Monday, November 23, 2015

John F. Kennedy's Beacon Extinguished Fifty-Two Years Ago

JFK in Ypsilanti. Photo courtesy of Susan Wolter-Brown
On October 20, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy's motorcade was stopped at about 1:10 AM by Eastern Michigan University students who jammed West Cross Street in front of McKinny Student Union. Kennedy was on his way to a political rally in Ann Arbor the following day.
He made a two or three minute speech telling the cheering crowd of students that he stood "for the oldest party in years, but the youngest party in ideas." Because of the late hour, the soon-to-be president asked to be excused explaining he had a difficult schedule planned for the next day.

In his inaugural speech on January 20, 1960, the new president boldly stated that "a torch has been passed to a new generation." Three years later, on Friday, November 22, 1963, at 11:30 AM, an assassin's bullet cut down President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas while he was campaigning for a second term. He was pronounced dead on the operating table thirty minutes later.

At 1:00 PM, the intercom system at Allen Park High School broadcast the sound of Walter Cronkite announcing John F. Kennedy, thirty-fifth president of the United States, had been assassinated--then he paused. The principal came on and asked for a moment of silence.

I was in sophomore biology class. The shocked silence was punctuated first by whimpering and then open sobbing. This was a defining moment for an entire generation. A mourning wind swept over the nation and the world held its breath.

After two years, ten months, two days, and sixty-nine minutes, Kennedy's torch of optimism was extinguished. But his challenge to America had been met--putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade. The technical breakthroughs from that achievement still benefit mankind.