Remembering JFK, again

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Remembering JFK, again
JFK sailing in Maine.
Photo by ROBERT KNUDSEN, JFK Presidential Library and Museum

Where do I begin?

I have idolized “JFK” ever since I was in the fourth grade at the Assumption Convent in Herran, after I picked up this book, To Light a Torch, from one of the many shelves in the grade school library. It was a biography about the late American president, whom my mother Sonia collected magazines about.

Tomorrow, Nov. 22, marks the 60th year since JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Texas. It is a day that is seared in the memory of those old enough to know what the bullet that hit Kennedy’s skull truly pierced — not just a man, but a nation. In the case of those who looked up to the United States as the leader of the Free World, the bullet killed their captain as well.

I was not born yet when John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States, but I grew up hooked on his ideals, his vision of a “New Frontier,” his capacity to dream and dare (conquer the moon and fight for civil rights), his alchemy of courage, calm and conviction when the world was on the brink of a nuclear war. To Light a Torch  was just the first of countless books and magazines I have read or collected about JFK,  and I saw in the youngest-elected US President (and the first Catholic, too) — not just a six-foot-tall, telegenic leading man in a real-life political drama, but a man who inspired and continues to inspire a better world. Was it his branding during his life and thereafter? The abrupt ending of his presidency?

I believe it was also his presence, made immortal by media. I’ve watched his speeches, his press conferences, his TV debates — and I’ve never seen or heard a speaker stress a point with such conviction… and charm. His rhetoric and his speeches, whether they were those of his wordsmith Theodore Sorensen, or his own words in a medley with Sorensen’s, are the stuff politicians’ speechwriters quote and impressionable students choose to put under their yearbook photos.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” is perhaps one of the most quoted lines aside from passages from the Bible.

THAT FINAL DAY: President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline arrive in Dallas, Texas on Nov 22, 1963.
Photo by CECIL STOUGHTON, JFK Presidential Library and Museum


To be sure, JFK was no holy man. There are stories and there are stories. But scholars have often wondered why other US presidents who were cut in their prime by an assassin’s bullet do not have the same hold on history and people’s fascination as JFK continues to have 60 years after his death.

Sixty years ago, from both published and online sources, this is what unfolded:

Shortly after noon on Nov. 22, 1963, JFK, with his wife Jackie, beautiful in a strawberry pink suit and cradling a bouquet of red roses on her lap, was in a motorcade in downtown Dallas, Texas, when he was shot in the neck and head. Since it was no longer raining, the plastic bubble top of his limousine had been left off — JFK had reportedly wanted it that way.  JFK was a few minutes from the Trade Mart in Dallas, where he was scheduled to speak at a luncheon, but he never got there.

As the president’s limousine was passing the Texas School Book Depository, gunfire suddenly reverberated in the plaza.

“Bullets struck the president’s neck and head and he slumped over toward Mrs. Kennedy,” according to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum’s archives.

“The car sped off to Parkland Memorial Hospital just a few minutes away. But little could be done for the President. A Catholic priest was summoned to administer the last rites, and at 1 p.m. John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.” He was only 46 years old.

Those who saw the Abraham Zapruder film of those horrifying seconds in front of the Texas School Depository were indeed horrified. The footage is not for the faint of heart.

President Lyndon Johnson takes his oath on Nov. 22, 1963, about two hours after JFK is assassinated.

Before Air Force One took off for Washington that same afternoon, a grim-faced Lyndon B. Johnson stood in the tight, crowded compartment and took the oath of office, administered by US District Court Judge Sarah Hughes. The brief ceremony took place at 2:38 p.m.  Mrs. Kennedy was requested to attend the swearing in, and she appeared in her bloodstained suit. When asked if she wanted to change first, she reportedly said, “No, let them see what they have done.”

JFK’s casket was in the rear compartment of Air Force One, the plane that was to take him home the next day to his children. Instead, he arrived home in the White House in a coffin (there was a tussle over custody of his remains between the Kennedy aides and the Dallas coroner’s office, but since Jackie wouldn’t leave without her husband, a solution was found).

Police had arrested Lee Harvey Oswald, a recently hired employee at the Texas School Book Depository. He was being held for the assassination of President Kennedy and the fatal shooting, shortly afterward, of Patrolman J. D. Tippit on a Dallas street.

On Sunday morning, Nov. 24, Oswald was shot at close range by Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner. Oswald died two hours later at Parkland Hospital.

Just reading about that period in history makes me think it was the worst of times for the United States.

On Nov. 25, 1963, President Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. The funeral was attended by heads of state and representatives from more than 100 countries, with millions more, including my parents, watching on television.

Perhaps the most indelible image of the day was the salute to his father given by little John F. Kennedy Jr., who was celebrating his third birthday. After receiving guests, including world leaders like the Philippines’ President Diosdado Macapagal, in the White House, Jackie held a birthday party for little John at the place that was his home almost since he was born.

Amid the unspeakable grief of the last three days, she was determined that her innocent child still felt the joy of a birthday party. In three days, she had seen bullets, blood and balloons at close range, but life had to go on.



(You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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