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Remembering President Kennedy 40 Years Later

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on December 09, 2003:

Senator Dyson Forty years ago, I was a 15-year-old ninth grader attending Great Mills High School when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. News of the shooting and the president’s eventual death was a shocking blow to everyone.
The school day stopped and everyone including myself walked around totally numb. No one could believe that the President of the United States could be shot and killed in a wide open motorcade surrounded by the Secret Service.

Not until my freshman year in the U.S. House of Representatives did I realize that despite all of the enhancements in security measures at the Secret Service after President Kennedy’s death, all presidents are always in danger. That was when President Reagan was shot on the street in Washington, D.C. Luckily, despite a brush with death, President Reagan survived.

And sadly, President Kennedy never had a chance. People often ask me about my thoughts and memories every year on the anniversary of his death -- especially now that it is 40 years since that terrible day in Dallas. What I remember about November 22, 1963 and the days following President Kennedy’s death was that it was the first time there was nothing on the television but news about the assassination. The visuals are still striking beginning with the sight of Mrs. Kennedy, still wearing the blood-soaked dress she was wearing when the president was shot, arriving at Bethesda Naval Hospital with her husband’s casket.

Then there was another public assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. It seemed the world was in total chaos.

Then there seemed to be the endless coverage of the funeral and I recall just the terrible sadness we all felt.

But I choose to remember the many good things about President Kennedy. Being a Catholic, I remember the nuns at Little Flower School, where my twin brother and I were attending during the race for the presidency between Kennedy and Vice President Nixon. I recall how they were actually praying that Kennedy would be elected president. It was that important to them for the first Catholic in history to be elected to the highest position in the land. Since Kennedy prevailed in one of the closest elections in history, I believe the nuns at Little Flower School just may have made a difference.

In 1960, President Kennedy won the national election with 49.7 percent of the vote. Nixon got 49.5 percent. A trait that served him well was Kennedy’s confidence. With the election still too close to call and his campaign team telling him he was going to need to stay up all night before a victor was known, Kennedy shook them off. He was sure he won and went to bed. He made the right decision waking up the next day having won one of the closest elections in history. In Maryland, President Kennedy carried Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s County as well as Baltimore City, Dorchester, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Queen Anne’s counties. He was the youngest president ever elected taking over from President Eisenhower who at 70 was the oldest to serve until Reagan.

Ironically, Eisenhower, who carried the entire state of Maryland in 1956, was the first president not allowed to run for a third term. Because of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution which limited presidents to two terms, Eisenhower was forbidden by law to run for a third term.

Much has come out about President Kennedy that is unflattering since his death -- much of it unfair and unproven. How can a dead man defend himself? Few presidents have ever shown the courage, tenacity, diplomacy and political will that Kennedy showcased during the Cuban Missile Crisis. While he achieved so much in just two and a half years -- his presidency was a success if you only judge him on his brilliant handling of the Cuban situation. While we all were worried about a nuclear war, Kennedy’s assured, cool demeanor while addressing the country calmed us down a great deal. Here was a man in total control. It was, to me, his finest hour.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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