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Bill Orton
(D-Long Beach)

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--: In Memorium :--
Father and Son Love Field
After the ceremony

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

by Bill Orton

    It was a Friday afternoon like this, on a beautiful November day... radio and TV reports began to break the news that everyone seemingly had delivered already by word-of-mouth.

    The President had been shot, been wounded, taken to hospital... had been KILLED, in Dallas, in Texas.

    John Kennedy -- the youngest man ever elected to the Presidency -- has been assassinated.

    It stunned and then gripped the nation, as few events can or have.

    Millions of Americans no matter where they were wept openly in disbelief upon first hearing word.

    All that night and throughout the weekend, Americans sat glued before their televisions, this new medium, and watched as Walter Cronkite clenched his jaw and teared-up delivering the confirmed report of the President's death.

    Americans quickly learned about Dealy Plaza and the texas Schoolbook Depository; about Parkland Hospital and who the Governor of Texas was.

    LBJ takes the Oath Frozen is the image of Jacqueline Kennedy, hours later, still in her blood-splattered pink dress, standing at Lyndon Johnson's side as the new President was administered the Oath of Office onboard Air Force One.

    On Sunday, television viewers watched in horror as the suspected assassin -- a loner named Lee Harvey Oswald -- was shot in the stomach by local bar owner Jack Ruby as the suspect was being escorted through the basement of police headquarters.

    All through that weekend, 40 years ago, John Kennedy's voice rang through the nation as every address was rebroadcast and each speech replayed in a retrospective about the fallen President, coverage that was uninterrupted by commercials or regular programming.

    A bright shining moment had come to an end.

    On that somber Monday, the nation joined in a universal outpouring of grief.

    Notes that Eleanor Roosevelt had written 18 years earlier outlining the arrangements for the funeral procession of Franklin Roosevelt were retreived from the office safe of the Secretary of State and given to Jacqueline.

    Eleanor's notes were followed to the letter for President Kennedy.

    The caisson bearing the casket pulled by a single riderless horse, stirrups facing backward.

    Different now were the televised images. The young widow. The little 2-year-old boy saluting his father's passing body. Little Caroline, so grown up. Brother Robert so solemn. Ted so young.

    And the Eternal Flame.


    It is said -- it appears in the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS -- that teachers are not sure whether to instruct their students about the meaning of the Kennedy Assassination.

    I say this, if ever there is a time to remember the greatness that we lost on that day 40 years, it is now.

    Here we had a man who led a great nation in a time of peril.

    At times, the world stood at the brink of destruction. Society trembled at the precipice of disorder and chaos.

    Yet, seemingly through his instinct, knowledge and vigor alone, he managed to guide this nation not simply that it would merely survive, but prevail against the forces of nuclear destruction and social anarchy.

    Precisely at this moment, we need more than ever for these lessons of history to help be our guide.

    DO SOMETHING THIS WEEKEND to remember John Kennedy's life.

    Embark on some personal journey of exploration.

    Remember this great man, and the loss that we each suffered.


White House Biography of John F. Kennedy

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

John Kennedy's Inaugural Address
(after the speech, House Speaker Sam Rayburn said: "That was better then Lincoln, out there.")

The Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery

Further links

Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.