50 Years After JFK
On November 22, 1963, the United States stood in shock. News anchors struggled to deliver the news. Americans founds their eyes filled with tears and their hearts dropping with each passing second as their worst fears were confirmed: The president had been shot and killed.
On the Friday afternoon that fell exactly 50 years later, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, created to honor the fallen president’s legacy, hosted a special musical tribute and a new exhibit opened: A Nation Remembered.
For many who were alive in 1963, the day remains etched in their memories like it was yesterday. Everyone has their own story: Where they were and what they were doing. In JFK Library volunteer Tom Flynn’s opinion, it was all a blur.
“Talk to anyone my age,” he said. “The world kind of stopped.”
At 12:30 p.m., the same time Kennedy had been shot, the crowd gathered into the Smith Room for a 30-minute documentary on Kennedy’s life: his political campaign, his journey to, and time in, the White House. The documentary faded out and a simple statement was read, “on November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated.”
The audience sat in silence.
At 1:30 p.m., the feature presentation began with a mix of singers and speakers. World-famous songwriter James Taylor led a cast that included Paul Winter and the Paul Winter Sextet, and the U.S. Naval Academy Women’s Glee Club. They performed songs that seemed to set the appropriate tone for the anniversary event and recited original Kennedy speeches.
Notable speakers included Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick; director-counsel emeritus of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Elaine Jones; Chris Cassidy, US Naval Commander, Navy SEAL, and a NASA Astronaut; Richard Blanco, a Cuban-American and poet for the 2013 presidential inauguration, and Sarah Goustra, an 8th grade student who is attending Edward Devotion School, where Kennedy studied.
Sandy Sedacca worked for the library for nine years and remains close with many of the employees there. She noted the special significance of featuring Paul Winter.
“She [Mrs. Kennedy] had invited Paul Winter [to the White House] who probably then been in his twenties,” Sedacca said. She had been planning jazz concerts for the White House.
“He had come back here to play in 2001 when the exhibiton about Mrs. Kennedy was opened, and did a beautiful performance.”
Fifty years later, America is still in mourning. And fifty years later, the Kennedy’s would still receive words of sympathy. Several books were laid out in the lobby for guests to sign, give condolences to the Kennedy family.
John Snyder, a Boston local was visibly saddened. He looked back to 1963 like it was yesterday.
“I was in first grade, I remember it well,” he said. “The nun crying, etched into my memory. That next Monday, the day of mourning, mom crying all day.”
He looked down for a moment in deep reflection, put his hand to his chest.
“Today, I have a heavy heart,” Snyder said. “I miss Jack, his great promises and long hope.”
Through the lobby, the new exhibit, A Nation Remembered, is laid out. A movie plays to the right: the funeral and procession is retold and shown in fantastic detail.
One visitor takes his time, resting against a column to take in the quotes printed on the wall. He walks slowly, allows others ahead of him.
“I’m here to contribute to Jack Kennedy,” Matt Caires said. He is a patron of the library and was eight-years-old when Kennedy was assassinated.
“That event pretty much affected my entire life,” he said.
She looks at home while walking around the library. She greets workers by first name, a smile spreads across her face. She attributes President Kennedy to her love of social studies and her dedication to a life in public service.
“I deeply admired the service by the president and the whole family,” she said. “I couldn’t be anywhere else today.”
Gene Connors still works for the JFK Library. He is professional, kind and courteous. When asked about the day and the exhibit, he displays the same behavior.
“I thought it was excellent, good, somber yet—” he said and paused to find the appropriate words for the 35th president’s exhibit. “Just appropriate.”
He explained his loyal support for the president, “I grew up in his congressional district,” he said. “I was a JFK supporter.”
It was rooted from his origins as an Irish Catholic living in Massachusetts.
“Life went on, but it was a very moving weekend. The TV was on for three straight days,” he said. “That…wasn’t common back then.”
He recollects the day.
“[I was] going to lunch with [a] few guys at the Dugout Café,” he said. The café, in actuality, is not a café at all but a dive bar, in the middle of Boston. Connors had been going to school at Boston University.
“That’s when I heard the first announcement,” he said. “Around one o’clock.”
He went on to explain that a few students in the bar had been making inappropriate comments about the president’s death. They hadn’t known whether or not he was dead at that point. Punches were thrown.
Connors looked up from telling the story, his eyes had filled with tears but were blinked away in a second.
“That’s the last scuffle I’ve been in,” he said.
Janet D’aleo and Esther Alaimo of Connecticut came to the JFK Library together, with a tour group.
They are friends for sure, they helped one another down the stairs, encouraged each other in their story-telling and listened to one another intently. Both can agree, too, the exhibit was marvelous and John F. Kennedy was a marvelous man.
“Everyone agrees it doesn’t feel like it was 50 years ago,” Alaim said. “We all remember clearly. It was one of those things that you don’t forget.”
Another who wasn’t quick to forget the solemn day was Robert Arnwire of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army. He was at the library with the New England Center for Homeless Veterans.
Arnwire stood, crutches holding him up, a large bandage wrapped around one knee. No questions asked.
But considering Kennedy, his admiration shines through and he gushes.
“I think he was our greatest president,” Arnwire said.
“I think that he handled the country just as easily as he handled the state of Massachusetts; only God knows what he could have done if his life had not been cut so short”
Thinking, he adds.
“Once George Wallace tried to stop black students from attending college, he stepped in and he said, ‘you cant have people judged by their race’,” Arnwire said. “He was advised not to do that. He did the right thing, he did what was right for the people.”
Like his fellow visitors that day, Kennedy’s death is, for the most part, still crystal.
“I was 5 years old…and I remember my mother crying, and I remember…it all clearly if my memory serves,” he said. “You know that huge funeral procession was just amazing.”
He looked up, solemn.
“I mean, I think the whole country cried,” Arnwire said.
News organizations have claimed the same thing since that infamous day when shots were heard in Dallas. It was Jackie Kennedy who taught the country to mourn, and the people continue to to this day.