The eternal flame burns atop at the gravesite of President...

The eternal flame burns atop at the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (Nov. 19, 2013) Credit: AP

It was 50 years ago Friday that the world was stunned by the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, shot twice in backseat of a car in Dallas.

The New Frontier was over. The age of Camelot was gone in a matter of seconds. He will never be forgotten.

I was a teenager in Brooklyn. I had no way to understand that the president's death would be followed by an extended and tragic war in Vietnam, which forced the draft of many boys I knew so well. I worried about the future of the civil rights movement, and I had no way of knowing that his shooting would be followed by two more horrible assassinations.

There was a sense of pride in watching our handsome young president travel around the world with his beautiful wife, Jacqueline. They were celebrated in France, where he jested that Parisians were more interested in Jackie than him. His famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in West Berlin showed American support for West Germany. His prowess during the Cuban missile crisis prevented war with the Soviets.

I had little interest in the news until 1960. JFK made me want to know what was happening in the world. That is the legacy he left to me. He even inspired a young Bill Clinton to go into politics.

On the tragic day, Walter Cronkite of CBS News told us the president had been shot. People everywhere were upset and crying in the streets.

Then a tearful Cronkite stated that the president had died at Parkland Memorial Hospital. We later learned that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assumed assassin, and the Warren Commission later agreed, but questions of a conspiracy linger still.

The Kennedy funeral was riveting. Thousands filed past the president's casket. Jacqueline in black, John-John's famous salute, big sister Caroline by his side. A bugler played taps as the American flag was folded on his casket.

The nation was in pain.

Lyndon Johnson was our new president. He eventually carried on civil rights proposals that Kennedy wanted to accomplish.

The numbers of U.S. personnel in Vietnam escalated from 12,000 to 543,000 in the coming years. The war finally ended in 1975.

We will never know whether Kennedy would have escalated or withdrawn our troops had he not been shot.

The tragedy of 9/11 comes to mind for many. So many more died on Sept. 11, 2001, but the feeling of despair was identical to that felt after JFK's death. People wept and the United States changed forever. Years of war followed. The big difference between the Vietnam War and Afghanistan was clear. One had a military draft. The other did not.

The draft left its mark on my generation. So many gone. They had no choice. They had to go to war. That was the greatest tragedy of the troubled era after Kennedy's death.

We will forever remember what a monumental influence JFK was on our country as we proudly heard him say at his inauguration: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. ...

"My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."

Reader Phyllis Weinberger lives in North Woodmere.


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