What were you doing 50 years ago? What happened on Nov. 22, 1963, that changed the course of U.S. history? Why does it matter? What is our fascination with what happened that day? It was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
At 12:30 p.m. Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed while in a parade in Dallas. Also in the motorcade at the time of the shooting were Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie, along with two Secret Service men in the front seat. The target was Kennedy even though Connally also was injured.
From what I've seen on television and read, three shots were fired. One bullet did not hit anyone in the car. A second bullet hit Kennedy, and it is theorized that this bullet hit him in the back of the neck, traveled through his neck, passed through Connally's back exiting out of his chest, hit his right hand and lodged in his left thigh. A third bullet was a direct hit to the president's head, which killed him. The gun used by the shooter was an old Army rifle.
I still remember Walter Cronkite broadcasting that day on CBS national television. He reported the president had been shot in Dallas. Shortly thereafter, he gave an unofficial report that President Kennedy died. Cronkite received official word at 1 p.m. and announced the president of the United States was dead at the age of 46 years old. Many of us spent every spare minute listening to reports on television and radio about our national loss and clung to the sentiment voiced around the world and in our nation as we grieved the loss of our beloved president, who was shot down in the prime of his life.
Just think, if Kennedy were still alive today, he would be 96. But, to me, he will always be young because that is how I remember him. JFK was the youngest man elected president at the age of 43. He was the 35th president of the United States and was loved by the majority of the people. His wife, Jackie, was a gracious first lady and his two young children, Caroline and John, stole our hearts.
So what did Kennedy do that impressed us? He certainly had a charm about him. Perhaps part of his appeal was his youth, Bostonian accent, pretty wife and two cute children. Perhaps it had something to do with his most famous quote at his inauguration in January 1960 "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Maybe it was our country's issues he dealt with, such as civil rights, the economy and communism. JFK led the country he loved. He was a man who put politics aside and worked for the betterment of the people of the United States of America. Isn't that the way it should be?
Kennedy chose Lyndon Baines Johnson to be his vice president. LBJ had been in both the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. He was a powerful man at the time and helped Kennedy win the presidency. The moment Kennedy was pronounced dead, Johnson became the 36th president of the United States. He officially took the oath on board the plane that would head back to Washington for the long trip home with the body of JFK and Jackie aboard.
Robert (Bobby) Kennedy was appointed by his brother to serve as U.S. attorney general. Even though he was younger than JFK and had little experience in law or politics, he was smart and was his brother's right-hand man. He had hoped to eventually become president himself, but was shot down by an assassin during his campaign.
Questions were raised. Who shot JFK and why? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone or did he have an accomplice? Was it a political act or simply a hate crime committed by a cold-blooded killer?
Of course, there is the conspiracy theory there was another shooter. Evidence seems to prove Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter. And why did Jack Ruby kill Oswald before we could know the answers to the questions?
Do you remember when Kennedy was in Hays on Nov. 20, 1959, for a Democratic dinner at Jefferson West School (later renamed Kennedy Middle School)? A picture of JFK along with several Hays residents appeared in The Hays Daily News after the event.
At the time of his stop in Hays, he had not yet announced he was a candidate for president of the United States. He officially announced his candidacy in January 1960. I wish I would have been there, met him, heard him speak in person and shook his hand. His legacy lives on through those who lead and love this country.
Alberta Klaus is a contributor to The Hays Daily News Generations advisory group.