Remembering This Day Fifty Years Ago – President Kennedy

Where was I, this day, fifty years ago?

I was sixteen.

I lived in a suburb of San Diego, California.

I was in the high school band practicing after school for a marching competition.

Our band director stood atop the hill above the practice field with his megaphone, signaling the drum major to call us to a halt.  He announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and had been killed.  We stood there numb.

I can still see me there and feel the deep sorrow, the horror that a President of the United States, President Kennedy, was assassinated.

As a thirteen year old, I was living with in Arlington, Virginia, with my parents and sisters.  We were stationed in Washington, D.C. as a Navy family.  On January 20th, 1961, on a very cold day, after a blizzard, my mother took us three girls on a city bus, and we went to Washington, D.C. to see the Inauguration Parade of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  It had snowed terribly the night before and was still snowing in the morning, but the Inauguration was not being cancelled nor was my mother going to be deterred.  Although we were cold, we were excited about being there because our mother was.  She wanted us to be a part of history in some small sense, even as a observer of an historic parade.  She wanted us to remember this day.  We all have.  We especially recall the extreme chill to our very marrow…”Weather…Snow into the early morning left 8 inches on the ground.  It was sunny but cold the rest of the day.  Army flame throwers were used to clear snow from Pennsylvania Avenue.  Estimated noon temperature was 22 degrees F.” 

I feel a strong sense of connection even after all these years.  We were just at Arlington National Cemetery in September to bury my Mama with Daddy.  We went to the Kennedy grave and stood there knowing that we had been a part of the American experience with this President and his family.  Words from the end of his Inaugural Address are engraved along the low walls as one faces Washington, D.C.  with one’s back to the Kennedy grave.  They are profound.  From his Inaugural Address, President John Kennedy said, “The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.  And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.  My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. … With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”


As funeral arrangements were being made, and whether President Kennedy would be buried in Massachusetts, all was tentative until Mrs. Kennedy made her wishes known in a simple statement, “He belongs to the people.”  Thus Arlington National Cemetery became the place of burial for this beloved President.  Today, Mrs. Kennedy and two of their children are buried there.


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Words from Inaugural Address on walls near grave:

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