We all remember where we were on that terrible day in 1963, if we were old enough then to have been aware and are young enough now to have retained our mental faculties.
The Kennedy assignation was the end of innocence for America. It was the realization that we were not immune to negative reaction to our policies, both domestic and foreign. It was the beginning of assignations that rocked our country through the entire decade. The only good that came from the deaths of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy was the realization that idealism can withstand barbaric reaction.
America, as a country, is progressive. We move in fits and jerks but we still move toward our idealistic goals. JFK was seen as the beginning of a new type of leader who had great hope for the future. He challenged us to “Ask not what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country.” That concept remains radical, even today, but it caused many to give of themselves and we have found their commitments to be noble. He challenged us to “Put a man on the moon and bring him safely home again.” We did so and saw ourselves as heroic and scientifically advanced in doing so.
Martin Luther King challenged us to find it in our hearts to have a dream: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” We have begun to do so.
I look at this half century since JFK was killed as the most important in the evolution of America. It has brought us farther, faster than any other similar chronology. It has allowed us to explore the excesses of human behavior and it has allowed us to become a great nation. But it is only the beginning of our journey to bring out the best of who we are and the great things our children can achieve. We are a young nation but we believe we got it right in our formation so why should it go wrong in our execution?
Over the remainder of our lives, we will come back around to the anniversaries of the tragedies in our society and we will have more. The challenge is to appreciate the other perspective, to view the longer horizon and to determine that we can, collectively, become a better country than we are today.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley also remembers where he was on that November day.
I remember just as clearly as if that was happening today.
When I was in the legislature, and [was] a very small farmer, I had a job that was off-season, but full-time, at a company in Cedar Falls called Waterloo Register. It ended its production in 1970, but I worked there from 1961 to ’71 as a union member putting screwholes in furnace registers, and I was putting screwholes in furnace registers when the production manager came around and said ‘Kennedy’s been shot.’
Nobody believed it.
A little while later, he came around – I suppose it was a half hour later, because that’s about how long after the shooting he was reported dead – they he came around and said ‘Kennedy died.’
And that was maybe 1:00 or 1:15 in the afternoon – you can look it up for sure – I would imagine within a half hour they closed down the plant and we all went home.
And when we went home, we spent Friday, Saturday, Sunday throught the funeral watching things on television.
I have good memory of it, just as clear as if it happened today.