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The Death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy - Fifty Years Later

Updated on February 25, 2014

The year was 1963, and it was my birthday. I was to turn 4 years old on November 22, and I was as excited as any 4 year old could possibly be that day. It was a Friday and I was not in Nursery School (as it was called in those days); instead I was at home waiting for my party. My Grandparents were there, and a couple of Aunts and Uncles. I was the first Grandchild, and a boy to boot, so I was somewhat catered to (at least as much as a boy could be catered to in those long ago days!).

The television was on but no one paid much attention to it because of the party. Suddenly, no one was paying attention to me and everyone became angry, yelling and crying. My birthday was no longer important to anyone but me. I was left to sit beside the still unopened gifts remaining on the table and wonder what was happening to all of the adults. Ice cream melted and cake was forgotten. What happened?

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy | Source

Believe it or not, I still remember bits and pieces of that fateful day fifty years ago. Has it really been fifty years? It certainly doesn't feel like it, not with the amount of attention Kennedy has had over the intervening years. Movies, books, articles, television shows both serious and fanciful have kept our attention from fading. I cannot say whether this is a real memory or one created due to the number of times I have seen it on television, but I seem to remember the news bulletin on TV informing us the President had been shot.

I do recall being left alone with the gifts and no one paying any attention to me. I do recall the anger, the horror, the disbelief in my parents and family as the word was passed around regarding the shooting. Perhaps for that reason, and the fact that it occurred on my birthday, I have followed a great deal of the Kennedy situation over the years with something more than a casual interest. Somehow, I feel connected to him.

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One could almost fill a library with books on the Kennedy assassination alone. Throw in the conspiracy theory books and you have filled a library. There have been untold hours of film and video telling and retelling the story. It has reached a point where some could not care less, and some are consumed with the search for the truth. It has also reached a point where some will never be satisfied that the truth has, or ever will, come out.

Did Lee Harvey Oswald truly act alone? Was he capable of firing the shot which killed the President? Was there a second shooter? Was this person on the grassy knoll or elsewhere? Why did Jack Ruby take it upon himself to commit cold blooded murder inside the Dallas Police Station, shooting Oswald down while literally handcuffed to a Dallas officer? These and many more questions have been answered, and yet, have they really been answered?

Just seconds before...
Just seconds before... | Source

What was it about JFK that captured the nation? Was it his youth and good looks? Was it his wealth and station in the upper levels of the power brokers at the time? Was it because he was, as so often has been stated, the first President to make use of television? Was it because of his World War II action and the fact that he was considered a hero after his actions involving P.T. 109? Or was it his philandering, and his affair with Marilyn Monroe? Who can say?

To me, beyond the fact that he was killed on my birthday (and as a result, gives me a reminder every year of what happened) I think of one line that stands out as a statement that every single American should take into consideration every day of their lives:

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

How unbelievably powerful those words are! Think how they resonate through the ages! Are they any less true for being uttered over fifty years ago than they are today? Then think: what if we put into action what Kennedy asked. What if we did for our country rather than asking, begging, demanding that our country do for us. Those in Washington, on their bejeweled seats and garishly decorated offices, living off the fat of the land need to sit up and take notice of these words,

The Oath
The Oath | Source

November 22, 1963 12:29 CST the Presidential motorcade turns into the area known as Dealey Plaza. According to some (not all) the sniper who took Kennedy's life sits waiting on the sixth floor of the School Book Depository, patiently waiting. A window has been set up as a snipers nest, and Oswald waits. Seconds later, the motorcade turns onto Elm Street and moves away from the building, thus creating a perfect scenario for a shot to the back of the unsuspecting President.

A shot rings out, echoing through the buildings surrounding the parade. Mere seconds later, another shot rips through the air. Purportedly, this shot strikes the President in the throat and becomes the "Magic Bullet" that strikes Texas Governer Connally in the armpit and exits his chest. The bullet continues on to Connally's wrist and lodges in his thigh. This bullet destroys Connally's rib, shattered his wrist and yet it is thought this bullet is the "pristine" bullet found beside Connally in the hopsital. A bullet that shatters multiple bones yet appears undamaged?

The third shot is the one which is the kill shot. This bullet strikes the President in the head and virtually takes the back of his head off, leaving it attached by a section of the scalp. Blood, skull fragments, tissue and brain matter coat the First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and land in various places including the front of the car and the following Secret Service car. Mrs. Kennedy is later said to have been asked to change her dress but refused, saying "I want them to see what they have done to Jack".


