Deadline Now: Remembering John F. Kennedy

Deadline Now: Remembering John F. Kennedy

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, "Deadlinen Now" looks back at that day in Dallas, as well as at the president and man himself.

Former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley campaigned for and knew JFK. Professor Mary Ann Watson of Eastern Michigan University is considered a national expert on the subject of television in the Kennedy era.

Here are Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for this edtion of "Deadline Now:"

I was in a seventh grade Spanish class that afternoon, spelling the word for department store. Suddenly the principal came on the public address system.  “The President is dead,” he said.

One of my classmates asked if he was talking about our president. “I don’t think so. I think it might be Chile,” the teacher said. Had she thought about it, she might have realized that there was no way they would have interrupted class in Michigan for anything in Chile, even if it had sunk into the Pacific Ocean.

Later, we were sent home early on buses, and I saw cars pulled over on the shoulder of the freeway, with the drivers listening, crying, or both. I have never seen anything like that again.

Historians may feel differently a century from now, but for me, that was the day this country lost its innocence, and began a long period that radically changed the way we feel about our government, our presidents and our country.

Nobody, but nobody, ever thought they would see America’s vibrant, powerful and charming young President killed, certainly not by a 24-year-old loser with a cheap rifle.

Two days later, my family was one of millions who, while watching the continuous coverage of the assassination, witnessed TV’s first live murder, as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

By the end of those four days something had changed forever, something that would be changed further by the next ten years of Vietnam and Watergate.

Twenty years after the assassination, I went to the Kennedy Library for an interview with Dave Powers, who had been the President’s sidekick, court jester, and best friend. He had been there in Dallas, but preferred to talk only about the living president, and to talk in the present tense.

At one point, I asked him if he might be living in the past. “Wouldn’t you?“ he said. Yes, I said, I couldn’t blame him one bit.

Once, I showed some students some footage of a witty President Kennedy campaigning.  One young man, born long afterwards, said “It’s like he is in color and everyone else is in black and white.”  

I knew what he meant. I am old enough to actually remember John F. Kennedy saying “everyone can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

And I am romantic enough to still believe that, and admire him.