JFK 50th: Nation pauses to remember lost president

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Associated Press

Posted on November 22, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 22 at 3:04 PM

DALLAS (AP) — Fifty years after John F. Kennedy fell victim to an assassin's bullet while visiting Texas with his wife, people at home and abroad paused Friday to remember the 35th president of the United States. Collected here are memories of the slain president, details from the day of his death and live updates from the memorial service at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

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HOW THE KENNEDY FAMILY REMEMBERED

President John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline Kennedy, who is now the U.S. ambassador to Japan commemorated the anniversary of her father's death privately, the U.S. Embassy press office said. They didn't offer further details.

In Arlington, Va., the only surviving sibling of JFK, 85-year-old Jean Kennedy Smith, laid a wreath at her brother's grave. She was accompanied by 10 Kennedy family members, who then prayed and left roses on the grave before leaving quietly.

— Reported by Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo and Matthew Barakat in Arlington, Va.

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THE NATION'S FULL ATTENTION

It's been estimated that 41.5 million households in America tuned in to watch a horse named Black Jack — saddle empty, boots backwards in the stirrups — follow Kennedy's body through Washington to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery during the funeral on Nov. 25, 1963.

At the time, only 50.3 million households had televisions.

— Reported by Jerry Schwartz in New York.

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'IT BRINGS BACK SOME REALLY BAD MEMORIES'

Visiting Arlington National Cemetery is not an easy task for Wallace Johnson, 74, of Dumfries, Va.

So many of the Special Forces veteran's comrades are buried here. So is his wife, who died in 2009.

"It brings back some really bad memories," he said, fighting back tears.

On Friday, though, he joined two other members of the Special Forces Association to pay their respects at Kennedy's grave, walking up the hill to where an eternal flame keeps vigil over the grave site.

Wallace said Kennedy holds a special place in the hearts of Special Forces members, noting that Kennedy gave his instant approval to the group's iconic green beret on a 1961 visit to Fort Bragg.

"He authorized that headgear right on the spot," Johnson said.

Wallace was a young lieutenant in 1963 when Kennedy died. He remembers being at the Officers' Annex at Fort Benning, Ga., when he heard Kennedy had been shot.

"I said, 'That doesn't happen here.' I was in disbelief, even when I saw it on the news," Wallace said.

On Friday, Wallace and his Special Forces comrades left a Green Beret at Kennedy's grave and walked away.

— Reported by Matthew Barakat in Arlington, Va.

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FINAL RESTING PLACES, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE

Perhaps the most famous grave in the United States is Kennedy's, marked by an eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington. Initially a propane-fed torch provided by the Washington Gas Company, it was lit by Jacqueline Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy during JFK's funeral on Nov. 25, 1963.

More than 3,000 people per hour visited Kennedy's first grave site, surrounded by a white picket fence, in the year after his death, according to Arlington National Cemetery. An estimated 50,000 people came on weekends and more than 16 million people in all paid their respects in the three years after his assassination.

The crowds led to the construction of a permanent grave that was completed in 1967.

The eternal flame is powered by natural gas and a constantly flashing electric spark to ensure it remains lit. The burner was renovated earlier this year, and during that process, the flame continued to flicker at a temporary location kept visible to the public.

Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy's assassin, is buried at Shannon Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth, Texas. Per his family's request, the cemetery doesn't supply directions to the gravesite nor allow photos or video of his grave.

— Reported by David Scott in Chicago.

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MEMORY OF KENNEDY: FRANKIE GAVIN, GALWAY, IRELAND

Fiddler Frankie Gavin was just 6 years old when he performed with his musician family for President John F. Kennedy as his motorcade passed though the western Ireland city on June 29, 1963.

"I never got quite close enough to shake his hand. I really regret that," Gavin recalled Friday at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, where he performed a lament and a jig to celebrate JFK's memory in front of an audience that included diplomats, Irish army officers and the Vatican's envoy to Ireland.

Gavin, who is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's fastest fiddler, played only one verse of the lament because he said, he could feel himself tearing up.

"There's a sense of his (JFK's) presence here today. . The moment was getting to me."

He recalled that on Nov. 22, 1963, he and his older brother and two older sisters were playing Gaelic football together on a sloping field behind a thatched-roof pub in the village of Corrandulla, County Galway.

"My father ran out the back door of the pub and said President John F. Kennedy's been shot," he said. "We were all frozen to the spot, on the side of a hill playing a game of football. There was just silence.

"Then I later remember everyone going into the house and we saw our parents crying. When you see your parents crying, you start crying too. My brother and sisters and parents crying, all of us — that moment remains impaled in my memory."

— Reported by Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin.

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1:38 P.M. CST: 'I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR'

Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson stood grimly aboard Air Force One at Dallas' Love Field, right hand raised as he was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States at 1:38 p.m. Nov. 22, 1963.

He was flanked by his wife and Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, still wearing a pink suit stained with blood. "I want them to see what they have done to Jack," she told Lady Bird Johnson.

Johnson was the first and only president to be sworn in on Air Force One. U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes was the first woman to administer the oath.

The plane, with Kennedy's casket secured inside, quickly took off for Washington.

The AP sent out a bulletin at 2:35 p.m. saying "a 24-year-old man, Lee H. Oswald" had been arrested and was being "interrogated to see if he had any connection with the slaying of the President."

