Sunday, November 22, 2009

TDIH: Another Year, Another Anniversary

With every passing year, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy becomes a distant memory. For those who were in Dallas that November day, it remains a memory they cannot escape. New generations of Americans have been introduced to the myth of Camelot and the political legacy of young John Kennedy, but their understanding of what the assassination meant to this nation comes from history books and the stories they've heard from their parents, even grandparents, about where they were when they learned of Kennedy's death.

Every year Kennedy historians, professional and amateur, produce a myriad of books on various subtopics of Kennedy-related research. Assassination analysis pops up in both mainstream non-fiction distributed by credible publishers and in the counter culture that is conspiracy theory. This year has been especially fruitful for those seeking new information on the Kennedy family -- John's presidency, Bobby's candidacy, Eunice's legacy of volunteering, and Teddy's career in the Senate. Teddy's memoir is perhaps the single greatest publication of the year, perhaps decade, for those with any vested professional or academic interest in the Kennedy legacy.

In print isn't the only place the Kennedy legacy has appeared this year. MSNBC aired a documentary in the hours after Ted Kennedy's passing and the History channel aired a new documentary, The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours After, that focused specifically on the events directly following the assassination and how Vice President Lyndon Johnson was told about and responded to the death of JFK (based on the book by Steven M. Gillon).

We've learned in the past months a great deal about Jackie Kennedy from images taken of her in 1971, images that tell the story of her time on Skorpios after Jack's death. Notes taken by William Manchester, while he penned Death of a President at the request of Jackie, were recently made public and tell the story of a widow securing the place of her husband in history through a vivid myth-like narrative. Now, more than ever since his death and thanks to the New York Times, we know the role the CIA played in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy. The story of Jack Ruby, the assassin's assassin, was told to another generation as items related to Ruby went up for auction. We've heard from yet another person there in Dallas, this one a former FBI agent who watched the autopsy of President Kennedy, tell another first-hand account of what happened that god-awful day in Dallas. And a television-obsessed nation has watched the events of November 22, 1963 replayed on the 60s-based drama Mad Men.

I've written on the Kennedy family extensively this year, not only because the passing of Ted Kennedy required it, but also because Ted Kennedy's passing reminded me of why I believe the things I do about America, being an American, and who taught those principles to me. The passing of Eunice was as significant for me as Teddy's death because of all of the Kennedys, it may have been Eunice that touched my life the most substantially--as a teenager and young adult I spent every summer serving in the capacity of coach or volunteer for the Special Olympics. My siblings, their friends (who are now my friends), and my uncle all participated in the games. I have held a great respect for the Kennedy family, not just the former President. We speak of the Kennedy family and their legacy indirectly, sometimes, but there is no denying their direct influence on this country as a family devoted to public service, offering their distinct brand of leadership.

With every passing year, the assassination of President Kennedy may become a distant memory, but every year on the 22nd of November, we can be sure someone is marking the date, remembering it for the horrific event that took place in Dealey Plaza. Every year we let the memory slip further from our collective national memory, but the event remains embedded in our country's history as if it were a strong characteristic, reflective of our collective character. We remain a nation that survived an incredibly dark period, a period of rattling events that shook us to our very core.

It has been forty-six years since Lee Harvey Oswald infamously killed the leader of the free world. It has been forty-six years since America said goodbye to its innocence. It's been forty-six years since families across the country sat around their television sets as their young president's body was returned to the nation's capital to lie in state and to be laid to rest. Forty-six years and those black and white images still capture our hearts as if we were there in that moment when Walter Cronkite choked up as he read the flash "apparently official" about the death of the president.

Forty-six years--perhaps the memory isn't so distant...

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