Monday 25 September 2017

US marks JFK killing 50 years on

A photo of JKF and flowers lying on a plaque at Dealey Plaza in Dallas (AP)
A photo of JKF and flowers lying on a plaque at Dealey Plaza in Dallas (AP)
The limousine carrying the mortally wounded Kennedy races toward the hospital seconds after he was shot in Dallas (AP).

Fifty years after President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963, thousands will mark the day with a solemn ceremony in Dealey Plaza, through which the president's motorcade passed when shots rang out.

The event will feature brief remarks by the mayor, the tolling of church bells and readings from the president's speeches by author David McCullough.

It's a reverential approach that will be mirrored in Boston, where the JFK Library and Museum will open a small exhibit of never-before-displayed items from Kennedy's state funeral and host a musical tribute that isn't open to the public, and in Washington, where President Barack Obama will meet privately at the White House with leaders and volunteers from the Kennedy-established Peace Corps programme.

The committee convened by current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to plan the city's event wanted to focus "in a positive way more on the legacy of President Kennedy," said Ron Kirk, a former mayor and member of the panel.

About 5,000 tickets were issued for the free ceremony in Dealey Plaza, which is flanked by the Texas School Book Depository building where sniper Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly perched on the sixth floor. The US Naval Academy Men's Glee Club will perform in a nod to Kennedy's military service and there will be an Air Force flyover. A moment of silence will be held at 12:30 pm local time, when the president was shot.

Numerous events were held around Dallas this year to mark the milestone anniversary, including panels with those who were there that day, special concerts and museum exhibits.

As press aide for Governor John Connally, Julian Read was in a media bus several vehicles behind the presidential limousine. After the gunshots, he watched as the vehicle, carrying the mortally wounded Kennedy and injured governor, sped away. Mr Read released a book this year recounting his experience and has attended several of the events, which he called cathartic.

"Even though there are all those melancholy thoughts, the way it's shaping up ... gives me more of a comfort than any time since 1963," said Mr Read.

The Coalition on Political Assassinations, a group that believes Kennedy's death was part of a conspiracy, usually gathers on the plaza's "grassy knoll" for a moment of silence each November 22. Since it'll be blocked off this year, executive director John Judge - who first came to Dealey Plaza for the fifth anniversary of JFK's death in 1968 - says he's reached a "livable" agreement with the city.

The group - which plans to wear specially made T-shirts with an image of Kennedy's head with a bullet hole and blood and the slogan "50 years in denial is enough" - will gather a few blocks away and move to the plaza after the official ceremony ends.

Also on Friday, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce will host a breakfast at the hotel where he gave his last speech and spent the final night of his life.

In Boston, the private musical tribute will feature Paul Winter, whose jazz sextet performed for Kennedy at the White House, with a US Navy choir and James Taylor. Other notable guests include Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who is scheduled to read quotes from Kennedy's speeches.

A steady rain fell in Boston as Governor Deval Patrick, accompanied by Major Gen. Scott Rice of the Massachusetts National Guard, stood at attention during a sombre wreath-laying ceremony at the John F. Kennedy statue at the Statehouse.

No words were spoken during the ceremony and the US and Massachusetts flags in the front of the historic building were lowered to half-mast.

The bronze sculpture depicts a confident JFK striding forward. Dedicated in 1990, it has been largely off limits to public viewing since security procedures that took effect after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Massachusetts opened the area to visitors on Friday.

Bagpipes played, a British cavalry officer stood guard and the flame burned steady as it has for the last 50 years at Kennedy's grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

Shortly after sunrise, Attorney General Eric Holder paid his respects at the recently refurbished grave. Later, the last surviving Kennedy sibling, 85-year-old Jean Kennedy Smith, laid a wreath at her brother's grave at 8:30 am, joined by about 10 members of the Kennedy family.

A few hundred tourists watched the short, silent ceremony. Kennedy family members joined hands for a short prayer and left roses at the grave.

The cemetery has set up a live webcam on the gravesite throughout the day.

In Dealey Plaza, an American flag and Texas flag flew at half-mast, flanking the stage where the city was set to hold a solemn ceremony.

Workers were drying off seats placed in front of the stage for attendees. In the non-seated areas on each side, people were standing and watching large screens showing footage from Kennedy's visits to Berlin and Ireland.

AP

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