“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”
President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas on a sunny November afternoon 49 years ago this Thursday. The images of the event and its aftermath in photos and film still haunt us and find themselves etched in our individual and collective memory. The two shots that killed the President were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald according to the Warren Commission and subsequent inquiries although there are a host of conspiracy theories regarding the assassination. My purpose is not to prove or disprove the official version or any alternative explanation although I personally believe that Oswald was the lone gunman. It is merely to remember a horrible event in the life of our nation and how easily it could happen again.
Kennedy was not the first President killed by an assassin. Four Presidents of the United States have died by the hand of assassins. The first was Abraham Lincoln killed by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday 1865. The next was James A Garfield who was shot on July 2nd 1881 by Charles Guiteau a disgruntled supporter who claimed that he had been commanded by God to kill a the President who he believed to be ungrateful for his support. Garfield died on September 19th probably due to the incompetence of his doctors. The third was William McKinley who was shot by Leon Czolgosz on September 6th 1901. McKinley died on September 14th. Over 20 other attempts have been made on incumbent or former Presidents of which one wounded Theodore Roosevelt after his Presidency and another which nearly killed President Ronald Reagan on March 30th 1981. Gerald Ford had two close brushes with female assassins within 2 weeks of each other in September 1975. More recent attempts have been made on George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush. A man was arrested for shooting at the White House last week but President Obama was away from Washington during the attack.
However Kennedy’s assassination tends to be the most talked about and studied and has left a scar on the country that really hasn’t healed. I can remember the effect that it as well as the subsequent killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F Kennedy had on my parents in the following years. My mother recounted how she felt when she heard the news of Kennedy’s death on Armed Forces Radio while we were stationed in the Philippines. I remember the times around the anniversary of his assassination we would watch television shows about it and the movie PT-109. While I do not have direct memories of President Kennedy’s assassination I do remember those of Dr King and Senator Kennedy as well as the subsequent attempts on President Ford, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush.
John F Kennedy is one of my favorite Presidents. I know that John F Kennedy was a deeply flawed man and I do not gloss over his failings either as a man or some of his decisions while President. He was certainly not perfect or That being said I still I admire him. He volunteered to serve in combat on PT Boats despite having chronic lower back problems tht kept him out of the Army and necessitated a waiver to enter the Navy. His actions in saving his crew after his PT-109 was sunk were nothing short of heroic and his crew knew it. After he his crew was rescued Kennedy elected to remain in action and commanded PT-59 in combat rescuing Marines on Choisuel Island. Kennedy’s citation for the Navy and Marine Corps Medal read:
“For extremely heroic conduct as Commanding Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat 109 following the collision and sinking of that vessel in the Pacific War Theater on August 1–2, 1943. Unmindful of personal danger, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade) Kennedy unhesitatingly braved the difficulties and hazards of darkness to direct rescue operations, swimming many hours to secure aid and food after he had succeeded in getting his crew ashore. His outstanding courage, endurance and leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Kennedy’s speeches still inspire me. As a child a had a copy of his book Profiles in Courage. I grew up with his promise to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, the creation of the Peace Corps, his backing of Special Forces, his love of the Navy, the great “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, his support of the Civil Rights movement and and his defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis all inspire me. His inauguration speech where he said “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” was and still is a lot of my motivation for serving in the Navy. John F Kennedy symbolized to me as a young person the hope of a country that had he lived might be different today
I could be critical and point out all of John Kennedy’s flaws and contradictions. But then too easy to do. People make a living doing that. People often forget that Kennedy was a hero, not perfect but a hero. I wish a quarter of our current elected officials served their country in combat as Kennedy did and understood what real danger and heroism is. Instead with very few exceptions we have elected men as much or even more flawed and contradictory than John F Kennedy with none of his personal courage.
Kennedy’s wartime service always earned him my respect. I tremble when I think that someone would have such a deep hatred of him or for that matter any other President that they would kill or attempt to kill them. That kind of hatred goes beyond me. Lee Harvey Oswald was a small and pathetic man who needed to be a revolutionary, who needed to be important failing everything else he killed the President. Unfortunately there are people like Oswald on all sides of the political, ideological and religious spectrum who will gladly trade the life of a President or any other public figure for their moment in the spotlight and need to demonstrate their importance to the world.
I fear for our country because of the intense hatred that has become part and parcel of our political landscape. The hatred toward directed toward President Obama and the many threats made against his life and person are chilling. As I looked for images for this article I found pictures of Kennedy’s body after the assassination and they shook me. I have seen far too much in the way of violent and senseless death. Thus I do pray for the safety of President Obama as well as all of our leaders and for God to protect us from ourselves and those so possessed by hatred and their own self righteousness that they would commit such an abominable act.
While I do so I remember the President whose life was cut short by the bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald and pray that such an event will never happen again and even more importantly that American political leaders would begin to dream again, visions of hope for the country and world and instead of only seeing limitations, ask that one question in terms of ideas of hope and progress: “Why not?”
“Now the trumpet summons us again. Not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are; but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’, a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”