He was the second youngest man to hold the office of the presidency and the youngest man ever elected to it.
He was the first Catholic to win the oval office and the first president born in the 20thcentury.
He won the Pulitzer Prize on his way to winning the White House with one of the closest electoral margins in history.
He faced down a Soviet threat of unimaginable proportions that saved the world from its first nuclear war.
He was a pragmatic intellectual who claimed to be an idealist without illusion.
And today marks the 55th anniversary of day he was assassinated at the age of 46.
He was, of course, John F. Kennedy.
It would be difficult to find anyone who is old enough to remember President Kennedy in office that doesn’t remember exactly where they were when they heard the announcement on November 22ndfifty years ago that the president had been shot.
I had just turned eight three weeks before and was in the third grade, still living in Milwaukee, and was home sick with a cold that Friday. I was sitting on my great-grandmother’s living room floor reading my favorite Superman and Batman comic books as she was sitting in her favorite rocker watching her “stories” on the old black and white Philco in the corner of the living room.
Her favorite was CBS’ As the World Turns and I remember the picture going to a graphic that read ‘CBS News Bulletin’ and the familiar voice of anchor Walter Cronkite came across saying “Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, these shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas….”
Three shots in Dallas and in those seven seconds the world as we would know it was changed.
President Kennedy, to my knowledge, never actually visited Asheville. On Saturday, September 17th, 1960, then Senator and Democratic Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy barnstormed North Carolina, beginning in the early morning landing in Greenville and making stops in Greensboro, Charlotte, and Raleigh by the end of the day.
Asheville was the third stop scheduled that day but inclement weather kept the pilot from landing the “Caroline”, his private plane, at the airport. The best Kennedy could do was to circle the runway and head to Charlotte.
He did send a message of apology and thanks to the more than 5,000 people waiting in the rain at ou minor league baseball park, McCormick Field. Even though he was not able to set foot in Asheville, a little more than three years later, on the afternoon of November 22nd, schools were dismissed early in honor of our slain president.
I can’t imagine many, who cannot recall or recognize at least one of President Kennedy ‘s quotes. One of the most quoted presidents in United States history, his words have resonated throughout the world during the past five decades.
Hundreds of volumes containing Kennedy’s wit, wisdom, and thoughts have been compiled and published. Many are well known, but just as many have been overshadowed by the few that countless readers repeat, hoping in some way to recapture some of his magic of his vision
JFK reminded us in what was very troubling and dangerous times in the world as he entered the White House “Do not pray for easier lives. Pray to be stronger men.”
Times have changed but they have also stayed much the same in that regard. These are indeed difficult and troubled times for many. Kennedy knew the realities of the world and encouraged a generation that although life is unfair and easier lives may never come, becoming stronger men and women should be to what we aspire, what we should all become.
There is another quote that rings as true today, as it was meant to in 1963.
“This country is moving and it must not stop. It cannot stop. For this is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity or complacency will do.”
These words were never spoken, as they were part of the speech President Kennedy was to give in Austin later that evening of November 22.
Words of hope and challenge that were cut short by three shots in Dallas.