"I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple blossoms fill the air---
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring comes back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath---
It may be I shall pass him still
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous." --Alan Seeger 1888-1916
Unpredictable winds of change were swirling that sunny November day in 1963 as America's most glimmering flame of promise and hope was suddenly and unexpectedly extinguished ... sounds of gunshots echoed across Dealey Plaza, then round the world sending waves of shock and sorrow throughout the hearts of a stunned nation ... those who witnessed the terrible events of that day will never forget the moment they heard the unthinkable ... "President Kennedy is dead!" ... words forever seared into our national consciousness ... President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) was killed by an assassin's bullet as his motorcade wound through the streets of Dallas, Texas - he had barely completed his first one thousand days in office ... our noble hero was gone ... our hope became uncertainty ... our joy turned to sadness and grief ... our hearts forever broken ... it was the end of innocence.
John Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected President of the United States ... he was also the youngest to die ... of Irish descent, he was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, May 29, 1917 ... after graduating from Harvard in 1940, he entered the U.S. Navy ... in 1943, while commanding a PT boat (PT-109) in the Pacific Theater during World War II, his boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer ... Kennedy, despite grave injuries, led the survivors through perilous waters to safety ... for his bravery, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
Back from the war, John Kennedy became a Democratic Congressman from the Boston area, advancing in 1953 to the Senate ... he married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on September 12, 1953 ... in 1955, while recuperating from back surgery, he wrote Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history ... in 1956, Kennedy nearly gained the Democratic nomination for Vice President, and four years later was a first-ballot nominee for President, winning by a narrow margin in the popular vote, Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic to become President of the United States.
Kennedy's Inaugural Address offered this memorable injunction -- "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" -- as President, he took vigorous action in the cause of equal rights, calling for new civil rights legislation ... his vision of America extended to the quality of the national culture and the central role of the arts in a vital society ... he wished America to resume it's old mission as the first nation dedicated to the revolution of human rights ... with the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps, he brought American idealism to the aid of developing nations ... before his untimely death, he laid plans for a massive assault on persisting pockets of privation and poverty.
As with any great leader, John Kennedy also had flaws and failures ... his most glaring occurring in April 1961 ... known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Kennedy permitted a group of armed and trained Cuban exiles to invade their homeland in an attempt to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro ... this event became a disaster and an embarrassment for the young President ... soon thereafter, the Soviet Union renewed it's campaign against West Berlin ... however, Kennedy also displayed unfaltering creativity, courage and resolve, and decisively responded to the Soviets by reinforcing the Berlin garrison, and increased American military strength, including new efforts in outer space ... confronted by this reaction, Moscow, after the erection of the Berlin Wall, relaxed it's pressure in central Europe.
President Kennedy's most shining hour came in October 1962 ... discovered by air reconnaissance, the Russians were seeking to install nuclear missiles in Cuba just 90 miles from the coast of Florida ... enforced by a naval blockade, Kennedy imposed a quarantine on all offensive weapons bound for Cuba ... while the world trembled on the brink of nuclear war, the Soviets, under the direction of Nikita Khrushchev, backed down and agreed to take the missiles away, total global annihilation of all humankind had been averted ... Kennedy then contended that both sides had a vital interest in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons and slowing the arms race - a contention which led to the test ban treaty of 1963 ... the months that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis showed significant progress toward his goal of "a world of law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion" ... his administration saw the beginning of new hope for both equal rights of Americans and the peace of the entire world, but dark days lurked just beyond the horizon.
I will always remember the moment when Walter Cronkite "the most trusted man in America" announced that President Kennedy had been shot while in Dallas, Texas ... then minutes later, Cronkite, his familiar voice breaking, delivered the dreadful news to the anxious throngs that our President was dead ... the entire country languished in stunned silence and disbelief ... the President of the United States of America ... the most powerful nation on earth ... the leader of the free world ... gunned down in broad daylight ... like an animal ... in the middle of a public street before the gaping eyes of the entire world.
During the ensuing days, as America sat in a state of darkness and mourning, and as our slain prince was carried to his final resting place, many images and impressions were indelibly etched into my young psyche ... images of the President being struck by the assassin's bullets ... Jacqueline climbing onto the trunk of the presidential limousine in an effort to retrieve bits and pieces of her husband's skull which had been blown away by the gunshot ... her pink dress drenched with his blood from her attempts to protect him from further harm and conceal his grave injuries ... Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson being hurriedly sworn in as thirty-sixth President of the United States while standing beside Jacqueline Kennedy aboard Air Force One - which also contained her husband's body ... Jack Ruby gunning down Kennedy's alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV as he was being led from Dallas Police Headquarters en route to the county jail ... and a host of others.
Finally, the seemingly endless days involving the pageantry surrounding the fallen President's state funeral, which was patterned after that of Abraham Lincoln, came to a close ... the entire procession from the White House, to the Capitol, to St. Matthew's Cathedral, to Arlington National Cemetery was six miles ... an estimated one million people lined the route ... diplomats and heads of state from around the globe were in attendance, along with Kennedy's family members and close friends, all of whom stood with blank and empty expressions on their haggard faces ... the clopping of the horses' hooves striking the pavement as they proudly drew the caisson bearing the President's bier, haunting cries of bagpipes wailing in the distance and the steady cadence of muffled drum rolls which accompanied the cortege were particularly poignant and memorable ... perhaps the most heartrending moment took place on the steps outside St. Matthew's Cathedral as Jackie leaned over and whispered to little John-John ... who then smart and crisp ... proudly saluted his father's departing coffin ... the President was finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, and at the end of the burial service, a soldier handed Jacqueline a lighted taper with which she lit the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame ... the presidential memorial was inspired by the eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which she and her husband had seen during a visit to France in 1961, and/or took inspiration from The Candle in the Wind of Arthurian legend and the Broadway play "Camelot."
Scarce are befitting words as to this tragic and unspeakable act that graved a deep and painful scar on the furrowed brow of American history ... it matters not whether you agreed with Kennedy's political philosophies or religious beliefs ... it matters not whether you personally liked the man or the Kennedy family ... John Fitzgerald Kennedy was first and foremost a human being ... no human being deserves to be openly ambushed and slaughtered in such an inhuman manner ... John Kennedy, along with his brother Robert Francis (Bobby) Kennedy (1925-1968), who was also killed by an assassin's bullet on June 5, 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President, both gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country ... it matters not whether you loved them or hated them, both deserve the utmost in honor and respect ... I often wonder what great accomplishments could have been made had Joseph and Rose's ennoble son - Jackie's beloved husband - Arabella, Caroline, John Jr. and Patrick's dear father - and America's most shining ray of hope and promise for a brighter future had not been swiftly robbed of his life ... other equally abominable and immoral acts have taken place since the disgraceful, public execution of our young prince - sadly, these acts are now often looked upon as being commonplace ... but the killing of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the beginning of the end of innocence.
"He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights .... it had to be some silly little Communist" --Jacqueline Kennedy, on hearing that a leftist had been arrested for her husband's murder.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:
I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him --Ecclesiastes
*Biographical information suplied by the U.S. National Archives --sja