Assassination anniversary date fades with history, but Kennedy memories do not

tgarvin@thesunnews.comNovember 25, 2012 

— John F. Kennedy is credited by some as the first president to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey.

The 35th president of the United States issued the reprieve from the oven for a bird on Nov. 20, 1963, according to a Los Angeles Times article from the time. Kennedy, the second-youngest president in U.S. history, was gunned down two days later while traveling in a motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22, not living long enough to even celebrate Thanksgiving that year.

The 49th anniversary of the day that rocked the nation fell on the holiday this year, with the anniversary of his funeral being Sunday.

As the memorials, TV specials and services have subsided through the years, so has the reverence once associated with the assassination for some. A day that changed the nation has faded with the decades, following the path of other national and international tragedies.

“I had no idea (that was this weekend), but do remember it being around this time,” said Myron Hartman of Myrtle Beach. “Everybody loved him … called [his presidency] Camelot.”

Hartman wasn’t alone.

“I sure didn’t know it was the assassination anniversary,” Kurt Christiansen, 54, of Myrtle Beach said. “It was a crying shame.”

Although the exact date of his untimely death may have faded from memory for many, the details of the man himself and his death certainly have not for those old enough to remember.

“I remember being in school and they let us out early,” said Christiansen, who grew up in Davenport, Iowa. “My brother was scaring the crap out of me walking down the street because he kept saying, ‘Look out for snipers.’

“I was pretty young … I didn’t really grasp it at the time.”

All asked the most memorable thing about JFK cited his inaugural address from Jan. 20, 1961, when the fiery Democratic senator from Massachusetts stood before the world and proclaimed: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

“I wish people would do that now instead of what’s happening,” said Fuquay-Varina, N.C., resident and Marine veteran Ed Gleason during a visit to Myrtle Beach. “Our values have certainly gone down.”

Kennedy himself faced questions about his values, and his actions. Carlos Ramos, 36, of Myrtle Beach, mentioned the scandals linked to the president, including a relationship with Marilyn Monroe. Kennedy also took heat – and responsibility – for the invasion at the Bay of Pigs.

But he is also hailoed for achievements that shaped the future of the country. He averted a possible nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis, spearheaded America’s space program with his ambition to put a man on the moon and was a crusader against segregation.

He is also credited with the establishment of the Peace Corps, which might explain why he was so loved around the world.

Maria Kovacs of Myrtle Beach, 71 now but 22 the day of JFK’s assassination, lived in her native Germany that November day. She recalled the grief shared by all despite tensions that lingered from World War II.

“Not everyone had TV, so church bells were ringing in small villages and everyone wondered what was happening,” she said. “It was like their heart sank. People were going around and shaking their hands with Americans saying, ‘I’m sorry.’

“Everyone wanted to express their feelings but didn’t really know what to do. It was a really big change.”

And while his death sparked compassion or sorrow around the globe, the change at home was noticeable in a different way. The assassination cast a pall over America.

“A lot of trust was lost that day,” Christiansen said. “It was an eye-opener for the country.”

Contact TODD GARVIN at 626-0307.

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