Monday, November 22, 2010

Ask not what you can do

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, while traveling through Dallas in an open-top Lincoln convertible.

First lady Jacqueline Kennedy rarely accompanied her husband on political outings, but she was beside him, along with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, for a 10-mile motorcade through the streets of downtown Dallas. As the vehicle passed the Texas School Book Depository Building at 12:30 p.m., Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired three shots from the sixth floor, fatally wounding the President and seriously injuring Governor Connally. Kennedy was pronounced dead 30 minutes later at Parkland Hospital. He was 46.

Nov. 25 was declared a day of national mourning by Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson. On that Monday, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Washington as a horse-drawn caisson bore Kennedy's body from the Capitol Rotunda to St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral for a requiem Mass. The solemn procession then continued on to Arlington National Cemetery, where leaders of 99 nations gathered for the state funeral. Kennedy was buried with full military honors on a slope below Arlington House, where an eternal flame was lit by his widow.

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested about an hour after the assassination, in a movie theater. He had killed a policeman who questioned him on the street near his rooming house in Dallas. He was formally arraigned on Nov. 23 for the murders of President Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippit. On November 24, Oswald was brought to the basement of the Dallas police headquarters on his way to a more secure county jail. A crowd of police and press with live television cameras rolling gathered to witness his departure. As Oswald came into the room, Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd and fatally wounded him with a single shot from a concealed .38 revolver.

Ruby claimed that grief and rage over Kennedy's murder were his motives. He figures prominently in conspiracy theories, among them that he killed Oswald to keep him from talking about a plot behind the assassination. He was sentenced to die, a decision that was reversed on the grounds of improper admission of testimony. In 1967, while awaiting a new trial, Ruby died of lung cancer in a Dallas hospital.

The official Warren Commission report of 1964 concluded that neither Oswald nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy, either domestic or international, to assassinate President Kennedy. But in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Kennedy was "probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy" that may have involved multiple shooters and organized crime. The committee's findings, and those of the Warren Commission, continue to be widely disputed.

"For in the final analysis," John F. Kennedy once said, "our most common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal."