Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK 50th: Honoring the Memory of President John F. Kennedy

My 11-year old daughter Lucy and I were privileged to have been one of the 1,000 invited guests to attend the first ceremony in 50 years by the city of Dallas honoring the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The official ceremony took place on Main Street in historic Dealey Plaza just a few hundred feet from the spot where bullets cut down the 35th president of the United States in front of the infamous "grassy knoll."

A gaggle of over 600 press credentials were issued from around the world for this historic occasion. Media from Japan, Europe and Asia were here to broadcast the historic ceremony around the world.

The city of Dallas had been organizing this event for over the past year. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings spoke today and read excerpts from the speech President Kennedy had in his pocket and was to have read at his luncheon at the Dallas Trade Mart had he not been assassinated in Dealey Plaza.

The ceremony featured author and presidential historian David McCullough reading excerpts from some of President Kennedy's speeches he made during his brief 1,000 days in office.

The United States Naval Academy Men's Glee Club sang "America the Beautiful" and "Battle Hym of the Republic" like they had never been sung before in a setting that seemed appropriate for the occasion: cold, rainy and dreery skies.

One of the most poignant and moving movements occurred at the beginning when the nation's colors were presented by a Dallas Police Color Guard. As the color guard moved past us just a few feet away, the sound of bagpipes echoed throughout Dealey Plaza but out of our sight.

As the colors were presented in place in front of the stage the sound of the bagpipes continued to echo away from us but still unseen. Finally, we all turned behind us to see the Dallas Metro Police Pipes and Drums Procession filing up the grassy knoll in place behind the newly unveiled JFK monument.

As the 8-member bagpipe troupe and one drummer stood at attention in front of the pergola that so many have become familiar with behind the grassy knoll, the mood of the forthcoming ceremony was cast in stone: solemnity.

This event was Dallas' only official ceremony commemorating the assassination in 50 years.


After all the notoriety and controversy surrounding the JFK assassination, the city of Dallas had never commemorated the event until today's commemoration honoring President Kennedy's life today in Dealey Plaza.

Too much pain had been placed on the heart and soul of Dallas the past 50 years.

The "city of hate" reverberated throughout the world describing Dallas as if somehow the city itself and its citizens were responsible for those volley of shots that took the life of our president.

It is true Dallas was a hotbed of right-wing zealotry in 1963. Just one month before the President's visit, United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson was spat upon and hit with a plaquard after a speech in downtown Dallas.

Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry listed the following groups who were under surveillance prior to President Kennedy's arrival in Dallas: The Klu Klux Klan; Indignant White Citizen's Council; National States Rights Party; John Birch Society; Dallas White Citizen's Council; The General Edwin A. Walker Group; Texas White Citizen's Council and the Dallas Committe for Full Citizenship just to name 8 of the 13 groups.

Dallas was ground-zero to the John Birch Society. One of the most virulent, anti-establishment, anti-communism, radical right-wing organizations in the country.

In fact it was a Bircher, former General Edwin A. Walker, who had returned home to Dallas and received a heroes welcome upon his dismissal from his service by President Kennedy for indoctrinating his troops with right-wing philosophy.

Dallas' mood for right-wing zealotry was so widespread that the morning of his assassination President Kennedy showed Jacqueline Kennedy a black-bordered, full page ad in The Dallas Morning News. The ad featured a headline that said, "Welcome To Dallas Mr. President," and went on to list numerous questions for the president and demanded answers "Now!"

President Kennedy turned to Jackie and said, "Now we're heading into nut country."

A flyer was distributed by some of these same right-wing groups throughout the presidential motorcade that featured a mugshot profile of President Kennedy with a headline that said, "Wanted for Treason" and proceeded to list the reasons why!

But Dallas has changed the past 50 years.

The vitriolic right-wing chatter has been replaced by an entrepreneurial, can-do spirit. Dallas is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city with all of the accoutrements you would associate with the nation's 9th largest city in the United States.

Today, Dallas' politics are as much brown and black as they are white as they predominately were in Kennedy's 1963 when everything was run by the old white, male bastion--the Dallas Citizens Council.

Today, as we snaked through empty downtown streets in our 20-bus caravan with our police escort, I couldn't help but notice one of the streets we rode down was Cesar Chavez Boulevard.

Today's ceremony was a public and private collaboration by the City of Dallas and the President John F. Kennedy Commemorative Foundation honoring the life, leadership and legacy of President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his death.

The entire leadership of the city of Dallas joined forces to pull off this momentous occasion.

A who's-who of movers and shakers came together and organized, planned and raised the money to make this solemn event happen.

Led by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Chairman Ruth Collins Altshuler put together a list of Dallas citizens who said yes when asked to donate to this worthwhile event.

Looking out over the VIP seating today I saw some familiar faces.

The most recognizable to many were Ross Perot and his wife Margot and former Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach.

More familiar to me were Dan Novakov and Brad Cheves, fellow board members on the SMU Athletic Forum and City Councilman Scott Griggs and my host for the day, Dallas Mayor Pro Tempore Dwaine Carraway and his wife Barbara.

Across Elm and Commerce street were some of the 5,000 lucky people who were fortunate enough to have won a ticket to the event through the public lottery system.

Our place was at the front right of the main stage on the grassy median across from the grassy knoll just a few feet away from where my friend Malcolm Summers had witnessed the reason we were all here today 50 years ago this afternoon.

As the bells tolled in unison exactly at 12:30 p.m. when the assassins bullets took the life of our president, I couldn't help but think back to my friend Malcolm and how proud he would be that Lucy and I were in attendance today honoring not the death that he witnessed that day across the street but rather the life of President John F. Kennedy.

Dallas shone bright today under the dreeriest of conditions.

The 50th ceremony honoring the memory of President John F. Kennedy was just as historic and symbolic of an occasion as the man's life we were honoring today deserved.

I am proud that Lucy and myself were in attendance.

Perhaps she will bring her children to the 100th anniversary and carry on the legacy of the life of President John F. Kennedy.

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