Posted by: SJS | November 22, 2020

November 22, 1963

It was a day that changed the course of history. And it was certainly a day that changed my life. In the space of a few hours, it felt like history was no longer something confined to textbooks or homework assignments. History was something I was living through in all of its brutal immediacy and the frightening images that were presented to us on television.

President and Ms. Kennedy in the Dallas Motorcade on November 22, 1963

I was twelve years old on that November day. By the time I went to bed that evening, felt like an old man–exhausted, confused, and deeply grief-stricken. It felt like the entire world had been turned upside down. The shock of losing a president in such a gruesome way was overwhelming and more disorienting than anything I had ever experienced in my young life.

NY Times headline November 23, 1963

Kennedy’s PT experience in WWII, an experience he shared with my father, gave him a very privileged position in my world. He was more than a president or a politician–he was a navy man who had risked his life multiple times in service to his country. For JFK’s life to end in an act of violence–violence from which he could not defend himself–was a cruel, merciless lesson in irony for a twelve year old boy who would quickly begin to learn other lessons that the world would teach about violence, injustice, and the fragility of human life.

JFK in his navy dress whites & as a young congressman

Now that fifty-seven years have passed since that horrific day in 1963, the sting and shock of JFK’s assassination have been tempered by other lessons from the life and legacy of the nation’s 35th president. Through his Navy service, Kennedy learned about sacrifice, resilience, and putting the needs of others above your own needs. Through his tenure as president, he discovered the importance of learning from your mistakes and that political courage can really take a toll on your popularity. Up to the last day of his life, JFK was learning and putting the lessons he learned into practice.

While he was far from a perfect human being, JFK’s life reminded all Americans that public service is a noble calling and that all who have served in our nation’s military are worthy of respect, admiration, and deep gratitude. The example of JFK is like a powerful light that will guide us through this turbulent and toxic era of our history.

And the legacy of JFK reminds us that Americans deserve a president who reflects our highest ideals–service, justice, fairness, empathy, and competence in governing.

How refreshing it will be to welcome those qualities back into the White House when the current occupant is shown the door on January 20, 2021.


  1. I was six, and can tell that my world was shattered. Thank you for this wonderful tribute.

    • Thanks so much, inese. It was a day that that did, indeed, feel earth-shattering. I’ve often felt that the impact of JFK’s murder was as severe in Ireland as it was in America. For all of us of Irish descent in this country, the loss of Kennedy felt deeply personal and hostile in the extreme. The chill that went down my spine that day left traces that never entirely disappeared. Thanks so much for your kind support of my work.

      • Thank you for your wonderful articles!

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