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JFK assassination: US marks 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death

November 23, 2013 at 1:03 am | News Desk

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

DALLAS: With flags fluttering at half-staff, the United States paused Friday to mourn President John F. Kennedy and a generation’s shattered dreams, cut down 50 years ago by an assassin’s bullet.

The young leader’s brutal death, a dark turning point even in an era gripped by the Cold War nuclear stand-off and bloodshed in the jungles of Vietnam, shocked a global audience of millions.

Five decades on the wound is still raw, with many still obsessed by the conspiracy theories surrounding his death, and others gripped by regret for the America they imagine might have been.

Across the nation, at ceremonies large and small, many took comfort in reflecting upon the words of a charismatic man whose soaring rhetoric and call to service continues to inspire.

“Today, we honor his memory and celebrate his enduring imprint on American history,” President Barack Obama declared.

Church bells rang out in Dallas as thousands of mourners observed a moment of silence marking the moment shots rang out from the Texas School Book Depository overlooking Dealey Plaza.

“You, Lord, have lifted us up from the horrible tragedy enacted in this place … the gun shot by one man that killed a president in whom many of us had set our hopes and dreams for a better America,” intoned Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.

Across the Atlantic too, Kennedy was remembered.

A wreath-laying ceremony was planned in the Berlin neighborhood where Kennedy gave his famed Cold War-era “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech to a rapturous crowd.

At Kennedy’s tomb in Arlington Cemetery outside Washington, two kilted pipers from the Black Watch of the British army repeated a tribute their regiment had performed at his funeral 50 years ago.

In a proclamation ordering flags be lowered at government buildings and even private homes, Obama recalled Kennedy’s leadership in the Cuban missile crisis, his speech in Berlin and his drive to advance the rights of African Americans and women.

“Today and in the decades to come, let us carry his legacy forward,” Obama wrote Thursday.

“Let us face today’s tests by beckoning the spirit he embodied — that fearless, resilient, uniquely American character that has always driven our nation to defy the odds, write our own destiny, and make the world anew.”

‘Ask not what your country can do for you’

In Arlington, a steady stream of mourners visited Kennedy’s grave, including his last remaining sibling Jean Kennedy Smith.

“It was a major shock to the world,” said Tom Brown, 71, a retired civil servant. “Here we are, 50 years later, and we still remember. We still want to acknowledge him and his presidency.”

Kennedy’s voice still echoes through history to so many Americans.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” he urged Americans at his inaugural address on January 20, 1961.

Cut down in his first term at the age of 46 as he was driven through Dallas, Texas in an open-top limousine on November 22, 1963, Kennedy’s unfulfilled promise has become a symbol of the lost nobility of politics.

Despite the many scandals that have since become attached to his name, he is seen as a president who enlisted the nation in lofty goals — like putting a man on the Moon — “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

The anniversary has sparked a prolonged period of national and media reflection on the unfinished tenure of the nation’s 35th president, his tragedy-stricken family and the evocative period in the early 1960s when his political star illuminated the world.

He was the fourth US president to be killed in office, but the first whose death was caught on film. News of his death flashed around the world by television, helping enshrine the new medium at the heart of the homes off awe-struck families.

The crime – and the image of blood splattered on the pink suit of his glamorous wife Jackie – stunned the world.

Conspiracy theories

Many refuse to believe the killing could be the act of a single man: troubled Marine Corps veteran turned Soviet defector Lee Harvey Oswald, 26, who pointed a rifle out of a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository and fired on the motorcade.

Conspiracy theories continue to captivate doubters and fuel an industry of books, films and television specials.

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