Dec. 7, 1941.
Sept. 11, 2001.
Nov. 22, 1963.
No words are needed to evoke an emotional response to those dates.
Now more than ever, under the ever-present eye of modern communications technology, each new generation of Americans will experience collective moments they’ll never forget. Moments that will be recalled, with the arrival of each landmark anniversary, by the question, “Do you remember what you were doing …” when news of the event broke into public consciousness.
For baby boomers, the generation born after World War II and which came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, there have been a handful of those moments — the moon landing, the night Nixon resigned as president at the height of the Watergate scandal, the space shuttle Challenger disaster and, of course, 9/11.
But the moment that started it all — a seminal incident that burned most deeply because it was the first major news event of the TV generation — was the assassination of John F. Kennedy, our nation’s 35th president, as his motorcade traveled through the streets of Dallas, Texas, 50 years ago today.
Kennedy would not be the only public official to fall victim to violence through those years, but he was the first. Those of his generation — the renowned “Greatest Generation” that fought during WWII — embraced him as one of them, even though his upbringing in privilege and a glamorous lifestyle had insulated him from many of the everyday challenges faced by Americans. Still, he was a war hero, a husband and father, and he found his calling in national politics, first in Congress and eventually in the White House. People found a connection with Kennedy, and the high drama of his death enhanced his image.
Today’s anniversary of his assassination has sparked national reflection about days gone by, innocence lost, where we’ve been and how far we’ve come as a nation.
At a time in our history when politics is so divided and hostile, perhaps it is the collective experience of Nov. 22, 1963, and other dates like it, that keep us together and remind us we can and do share common ground, even though at times it seems hard to find.