On 50th anniversary of JFK death - tears, memories, suspicion

DALLAS Fri Nov 22, 2013 10:18pm EST

1 of 11. Members of the Kennedy family pay their respects at Arlington National Cemetery to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy at his gravesite in Arlington, November 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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DALLAS (Reuters) - President John F. Kennedy was remembered with prayer, song and tears in Dallas on Friday, the 50th anniversary of his assassination, as the city held its first official ceremony marking an event seen as the darkest day in its history.

"Our collective hearts were broken," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told a crowd of about 5,000 who came to a frigid Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was slain while riding in a motorcade.

Remembered fondly for his youthful vigor and glamorous wife, Kennedy remains one of Americans' favorite presidents for his handling of the Cuban missile crisis, his call to public service with programs such as the Peace Corps, and a promise - later fulfilled - to land an American on the moon before the end of the 1960s.

"A new era dawned and another waned a half century ago when hope and hatred collided right here in Dallas," Rawlings said.

The assassination cut short "Camelot," as the 1,000 days of the Kennedy presidency became known. He was 46 when he died.

"If that hadn't happened, history might have changed. He was a different kind of president," said Douglas Ducharme, a Canadian attending the event.

There were a few scuffles along the perimeter fence around Dealey Plaza between police and protesters, including conspiracy theorists who wanted to take part in the official event and others who sought attention for their concerns about what they consider police brutality in Dallas.

In previous years, conspiracy theorists gathered in Dealey Plaza to express their doubts of the official Warren Commission conclusion that gunman Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, shooting Kennedy to death from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository as the president rode in an open limousine.

Two days after the assassination, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot Oswald to death on live television while he was in police custody. Ruby died in prison in early 1967.

WREATH AT THE GRAVE

At Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia where Kennedy is buried, family members laid a wreath at his grave, where Kennedy's wife, Jackie, and two of their children also are buried.

At dawn, Attorney General Eric Holder made a gravesite visit to honor Kennedy, bowing his head and placing a Justice Department commemorative coin at the stone. Holder then walked a short path to the grave of Robert F. Kennedy, who served as attorney general under his brother and was assassinated in 1968 while running for president. Holder bowed his head and left another coin.

President Barack Obama, who visited John F. Kennedy's grave on Wednesday, observed a moment of silence for the slain president.

He told Barbara Walters of ABC News that he did not dwell on his own safety because he was well protected by the U.S. Secret Service.

At the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, a steady stream of people came to view artifacts, including a video of Kennedy's state funeral and a display of the saddle, sword and boots of Black Jack, the riderless horse that led the procession.

Hundreds of people also lined up to write their thoughts and sign their names in four large guest books set up at the museum.

"Some people view Kennedy's assassination as the moment the nation lost its innocence," said Alex Loughran Lamothe, a 23-year-old volunteer for City Year - an organization modeled on Kennedy's Peace Corps program - who was helping at the exhibit.

Across the country in Santa Rosa, California, former Dallas-area resident Ruth Paine, an acquaintance of Oswald and friend of his Russian-born wife in the months before the assassination, said she spent the anniversary in seclusion.

Paine, now 81, who told the Warren Commission she helped Oswald get a job at the book depository, has appeared in recent documentaries recounting how investigators determined that Oswald had, unknown to her, kept the rifle identified as the murder weapon stashed in her garage.

Reached by telephone on Friday, she told Reuters, "I've spent the day in retreat," and declined to comment further.

New York tabloids on Friday included inserts of their reprinted 1963 editions reporting on the Kennedy assassination.

The New York Post, which at the time was an afternoon newspaper, ran an extra edition on November 22, 1963, that cost 10 cents and was headlined "JFK SHOT TO DEATH" with a stock portrait photograph of Kennedy.

STIGMA

Dallas was seen as a pariah city for years after the assassination. That stigma started to fade decades ago, and now, the Sixth Floor Museum in the former Texas School Book Depository - where police found Oswald's rifle - is one of the city's biggest tourist attractions.

"Dallas came under a great deal of international criticism after the assassination. It was called the 'City of Hate,'" said Stephen Fagin, associate curator of the museum.

Amid the Cold War paranoia and simmering racial tension of the 1960s, a small but influential group of arch-conservatives protested Kennedy's visit to Texas, saying he was soft on communism and should stay away.

In recent days, the city removed a large "X" embedded into the pavement by an unknown person or people that marked the spot on Elm Street where Kennedy was shot in the head.

The "X" had been seen as tasteless by many, while the official observance - a small plaque on the plaza's noted "grassy knoll" - had been criticized as inadequate.

CONSPIRACY THEORY

The conspiracy theorists also came to Dallas for the 50th anniversary but were left out of the official event, with one group gathering at a nearby sandwich shop.

