When President Kennedy was murdered on that beautiful autumn day in Dallas and amidst throngs of Americans out to welcome and catch glimpses of the motorcade as it slowly carried Jack and Jacqueline toward the School Book Depository and a destiny that has haunted millions of people for a half-century, peoples were made aware how sudden and random acts of violence can shock the soul of mankind to the core. United by the tragedy of his untimely death, countless Americans and other world citizens were compelled by the awful circumstances of the assassination to reflect on a life cut short and what might otherwise have been; recall the gentle grace and youth of the president, the first lady and their two small children; suspect that some shady conspiracy had brought down the house of Kennedy; and ask the unanswered question: why?
The writer remembers sitting down for lunch with a friend in a west Texas town when of a sudden the waitress approached our table weeping. 'The President's been shot!' Like everyone else we could hardly comprehend the news. It was electrifying. Dining was suddenly stale as we rushed to tune in on the news from Dallas. Within moments it seemed came the announcement over the radio: 'The President is dead.'
Stunned we went about our business numbly that afternoon. Businesses remained open. But no one was shopping. We were a country already in shock if not already mourning but as yet unable to appreciate the tragic circumstances or the unfolding of a story that would endure for decades to come. Purchasing several newspapers in the days ahead in order to read and re-read the sad details, I have kept these papers and they as yet remain with me in a large brown envelope.
The death of any leader is arresting to those who have felt his influence and governance. But when the leader is much admired or even beloved, the event stays in the heart for a lifetime. The universe remains silent to our cries. But somehow we realize our own vulnerability and question the purpose and quality of life.
Today the life and presidency of John F Kennedy is being commemorated by the media in news programs, magazine articles and books. This commemoration brings afresh to the forefront the grief and the questions of 22 November 1963. And while JFK's assassination was rightfully deemed a horrible act, his greatest legacy is less the pomp and glamor that brought luster to the presidency than his having averted, perhaps single-handedly, a nuclear holocaust fomented out of the Cuban Missile Crisis. For his cool-mindedness in the crisis and for his reaching out to Nikita Khruschev rather than giving in to his hawkish military and political leaders, he very probably saved the planet for future generations. For this unselfish act can we be truly thankful for such a President.