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A Point of View: Remembering JFK on the anniversary of his assassination

WEST VALLEY — Fifty years have passed. It was a clear, brisk day in November 1963. The eastern horizon was lit with silvery rays of sunlight, on this bright Friday morning. As usual, teachers and students greeted each other at the Main Street School in East Aurora. I was the school principal, at the time. Little did any of us know, there would be a heart-rending tragic event in Dallas, Texas that day, the 22nd of November. This event would leave a lasting memory on the lives of millions upon millions of people, the world over.

Later that day, around 2 p.m., the head custodian of the school building alerted me that something terrible must have happened. He heard a report on the radio and somber music was being played on the airwaves.

Almost at the same time, the school switch board notified us that our president, John F. Kennedy, had been tragically, senselessly assassinated. All of us were devastated. Immediately, it occurred to me that the students, faculty and staff would be completely in shock; I knew that they must be told of this tragedy before school dismissal. Immediately, I went to every classroom and spoke with the pupils and their teachers. Many broke into tears, and all were devastated with grief and disbelief. Events of this magnitude stay permanently embossed in one’s memory. It seems like only yesterday.

The following day, a Saturday, the newspaper arrived at our home. The bold black banner headline read “Kennedy shot; dead by sniper in Texas.” Regular radio and television programming was temporarily suspended and replaced with somber music on radio and TV news coverage from the nation’s capital. For the next several days, time seemed to stand still, for most Americans.

Many of us remember Sunday, Nov. 24, early afternoon, when live television cameras were rolling, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had been arrested for the assassination, was shot by Jack Ruby. Oswald died two hours later, at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The entire nation, if not most of the world, was glued to their television sets.

That same day, Sunday, back in Washington, President Kennedy’s flag-draped casket moved from the White House to the capital rotunda, on a caisson drawn by six gray horses, accompanied by a riderless black horse. Crowds lined Pennsylvania Avenue and many wept openly, as the caisson passed. During the 21 hours that the president’s body lay in state in the capital rotunda, nearly 250,000 people filed by, to pay their respects.

The funeral took place on Monday, Nov. 25. Perhaps the most indelible images of the day were the salute to his father by little John F. Kennedy Jr., whose third birthday it was, daughter Caroline kneeling next to her mother at the president’s bier and the extraordinary grace and dignity shown by Jacqueline Kennedy. Thousands were in tears, as the president’s flag-draped coffin was moved down the steps of the capitol, as the familiar strains of the “Naval Hymn” played in the background.

The funeral was attended by heads of state from more than 100 countries, with untold millions watching on television. President Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. At the grave site, Mrs. Kennedy, Robert and Edward Kennedy lit the eternal flame. That flame burns brightly, to this day.

People throughout the nation and the world struggled to make sense of a senseless act. Many, to this day, express their feelings about President Kennedy’s legacy, as they recall his words from his inaugural address, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days, not in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even in our lifetime, on this planet. But let us begin.”

And so, a nation continues in the pursuit of a dream. And we will not forget.


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