DALLAS – The United States will on Friday mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a dark turning point in the nation’s history and a day many still remember vividly.
Church bells will toll. Flags will be lowered. Wreaths will be laid. Children will sing.
And in cities and towns across the country, people will intone and reflect upon the words of the charismatic president whose soaring rhetoric continues to inspire.
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” Kennedy urged Americans in his thick Boston accent at his inaugural address on January 20, 1961.
Cut down in his first term at the age of 46 as he was driven through Dallas, Texas in an open-top limousine on November 22, 1963, Kennedy’s unfulfilled promise has become a symbol of the lost nobility of politics.
He was a president who enlisted the nation in lofty goals — like putting a man on the Moon — “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
And he declared that we “will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”
President Barack Obama hailed Kennedy’s legacy at a ceremony for recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which the slain Democrat established months before his death.
‘The power to change this country is ours’
“Fifty years later, John F. Kennedy stands for posterity as he did in life — young, bold and daring,” said Obama, who was two years old when Kennedy was killed.
“He stays with us in our imagination, not because he left us so soon, but because he embodied the character of the people that he led,” Obama said Wednesday.
“In his idealism, his sober, square-jawed idealism, we are reminded that the power to change this country is ours.”
Obama also paid silent homage, alongside fellow two-term Democratic president Bill Clinton, at Kennedy’s hillside grave at Arlington National Cemetery to a man whose legend endures for Americans as a symbol of their nation’s spirit and possibility.
The anniversary has sparked a prolonged period of national and media reflection on the unfinished legacy of the nation’s 35th president, his tragedy-crossed family and the evocative period in the early 1960s when his political star illuminated the world.
He was the fourth US president to be killed in office, but the first whose death was caught on film.
The shocking crime – and the image of blood splattered on the pink Chanel suit of his glamorous wife Jackie – stunned the world and traumatized the nation.
Many refuse to believe that such a monumental event could be the act of a single man: troubled 26-year-old Marine Corps veteran turned Soviet defector Lee Harvey Oswald, who pointed a rifle out a sixth floor window of the Texas Book Depository and fired on the presidential motorcade.
Conspiracy theories continue to captivate doubters who support an industry of books, films and television specials.
The most prominent ceremonies marking his passing will be held in the places with the strongest Kennedy claims: his birthplace of Massachusetts, the Washington of his White House victory and Dallas, where his assassin struck.
A moment of silence will fill Dealey Plaza and its infamous grassy knoll as Dallas marks the moment the shots rang out at 12:30 pm (1830 GMT) before celebrating Kennedy’s legacy with music, prayer and speeches.
Elsewhere in the city, the Texas Theater will be screening the film that Oswald was watching when he was arrested: War is Hell.
Kennedy’s presidential library in Boston will launch a new exhibit of artifacts from his funeral and mark his death with music, excerpts of his speeches and a moment of silence.
A Cape Cod coastal town near where his family still vacations will drape storefronts and a Kennedy museum in black bunting and hold a memorial mass.
In Washington, a memorial mass will be held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle while the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will lay a wreath at his bust and discuss his legacy at the beginning of the evening’s classical music performance.
Museums, libraries, schools and churches across the country will also be marking his death with exhibits, lectures and memorials.
And even the smallest claims to Kennedy will be celebrated.
Newark, New Jersey will hold a midday ceremony on the steps of city hall, replaying a speech he once gave there. Tampa, Florida will unveil a historical marker noting the site of another Kennedy speech.