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In 1960, the election was between Eisenhower's Vice-President, Richard Nixon, and the Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, with Kennedy winning a very close contest.
Taking office in January of 1961 at the age of 43, Kennedy was a different kind of President. We did not know at the time about the gravity of his many illnesses, but he put forth an image of youth and vigor. He was very well-spoken, good looking, and charming. Regardless of politics, it was impossible not to like him. With initiatives such as the Space Program and the Peace Corps, he was about bringing the country into the future, about doing things a new way. In his inaugural address, along with the famous "Ask not what your country can do for you" line, he stated that "the torch had been passed to a new generation".
In 1963, he was in the third year of his administration. November 22 was a fine weather day in Los Angeles, cool and sunny, just as it was in Dallas. It was Friday, so in my late morning eighth-grade physical education class, we played co-ed volleyball. I wore olive colored pants with my PE T-shirt and black Jack Purcell("Smiley") tennis shoes. That was the normal part.
At the beginning of the class someone said that "Kennedy had been shot". Ever the joker, I asked, "Which one ?". Forty-five minutes later, at the end of the class, our teacher, Mr. Hills, somberly announced that they had heard over the radio that the President was dead.
Of course, the shock was felt by the 12- and 13-year-olds on that playground as it was throughout the world. For the funeral the following Monday, leaders came from countries near and far. It was unbelievably sad. It is now more than fifty years later, and I still cannot think about that day or see the pictures without the tears coming. Perhaps the most touching scene of them all was of the salute 3-year-old John F. Kennedy, Jr. gave to his fallen father. And now he is gone, too.
Needless to say, the course of history was changed. Lyndon Johnson became President and took different actions than President Kennedy might have. Who knows how the major events of the decade, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, might have gone had Kennedy lived.
But there was more to the Kennedy Presidency than just the decisions and events of the time.
The tragedy of his assassination was that, along with the young President, some of the hope and optimism he had brought to the world died as well. With Lyndon Johnson, it was back to the 'politics as usual'.
We could say that "The Sixties" began that day. The conflict, the trauma, and all the rest of that turbulent decade can, in part, be traced to the loss suffered by a generation that had such a dynamic, charming leader taken from it by those few cold bullets, one Friday afternoon in Dallas, Texas, USA.
You can view it on Youtube, in 10 parts, starting here:
(Take care there is also a 12 part edition of the same program, but the 10 part one has better video quality.)