Thousands of books, news articles, TV shows, movies and documentaries have been produced about that fateful day in Dallas, and surveys show a majority of Americans still believe in the conspiracy theories, distrusting official evidence that points to Oswald as the sole killer.

Despite serious questions about the official inquest, and theories purporting that organized crime, Cuba or a cabal of U.S. security agents was involved, conspiracy theorists have yet to produce conclusive proof that Oswald acted in consort with anyone.

Hugh Aynesworth, a reporter in Dealey Plaza 50 years ago who witnessed the assassination and also saw Oswald killed by Ruby, has spent a lifetime investigating the killings and debunking suspected plots.

"We can't accept very comfortably that two nobodies, two nothings - Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby - were able to change the course of world history," he told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York, David Ingram in Arlington, Brian Snyder and Richard Valdmanis in Boston, Pavithra Sarah George in Dallas; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Gary Hill and Peter Cooney)

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Comments (5)
TotesMcGotes wrote:
“conspiracy theorists have yet to provide conclusive proof that Oswald acted in consort with anyone”. Wow, that is a REALLY ignorant statement. Forget conspiracy theorists, how about the U.S. GOVERNMENT, which deemed that Kennedy was killed by a “PROBABLE CONSPIRACY” in 1978!!! No mention of this? Are you kidding? That is the last official government finding on the assassination.

And by the way Aynesworth has been a shill for the Warren Commission from day 1. He’s never actually investigated ANYTHING. He’s only tried to protect the original story, which was proved wrong DECADES AGO!

It’s no wonder main stream news is dying!

Nov 23, 2013 1:26pm EST  --  Report as abuse
MikeBarnett wrote:
After 50 years, he is still dead. He increased US troops in Vietnam from 500 to 23,000, an increase of 4,600%. One month before his own death, he approved the removal of Ngo Dinh Diem who was subsequently assassinated by Vietnamese military leaders. JFK fought in WWII, so he believed in the lessons of Munich like most Americans did and like some Americans do today. The Munich analogy worked in Europe, but not in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, or South America because the latter borders have been harder to control.

The US began its space race when Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. The Cuban missile crisis would have happened to any president in 1962 because the Russians put the missiles in Cuba.

He had no interest in civil rights, and it was Lyndon Johnson who passed all of that legislation. Johnson was able to twist arms in Congress because he knew where all of the skeletons were buried because he had helped bury most of them. If JFK had lived, Martin Luther King’s “Dreams” would have remained delusions and fantasies for many more years.

He was America’s first modern “Rock Star” president. Is that a good legacy?

Nov 23, 2013 1:48pm EST  --  Report as abuse
TotesMcGotes wrote:
Mike Barnett, you are sadly misinformed:

JFK had NO INTEREST in sending in more troops to Vietnam. He drafted National Security Action Memorandum 263 in the fall of 1963, which would begin the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Vietnam by Christmas of that year. With the overall goal of full withdrawal by the end of 1965. Kennedy had traveled to Vietnam earlier in his career, and brought Bobby along who was only 21 at the time. John had a friend in the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam that he trustly greatly. His friend told him French had failed to colonize the region, and for the same reasons, the U.S. would fail too. Kennedy was greatly influenced by his visit. All of this information is widely available to those who choose to actually do research.

And launching a sattelite is different than landing a man on the moon, that was much, much more ambitious. So much so that the Russians, nearly 50 years later, still haven’t accomplished that. Nor has any other country. Therefore, you really can’t blow off some a monumental achievement.

As far as the Cuban Missile Crisis, you claim “would’ve happened to any president” which means nothing. You should (still) be thanking god it wasn’t Nixon in the White House during that crisis. Chances are he wouldn’t have had the guts to stand up to every military advisor insisting on war. The Joints Chiefs to a man put unbelievable pressure on Kennedy to start a war which easily could’ve led to millions being killed. Kennedy’s blockade idea was genius, and it took guts. It might have literally saved the world from nuclear disaster. It’s absurd to say anything different.

And to say Kennedy “had no interest in civil rights” is an insult to the man’s memory. Johnson “passed all of that legislation”. No kidding! That’s only because Kennedy was dead! Those were Kennedy’s initiatives, which Johnson openly admitted.

And as far as MLK, when he was murdered in cold blood, who was it that went right into the inner city of Indianapolis risking his own safety to console people? It was a Kennedy. Robert could’ve easily avoided that situation and nobody would have blamed him. It was acts of kindness like this that made the Kennedy’s so popular around the world.

So, your comment was pretty much wrong on all accounts.

And you forgot to mention his Peace Corp initiative.

Not bad work for 2 years, 10 months, and 2 days.

So “is that a good legacy” you ask. Your darn right it is! Better than any president since then.

Nov 23, 2013 3:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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