Fifty years ago, the world was stunned with the news of a heinous homicide that haunts many of us to this day– the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Throughout the last fifty years, many tried to explain what exactly happened, including why we examine, investigate, and talk about this infamous event, still, we all fail to come to any satisfactory conclusion. We argue, we ponder, we care, but the big question is why? Most believe that we cannot accept the idea that a lonely loser can single-highhandedly kill one of the most influential political figures at the time. Some ponder the testimony of eyewitnesses, their statements and views still burned into our memories, who believed they saw and heard things that cannot be explained by the “official” versions. Others still believe that we cannot accept the senseless death of such a handsome and popular President. But most people never realize the obvious fact that this man really enjoyed being President. His father, Joseph Kennedy groomed his first son, Joe, for years in preparation of the run for the Presidential office. When he was killed in a special mission during World War II, the grieving Kennedy patriarch did not lose focus on the highest political office in the land and began fitting Jack for the job.
Once John Kennedy became President, the nation as a whole felt a bit more united, although the United States suffered no major wars or political upheavals during the Eisenhower administration. But the country wanted more than a “do-nothing” President and with a surge of young baby boomers after the Second World War, the young fresh look of a handsome President at the helm fit the bill. Whether it was a routine speech or a crisis, Kennedy always looked very Madison Avenue and was far from mundane. Whether telling a joke, quipping with the press or issuing a stern ultimatum, Kennedy looked comfortable and in charge. He enjoyed his job and we, the people, enjoyed watching him do it.
That is probably the biggest reason that an assassins bullet didn’t just kill a man that day in Dallas, but killed the spirit of a nation. A nation that was beginning to enter a frightening new era, but was ready to face any challenge with a new, strong leader. Most people living today were not alive when Kennedy walked the earth, and both young and old attempt to assess the success of his three short years in office. Many of the descriptions are flowery representations that try to include his best accomplishments, such as the Peace Corp, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and support of the Civil Rights Movement. On a purely objective basis, however, Kennedy was an ineffective President whose opinions and policies pissed off a plethora of political and military personnel, and few of his proposals passed a hostile Congress. These policies and attitudes may also endeared him with the people, as his well-written speeches were delivered with a Shatneresque style– pausing often within sentences and emphasizing certain words or phrases. His New England accent fascinated the public and was fodder for late night talk show hosts and stand-up comedians.
His death marked the beginning of the end of Presidential confidentiality. Many of his health problems were secret until the 1990’s, but the investigation of his death began the outcry from the public to release government records that rages on today. Kennedy’s death is the most talked about homicide in history and yet, there is so little evidence to confirm the conclusions. The last generations cannot comprehend the world in 1963 where there was little live TV coverage, no cells phones, no street TV cameras, no surveillance cameras, and few movie cameras. If a notable celebrity visited your town, you needed to carry your own film equipment if you wanted to save the moment. Film was expensive to buy and more expensive to develop, and . . . you either dropped it off or mailed it away, waiting for its return before you could see what your equipment wrought. On November 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder, armed with his Bell & Howell Zoomatic Super 8 movie camera, thought his film of the Presidential motorcade would become a family heirloom as he stood on a retaining wall, aiming his camera at the President and Mrs. Kennedy as they rode by. After the third shoot rang out, he knew he would change history.
“They killed him!” he screamed at bystanders. Minutes later, he phoned his business partner and told he that, “I saw his head come off!” Zapruder would sell his film of the assassination for $75,000.00 and it would become the most studied piece of evidence in the entire investigation as the film captured the entire event. But Zapruder’s film added to the mystery, since it was more like an FBI training film designed to test the limits of new recruits. By today’s standards, it was shaky, dusty and the resolution poor. It captured the events, alright, but without the clarity needed to answer all questions, questions that remain unanswered to this day. One frame, 313, was so graphic, even by today’s standards, that it wasn’t released to the public until 12 years later. An enhanced version of that frame is posted below. It is the moment the third bullet struck the President’s head.
Zapruder knew instantly what the rest of the world waited to hear– President Kennedy was dead. These words will haunt all of us that are alive today and heard those words on TV and radio on November 22, 1963. And we wonder how different the world might be if Kennedy was never struck down by an assassins bullet. We will never know, because it’s all a split second into eternity!