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1:37 P.M. CST: The Associated Press published a series of "bulletin" and "flash" stories on Nov. 22, 1963, in covering Kennedy's assassination. The following was sent at 1:37 p.m. Central Standard Time.

FLASH

DALLAS -- PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED AT 1 P.M. (CST)

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CONSPIRACY CONTINUES

To this day, a clear majority of Americans still believe that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone and there was a conspiracy behind Kennedy's assassination.

The Warren Commission, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, concluded that Oswald was solely responsible for the president's death.

But according to an Associated Press-GfK survey conducted in mid-April, 59 percent of Americans think multiple people were involved, 24 percent think Oswald acted alone and 16 percent are unsure. That's down from the 75 percent of Americans who believed in a conspiracy in 2003, according to a Gallup poll taken that year.

Opinions about whether the Warren Commission got it right don't appear to be driven by whether those surveyed were alive in 1963. They were almost as likely as younger Americans to say that Kennedy's killing was a conspiracy involving multiple people — 55 percent, compared to 61 percent — according to the AP-GfK poll.

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The Associated Press published a series of "bulletin" and "flash" stories on Nov. 22, 1963, in covering Kennedy's assassination. The following was sent at 1:32 p.m. Central Standard Time.

FLASH

DALLAS -- TWO PRIESTS WHO WERE WITH KENNEDY SAY HE IS DEAD OF BULLET WOUNDS.

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1:27 P.M. CST: The Associated Press published a series of "bulletin" and "flash" stories on Nov. 22, 1963, in covering Kennedy's assassination. The following was sent at 1:27 p.m. Central Standard Time.

BULLETIN

PRESIDENT WAS GIVEN THE LAST HOLY RITES OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TODAY AFTER AN ASSASSIN SHOT HIM DOWN WHILE THE PRESIDENT WAS RIDING IN A CARAVAN.

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AUTHOR'S TAKE

Author and historian David McCullough says John F. Kennedy's words changed lives and history, and that much of what he said still applies today.

McCullough read excerpts of some of Kennedy's most well-known speeches during Friday's ceremony at Dealey Plaza.

He says Kennedy spoke of things that mattered, including education, service to one's country and the cause of peace on Earth. And he says Kennedy spoke to the point, with confidence and without "stale platitudes."

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THE MOST FAMOUS FILM IN HISTORY

It's only 6 feet long, and quite narrow. The fewer than 500 images take just 26 seconds to run through a projector. But the home movie made by Abraham Zapruder with his Bell & Howell camera may just be the most famous film in history.

Shot while Zapruder was standing on a 4-foot-high concrete pedestal on the "grassy knoll," the silent Double 8-millimeter Kodachrome II color film recorded the progress of JFK's Lincoln limousine at an average speed of 18.3 frames per second.

Zapruder told the Warren Commission he thought the popping noises he heard in the background while filming were part of some joke. "Then I saw his head opened up," he said.

Zapruder had three copies made, two of which he gave to the Secret Service and FBI and one to Life Magazine. The publication paid Zapruder a total of $150,000 for the rights to the film, which they returned to the family in 1975. Today, the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas owns the copyright and the original camera print is stored at a National Archives facility in Maryland.

It was opened from its protective can for its first inspection in 11 years in October, and National Archives and Research Association spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman told the AP, "The reel is in excellent condition, has retained the vivid color typical of Kodachrome and does not exhibit signs of physical deterioration."

— Reported by Allen G. Breed in Raleigh, N.C.

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1:11 P.M. CST: The Associated Press published a series of "bulletin" and "flash" stories on Nov. 22, 1963, in covering Kennedy's assassination. The following was sent at 1:11 p.m. Central Standard Time.

BULLETIN

PRESIDENT KENNEDY WAS GIVEN BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS TODAY AT PARKLAND HOSPITAL IN AN EFFORT TO SAVE HIS LIFE AFTER HE AND GOV. JOHN CONNALLY OF TEXAS WERE SHOT IN AN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT.

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MEMORY OF KENNEDY: PRIME MINISTER OF IRELAND ENDA KENNY, 62, DUBLIN

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was just 12 years old, studying his Latin homework, when his older brother walked into the family living room in Castlebar, County Mayo, to tell him the American president had been assassinated.

"Immediately the enormity of what had happened was apparent to me,'" Kenny told The Associated Press in a statement.

The news came as a particular shock to Ireland, which celebrated Kennedy as the nation's most successful emigrant story — his great-grandfather had emigrated from Ireland to Boston in 1848 at the height of Ireland's potato famine, which killed an estimated 1 million and forced 2 million more to leave for Britain and North America.

Many Irish households displayed a portrait of Kennedy beside the Pope on their living room walls.

Kennedy spent five days touring Ireland in June 1963 and received a phenomenal reception; he pledged to return the following spring.

Kenny's mother, Eithne, had traveled to Dublin to attend a garden party with Kennedy and Kenny remembered she returned to Mayo gushing with excitement.

"Hearing of JFK's premature and violent death was a profoundly sad moment for those old enough to remember it," Kenny said. "But it also had a collective effect on the country as a whole and is seared onto the Irish national consciousness in a way few other events are."

— Reported by Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin.

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