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A Point of View: Time stopped and a nation mourned a lost leader

On a clear, brisk day in November 1963, the eastern horizon was lit with silvery rays of sunlight. 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 that the world, as we knew it, would be changed forever, within hours. This event, on Nov. 22, left a lasting memory on millions of people, all over the world.

At 2 p.m. in Dallas, Texas, the head custodian of my school building told me that he had heard an urgent report on the radio. The school’s switchboard then notified us that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

I knew that my students and staff members must be told about this tragedy, before the school’s dismissal. I visited every classroom, to speak with the pupils and their teachers. Many broke down into tears.

These school children are now in their 50s and 60s and have still not forgotten that terrible day. Events like this stay permanently embossed in one’s memory.

When the newspaper arrived at our home the next day, a Saturday, the headline read “A nation mourns.”

Regular radio and television programming was suspended and replaced with somber music and news coverage from the U.S. Capitol. Time stood still, for most Americans.

On Sunday, Nov. 24, when television cameras were rolling, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had been arrested for Kennedy’s assassination, was shot by Jack Ruby. Oswald died two hours later, at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

Back in Washington, Kennedy’s flag-draped casket moved from the White House to the Capitol rotunda on a caisson, drawn by six gray horses. He was accompanied by a riderless black horse. Crowds lined Pennsylvania Avenue.

During the 21 hours that the president’s body lay in state in the Capitol, nearly 250,000 people filed by, to pay their respects.

The funeral took place on Monday, Nov. 25. Perhaps the most memorable images of the day were John F. Kennedy Jr.’s salute to his father (the funeral was on the young Kennedy’s third birthday) and daughter Caroline Kennedy’s kneeling next to her mother at the president’s bier.

Jacqueline Kennedy displayed extraordinary grace and dignity, as she watched the president’s coffin move down the steps of the Capitol, while the “Naval Hymn of the Republic” played in the background.

The funeral was attended by heads of state from more than 100 countries, with millions’ watching, as Kennedy was laid to rest, in Arlington National Cemetery.

Jacqueline Kennedy and JFK’s brothers, Robert and Edward Kennedy, lit the eternal flame, which burns brightly, to this day.

The nation and the world struggled to make sense of this tragedy.

During John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, he said, “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, our nation continues, in the pursuit of a dream, despite the loss of the leader.

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