In Dallas today, a crowd of about 5,000 braved the cold, damp, and wind to attend a special memorial ceremony in Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago today. Video screens displayed images of the Kennedy family, and at 12:30 p.m. Central Time—the moment when the shot rang out five decades before—the crowd fell silent. Bells tolled in the background.
“President Kennedy has always been kind of revered in our family,” said Colleen Bonner, 41, who attended the event. “I just wanted to honor his memory, and I wanted to be a part of history.”
Throughout the country, flags flew at half-staff to honor Kennedy's memory. On the East Coast, visitors paused at Kennedy's recently refurbished grave at Arlington National Cemetery, where a flame has burned steadily for the past half-century. Among the visitors on Friday morning was the last surviving Kennedy sibling, Jean Kennedy Smith, who is 85. She laid a wreath on the grave, and about 10 more Kennedy family members joined hands in a moment of silence and left roses.
Outside the Boston Statehouse, Gov. Deval Patrick and Maj. Gen. Scott Rice of the Massachusetts National Guard endured heavy rain during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Kennedy statue. Kennedy's two grandfathers served in the Massachusetts legislature, and the Statehouse was the site of the former president's “City on a Hill” speech, given in January 1961 just before he left for his inauguration in Washington.
While Kennedy's dramatic death may have helped ensconce him as an American political hero, many this week remembered how his life inspired them.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who grew up in a working-class Irish Catholic family, said Kennedy was someone to whom he could directly relate.
“I remember watching the 1956 convention when John F. Kennedy ran for vice president and all of the commentators saying he could not win because he was Irish and Catholic and from Massachusetts, and that's who I was. So that was important to me,” said Markey, a Democrat who represented Massachusetts in Congress for 37 years. “When he won [the 1960 presidential race], he immediately became someone who changed perceptions of how the country viewed Irish Catholics.”
Markey, 67, said ethnic minorities across the countries identified with Kennedy. “He was very smart, very graceful.”
In Dublin today, Irish soldiers with guns and brilliantly polished bayonets stood as a guard of honor while the American flag was lowered to half-staff outside the U.S. Embassy. A trumpeter played a traditional British salute called “The Last Post,” and a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”
Those gathered there included more than a dozen retired Irish army officers who 50 years ago formed an honor guard at Kennedy’s graveside. They were teenage cadets at the time Jacqueline Kennedy invited them to the United States to participate in the memorial to her husband.