Fifty years after John F. Kennedy fell victim to an assassin’s bullet while visiting Texas with his wife, people at home and abroad paused Friday to remember the 35th president of the United States. Collected here are memories of the slain president, details from the day of his death and live updates from the memorial service at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
STANDING STRONG: BOSTON’S STATUE
A steady rain fell in Boston on Friday morning as Gov. Deval Patrick, accompanied by Major Gen. Scott Rice of the Massachusetts National Guard, stood at attention during a somber wreath-laying ceremony at the John F. Kennedy statue at the Statehouse.
No words were spoken during the ceremony and the U.S. and Massachusetts flags in the front of the historic building were lowered to half-staff.
The bronze sculpture depicts a confident JFK striding forward. Dedicated in 1990, it has been largely off limits to public viewing since security procedures that took effect after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Massachusetts opened the area to visitors Friday.
Both of Kennedy’s grandfathers served in the Massachusetts Legislature, and in January 1961 the president-elect came to the Statehouse to deliver one of his most famous addresses, which came to be known as the “City on a Hill” speech, just before heading to his inauguration in Washington, D.C.
— Reported by Bob Salsberg in Boston.
THE VIEW FROM ARLINGTON
Bagpipes played, a British cavalry officer stood guard and the flame burned steady as it has for the last 50 years at President John F. Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.
Shortly after sunrise, Attorney General Eric Holder paid his respects at Kennedy’s recently refurbished grave. Later, the last surviving Kennedy sibling, 85-year-old Jean Kennedy Smith, laid a wreath at her brother’s grave at 8:30 a.m., joined by about 10 members of the Kennedy family.
A few hundred tourists watched the short, silent ceremony on Friday morning. Kennedy family members joined hands for a short prayer and left roses at the grave.
A steady stream of tourists walked up the hill during the morning to the gravesite, where the eternal flame stands vigil. Tourists wielding camera phones gently jostled for position. A French-speaking man brought his trumpet and played “Taps” at the grave.
At 10:30 a.m., another stream of dignitaries visited to lay a wreath at the grave, including the Moroccan ambassador. Other visitors brought flowers, Peace Corps memorabilia and other mementos to leave at the grave.
The cemetery has set up a live webcam on the gravesite throughout the day.
— Reported by Matthew Barakat, Arlington, Va.
About 10:45 a.m. Friday at Dealey Plaza, an American flag and Texas flag flew at half-staff, flanking the stage where the city was set to hold a solemn ceremony in the coming hours.
Workers were drying off seats placed in front of the stage for attendees. A giant scrim with JFK’s image could be seen behind the stage.
In the non-seated areas on each side, people were standing and watching large screens showing footage from Kennedy’s visits to Berlin and Ireland. Earlier, the screens showed footage of Kennedy spending time with his family.
—Reported by Jamie Stengle in Dallas.
MEMORY OF KENNEDY: U.S. SEN. EDWARD MARKEY, 67, Boston
A 17-year-old student at Malden Catholic High School near Boston, Edward Markey was attending an afternoon football rally when one of the religious brothers took the microphone and broke the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.
For Markey, who grew up in a working-class Irish Catholic family and would later represent Massachusetts in Congress for 37 years before winning a special election to the U.S. Senate earlier this year, Kennedy’s success was a validation of his own life.
“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,” Markey said. “When he won (his race for president in 1960), he immediately became someone who changed perceptions of how the country viewed Irish Catholics.
“He was very smart, very graceful.”
Markey said in time, he realized Kennedy’s appeal transcended his Boston roots.
“It turned out he wasn’t just our hero, every ethnic group in the country in some way saw themselves in him,” Markey said. “We were part of this larger group.”
— Reported by Steve LeBlanc in Boston.
TALK ABOUT THE WEATHER
By the time President John F. Kennedy landed at Dallas’ Love Field late in the morning on Nov. 22, 1963, rain clouds had given way to brilliant blue skies and the temperature had climbed to the high 60s. The high temperature that day was 70.
By contrast, Friday’s 50th anniversary ceremony will be cold — temperatures in the mid-30s with winds around 25 mph and a chance of light spotty rain. About 5,000 are expected to gather in Dealey Plaza for the solemn ceremony. The expected high Friday is 38.
“Texans are tough and a crisp day won’t prevent us from marking this important time in history,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said.
“We believe this important event cannot be duplicated in another location, so the commemoration will take place … as planned,” he added.
— Reported by Jamie Stengle in Dallas.
DISPATCH FROM DUBLIN
Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore joined the staff of the U.S. Embassy and more than a dozen retired Irish army officers who, as teenage cadets, had formed an honor guard at President John F. Kennedy’s graveside in November 1963.
Together, they gathered Friday in the front garden of the embassy in the heart of Dublin to observe a minute’s silence and lay two wreaths from the Irish and American governments in memory of JFK. The day was crisp, windless, with trees full of autumn leaves and a cloudless blue sky, the sun blindingly low on the horizon.
A half-dozen Irish soldiers toting guns with brilliantly polished bayonets formed their own guard of honor outside the embassy as the U.S. flag was lowered to half-staff. Their commander drew a sword and held it aloft as a lone trumpeter played “The Last Post,” the traditional British salute to war dead. A bagpiper played laments, and then a U.S. Marine raised the flag again as the bugler sounded an upbeat “Reveille.”
Inside the embassy, staff observed from the building’s circular balconies as Gilmore paid tribute to JFK’s legacy. Frankie Gavin — a fiddler who was six years old when he performed with his family’s band for Kennedy during his June 29, 1963, visit to the western Irish city of Galway — played a lament and a jig.
— Reported by Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin.