USA Today, November 22, 2013
From the scene: Still mourning in Dallas
Maybe in another 50 years we'll be over the Kennedy assassination.
By Bruce Kluger
more appropriately, like a
house of mourning.
Flying into Dallas
earlier this week was a
somber affair, as the city
braced itself for an
anniversary it would have
just as soon avoided.
From newspaper kiosks
and bookstores all along
its gray streets, the
handsome face of our
35th president stared out
at the spectacle
tourists to the descending media—was fairly simple: Could Dallas confront and
accept its role in the tragic death of President John F. Kennedy, who was gunned
down on these streets while riding in a motorcade—his beautiful wife by his side—
fifty years ago today.
For many of us here this week, that horror is still palpable. By my second day in the
city, it was easy to spot those who shared my feelings. We’re all of a certain age,
and we recognized each other with wordless glances, as we all turned up at the
same predictable places—the alleged assassin’s boarding house; the gravesite of
the Dallas police officer he’d also killed that day; and, of course, at the sickeningly
familiar intersection at Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was fatally struck down.
That’s where I was standing just after noon today, crammed among reporters and
cameramen from around the world, who’d streamed into this city for the planned
memorial. The weather was unseasonably bitter, the sky overcast, and an icy
drizzle fell on us. The mood was sad and solemn.
Those who participated in the privately funded public memorial—planned for more
than a year with the city’s cooperation—tried to reconcile Dallas’ place in that awful
moment of history, and they did so with sobriety and respect. In his invocation,
Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, spoke of the five decades
of anguish that began here, acknowledging “the cruel suffering that was borne on
this hill,” and explaining how Dallas—“the city of God”—was “disgraced, scorned
and ruthlessly judged” in the years that followed. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, in his
speech, likewise accepted the notion that on November 22, 1963, “hope and hatred
collided” in Texas, and he vividly recalled how all of us “wept, just like the skies
Still, Mayor Rawlings insisted, John Kennedy’s “New Frontier did not end that day
on our Texas Frontier.” He spoke optimistically of the city’s rebound from shame; its
now thriving industry; and it conscientious efforts to continue to live up to the ideals
of liberty and equality set forth so long ago by Kennedy himself.
Yet throughout the ceremony, those of us witnessing the event could not escape
the looming presence of the former Texas School Book Depository, its red-brick
façade now iconic, where, most insist, the assassin fired the three gunshots that
launched our half-century of reckoning. Even when we bowed our heads during a
moment of silence at 12:30 PM—the precise time of the assassination—and church
bells tolled throughout the city, and the U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club
began to sing “America the Beautiful,” we were still trapped in the shadow of that
menacing seven-story building.
And for me, that overwhelming feeling of futility is what today was really about. Fifty
years later, we cannot throw off the crushing grief of the Kennedy assassination,
nor can we fully understand it, because no real questions—questions of
substance—have been answered. Conspiracy theories about the murder itself still
thrive; our culture of guns and violence still shapes us; and, yes, politics (and make
no mistake, a president, however revered, is ultimately a politician) still divide us.
And so I and thousands of others will leave this city tomorrow more or less as we
had arrived, grateful to have had the opportunity to honor a man whose all too brief
presidency had filled and then broken our hearts, but still crippled by the incurable
emptiness that, like all deaths of loved ones, leaves us scarred.
Perhaps in another fifty years, historians will be able to explain how—or if—our
nation truly changed on that sunny, tragic day in November 1963, when three
cracks of gunfire split the sky and a blazing torch of hope was extinguished. But
until then, for me at least, the mourning will continue.