Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You ...

... ask what you can do for your country."

                   -- President John F. Kennedy, first inaugural address
Like anyone else of my generation, I remember exactly where I was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

I was in the living room of the Alpha Zeta fraternity house when Chuck Dix raced into the house and yelled “turn on the TV, Kennedy’s been shot.” And, then, we watched mesmerized as the news unfolded and as other brothers came in from campus.

On Sunday, one of the brothers said “Let’s go to the funeral.” So, three of us jumped into his Corvair and drove to Washington, arriving late Sunday evening. (It was my first trip to Washington.) We parked along Independence Mall (you could do that back then). We started to walk to the Capitol Building but learned from others milling around that the line was 3-4 hours long. Since they would move the President’s casket before we could get through the line, that plan wasn’t feasible. So, we jumped back in the Corvair and drove around. It was midnight or later. Then we spotted people sitting outside a church. So, we parked and grabbed sidewalk space right across from the church (St. Matthew’s Cathedral). Along with thousands of others, we waited all night. Activity started early the next morning. This was the cathedral where the funeral service would be held. When it was over, dignitaries began exiting the church and the funeral procession. I can still see the funeral caisson, the riderless horse, the Kennedy family and, among other leaders, a very tall and erect French President Charles De Gaulle. After the funeral procession departed, we jumped in the Corvair and headed back to Columbus ... with the radio commentary running and the eery sound of the muffled drums of a national funeral.

On the drive home, I couldn’t help but remember that on Kennedy’s inauguration day, students in my high school wore black arm bands and here I was at his funeral.

President Kennedy was young and vibrant. He brought us charisma and vision, the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam, volunteerism and the Peace Corps, satellites, astronauts and the dream of landing on the moon.

I think of the powerful “Ask Not” sentence from his inaugural speech.

I’m guessing the President would be shocked that over the last 40+ years, many Americans have forgotten his admonition and have bombarded Congress asking their country for trillions upon trillions of dollars for them or their cause. 

And, I often wonder how history would have played out if not for that awful day in Dallas ... November 22, 1963.

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