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Friday, November 22, 2013

In Honor of President JFK—50 Years Later

I remember sitting in a restaurant, eating lunch with Rev. Jim Reed, near Diversey Parkway and Lakeshore Drive in Chicago on Nov. 22, 1963.  Suddenly the TV went crazy with scenes of chaos in Dallas. "Kennedy has been shot," intoned the announcer. Disbelief! Shock! Deep sadness! I felt those emotions for hours.

Today, I remember Kennedy's greatness. I remember the thrill of hearing him build to these words in a rally in cold war Berlin: "Ich bin ein Berliner!" The crowd roared with applause and appreciation. On that day, he projected an uplifting American presence into the entire world.

In 1960-61, I was privileged to travel extensively in West Africa. Friendly Africans invited me into their humble homes in Freetown and Monrovia, and in tiny upcountry villages. They were so prideful of photographs of President Kennedy hung on their walls. In many ways, Kennedy modeled America's best globally.

Though I wasn't part of it, I was proud of the Peace Corps program that he boosted. I was motivated by his exhortation: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Kennedy filled a need for millions and for me. I'm aware of how his spirit lives on in the minds and hearts of people living today. But on Nov. 22, 1963, Jim Reed and I were saddened with the human propensity to kill humanity's best. That's the ironic fate that befell John F. Kennedy.

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