JFK: The Ceremony
5:46 pm
Fri November 22, 2013

RECAP: In Prayer And Song, Dallas Honors President Kennedy At Dealey Plaza

The KERA News team was at Dealey Plaza and around downtown Dallas, capturing the sights and sounds of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. A ceremony was held at midday featuring prayers, patriotic music and remarks from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and historian David McCullough. Although the ceremony is over, we'll provide updates throughout the afternoon on this live blog. (Tonight at 9, KERA 90.1 FM will air a re-broadcast of the midday ceremony.)

Update, 6:50 p.m.: Listen to KERA's special evening news segment on the JFK 50th anniversary commemoration.

KERA newsroom

Update, 5:53 p.m.: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' office has released the text of the speech he delivered earlier this afternoon at Dealey Plaza. Read his speech here.

Update, 5:42 p.m.: What was today's commemoration meant to achieve? KERA's Shelley Kofler explores that topic.

Update, 5:25 p.m.: Michael and Kathleen Dunphy from South Carolina were among those who watched the ceremony on a big screen in downtown. They were visiting their son in Houston and decided to drive up for the weekend. Kathleen Dunphy was in high school when Kennedy was assassinated; her husband was a freshman in college.

“It just brought back a lot of memories and a lot of things going back 50 years to the day," Michael Dunphy told KERA's Stella M. Chavez. "It’s just a meaningful event. Anybody who’s 60 years or older, it’s the 9-11 of our era.”

Kathleen Dunphy said she liked hearing from historian David McCullough, one of the speakers. “It kind of reminds me of those speeches that were given that electrified a nation back then and everybody seems to forget about those things today," she said.

Update, 5:02 p.m.: CBSNews.com is airing its 1963 live assassination coverage as it happened.

Update, 4:36 p.m. KERA's Stella M. Chavez reports that the Dallas County Sheriff's Department hasn't made any arrests today related to the JFK commemoration in downtown Dallas.

Update, 4:34 p.m.: At 6 p.m., the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Police Association will hold a vigil at the Dallas Police Association building, 1412 Griffin St. The vigil will honor Dallas officer J.D. Tippit, who was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald 50 years ago today in Oak Cliff at the intersection of 10th and Patton streets. Tippit’s widow, Marie, will speak, as will Dallas police chief David Brown. The ceremony will include the police honor guard and choir, as well as honor guards from across the state.

Update, 4:30 p.m.: Dallas Police posted a note on its Twitter page, saying their officers didn't engage in altercations with protesters. 

Update, 3:35 p.m.: Check out @todayin1963 on Twitter. It's an NPR Twitter feed that reports on events in 1963 as they happened -- including events related to the Kennedy assassination. Here's how NPR describes it: "Bits of history unfold in 'real-time.' You'll see reports from NBC, CBS, the UPI and the New York Times as the outlets scrambled to piece together the changes underfoot: The White House will announce John F. Kennedy's death; Lyndon B. Johnson will be sworn in as the 36th president of the United States; Lee Harvey Oswald, the prime suspect in the assassination, will be shot and killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby on Nov. 24. The tweets go on and on — you'll just have to follow yourself."

Update, 3:30 p.m.: Read bulletins from the Associated Press from Nov. 22, 1963 -- bulletins that first alerted the country's newsrooms to what was happening in Dallas. It's riveting to see the old documents.

Update, 2:34 p.m.: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings spoke at the ceremony earlier today. Read his Twitter feed, which includes many JFK references and historical pictures.

Update, 2:32 p.m.: There were some skirmishes between protesters and the Dallas County sheriff's department in downtown following today's ceremony. Reporters from The Dallas Morning News posted the news on Twitter.

Update, 2:30 p.m.: Earlier this year, a doctor at Parkland Hospital in 1963 spoke publicly for the first time about his role after bullets struck Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. Dr. Red Duke, a renowned trauma surgeon from Houston, was on the thoracic surgery team at Parkland Hospital in 1963. His job that day was to help save the life of wounded Texas Governor John Connally, also shot as he rode in the motorcade. Hear what he had to say earlier this year.

