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JFK - Does Time Stand Still?

Posted: 18/11/2013 09:19

To no one's surprise this week marks the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

For those who lived through that frightful weekend, the image of the handsome smiling face of the country's young president as he road through the streets of Dallas with his beautiful wife, is forever frozen in time.

And for those of us who can not possibly imagine our slain president being ninety-six years old today a part of all our lives has been frozen in time as well.

Although youthful rebellious icons like James Dean, Marilyn and Elvis challenged authority most Americans were pretty satisfied with the post World War II status quo of the day.

It was a time when families gathered together after dinner, dishes and home work to watch the one and only TV in their home religiously every night.

That first television was black and white with a pretty small screen.

There was no 24-hour programming, no 24-hour news, no cable, no smart phones, iPads and no Internet - just a flickering bluish tube casting a shadowy image on your family's faces as they sat entranced.

Kennedy opened the door to the "Cool Sixties" of Frank Sinatra and "The Rat Pack", Sam Cooke, Andy Williams, Chubby Checker, Ella Fitzgerald and the beat goes on.

The Kennedy-Nixon presidential campaign of 1960 was in fact the first real televised presidential campaign.

Kennedy with his grace, whit, charm and Cary Grant movie star good looks could reach through that old TV picture tube and grab you right there in your living room.

A brand new kind of candidate identified, captivated and seduced his audience utilizing all the magic this new "cool medium" could offer.

Kennedy and his team understood the power of television.

They used it to their advantage throughout the primaries against a much less media savvy Hubert Humphrey and finally during four presidential debates against a much more experienced but less telegenic Richard Nixon.

Kennedy uniquely combined the glamour of Hollywood with the intellect and breeding of the Ivy League.

Young Jack Kennedy and his beautiful, intelligent and cultured wife Jacqueline became in essence America's first Royal Family.

They radiated the image of a new generation of the 'American Dream' where anything was possible.

It was against this backdrop of hope and optimism for future, that this dark day in American history occurred.

On that sunny Friday in Dallas, 50 years ago, time stood still.

Just like every other American who lived through the experience, I remember where I was, who told me the horrific news and every minor detail of that weekend until the President was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Stunned and bleary-eyed on my way home from school riding the F Train under the streets of Queens New York, I was not at all shocked to see white men and women openly sobbing alongside black men and women - all adults trying to comforting one another.

Once home, shocked and anxious Americans sat glued to their TV sets as they watched every moment of this tragic drama unfold.

We saw pictures of the President and the First Lady smiling and waving from the motorcade, the fateful moment when shots rang out ending the President's life, the First Lady in her elegant pink blood-stain suit and the swearing in of the new President Lyndon B. Johnson abroad Air Force One on the flight back to Washington with the casket bearing the fallen President on board.

We were not watching The Secret Storm, As the World Turns or Love of Life - the TV soap operas of the day - they had all been pre-empted.

In fact nothing else was on the three networks - ABC, CBS or NBC - but real time and for the first time wall-to-wall coverage of the assassination of JFK and the events that followed.

Abraham Zapruder, a Kennedy fan and admirer, had been at Dealey Plaza that day and took the only known complete footage of the tragic event.

Zapruder sold the footage to Life magazine and the frames of the film were shown to the public in print - the worst images were simply not shown.

My colleague Dan Rather explained to me that he was one of the first two journalists there and only one of a very few to see the film that weekend.

He had been shown the film only once and then he went directly to the studio to report on what he had seen from memory.

About an hour and a half after President Kennedy was shot Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for shooting a Dallas police officer.

Oswald was arraigned the next day for the murders of Officer J.D. Tippit and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

On November 24 while being transported to a more secure location, Oswald was shot and killed by Dallas night club owner Jack Ruby on live TV.

Following the carefully planned and orchestrated State funeral ceremony which Jacqueline Kennedy endeavored to match the funeral given for Abraham Lincoln, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was laid to rest on a hill in Arlington National Cemetery overlooking the Capitol.

The nation was bound together in grief and many of its citizens were committed to fulfilling Kennedy's mission.

Although JFK is remembered for creating the Peace Corps, the Alliance for Progress, for advancing civil rights, for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis and for challenging Americans to "land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth in this decade", much of the difficult legislative work to accomplish these tasks was left to his successor Lyndon B. Johnson.

Undoubtedly Kennedy's greatest contribution was his 'call to action' inspiring a young and hopeful generation of Americans to take up a challenge.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." - inspired an entire generation of Americans to embrace public service including Bill Clinton and frankly myself.

There was no real Thanksgiving in 1963, which was supposed to be celebrated on November 28, since we did not believe there was much to be thankful for that year.

America was never the same after the assassination.

We are now less optimistic in our aspect.

We are over protective of our leaders and far removed from them.

And at the same time we have less faith in them.

What Kennedy did leave behind is the idea that the challenges we face together are man-made and can be met head-on by all of humankind.

At 8 o'clock on February 9, 1964, 73million Americans sat in front of their TV sets once again.

This time we were tuned in to The Ed Sullivan Show to watch four fab, mop-haired boys from Liverpool help us believe for a magical moment we could all enjoy life once again.

 

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