November 22, 2013

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, those of us of a certain age remember where we were on that fateful day. I was a freshman in high school in Elizabeth, N.J., and as I was walking from gym to geometry, somebody in the hall told me that the president had been shot. In the classroom, the loudspeaker carried the broadcast coming out of Dallas. We sat in shock as the tragic news came over the air. No one said a word.

The full impact didn’t hit me until I got home from school that afternoon and saw my mother crying in front of our TV in a way I hadn’t seen since the death of her own mother several years earlier. At that moment, I knew that Camelot was gone and with it the comfort and security of a life of innocence.

The years that followed proved me right. The deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., escalating war in Vietnam, urban riots not far from where I lived, campus unrest, Watergate and, ultimately, the terror attacks on 9/11 all showed that the world I had known in my childhood died in Dallas 50 years ago.

We live in a changed world now, where we are patted down at airports, where we can feel unsafe attending a movie, where we worry about sending our kids outside to play with their friends. Yes, the world in which I was raised has been gone for 50 years. Much more than a life was lost that day.

Would it have been different had JFK not been murdered? Probably not. But for those who remember, it is the event that marks the change.

Robert Silverstein, Olney

When President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was a 16-year-old living a short walk from Bethesda’s naval hospital. Like many teens at that time, I idolized Kennedy, and I even had his photo taped to my bedroom wall.

Early in the evening of Nov. 22, 1963, I learned that the casket bearing the president’s body was coming to Bethesda. At once, I sprinted toward the hospital. As the hearse, surrounded by a fleet of police cars, meandered down the hospital roads, I chased after it, hoping to touch it — to establish a connection — but I never reached it.

We adolescents were in love with Kennedy. We admired his athleticism and his vigor and that he did not look like someone’s grandfather. He was cool, but it was more than that. His zest for life and idealism inspired us. His death was devastating to young people; we felt that something wonderful that had been given to us was abruptly taken away.

As my generation became young adults a few years later, many of us remembered his example and heeded his call to public service. Some of us entered the Peace Corps, others joined the civil rights movement, some volunteered to practice medicine in remote areas. Now we are nearing the end of our working lives. Will Kennedy’s legacy continue?

There are dreamers and there are doers. Rare is the person who dreams bold visions and then courageously takes the steps needed to better our world. JFK was a master of both. We can only dream what could have been if Nov. 22 never happened.

Mark A. Goldstein, Lincoln, Mass.

Memories and deep sighs of emotion punctuated the lives of many Americans this week. The calendar brought reminders of two events occurring 100 years apart: the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. 

Are there words that can link and explain why these events should remain so important to us? I believe so. They were uttered by JFK’s brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, in 1980 as he ended his own presidential campaign at the Democratic National Convention in New York.

His final sentence spoke to the legacy of both former presidents: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

Randolph Arndt, Clarksville

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