Kennedy autopsy photo
Kennedy autopsy photo | Source

The President was dead. Less than thirty minutes after the shooting, he was declared dead and the last rites performed. By 2:00 PM, the lifeless body was being taken to Air Force One along with Lyndon B. Johnson and the widow. At 2:38 PM, America had a new President, LBJ.

There are several photos which have attained iconic status. The photo of Johnson taking the oath, left hand on the Bible and right hand to God with Mrs. Kennedy standing shell-shocked beside him ranks high on this list. To learn that she is still garbed in the clothes which hold her husband's blood and brain matter while this takes place is shocking, to say the least. How very quickly this event turned from gaiety and joy to utter despair and catastrophe.

"Goodbye, Daddy." Can anyone look at this photo of the son saying goodbye and not be moved?
"Goodbye, Daddy." Can anyone look at this photo of the son saying goodbye and not be moved? | Source

Conspiracy theories abound even today. Was Kennedy killed by Johnson? Or was he killed by Castro? The Mob? Or was it even bigger than that? It was known that Kennedy was likely to pull out of Vietnam, and to many industries of the day, war was a huge profit maker. Could he have been killed simply because of money that stood to be lost by those companies?

Oliver Stone's movie JFK speaks about this to a degree. Another movie, Flashpoint starring Kris Kristofferson even goes so far as to name a person in the assassination. Even the television show The Twilight Zone fashioned an episode based upon a future citizen arriving in 1963 to watch the assassination then becoming involved in the actions. In this, Kennedy lived and the world was on the brink of World War III. Fact or fiction, logic or fancy, these movies among others keep us involved in a mystery that should have long ago been solved to the satisfaction of America. It has been said that on that late Autumn day, America lost its innocence and its trust in the Government.

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Regardless of what has been decided, what remains thought and feared, and what may come out in the future, I will remember this day as a loss of a great man. I will celebrate my day of birth, but I will also remember Kennedy's death. It has been fifty years now, and I am no longer a confused four year old child. I am a still confused man who wonders what truly occurred that day. While the reasons may never be truly known, the results are final.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States, was killed. Assassinated by one or more gunmen, in broad daylight in front of the world.

The American version of Camelot died as well that day.

Local historian Allen Shirley (on right) with a history buff at Shirley's exhibit in our Community Center.
Local historian Allen Shirley (on right) with a history buff at Shirley's exhibit in our Community Center. | Source

Today in our local Community Center, Local Historian Allen Shirley presented a few items from his collection. Included are newspaper articles from November 23, 1963 (our local paper) and one from the evening edition of a Dallas paper dated November 22, 1963. One headline in this paper actually lists Castro as a possible threat behind the assasination. Shirley also has signed pictures from the agent assigned to Mrs. Kennedy at the time. These pictures are seen to be when he (the agent) is jumping onto the rear of the Presidential Limo immediately after the shot which killed the President.

As Mr. Shirley stated to me when speaking with him about his collection, "When America has something that is defining as this moment was, and is not perceived to be finished with a ribbon on top, it opens the door for conspiracy theories to enter." This moment in time is definitely not finished, nor is there a neat little bow on top. It remains open to many, and available for debate as to who really was behind the shooting. Was Oswald really a "lone gunman"? Was he "a patsy"? Who can say in today's world with any degree of certainty? What we have is a significant footnote in American History yet one which is by no means forgotten, nor is the story finished being told.

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    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      Ibidii, thank you for your read and comment. And for your blessing. I return it to you tenfold. Take care.

    • profile image

      Ibidii 2 years ago

      I just wrote my take on the event. Yes, the photo of JJ saluting was the one that got to me always. I was 13 and less than a month away from 14. My brother's birthday is the 25th of November and I don't remember if we even had a birthday dinner for him. I am sure we forgot it because of what happened. I am sure my brother felt the same way. You did a great job on your Hub. Blessings to you.

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 3 years ago from Missouri

      Edward, thank you for your perspective. Who can say where we would be today had this not occurred. I too am a shooter and have used a bolt action for the most part (Remington Model 700 BDL 30.06) Love that rifle but no way could I be that accurate as was stated.

      Thank you and stay safe. May God Bless.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 3 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      I was a senior in high school, on the way to a job I had after classes when I learned the President was shot. I can only wonder how the course of history might have changed had he lived. I understand it was his intent to withdraw from Viet Nam after he was reelected (and he was understandably confident of reelection). I am an experienced shooter, and I have never been able to cycle a bolt action rifle and fire three accurate shots in the time frame that Oswald reportedly fired them. The Warren Commission provided no satisfactory closure for me and now, 50 years later, I remain dissatisfied with what is commonly accepted as "fact".

