Where were you and what were you doing the day Kennedy was shot? This question shows that the assassination of the 35th President of the United States on a Dallas street while riding in a convertible car in December 1963 with his wife Jacqueline was an epoch-marking event that shocked America and produced newspapers headlines, documentaries and films for years to come. New data is still emerging. Conspiracy theories have never died. But a US president would never again ride in an open-air un-protected car in the streets of a hostile city or any other city for that matter.
Being the youngest US president ever elected, at 43, and coming from a successful and prominent Massachusetts family of Irish origin, Kennedy immediately conveyed an image of energy and progressiveness. Despite his very short presidency of less than three years, his mandate was very eventful. Paramount was the Cuban missile crisis, coming after the failed invasion of the island at the Bay of Pigs, which took the world to the brink of nuclear disaster and has been debated profusely in the past few weeks in case lessons can be learned in the present-day threat to use nuclear weapons by the new mad-man of the world, president Vladimir Putin. One of the lessons is to be firm in the face of threats without avoiding any tough, even dangerous, measures – like the blockade of the island he ordered – while actively exploring diplomatic channels to leave the door for peace always open and ready for negotiations.
He was the man who set the stage for the conquest of outer space by declaring the goal of sending men to the moon and – most importantly – bringing them home again. He would not live long enough to see it but it was a gigantic achievement for the prestige of his nation.
Notwithstanding important reforms in the fields of the economy, pulling the US out of a serious recession, civil rights for African Americans and equality by abolishing the wage disparity based on sex, although this goal was slow to become a reality, he was the president that sank the US deeper into the Vietnam war and allowed for the use of increasingly more lethal weapons such as napalm and other dangerous chemicals that became a norm for years.
As an anti-Communist crusader, he left his mark not only in Cuba but also in Germany with his support for a besieged West Berlin and his visit to West Germany in which he famously proclaimed: “Ich bin ein Berliner”.
But perhaps his most famous message was the one given the day of his inauguration as president in January 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
BREAKING NEWS Front pages through history
The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas