Remembering JFK: The world stood still on November 22, 1963

When shots rang out in Dallas, America changed forever.

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“I had met Kennedy at a fundraiser at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York that NBC News assigned me to cover. Watching him pace the floor backstage, I remember something that was captivating, something in his demeanor that made me feel he just might be elected and go on to become a good president.

“Unfortunately, after only a thousand days in office, at age 43, he was gunned down. It defied all logic.”

Longtime newsman Larry Nation was an eighth grader eating lunch at Edison Junior High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma “when the principal’s voice over the intercom told us ‘President Kennedy has been shot during a motorcade in Dallas, Texas and is being treated at a hospital.’"

The lunchroom “was stunned into silence,” remembers Nation. “’He’s young and strong. He’s make it,’ someone said.” The kids were “uncharacteristically quiet and we waited for more word, as the teacher just sat stunned and staring out the window.”

Today Kennedy’s shooting is still shrouded in confusion and unanswered questions.

On nationwide TV, the funeral procession paused and the beloved First Lady, dressed in black mourning, whispered to the toddler America called John-John. Three-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. solemnly saluted his father’s bier.

John Jr. salutes his father's passing bier.

John Jr. salutes his father.

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And the nation wept.

Kennedy’s dour vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, unceremoniously moved the young widow out of the White House and plunged America into the disastrous Vietnam War – which he micro-managed to unprecedented defeat. Hoping to redeem his legacy, he launched a nobly named but flawed “War on Poverty.” Then America’s hopes were crushed again and again as assassins’ bullets silenced Martin Luther King, then Bobby Kennedy.

America struggled to understand.

“I was only 14 years old when John F. Kennedy was killed,” says bestselling author Joni Eareckson Tada, “but I remember very clearly being called on to answer a question in Spanish class — before I could reply, an announcement came over the school intercom, informing us that President Kennedy had just been assassinated. The message was repeated, and then it clicked off. We were all stunned, and weren’t sure what to do or say. Our Spanish teacher, however, just picked up as though nothing happened, and asked me to answer her question. I proceeded to count from 20 to 0 in Spanish.

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Rob Kerby, Senior Editor
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