US remembers Kennedy 50 years after assassination


Kennedy died before he could disappoint, says the BBC's North America editor Mark Mardell from Dallas

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The US has marked 50 years since President John F Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet in Dallas, Texas.

The city, which long struggled with the legacy of the assassination, hosted a series of official events.

Kennedy, who served less than three years, is often ranked among the nation's most revered presidents.

Just 46 when he died, he is praised for his youthful vigour, his leadership through the Cuban missile crisis and his vision to put a man on the Moon.

But he is also remembered for ordering one of the most disastrous episodes of the Cold War, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of communist Cuba by a CIA-trained paramilitary force of Cuban exiles.

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The older generation who remember Kennedy the best perhaps look back through a golden haze”

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Kennedy's family members laid a wreath on his grave at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC on Friday. His wife Jackie and two of their children are also buried there.

President Barack Obama issued a proclamation for flags to be flown at half mast at the White House, US Capitol and other government buildings.

"Today, we honour his memory and celebrate his enduring imprint on American history," he said.

Among official events in Dallas on Friday, the city's symphony orchestra performed and bells tolled at the minute of Kennedy's death. Crowds thronged the ceremony at Dealey Plaza, where the president was shot.

"The man we remember today gave us a gift that will not be squandered: the chance to learn how to face the future when it's the darkest and most uncertain," Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings said to a large crowd before a moment of silence was observed.

Historian and author David McCullough read several of Kennedy's most famous quotes, including: "We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask, 'Why not?'"

Bells mark the moment exactly 50 years since the death of JFK

Elsewhere, wreaths were laid in the German capital Berlin where Kennedy gave his Cold War-era "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in June 1963.

Those events and others conclude a week of tributes to the slain American leader.

Kennedy, a Democrat, belonged to one of the 20th Century's most prominent American political dynasties.

Conspiracy theorists gather

On 22 November 1963, he and his wife travelled to Dallas for early campaigning ahead of the following year's election.

Crowds of supporters lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the couple. As the presidential motorcade entered Dealey Plaza at around 12:30 local time (18:30 GMT), Kennedy's convertible passed the Texas School Book Depository.

Gunshots rang out. Bullets struck the president in the head and neck. Half an hour later, Kennedy was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

He was the fourth US president assassinated while in office, but the first to have his death captured on film.

Soon after, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president aboard Air Force One.

Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine Corps veteran and Soviet defector employed at the depository at the time, was arrested in connection with the shooting.

A British nurse in the Dallas hospital when JFK was shot and others recall learning of his death

On 24 November 1963, he was scheduled to be transferred from police headquarters to a county jail when he was shot and killed by Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner.

Official inquiries have determined Oswald was responsible for the assassination, but Kennedy's murder has provided endless fodder for conspiracy theorists.

Members of one such group demonstrated in Dealey Plaza on Friday, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "50 years in denial is enough" and holding a sign that said "coup d'etat".

'Look of horror'

The events of that November plunged the nation into mourning, and many Americans still recall where they were when they heard the news.

Texan Daniel Kendrick, who as a teenager witnessed the shooting, told the BBC he had been preparing to approach the motorcade in the hope of shaking the president's hand when he witnessed Kennedy's shooting.

"I saw the look on Jackie Kennedy's face," he recalled. "She turned and looked straight at me with a look of horror on her face. That really freaked me out. I had to run."

Historian Robert Dallek said Kennedy's popularity endured in part because Americans have been so disappointed in his successors.

"People want a better life in this country," he said. "They want to think their children are going to do better. And they associate this with Kennedy's youth, his promise, possibility."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    I was just 5. We were doing the weekly shopping in Tesco's which were in their infancy at that time. It was a cold and foggy November day in Surrey UK. The staff announced it over the store Tanoy. We went home and watched the TV coverage in disbelief... even I realised the significance of the event.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    The myths grew up around JFK because he was killed. If he hadn't been killed the history books would have been more honest and wouldn't have treated him so kindly.

