On Friday, November 22, 1963, exactly 50 years ago, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, by Lee Harvey Oswald. On the Sunday after the assassination, November 25, his flag-draped coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the U.S. Capital Building to lie in state. Throughout the day and night, hundreds of thousands of people lined up to view the casket. Monday, November 26, the day of the funeral, was a national day of mourning.
The world could watch the funeral procession on television because the Telstar communication satellite launch only the year before had made such viewing possible.
|The President and Mrs. Kennedy and Texas Governor|
John Conally in Dallas just before the assassination
But we can remember and honor what he did while he was alive.
He was a veteran of World War II. He served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. When his ship, a patrol torpedo boat, was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, he saved his crew and led them to safety.
He was a writer. His 1955 book “Profiles in Courage” won a Pulitzer Prize for history. In it, he examined political courage in a series of essays about eight U.S. Senators whom Kennedy felt had shown great courage under enormous pressure from their parties and their constituents.
He was a visionary. When he assumed office in January 1961, the Cold War cast the dark shadow of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States across the world. The U.S.S.R. had launched a space satellite. The U.S. had no such technology. People in the U.S. felt vulnerable to Russia’s superiority. Kennedy called for a commitment to space research. He convinced Congress to fund it. Kennedy didn’t live to see Neil Armstrong step onto the moon’s surface, but it would not have happened without him.
He pushed for equal rights for African Americans. In the 1960s, Barak Obama might not have been able to vote if he lived in Louisiana! (His parents would not have been legally able to marry in some southern states because his father was black and his mother, white.) Due to Kennedy's work, in 1965 his successor, Lyndon Johnson, was able to convince Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, a law that enforced the rights of African Americans and others to vote.
|Portrait of JFK by|
Kennedy was intelligent, rich, handsome and charming, but he had many flaws. Despite his faults, he believed in the ideals of his country and tried, during his life, to bring those ideals closer to reality.
A basic ideal he held was stated by another president, Abraham Lincoln: the United States is a nation “of the people, by the people and for the people." President Kennedy asked his fellow citizens in his inaugural speech to embrace that ideal when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.” In other words, the country is what its citizens make it. A president can lead them in that effort, but he himself can do nothing without their support.