Update, 2:22 p.m.: On this day 50 years ago, Jackie Kennedy arrived in Dallas as stylish as ever, wearing a pink dress with pink pillbox hat. First, we saw her in the pink dress holding red roses and greeting the crowds at Dallas Love Field. Later, we saw her in the same dress, covered with her husband’s blood. Whatever happened to that dress and hat?

Update, 2:03 p.m.: Lee Harvey Oswald's widow has tried to avoid the spotlight ever since President Kennedy was shot. Marina Oswald is now Marina Oswald Porter. She lives a quiet life in Rockwall, northeast of Dallas. But earlier this month, the Daily Mirror, the British tabloid, published pictures and video of the widow, now Marina Oswald Porter, as she walked out of a Walmart. Whatever happened to Marina Oswald?

Update, 1:40 p.m.: A Dallas group, Agency Entourage, is sending out notes on Twitter about events that happened on Nov. 22, 1963, as they happened, 50 years later.

Update, 1:36 p.m.: In Boston, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library recently launched AnIdeaLivesOn.org, an online tribute to President Kennedy. The library hopes the website creates a “multigenerational conversation about the many ways in which the legacy of our nation’s 35th president lives on today.” The site is named for Kennedy’s observation that “a man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” The library said: “The project invites the public to participate in the creation of an interactive documentary, putting a modern, human face on the enduring impact of John F. Kennedy.”

Earlier this afternoon, the library hosted a webcast of a musical tribute to the president. And a new exhibit opened today at the library that presents items from the president’s funeral. Many of the items are on display for the first time, including the American flag that draped the president’s coffin and was presented to Jackie Kennedy; the saddle, sword, and boots from Black Jack, the riderless horse that followed the president's horse-drawn coffin in the funeral cortege; and notes handwritten by Jackie Kennedy as she planned the funeral.

Update, 1:25 p.m.: Earlier today, the following was posted on President Obama's Twitter page:

Update, 1:21 p.m.: For weeks, KERA has been covering the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Catch up on KERA's coverage here.

Update, 1:12 p.m.: Eighth graders at Kennedy-Curry Middle School in Dallas entered an essay contest about the legacy of John F. Kennedy. The winners were announced Wednesday. Here's the winning essay, written by Teriana Ward.

Update, 1:02 p.m.: The Coalition on Political Assassinations, a group that believes Kennedy's death was part of a conspiracy, gathered in downtown Dallas at midday. They had their own moment of silence, KERA's Stella M. Chavez reports. The group is holding a conference in Dallas through the weekend.

Update, 12:59 p.m.: Today’s ceremony from Dealey Plaza seems to have gone smoothly and without incident, although organizers had to adapt to the weather. Instrumental music had to be canceled due to a light rain. Organizers wanted to make sure they struck a somber, appropriate tone that pays tribute to the president and honors his legacy.

Update, 12:57 p.m. Today's 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination is an important moment for Dallas: The city wants to use the occasion to demonstrate how much it has changed. NPR has more on Dallas being "on eggshells."

Update, 12:54 p.m.: Bagpipe players are performing as the ceremony concludes. Attendees are leaving the ceremony. A light rain continues to fall.

Update, 12:51 p.m.: The U.S. Naval Academy Men's Glee Club has performed "The Navy Hymn."

Update, 12:49 p.m.: Rev. Zan Holmes, pastor emeritus of St. Luke’s Community United Methodist Church, is delivering the closing prayer: “Send us forth to claim the brand new future that you continue to offer us beyond our tragedies and our triumphs. And as we go forth grant that we may not be centered on where we have been or on what we have done, but on where we’re going. And what is possible by your grace for us to become a beloved community, which celebrates and confirms our unity  in the midst of our God-given diversity."

Update, 12:44 p.m.: The U.S. Naval Academy Men's Glee Club is performing The Battle Hymn of the Republic: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord ..."

Update, 12:39 p.m.: A plaque has been unveiled at Dealey Plaza that displays an excerpt of the speech that President Kennedy was scheduled to give at the Dallas Trade Mart: “We, in this country, in this generation, are by destiny, rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.”

