ‘Jack, Jack, what have they done?’ Then she said ‘I have his brains in my hand.’ She said ‘Jack, I love you’,” Hill recalled.

The president’s head rested in her lap all the way to the hospital. The first lady’s iconic pink suit was stained in her husband’s blood and she refused to take it off, saying “I want them to see what they have done.”

“She arrived in the cabin in Air Force One in these clothes covered with the president’s blood and expected to stand there and witness the swearing-in of her husband’s successor,” author Philip Shenon said.

That blood-stained suit remains in the National Archives and is forbidden from public view until at least 2103.

Kennedy’s legacy

John F. Kennedy took office at a time when technology was changing. Television was a new medium and Boston University professor and ‘JFK and his Enemies’ author Tom Whalen says Kennedy used it brilliantly in a way no politician has been able to duplicate.

“He was probably one of the most charismatic presidents we had of the modern age and he figured out the value of television,” Whalen tells News1130.

“He was the first television president and no one until Reagan had that kind of appeal. Unlike Reagan, Kennedy did not need a script. He could go off the cuff. His presidential press conferences were works of art and his personality sparkled.”

Whalen says for many Americans, Kennedy also represents a better time. When people think of JFK, they think the United States as a country at the height of its power.

“Things looked so promising,” says Whalen. “The sky was the limit. The future was elastic. Then it all suddenly came crashing down and people viewed that day as the turning point in the American century.”

Whalen says Kennedy was a great communicator who made people feel better about themselves, and because of that, many of the mistakes he made in office are overlooked.

Events to mark the assassination anniversary

The day is being marked with a solemn ceremony in Dealey Plaza, through which JFK’s motorcade passed when shots rang out 50 years ago. The event includes remarks from the mayor, the tolling of church bells, and readings from the president’s speeches by author David McCullough.

It’s a reverential approach being mirrored in Boston, where the JFK Library and Museum is opening a small exhibit of never-before-displayed items from Kennedy’s state funeral and host a musical tribute that isn’t open to the public, and in Washington, where President Barack Obama is meeting privately at the White House with leaders and volunteers from the Kennedy-established Peace Corps program.

About 5,000 tickets were issued for the free ceremony in Dealey Plaza, which is flanked by the Texas School Book Depository building where sniper Lee Harvey Oswald perched on the sixth floor. The US Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club will perform in a nod to Kennedy’s military service and there will be an Air Force flyover. A moment of silence will be held at 12:30 p.m., when the president was shot.

The Coalition on Political Assassinations, a group that believes Kennedy’s death was part of a conspiracy, usually gathers on the plaza’s “grassy knoll” for a moment of silence each Nov. 22. Since it’ll be blocked off this year, executive director John Judge — who first came to Dealey Plaza for the fifth anniversary of JFK’s death in 1968 — said he’s reached a “livable” agreement with the city.

The group — which plans to wear specially made T-shirts with an image of Kennedy’s head with a bullet hole and blood and the slogan “50 years in denial is enough” — will gather a few blocks away and move to the plaza after the official ceremony ends.

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