John F. Kennedy assassination still debated 50 years later

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: The death of President John F. Kennedy reminded Americans of their mortality

As the nation nears Friday’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the intrigue and mystery — real and imagined — about the young president’s tragic death is regaining prominence. For many younger Americans, this is their first in-depth exposure to the assassination beyond what they learned in school texts.

In fact, of late it’s been difficult to avoid conversations and questions centered on that fateful day in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963.

There have been specials and reports, new examinations of old evidence and countless angles — including the angle that Lee Harvey Oswald shot from — explored in great depth with the application of modern technology. There have been witness accounts of the day, conspiracy theories, reviews of written thoughts by American leaders of the 1960s and speculation as to why and how the slaying happened.

America has always had an undercurrent of disbelief that an American president in the latter half of the 20th century — the leader of the free world — could be killed by a lone gunman. The subsequent killing of Oswald by Jack Ruby, silencing the only real chance to get a clear understanding of the tumultuous event, and the sealing of records regarding the JFK assassination only further whetted the appetites of conspiracy theorists who have argued that the guiding force behind the killing was everyone from the Soviets and the Cubans to the CIA, Kennedy successor Lyndon B. Johnson and the mafia.

So far, however, a half-century of digging and investigating by various people have not successfully debunked the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald acted alone.

Add to the argument for the lone gunman two examples that occurred not long after the JFK assassination. President Gerald Ford was spared injury or death in Sacramento in 1975 because Lynett “Squeaky” Fromme, for whatever reason, didn’t have a bullet chambered in her .45, which she pointed at Ford. Six years later, President Ronald Reagan was leaving a speaking engagement at a Washington, D.C., hotel when John Hinckley Jr. shot him and three others.

In neither case has there been an outcry from the public that Fromme or Hinckley was a front for communists or the mob, or the CIA. Could that be because while Reagan was seriously wounded, neither attempt was successful?

It may be that we can accept the failed assassination attempts by an average individual, but we can’t accept that the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military could be done in by a single malcontent gunman firing from the window of a bookstore in Dallas.

For many Americans of the time, Kennedy represented a new era in American politics. He was the first U.S. president born in the 20th century and, unlike his older, lower-key predecessors, he was young, vibrant and charismatic with a charming wife who captured America’s imagination. JFK and his Camelot personified an ideal for many Americans, an ideal that, in the minds of many, could not have been brought down by the likes of Oswald without the help of some extensive dark resources. If someone of Kennedy’s stature was that vulnerable, where did that leave the rest of us?

His death left an indelible mark on America, one so profound that even now — five decades later — it sparks debate and reminds us of our own mortality.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board