Update, 12:37 p.m.: The U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club just performed “America the Beautiful.”

Historian David McCullough is speaking.

"He was young to be president. … He was ambitious to make it a better world and so were we.  …

"It was an exciting time. He talked about all that needed to be done, about so much that mattered. Equal opportunity. Unity of purpose. Education. The life of the mind and the spirit, art, poetry, service to one’s country and the courage to move forward into the future. The cause of peace on Earth.

"His was the inspiring summons to serve to hard work and worthy accomplishment, a summons we long for. He was an optimist and he said so. But there was no side stepping reality in what he said. No resorting to stale old platitudes. He spoke to the point and with confidence. He knew words matter. His words changed lives. His words changed history. Rarely has a commander-in-chief addressed the nation with such command of language."

Update, 12:29 p.m.: A moment of silence has begun. And bells are tolling around Dallas.

Update, 12:23 p.m.: Dallas Mike Rawlings is speaking: "A new era dawned and another waned a half-century ago. When hope and hatred collided right here in Dallas.  We watch the nightmarish reality that in our front yard our president had been taken from us. Taken from his family. Taken from the world. John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency, his life and yes his death seemed to mythologically usher in the next 50 years. What ensued was five decades filled with other tragedies, turmoil and great triumphs. We were all very young. Our lives, our hopes and dreams in front of us. Dallas was very young as well, barely a century old. And given the nature of youth, we all felt invincible. It seems we all grew up that day, city and citizens. And suddenly we had to step up to try to live up to the challenges of the words and vision of a beloved president."

Update, 12:20 p.m.: Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas gave the opening invocation: "Today we lift our minds and hearts to you because you lord have lifted us up from the horrible tragedy enacted in this place, from the cruel suffering that was born on this hill. From the shocked and horror that gripped our nation and from the years when we as citizens of this city suffered and were implicated by the guns shot ... that killed the president. … You turned our soul into a firm commitment to move forward. You turned our grief into a resolve to refashion our city to a place where life flourishes and true love abounds. A city where all are welcomed, nurtured and cared for."

Update, 12:13 p.m. The Dallas Police Department's honor guard is presenting the colors. Monica Saldivar, a 2012 Booker T. Washington High School graduate, is singing the Star Spangled Banner.

Update, 12;12 p.m.: The U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club is on the stage. Distinguished guests are entering the stage, including Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, historian David McCullough and Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.

Update, 12:10 p.m.: The ceremony has started. Bagpipe players are entering Dealey Plaza.

Update, 12:07 p.m.: An announcement was just made thanking the people who have organized today's commemorative ceremony. A video is airing right now, featuring event chair Ruth Altshuler reflecting on what happened 50 years ago. She wanted a somber, appropriate occasion, she said in the video.

Update, noon: We're about 10 minutes away now from the start of the commemorative ceremony. KERA's Shelley Kofler, who's at Dealey Plaza, said the crowds are quiet and respectful. They're also cold -- it's in the mid-30s right now.

Update, 11:57 a.m.: Dr. Robert McClelland was one of the doctors who tried to save President John Kennedy at Parkland Hospital. He was in Trauma Room 1 when priest came in. He was also there when Jackie Kennedy came into the room. He reflects on her last moments with her husband: "Mrs. Kennedy came in and walked over to the gurney to where the president was lying at his head, and she stood there for a few moments and she exchanged a ring from her finger to the president’s finger; and a ring from his finger to her finger. And then she stood there for another few moments, didn’t say anything, was very composed, a very dignified, impressive lady under those circumstances."

Update, 11:55 a.m. On Nov. 22, 1963, Dan Rather was far down the journalism totem pole, but he was in Dallas for President Kennedy’s visit. He was near Dealey Plaza when the president’s motorcade arrived. He covered the assassination for CBS News. KERA recently talked with the legendary Texas newsman to get his impressions of what happened 50 years ago. "It’s always eerie to return to Dealey Plaza. I consider it sacred ground. ... I’m always a little uncomfortable in Dealey Plaza. For me, a lot of the old ghosts begin to dance when I go to Dealey Plaza."

