Images remain 50 years later
“The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans …” said John Fitzgerald Kennedy upon taking the oath of office to become the 35th president of the United States of America.
And so it is being passed now, into the 21st century, into the hands of the post-baby boomers, to the millenials and the Gen X and Gen Y children, who see the world as differently as JFK saw it from the presidents before him.
Today marks a lifetime, 50 years, from the dark events of Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas. The images of that day and the days that followed are iconic, burned into the minds of those who were adults then and those who are their children – The handsome, young and vibrant first couple descending the steps of the jet-age symbol of America, a gleaming presidential Boeing 707; the beautiful Lincoln limousine speeding away with Secret Service Agent Clint Hill hanging from the back; a teary-eyed anchorman Walter Cronkite telling the nation its president was dead; President Johnson being sworn in back aboard that same 707, blood-stained and shaken Mrs. Kennedy at his side; Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin, being gunned down in the Dallas jailhouse; the blurry images of the assassination film shot by Abraham Zapruder, a Russian immigrant and clothing manufacturer; little John-John saluting his father’s funeral procession; the riderless horse; the grave with the eternal flame.
It is not possible to look back on the day from 50 years later with a sense of disbelief: The president of the United States walking along the rope lines at the airport, wading into the crowds to shake hands, security barely noticeable; an open-topped and slow-moving convertible heading through a concrete canyon packed with spectators and lots of windows for snipers above; a transfer of power aboard an airplane without courtroom drama and challenges in the days to follow.
Postwar America, the can-do nation, changed forever in the nanosecond of a bullet’s penetration of the president’s body.
And in that moment came the seeds of disbelief, seeds taking root in the new generations of Americans, whom surveys show believe more in the conspiracy theories about JFK’s death than in the long-held lone gunman theory that makes Oswald the sole culprit.
It was not possible to the American psyche that a lone misfit could possibly have felled the president of the greatest nation on earth. And the conspiracy theories followed and continue to this day, government reports of massive volume notwithstanding.
Indeed, the mentality persists across the generations, embodied by those who refuse to accept, government reports and admissions of law enforcement and intelligence failure notwithstanding, that a few madmen could topple American buildings. Fittingly, conspiracy theories abound, then, about 9-11, the event that completed the destruction of the optimism held so widely in the JFK days.
Still, time brings up a new question: Could a government so incapable of protecting its secrets actually have hidden some sinister plot to eliminate the president for 50 years?
It’s something to ponder as we pause today and remember a young leader with his beautiful wife at his side, moving around in vehicles that portrayed American power and an optimism that began to erode that sunny day in Dallas 50 years ago.