Fifty years later, JFK’s death still significant

Published 11:48 pm Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty years ago yesterday, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. For an entire generation, Kennedy’s assassination served as a traumatic, pivotal moment in history.

My grandfather worked in Washington D.C. at the time of the assassination. In describing the moment to me as a child, he said it felt like the world had fallen in to chaos. American officials scrambled to keep the country in order during the height of the Cold War.

Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in on Air Force One. Nobody knew what the ramifications of the assassination would be.

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It was a time when America came together. For four days, Americans were glued to the television to find out the status of the investigation in to Kennedy’s assassination. Walter Cronkite’s iconic performance breaking the news to the nation is still played today. Media experts pinpoint Kennedy’s assassination as the moment when television overtook radio as American’s preferred news medium.

Having been born in 1992, Kennedy’s assassination held no particular significance to me. But, looking back on Kennedy as a president, I can see why the nation fell in love with him.

Not since Andrew Jackson or Teddy Roosevelt had America had such a brash president. In his bearing, Kennedy held the gravitas and hopes of a nation.

Kennedy was the man who promised that America would put a man on the moon. He was the man who stared down the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was the man who viewed starting a nuclear was an untenable option.

He paved the way for minorities in politics. He was the first and only Catholic to be elected to the presidency. He was the first president to not be a white, Protestant male.

It’s not surprising that conspiracy theories bubbled up after his death. Kennedy was a man who created and lived a personal mythos. For so many Americans, being gunned down in the street was not the way Kennedy’s life was supposed to end.

When I was seven years old, two planes were flown in to the two World Trade Center buildings. Since I was only in the third grade, my school decided to not let us know what had happened that morning in New York.

When my dad came to pick me up from school, he told me what had happened. I was too young to comprehend what had happened. I thought my dad was joking. I could not conceive of why anyone would do such a thing.

At home, I watched the live coverage of the event. I could not tear my eyes away from the screen. It seemed unreal. How do you process watching thousands of people die on your television screen?

I asked my mom if all the people in the World Trade Center made it out of the building before it collapsed.

Even though I must have known that people had died during the attack, I still could not imagine that something so horrific and traumatic could happen in the world.

I imagine that people living during the time of the Kennedy assassination shared the same feelings I had while watching 9/11.

In 2051, we will probably view the coverage of the 9/11 attacks in the same way we view Kennedy’s assassination now.