Update, 11:53 a.m.: Dallas police had told protestors at the intersection of Market and Main streets near Dealey Plaza to move out of the area. But now police have told the protestors they can stay as long as the don't use bullhorns. That's according to KERA's Stella M. Chavez, who is at the scene.

Update, 11:50 a.m.: KERA has been told that the "Missing Man" flyover salute by the Commemorative Air Force has been canceled due to the weather. That was scheduled to happen toward the end of the ceremony. The weather has also forced Dallas Symphony Orchestra musicians off the stage -- certain instruments can't perform in the cold and light rain. The rest of the ceremony is still scheduled to take place at 12:10 p.m. Central. That includes prayers, patriotic music and remarks from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and historian David McCullough. Bells will toll throughout Dallas. A moment of silence will be held at 12:30 p.m. Central.

Update, 11:47 a.m.: Terry Adcock of Austin is one of thousands of people who have gathered in downtown Dallas. Adcock, 75, was part of the original Peace Corps, which President Kennedy championed. He told KERA’s Stella M. Chavez that he was at the University of Texas at Austin’s student union when he found out that JFK had been shot. Adcock served in Colombia. “He really changed my life with the Peace Corps,” he said.

Update, 11:41 a.m.: Historian David McCullough will speak at today's ceremony. He will read excerpts from a speech that President Kennedy was scheduled to deliver 50 years ago at the Dallas Trade Mart. It's called "The Unspoken Speech." Read the text from the Unspoken Speech. Over the past year, two British expats have produced a video project that captures parts of that speech. The project is being called a "tribute to JFK from the citizens of Dallas." The creators are determined that his words live on through Dallasites. Read more about that effort here.

Update, 11:36 a.m.: President Obama has declared today a Day of Remembrance for President Kennedy, and ordered flags to be flown at half-staff to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death in downtown Dallas.

"With broad vision and soaring but sober idealism, President John F. Kennedy had called a generation to service and summoned a Nation to greatness," Obama says in his proclamation. "Today, we honor his memory and celebrate his enduring imprint on American history."

Obama's proclamation also said: "A half century ago, America mourned the loss of an extraordinary public servant. With broad vision and soaring but sober idealism, President John F. Kennedy had called a generation to service and summoned a Nation to greatness. Today, we honor his memory and celebrate his enduring imprint on American history.”

Update, 11:29 a.m.: Live music was scheduled to be performed at 11:30 a.m., but the weather is posing problems for the instruments. We believe archival footage will continue to be shown at Dealey Plaza until about 12:10 p.m.

Update, 11:28 a.m.: A light rain is starting to fall at Dealey Plaza.

Update, 11:26 a.m.: Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor and former U.S. trade representative, spoke with KERA’s Shelley Kofler minutes ago at Dealey Plaza about the significance of today:

“It’s a day that is etched in the memory of America and the world,” Kirk said. “Mayor [Mike Rawlings]  was wise to realize this was a date that wasn’t going to go unnoticed. It would be much more appropriate and fitting for Dallas to have an opportunity to express our love and admiration for this president, and use this as a way to celebrate all of those positive things all of those many attributes of this great young president that inspired so many Americans.”

Update, 11:17 a.m.: KERA's Shelley Kofler reports: Terdema Ussery, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, is one of the members of a committee that organized today’s ceremony. Ussery says the every aspect of the ceremony was discussed with members of the Kennedy family.

“They did not want to be here,” he said. “But it was important for us to get sign off from them. We wanted to make sure they were comfortable with what we’re doing the tone, the content and context.”

Ussery believes that the ceremony will convey Kennedy’s message of hope when historian David McCollough reads from the speech President Kennedy was supposed to deliver in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Kennedy was on his way to the Dallas Trade Mart to give his address when he was shot in Dealey Plaza.

“We would like the world to hear the speech the president would have given,” Ussery said. “I think when the speech is read it’s going to be shocking in terms of how relevant his words which were written 50 years ago today. … When you hear the president’s words, he was so aspirational and so optimistic about the days ahead.”

