At 12:30 p.m., 1963, in the bright Texas afternoon an unknown number of shots from a debatable number of assailants, motivated by a contested range of controversial notions, brought their evil intentions to bear and struck down America’s 35th president.
Nov. 22 was the 46 year anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
A man’s death is rarely broadcast so widely and can be so vividly recalled by those born before and after its time.
Most can identify the scene, often shown in black and white or in Technicolor, of that convertible strolling through Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
No sound, just the clipping movement of outdated film technology and the violent, unpredictable wrenching of a man’s body smeared in a sudden burst of blood. After seeing the severity of the moment it’s hard to imagine he made it to the hospital before dying.
Nearly five decades later the passage of time seems to make the circumstances of that day and the events surrounding it seem less defined than they were even then.
Apart of his epic assassination Kennedy was a man not unlike our current controversial president- a man of powerful oratory skills, a humanitarian and a candidate ushered in an era of great change.
“The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.
And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans–born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage–and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world,” Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.
His successes were equality muddled by his failures, which included the infamous “Bay of Pigs” debacle. Still let us remember this is a president who supported racial and social equality in a time of violent segregation. A man who held back the reins of world nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half a century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them.
Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.
Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power,” Kennedy’s Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort, September 12, 1962
Perhaps one of the most dramatic accomplishments was challenging America’s ambition to reach the moon before the Russian’s space program, a challenge realized on July 20, 1969 when the United States’ Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, six years after Kennedy’s death.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
The footsteps of man upon the moon may have roots in Kennedy’s words and in his short time on the American landscape he often challenged, and inspired, his idealism’s to the country.
“In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.
Now the trumpet summons us again–not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need–not as a call to battle, though embattled we are– but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”–a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.”
Kennedy served as president from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. His background included military service in World War II where he commanded a Torpedo Boat, the PT-109, in the South Pacific. The boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer in 1943 and during the collision Kennedy was injured but manage to rally his crew and swam to a nearby island. They carried with them a badly wounded comrade and Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
Kennedy was a man of impressive beliefs and I appreciate his role in our American history. Few words have moved me so deeply and many of them carry a wisdom still comparable to our modern challenges. I hope the brief excerpts contained herein are enough to provoke at least a curiosity. I recommend a visit to YouTube or another site with an audio recording, though his words are impressively read there is no equal experience when heard through Kennedy’s own passionate presentation.
To read more of Kennedy’s words visit a collection of his speeches at http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/Archives/Reference+Desk/Speeches/