    Also, if he'd been any other nationality the BBC wouldn't be talking about him today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Two things about JFK: he would have lost the next election and gone down in history as just another guy who failed to meet expectations; assassin's bullet or not, he would not be alive today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    I was 10. The news broke on that Friday evening during 'EmergencyWard 10'. An announcement was made, the transmission of the programme ceased and instead we heard sombre piano music. Even at that tender age I knew it was bad, very bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    I would urge the conspiracy theorists to watch the film 'Conspiracy Theory' and another film called 'Arlington Road'.
    Both are very good films.
    The president was shot by LHO who was in turn shot by JLR (live on TV). If you doubt that, provide evidence to the contrary - one verifiable piece will do. If the CIA/FBI/Crime gangs had done it, there would be a trace given the mess 'they' made of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    I can remember the assassination as reported on the Black and White BBC.

    The president of the United States John F Kennedy has been assassinated.

    We now return you to the Benny Hill Show.

    Says it all doesn't it!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    His reputation has benefitted from the fact that he died young. His war record was suspect - a PT boat cut in half by a destroyer suggests negligence on his part, he started the US involvement in VN - which Johnson got saddled with and he could not have survived in todays political arena leading the womanising personal life that he did. He had charisma though and his family had 'clout' both assets

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    so did the CIA shoot him or not ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    @44 "Let's be honest Kennedy was hardly Mother Teresa"

    Well according to Christopher Hitchens, Mother Teresa was hardly Mother Teresa either!

    Not seen the documentary, so can't comment either way on that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Shot that killed JFK came from car behind-secret service personnel said it was an accident and were then desperate to cover it up. Same thing happened 5 yrs later when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were both shot dead. Suspicious anyone? No? Really? Grow up and stop swallowing the lies. This was an inside job as was 9/11.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Dynasties....the Kennedy family, the Bush family. Its not what you know, its who you know!! Caroline Kennedy, Ambassador to Japan (groan) and the worst of all thoughts Jeb Bush might run for President. And lets not forget the Clintons. Will Hilary run for President? Hope not.. the rest of the world is not in love with you are with yourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    OK, he was a serial womanizer.
    But people forget, as I recall was in the news at the time, that he & Jackie were Catholics who didn't believe in contraception and Jackie had recently had yet another dangerous miscarriage. So their sexual relations would have been put on hold.
    I haven't read the biographies, but I recall my parents commenting on that Catch 22 at the time. Correct me if I'm wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    From a starting point that all politicians are crooks, that said, Kennedy was as close to Royalty as the Yanks will ever get, I was 14 and the news shocked me, then we were grown up at 14, had to be, not like today's sinister world where everyone is a suspected paedophile, terrorist or wrongun and childhood is from the cradle to 25, the world in 1963 was a nicer place and common sense prevailed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    There has never been (and probably never will be) a more ridiculous case of wool being pulled over the public's eyes, than the Warren Report's Single Bullet theory. How this audacious theory ever saw the light of day is beyond me. Also, how a shot from behind a person can make their head tilt backwards simply defies physics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    To me was Ronald Reagan the archtype of an american president and I was also sympatethic towards Gerald Ford who could merely be recognized for his solidity.
    Kennedy was before my time and since his days the US has seen many different types of presidents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    JFK was the first celebrity President.Since the we have had a succession of both Presidents and Pms.History will tell us that the western world lost its way when voting for either became a media driven beauty contest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    JFK: "aeh this convoy looks rather slow, should we ae have a convertible, ae my head seems awful exposed"

    Secret Service: "standard practice Mr President, nothing to worry about"

    JFK: "Really,seems dangerous, as long as you speed up at first sign of trouble"
    SS: "oh yea.. surrre"
    JFK: "why did you say it like that"
    SS: "no reason"
    JFK "you will be in tight form around the car yes?"
    SS: "probs"

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    I was just six at the time and in a room full of people when my father came in and, with a look of horror broke the news about JFK. He looked so upset that I asked if he was a friend of his. He replied that he was a friend of everybody. It is a vivid memory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    I wonder how Alistair Cooke would have cast his account of these reminiscences, perhaps like this :

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    To be fair with 273 comments so far not many people seem to be remembering JFK, perhaps it has something to do with the fact we are not in America.
    He wouldn't have stood for pre moderation of comments now would he. Would have told the beeb where to get off, if it was in america that is.


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