JFK: The ghost of Camelot wanders through the mind of a generation
By Paul Collins
November 22, 1963, was a day that changed America forever. It is a day that an entire generation of Americans will always remember. Maybe, on that Friday, baby boomers were sitting in a classroom, driving in the car or perhaps just dreaming of the future and where life might take them. Whatever was happening in their lives on that day, what binds them together is the fact that they still recall with crystal clarity every detail. For most, the passing of the years has not eroded the frozen details of where they were, what they were doing and with whom they were doing it.
The assassination of John F. Kennedy remains as a watershed event in baby boomers’ lives. For the memory of how he died is indelibly seared into their collective memory. That long ago November day cannot be erased with the passing of time. It was a day when the hopes and dreams of a generation lay crushed and broken on a sunlit street in Dallas. It has been more than half a century since the shots rang out in Dealey Plaza, and the haunting sound of that gunfire echoes across the years.
Many young people of that restless generation, searching for a hero when heroes were in desperately short supply, felt that they had finally found their hero in JFK. The 35th President of the United States was a dynamic figure who seemed to define style and charisma while inspiring young people to get involved and to become agents of change. Like Elvis, Jack Kennedy was a rock star. He filled the hearts of a generation that looked up to him with the hope of a better tomorrow and the firm belief that it was within their power to make a positive difference. The generation that followed Kennedy like a pied piper willingly took the offered baton from him and asked themselves what they could do for their country.
This inspiring young president brought a unique brand of leadership and flair to the White House, which has been conspicuous by its absence since the day he left us and walked off into eternity. Over five decades have now passed by the door, and yet, his death is still a painful memory that grips baby boomers with a gnawing emptiness and gives them pause to remember the tears that they shed for all of the things that might have been but never were.
Looking back at that those shadows of November from across the years, it seems clear that Kennedy’s death marked the end of the innocence, for as a nation, we were never quite the same after it happened. Those idyllic – and perhaps somewhat naïve – days of hope, confidence and the belief that everything was possible were lost to us forever, ripped from our hands in the blink of an eye. The images of that day, when the world held its breath and focused on the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository and a grassy knoll, are indelible.
JFK’s passing opened up the floodgates for tumultuous changes, the foundation of which rested on an unpopular war in Vietnam that ripped the heart out of the nation and left a ghastly bloodstain across the fabric of American society.
Perhaps, Kennedy would have ended American involvement in Vietnam, as has been widely speculated over the years. Perhaps, he would have done many things that would have been a catalyst to reshape the future. Had he lived, perhaps his legacy would have altered the light in which we have come to view political leaders of today. Then again, perhaps he would never have been able to live up to the impossibly lofty standards and expectations that a generation placed on him. Perhaps, this upbeat scenario is more the wishful thinking of a generation gazing back at a misty scene of what might have been. For there is indeed that lingering thought in the back of my mind that says maybe JFK has been made far larger in death than he was in life.
JFK still matters in the world of today. He is a vehicle back to the tranquil serenity of the dream world of lost youth. As such, he will forever be frozen in time as a handsome, young, charismatic man who touched the hearts of the generation that followed him, believed in him and still recalls him with fondness more than 50 years after his death. During those heady 1,000 days, the promise of the future was so bright and the possibilities that tomorrow held seemed to be infinite.
I’ve found that there is no middle ground where the Kennedy name is concerned. However, whether one loves the Kennedys or loathes them, there is an entire generation that will never forget that terrible November day in Dallas. A day that, for so many Americans, was forged in shock and fury. The timeless image of JFK waving and smiling from the back seat of an open-topped limousine at well-wishers who lined the streets of Dallas is permanently etched in their minds.
Paul Collins is a freelance writer from Southborough.