Obama leads mourning ceremonies for slain JFK
Published 21/11/2013 | 02:00
us President Barack Obama yesterday led his nation into three days of mourning and commemoration as America prepares to mark tomorrow's 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy.
With Bill Clinton at his side, Mr Obama placed a wreath at Kennedy's grave in Arlington national cemetery, pausing before the flame that has burned in the slain president's memory for five decades.
The ceremony brought together the three most famous clans in Democratic politics – the Obamas, the Clintons and the Kennedys – in quiet reflection at the grave site.
Mr Obama held the hand of Ethel Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy's widow, hugged Jack Schlossberg, JFK's only grandson, and at one point comforted a crying Kennedy baby.
Earlier in the day, Mr Obama bestowed the Presidential Medals of Freedom, an award established by Kennedy in 1963 with the intention of recognising those who had made "an especially meritorious contribution" to the American life.
Kennedy laboured over the first set of honourees – his selection ranged from a blind teacher to a black singer, a photographer to a Supreme Court justice – but was killed before he could give the awards.
Two weeks after the assassination, his successor Lyndon Johnson gave out the medals to Kennedy's choices, adding an additional recipient: the murdered president himself.
Mr Obama has handed out the medals before but said: "This year, it's just a little more special because this marks the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy establishing this award."
He presented the medal to Mr Clinton, saying that his Democratic predecessor "represents what's the very best in America".
"I'm grateful, Bill, as well for the advice and counsel that you've offered me on and off the golf course," Mr Obama said to laughter.
Although Mr Obama has drawn comparisons with Kennedy, it is Mr Clinton who can claim the stronger connection.
The former president grew up in age of idealism about public service sparked by Kennedy's election and a 16-year-old Mr Clinton shook the president's hand at the White House months before his death.
Mr Obama gave the medal to 15 others, including Oprah Winfrey and Ben Bradlee, the former 'Washington Post' editor who led the paper during its exposure of the Watergate scandal.
Americans will gather at commemorative events across the country in the coming days, culminating in a ceremony at Dealey Plaza in Dallas tomorrow, the scene of the assassination in 1963.
Security is expected to be heavy as around 5,000 people gather to commemorate the assassination and listen to excerpts from some of Kennedy's most famous speeches being read.
Flags will fly at half mast and bells will ring out at 12.30pm, the time that the first of the three shots rang out.
One on each side, Mr Obama and Mr Clinton held the hands of Ethel Kennedy, Robert Kennedy's widow, as they made their way up the stairs at Arlington National Cemetery. First lady Michelle Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton joined the two presidents to place a wreath near the eternal flame.
Mr Obama and Mr Clinton placed their hands over their hearts as a bugler played 'Taps' near an American flag at half-mast. Mr Obama greeted Kennedy relatives gathered to honour JFK's legacy ahead of the 50th anniversary of his assassination tomorrow.
"Today, we salute fierce competitors who became true champions," Mr Obama said, pausing to speak in personal terms about each of the recipients and their contributions to society.
As a teenager, Bill Clinton shook hands with Kennedy the summer before the assassination when he and other high-school students in the Boys Nation programme went to Washington.
Earlier Mr Obama said the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, didn't just break the stratospheric glass ceiling, "she blasted right through it".
Seperately yesterday President Obama's approval ratings have crashed to a record low.
Aaccording to a new opinion poll, his support has haemorrhaged in the midst of the botched introduction of his controversial healthcare reforms package.
A survey by CBS News found that only 37pc of Americans approved of the job he was doing as president, while 57pc disapproved.
Both numbers are the starkest since he took office in January 2009.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)