I was a seventh grader on Friday, November 22, 1963. It was an unusually warm fall day. We had just come back from lunch. The school janitor, who seemed to have the only radio in the school, came by to tell us that the President had been shot.
We could not believe it. That just wasn’t supposed to happen in this modern day.
When he died in Dallas, the whole country was in shock. Many of you can remember where you were on that day and at 12:15 when President Kennedy died.
For me, this began a long interest in the Kennedy legacy. It may sound weird that a 12-year-old kid would be intrigued with such a tragic event in our history. My interest led me to read several books on the assassination.
The first one I read was “Rush to Judgment” by Mark Lane. I read this in high school. It was the beginning of my firm belief, at that time, that it was a conspiracy which murdered JFK. Then I read “Six Seconds in Dallas” by Josiah Thompson. These books raised legitimate questions about the assassination. Some of the questions pertained to the following: Did the angle of the bullet correspond to where the shots were fired? Who was on the grassy knoll? What were the motives of Oswald?
Abraham Zapruder supplied the only visual evidence of the murder through his 8 — millimeter camera. After reading these books and others, I was convinced not only that Oswald was not the lone assassin, but that he was framed and innocent as well.
Years later when I had the privilege of travelling to the assassination site at the Texas School Depository building, I was further fascinated by the opportunity to walk the same route that the original players took. The attitude of the people of Dallas had changed over the years. The first time I went there I could not go into the Texas Book Depository Building. The last time I went to Dallas they had turned the 6th story into a museum. When at first they viewed the assassination as a black mark on their city, now they attempted to memorialize and pay tribute to JFK.
My viewpoint had also changed from the idea of a conspiracy to one of giving more credibility to the lone gunman theory.
My viewpoint of President Kennedy was also changing. I had viewed him as a young and inexperienced rich kid who largely won the presidency because of his father’s enormous wealth. There were subtle and not too subtle remarks about his religion. What changed my thinking?
I guess sometimes we make initial observations based on inadequate information. Sometimes we reflect the views of our personal environment. In the case of many of our leaders, time sometimes tempers our judgments. At times age makes one wiser and calmer.
Page 2 of 2 - For whatever the reasons, my impressions of John F. Kennedy have become more balanced. He is no longer the wealthy kid who bought the Presidency. I see him as a gifted writer, tough politician, and World War II hero. He did have charisma and charm.
Many of his programs such as the Peace Corps have had lasting influence. Many other programs never got off the ground because of his tragic death. His knowledge of foreign affairs was huge, his performance in foreign affairs was questionable. The Bay of Pigs fiasco showed his youth and inexperience. His personal strength and courage in the Cuban Missile Crisis might have saved the world from nuclear annihilation.
The tragedy of President Kennedy will always be the fact that his Presidency was left unfulfilled because of the fateful day, November 22, 1963.
As we look back on Kennedy’s Presidency, what impact did he make on our history? There is no question of his influence on the youth of America. His administration was a stark contrast to the grandfatherly rule of Eisenhower. His programs of Peace Corps and VISTA attracted young people to government service. Those were positive marks on his presidency. For a short time the natural cynicism towards government was tempered.
Unfortunately, the excesses of the Vietnam War and unfulfilled promises of government agencies frustrated and angered all Americans, but especially the young people. Whether John Kennedy could have made a difference, we will never know. We can only speculate whether he would have handled the Vietnam conflict differently.
One thing is for certain that time heals many things. Often Presidents become more popular when they are gone. Even his successor, Lyndon Johnson, has grown in stature since the stain of Vietnam. Who knows how history will judge the events of today and the leaders associated with them?
Dwight Goering is a resident of McPherson.