He died at age 46, fifty years ago...but he endures in aging black and white images and indelibly in America's imagination.
He was a popular young president with a beautiful wife and an easy manner, projecting the optimism of an era some historians would call the "American Century".
"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," were some of the most famous words uttered by President John F. Kennedy.
Jacqueline Kennedy was 31-years-old when they entered the White House and she widowed at 34. She called their time "Camelot", likening the Kennedy Administration to a royal court and her husband to the legendary King Arthur.
The Kennedy's did become a kind of American royalty, a dynasty in national life: brother Robert was a U.S. Senator assassinated as he ran for the presidency, brother Teddy was a U.S. Senator who served for decades, and daughter Caroline is now serving as the new U.S. Ambassador to Japan.
In his own day, John Kennedy was hardly a king, but he was a cold warrior...who challenged the spread of Soviet influence. He set America on a path to the moon...and a path to its national nightmare with Vietnam.
In America's collective memory, the Cuban Missile Crisis - a standoff with Moscow that brought the two superpowers to the brink of war - is recalled as a winning example of American resolve. Kennedy's decision to order the disastrous "Bay of Pigs" invasion fiasco in Cuba tends to be forgotten or forgiven.
Kennedy was president for barely more than 1,000 days.
On his last day, riding through Dallas, he was assassinated in an open car, at a time when wanton violence in broad daylight was even more shocking. It was an abrupt end to a more innocent time. The images are still sobering half a century later, but Kennedy's killing was the first time that America shared a national tragedy in real time through the medium of television.
Adding to the shock, Kennedy's assassin was himself assassinated before he could fully answer for the crime. So, some Americans wonder to this day if they really know how John Kennedy died or who was responsible for it.
A president's life as myth, murder, mystery...it is no wonder America hasn't let go of the memory.
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