November 22, 1963

10/17/2013 12:25 PM

10/17/2013 12:29 PM

Originally published in The Bee on Nov. 22, 1988

There cannot be many Americans over 35 who don't recall the moment, 25 years ago, when they first heard that the president had been shot: where they were, what they were doing, the pain and fear they felt.

We were citizens of a country that was under attack. As we sat watching television that Friday evening and during the ensuing four or five days -- watching the film of the motorcade, seeing again and again the pictures of the Texas Schoolbook Depository and Dealey Plaza, listening to the familiar voices, hearing the speculation about how many shots and how many assassins there had been, seeing the incredible moment when the man they had first called Lee Henry Oswald was himself murdered in the Dallas police station -- there could not have been many who didn't wonder what had happened to this hopeful country or what we would find when it was over.

In many ways, it is still not over. We don't know for certain whether it was Oswald alone who shot John Kennedy or whether there was a conspiracy, and if so, what sort of conspiracy it was. This month all of that is being replayed again and again: the Castro connection, the Mafia connection, the CIA connection. Was the report of the Warren Commission an earnest attempt to get the facts? Was it simply an effort to reassure a nation that might otherwise be prone, less than a decade after the height of McCarthyism, to go on who knew what divisive witch hunt?

More important, we are a different country for it, wiser perhaps, but sadder as well. When the young president -- he was then 46 -- died from his wounds, some element of national certainty, a level of confidence and hope, and much of our national innocence, died with him. To be sure, the assassination raised a man who had been elected by the narrowest of margins just three years before, who had presided over the disaster at the Bay of Pigs and who started the country into the quagmire of Vietnam to the pantheon of presidents far greater than himself. But there was no doubt of the hope he symbolized; the country helped him create Camelot because that's what it wanted. When he died, some of that died with him.

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