I was 10 when it happened. If you are old enough to remember the event, you knew exactly where you were and what you were doing the moment that you heard the news about the attempt on the life of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. That’s right – the first news bulletins suggested that the President had been wounded and was en route to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where it was later announced that Kennedy had, in fact, been assassinated.
Oddly, Janet and I were both in the same place at the same time, although this was, of course, many years before we were dating. Yes, we started young, but we didn’t date until we were in our late teens, some years after the death of Kennedy. In fact, we were both on the playground at Sutherland Elementary School – getting ready to go back to afternoon classes after the lunch break. We had each gone home for lunch, although I had the longer walk, and we were lining up to re-enter school. That would have been 12:40 p.m. central time.
The bell rang for us to get to our classes at 12:50 p.m. and classes began promptly at 1:00 pm, the exact time that President Kennedy was pronounced dead in Dallas. We were let out of school early that day – teachers were in no condition to teach and there was even a concern that the US would be attacked during the interlude between presidents. I remember it vividly and so does Janet.
Although we were young, we knew that something of monumental importance had happened. Several years earlier we had watched the Kennedy/Nixon debates on television and the administration of Eisenhower was coming to an end. It was kind of the end of the WWII era and Kennedy was the first president who was born in the 20th century. Another huge issue was the question of religion. The country had never elected a Catholic president and there was a deep divide as to whether this would ever happen in this country. There was an east coast history with the family and Joe Kennedy, John’s father, was known to have made a fortune during Prohibition and was intent on getting at least one of his son’s elected to the highest office in the land.
Joe, Jr., the eldest son, was killed in the line of service during WWII and so John, the next in line, was prepared by his father to get elected. His younger brothers, Bobby and Teddy, were also public servants and both spent years as senators for their respective states. It was into this family that Jackie Kennedy was united when she married John. The rest, as they say, is history. The country was enamored with the idea of a young, debonair President and a beautiful, young first lady. Most people, in spite of the divisive election, watched the Kennedy family with rapt attention. And even if you were a Republican, it was difficult to not watch the “American royalty” known as the Kennedys.
There were tours of the White House on TV and photos of John, Jr. and Caroline on the evening news. The Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs, the Civil Rights Movement, the birth of the Peace Corps and many other initiatives all happened during the 1000 days of Kennedy’s presidency. And then, on the streets of Dallas 50 years ago this Friday, Nov. 22nd, the “kingdom” of Camelot came to an end. That fast – it was over.
Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in on the the plane before the slain President’s body even returned to Washington. The famous photo of Jackie, in her pink blood splattered dress and pillbox hat, circulated around the globe and the somber preparations for the State Funeral took shape. Additional photos, with John-John saluting his father’s caisson as it passed by the family, broke the hearts of the public and the country was plunged into the depths of the Vietnam War splashed across the front page of the newspapers.
One can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if Kennedy had lived. He probably would have been elected to a second term in 1964 and it is possible that he would still be alive, even today. But it’s difficult to believe that President Kennedy would have been about 96 years old if he was still us. This is certainly one of the mysteries of the 20th century. What could have been…
The verse for this evening is an obscure verse from the book of Isaiah. The prophet relates to us, in Is. 38:10, “I said, “In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years?” This sentiment reflects what so much of the country felt after the death of Kennedy. My encouragement this evening is that God wants us to live life to the fullest – dedicated to Him – for whatever number of years we have here. My prayer is that you will live long, love deeply and leave a legacy that makes the world a better place than the way you found it. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…