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 3 years ago from Missouri

      Rochelle, I think you are exactly right. It was personal, and we lost our innocence that day. Thank you for stopping and reading, and for taking the time to comment. Take care.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country

      Many of us have memories of the event, all with a lot of commonality as well as individuality. To some degree we all felt like a four year-old whose party had been spoiled. And we all took it personally.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Editorial to my comment: I was actually 11 (I guess I just felt like I was 13). The emotions were undoubtedly a response to the prevailing mood at the time. The rest of the comment stands "as is." ***

    • Mr Archer profile image
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      Mr Archer 3 years ago from Missouri

      Thank each of you for stopping by and caring enough to give comment. Kenneday was truly a wonderful man and great leader. Bill, I especially like what you said.: he signified hope. That he did, and that seems to be sorely lacking in our governemnt today. The words may be there, but that hope for those words are long gone.

      Stay safe, all. Once more thank you.

      Mike

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I was 13 returning on a school bus to my elementary school from band class at the Tawas Area High School. The bus driver had been listening to the radio and announced, "The president has been shot" just as we were approaching the drop-off area. I remember Evelyn Awalt, a friend whom I admired, gasping and then smiling, "Oh, he's just kidding." But then the beginning band students heard the radio for themselves. No one knew what to think.

      The next few days were haunting. About on the second day I burst into tears, "Why did they have to shoot him?" I suppose my reaction was partly due to the emotional difficulties of entering puberty. I also saw him as a father figure. He was our youngest president at age 35 and the first Catholic president. I was raised Catholic. He was also very progressive with the ambition of putting a man on the moon. I was also able to attend college because of educational grants he had put into place for promising students of low income families.

      I remember part of his speech in Berlin, "Ich bin ein Berliner!" The German people cheered. I think the whole world love him--all but the people who plotted his assassination. (Yes, I believe more than one person was involved.)

      JFK was also a family man. The Kennedys were known for their familial, backyard football skirmishes.

      There was the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a very touchy situation with Khrushchev that could easily have turned into outright war.

      President and Robert Kennedy also had to deal with the critical situation of black racism in the deep south. (Some speculate that his favoritism toward the black people was impetus for his assassination.)

      I remember reading about President Kennedy's vision for Americans to reach endurance fitness. I read the article in THE READER'S DIDGEST and faithfully began running a half mile or so (to the back of the woods and the farm house of our 80-acre farm) daily in an effort to achieve the president's goal for myself.

      Do I miss him? No. Years later I had the opportunity to read a dictation channeled by a spiritual teacher. The message was from John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In essence, he was proud to uphold the flame of freedom for our beloved country. He lives in spirit and was honored to serve as the 35th president of the United States.

      Thank you, Dan, for sharing your experience surrounding this tragic and historical event and allowing me to comment. --Blessings!

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      A very informative effort, was he alone in the Texas Book Depository when he fired the shot I think yes. Was there something we were not told , I think yes. I remember it well maybe History will reveal the truth. Well done.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Mike, I was 6 when Kennedy was shot. I remember seeing it on TV but don't remember why I wasn't in school. I cried. Hard. I was much too young to follow politics; I just knew JFK was good looking and America loved him.

      Not too long ago I saw a video, slowed way down. It showed evidence that the driver reached over his right shoulder with his left hand and shot the president. It was suggested that Lee Harvey Oswald's part in the killing was merely to pose as a distraction and divert attention from the real plan. It was very plain to see in the video that the driver indeed reached over his shoulder with revolver in hand. Will we ever know for sure? Probably not until the last of the Kennedys have died or have been killed. Who knows?

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      I was in the second grade. His family looked a lot like my family at that time. My dad had died in an accident earlier the same year, so I really identified with Caroline.

      From everything I've seen about the assassination, I do believe that Oswald did all of the shooting. I think he was just the trigger man and was part of a conspiracy though.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I doubt any of us will forget that day. I was fifteen at the time; I had seen him a month earlier at a speech he gave in Tacoma. More than anything else, Kennedy signified hope in the future. I'm not sure our country has seen that kind of hope since. I know I haven't.

      Well done my friend.

      blessings to you and yours

      bill

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      Old Poolman 3 years ago

      He was a great man, and we could sure use him or someone just like him today. It would be interesting to know where we would be today had this assassination not happened. My guess is we would be much better off.