Most likely, one would have to have been born in 1960 to have had any recollection of it -- you would have been a 3-year-old when it occurred -- or perhaps born in 1959 -- a 4-year-old.
The event? One of the saddest, most horrific moments in American history -- and certainly in the modern era -- the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 48 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.
Further, since it occurred almost a half-century ago, most Americans alive today have no recollection of the event, as well the controversy regarding the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. But for those who are old enough to remember the events of Nov. 22, 1963, and the immediate days later, they know exactly where they were when they heard the news that day -- just as contemporary Americans old enough to remember the events of 9/11 know where they were on that day. Like 9/11, the Kennedy assassination is one of those days when the world changed -- historic -- the end of an era, and the start of the next.
Controversy surrounds the assassination to this day in part because Oswald himself was murdered two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, before a trial could take place. The Ruby action fanned speculation of a conspiracy and/or a government/organizational attempt to cover-up the Kennedy assassination.
Best Evidence: Oswald Acted Alone
However, the Warren Commission, led by U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren, formed to investigate the assassination, concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin.
Literally hundreds of books and private investigations have followed in the decades since the Warren Commission, but none has been able to incontrovertibly prove that anyone other than Oswald sought to kill President Kennedy on that day.
Since last decade, the Kennedy family has focused on President Kennedy's birthday, May 29, 1917; however, memorial services are held in remembrance and it's safe to say that this week many Roman Catholic parishes in the U.S. will have Masses said for President Kennedy, the first and only Roman Catholic elected president of the U.S.
One Brief Shining Moment
The Kennedy family and John F. Kennedy Presidential Library hold services on the president's birthday to emphasize his life: and what a life it was!
Born to a prominent Boston family, Kennedy was a decorated U.S. Navy Commander, and he heroically towed a badly burned crewman through water after his boat, PT-109, was rammed by the Japanese Destroyer Amagiri on Aug. 2, 1943.
After the war, Kennedy won election to first the U.S. House of Representatives in 1946 and then the U.S. Senate in 1952, defeating Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. In 1953, he married Jacqueline Bouvier.
Kennedy's election to the U.S. presidency in November 1960 marked a new era for the U.S. -- the modern era and the space age -- with the youthful Kennedy aptly referencing in his January 1961 inaugural speech that, The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans...
A Proud Day for Roman Catholics
In addition to being the first Roman Catholic elected president in a political culture dominated by Protestants, it was also the first time in generations that small children, Caroline and John John, occupied the White House along with the First Family -- and the new, cosmopolitan, telegenic, modern couple symbolized an entire generation of young American couples who were raising families. The era was later termed Camelot by Jacqueline Kennedy for the Kennedy administration's emphasis on education, arts, culture, and civic service. Clearly, the Kennedys were a family headed to a new, brighter future, and most Americans wanted to go there with them.
However, the early 1960s also marked the most intense period of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and Kennedy's performance in the Cuban Missile Crisis is generally regarded by historians as the president's greatest foreign policy achievement. After 12 tense days in which the superpowers came as close as they ever came to engaging in a nuclear war, Soviet General Secretary Nikita Krushchev agreed to remove the nuclear missiles from Cuba, in exchange for the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey and Italy, and a U.S. pledge to never invade Cuba.
The 1,000 days of the Kennedy presidency also saw the defense of free West Berlin; the expansion of U.S. space exploration, including a goal by Kennedy to land an American on the moon and return him safely to the Earth by the end of the 1960s (the goal was achieved in 1969); and the establishment of the Peace Corps; and the signing of the U.S. Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Domestically, Kennedy's New Frontier economic policy is generally credited with getting the U.S. economy to grow at faster rate, and there was modest progress on U.S. Civil Rights/Voting Rights for African-Americans, but Kennedy, overall, didn't move fast enough to advocate civil rights changes, civil rights leaders generally agree.
The Kennedy Administration's failures included the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, and Kennedy's decision to expand the role of U.S. military advisers in South Vietnam -- the prelude to the formal U.S. entrance in to the Vietnam War during the Johnson administration.
Kennedy Administration: The Best and the Brightest
Kennedy assembled a very talented cabinet -- with an emphasis on academics and intellectuals -- termed The Best and the Brightest, in the book by author/journalist David Halberstam. And no one ever looked more presidential than John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
What's more, Kennedy's oratory, due in large part to speech writer Ted Sorensen, soared. His most memorable speech line:
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Kennedy's intelligence, education, optimism, ability to forge viable, pragmatic solutions, interests in almost every dimension of government and civic life, and quick wit, combined with his Capitol Hill-developed political skills helped to form an impressive, likable chief executive; meanwhile, his personal faults have been well-documented.
It has been said that the U.S. lost its innocence on Nov. 22, 1963. However, Kennedy, as former Washington Post Managing Editor Ben Bradlee would vouch, would be the first to admit that poverty, racial discrimination, the Cold War, and environmental pollution all indicated a U.S. that was decidedly less innocent in 1963 than some might suggest.
Innocent era or not, most Americans, Bradlee, I trust, included, would say it'd be great to have Jack back for one last policy discussion with the president seated in his rocking chair in the Oval Office, one last story, one last witty phrase, one last laugh.