Can we draw any lessons from the assassination of John F. Kennedy 19 years ago this week? My readers think we can, and have.
In the hundreds of letters I have read over the last few days, readers note over and over that JFK's exhortation to serve our country is still just as praiseworthy, and just as inspirational, as it was in 1963.
Paula D. Matuskey of Ellicott City, Md., writes that she will "never forget President Kennedy. I am in graduate school in government and politics today because he symbolized to me that that endeavor could be worthy and true."
Peggy Kugler of Fairfax came to Washington with her husband "at the request of John F. Kennedy to see what we could 'do for our country.'
"We are still here," Peggy writes, "but sadly there is less and less we can do. However, hope is as eternal as the flame, and we are still trying...."
"For me, John F. Kennedy was a hero," writes Roger P. Kingsley of Silver Spring. "During his presidency, the nation and the world seemed to be heading in a positive direction. There was so much hope for a better future....
"In my view, that Friday marked a turning point in history. The positive direction was reversed. That black cloud has hung over the world ever since."
What made JFK so unusual? Gary Schraffenberger of Fairfax had a special perspective, and has a special answer.
"I was in the second year of a four-year tour with the U.S. Air Force Presidential Honor Guard at Bolling Air Force Base when the news came," Gary writes.
"With our constant duties at White House functions, it became easy to identify with this man, as he was young and especially young at heart....
"After particularly stuffy White House functions, and when our duty was over, we often joked that if one of us had the nerve we would ask him to sneak out by the back door of the White House, go to a nearby pub, buy him a beer and swap war stories.
"The incredible thing is, to this day I feel if we had mustered the nerve, he very well may have said yes and enjoyed every minute of it!"
No way to tell now, of course, Gary. But my hunch is the same as yours.
Barbara E. Parker of Laurel writes that the lesson JFK taught her was that great men are not invulnerable.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Barbara was in the third grade. "When I got home, I turned on the TV, watched and listened very carefully to the news, and I began to cry.
"My brothers all laughed at me, because they couldn't understand why a little black girl of 7 would be crying for a white man whom she never even met.
"I realized I (we) had lost someone very great. The feeling was no different five years later on April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and June 5, 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy was also assassinated."
Reba A. Cummings of Annandale was a high school senior in Red Lion, Pa., when the news arrived from Dallas. She writes that the lesson she draws from that day is that one must "go on believing in people as a whole, and to this day I still do."
"In today's world," Reba continues, "it is sometimes extremely difficult to remain optimistic and hopeful. But to the Kennedy family and the family of the world, let me assure you that there are many of us who do remember. Let us never forget.
"My prayer is that the people of the world can see the day when such horrible, needless tragedies cease. When the world can live together lovingly and peacefully, then, and only then, will I be able to tuck this memory safely away."
Mrs. John Kreis of Bolling Air Force Base summed up the feelings of hundreds of readers with these few words:
"The day he died," she writes, "I spent a long time crying, not just for a dead president, but because he made me feel that I could make a difference in this country.
"I haven't felt that way in a long time."