Ussery says today’s ceremony is Dallas’ chance to go beyond the shame it’s felt as the city where the promise of a beloved president was cut short.  It’s the chance to show Dallas has grown and become more inclusive. A city that can look to the future because it’s acknowledged the past.

Update, 11 a.m. Tune in to KERA 90.1 FM's live coverage of the events at Dealey Plaza. Our coverage started at 11 a.m.

Update, 10:48 a.m.: KERA’s Bill Zeeble spoke with Bill Luten, a Vietnam War veteran who won one of 5,000 tickets in a lottery to attend the midday ceremony. “In my lifetime, this is the only president who’s been assassinated,” Luten said. “That’s the significance.”

Luten continued: “In his inaugural address, he said ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. … I gave back my 22 years of military service to the country.”

“As far as being here today, look at it,” Luten said. “It’s significant to a lot of people not just me but a lot of people around the country. … A sea of people who want to remember somebody. You can read about it and watch it [on TV] but if you’re not here somehow -- that spot on the pavement … that’s where his life ended. Right there. But ours continued on.”

Update, 10:38 a.m.: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra does not plan on performing at 11:30 a.m. at Dealey Plaza due to weather issues, DSO spokeswoman Denise McGovern tells KERA's Krystina Martinez.

Update, 10:33 a.m. KERA's Dane Walters reports that archival film from JFK's visit to Berlin is playing at Dealey Plaza.

Update, 10:29 a.m.: KERA's Stella M. Chavez talked with one of the folks who have gathered near Dealey Plaza. Glenn Atkinson of Dallas was born in Canada 50 years ago next Wednesday. His mom went into labor 50 yeras ago today because of the stress and emotion of the Kennedy assassination. Five days later, Atkinson was born. He wanted to be in downtown Dallas because of his connection to this day. 
 

Update, 10:26 a.m.: Former President George W. Bush has remembered John F. Kennedy as a defender of liberty. Bush on Friday released a statement honoring the slain president. Bush described the events of Nov. 22, 1963, as a "dark episode" in U.S. history. The 43rd president says Kennedy dedicated himself to public service and "his example moved Americans to do more for our country." Bush, who lives in Dallas, says the 35th president believed in the greatness of the United States and the righteousness of liberty - and defended both. His complete statement: "Today we remember a dark episode in our Nation's history, and we remember the leader whose life was cut short 50 years ago.  John F. Kennedy dedicated himself to public service, and his example moved Americans to do more for our country.  He believed in the greatness of the United States and the righteousness of liberty, and he defended them.  On this solemn anniversary, Laura and I join our fellow citizens in honoring our 35th President."
 

Update, 10:25 a.m.:  Earlier this morning, President Kennedy's last surviving sibling, 85-year-old Jean Kennedy Smith, laid a wreath at her brother's grave at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington. Smith was accompanied by about 10 members of the Kennedy family as they marked the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Dallas. They joined hands for a short prayer in silence and left roses at the grave. Bagpipes played, a British cavalry officer stood guard and a flame burned steady as it has for the last 50 years at the grave.
 

Update, 10:11 a.m.:  KERA’s Bill Zeeble is at Dealey Plaza. He’s talked with reporters from around the world who are covering the event -- including media from Japan, Britain, Spain and Australia. Japan is particularly interested since Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, was recently named the U.S. ambassador to Japan. The BBC is covering the event.

A few thousand people have already gathered at Dealey Plaza. About 5,000 people are expected to attend the midday ceremony.

It’s cold and breezy, but it’s not raining, Bill says. Bomb-sniffing dogs are present. Several police trucks are parked around Dealey Plaza.

Update, 10 a.m.: Crowds have already gathered in and around Dealey Plaza. A ceremony is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. It will include patriotic music, prayers and remarks from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and David McCullough, the historian and author.

It's cold in downtown Dallas today. Temperatures are in the upper 30s. Freezing rain is possible.

We've compiled this blog based on reports from the Associated Press and KERA News reporters, producers and photographers, including Stella M. Chavez, Bill Zeeble, Lauren Silverman, Shelley Kofler, Jeff Whittington, Dane Walters and Krystina Martinez.

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