Thirteen days before Dallas, President Kennedy stood on a hillside in Arlington National Cemetery, taking a private moment away from a Veterans Day ceremony to enjoy a vista of the nation's capital.
"This is one of the really beautiful places on earth. I could spend the rest of my life here," Kennedy, according to published accounts, remarked to a companion on the clear, spectacular day.
It was that kind of day yesterday. On the 24th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, a steady stream of visitors, including several members of the Kennedy family, arrived in the crisp autumn weather to the hillside that became the president's grave site.
Ordinarily there is no special significance attached to 24th anniversaries, and there were no ceremonies at Arlington yesterday to mark the occasion. But the volume of people who trekked to the grave was testimony to the powerful grip the legacy of the slain president holds on the popular imagination -- even among those who were not born in 1963.
"He's always interested me," said 18-year-old Vance Opdike, a New Jersey resident, adding that the anniversary prompted him to visit Arlington for the first time. "He was our first Catholic president . . . a great man."
The weather helped create a mood of remembrance and reflection. A cloudless sky formed a brilliant blue backdrop to the monuments and the Capitol dome, while temperatures in the 30s had a bracing effect.
The Rev. Harold F. Vieages was a 23-year-old seminarian studying at his desk when he heard the news from Dallas. "Someone rushed in and said, 'The president's been shot,' and I said, 'You shouldn't joke about things about like that.' "
Later, Vieages was huddled around a television when the screen showed the flag over the White House being lowered to half-staff. "When that flag fell, everything inside you died," he recalled at the grave site yesterday.
Ethel Kennedy, widow of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, arrived at Arlington with four of their children about 11:30 a.m., according to cemetery historian Kerri Childress. The group said prayers and laid white roses at President Kennedy's grave and Sen. Kennedy's marker, which rests a short distance away.
Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles moments after winning the California Democratic presidential primary in June 1968.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was traveling during the weekend, but a spokeswoman for his office said he visted his brothers' grave sites on Friday, which was Robert Kennedy's birthday.
Foreigners made up a large part of yesterday's crowd at Arlington; for many of these visitors, the legacies of John and Robert Kennedy are potent symbols of American politics and power.
Masahiro Fukuzawa, a fellow at the National Institutes of Health, said he recalls vividly watching the news of President Kennedy's death while a 13-year-old boy in Japan. "He's a very famous person in Japan," said Fukuzawa.