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November 21, 2003

The Eternal Sorrow

John P. Snyder

Tomorrow will mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

I have no knowledge of an actuarial table, but I would bet that less than half the people alive today remember that fateful day. For those that do remember, the years don't seem to dim the sadness and regret when our memories recall the day our young president was murdered.

I was just a little shaver at the time, eight years old and struggling with third grade.

My father, a broadcast journalist, was the national news director for Westinghouse Broadcasting. As a member of our family, you were expected to be up to speed on current events, or else.

As my family gathered around the breakfast table that Thursday the 22nd of November, my father announced that the president was in Dallas, TX, and that some people were worried that something bad might happen to him. He noted that his colleague and our dear friend, Uncle Sid Davis, was in Dallas covering the events. He added wistfully, "I sure hope nothing bad happens."

About six hours later, I recalled that bit of information as the principal at our Catholic grade school made the announcement to the whole school. First there was quiet. Then there were tears. My teacher Sister Anastasia, who normally had the quiet sensitivity of a brick wall, sat at her desk and buried her head in her hands. For Roman Catholics, President Kennedy was equal to the Pope. His death was terribly painful. There hasn't been a Catholic president since.

The Washington area was about half the size it is today. The sadness covered the area like a tarpaulin. People came home and watched television. There were only four channels back then, and every station was wall to wall coverage of the events.

Later my mother bundled the five Snyder kids and staked a place along the route the casket was taking when it was moved from the White House to the Capitol Rotunda.

Thousands were along Constitution Avenue, but it was perfectly quiet. All that could be heard was the approaching caisson drawn by horses with the flag draped casket atop it. Following close behind was a rider less horse with boots on either side turned backward.

I recall the sea of anguished faces as it passed. I can still recall four sailors saluting the casket as it passed by with big tears coming down their faces. Nothing can dim that memory.

It took weeks and months for the country to get on with life. It was the following February that people caught on to the music of the Beatles. Those catchy ballads helped people feel better.

John F. Kennedy represented a promise of great things for our country. He had a way of energizing people. Although surely a patrician blue blood, he appealed to the working class.

The previous summer, we saw him when he visited my mother’s hometown of McKeesport, PA. There among the blue collar steel workers he was regarded as royalty.

Although he has become this great liberal icon, I suspect he would have none of it.

He wasn't a liberal and he wasn't a conservative. He was an optimist and pragmatic.

He had plans for larger government, but cut taxes willingly.

If he were to deliver his promise to "pay any price and bear any burden for peace” today, he would be laughed out of this year’s Democratic primary. Ditto his directive to "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

Liberals today insist that you do ask what the country can do for you.

Those of us who recall the events of November 22, 1963, will pause, and likely remember the pain.

The flame that sits atop his gravesite in Arlington Cemetery keeps his memory alive.

It also reminds us of one the darkest days in our country’s history. Our sorrow is eternal.

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