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Sun., May. 24
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He beckons us still

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Five decades after the tragedy, it’s still unfathomable.

How could the leader of the free world be struck down by one individual? What would drive the assassin to commit such an atrocity? Will we ever fully comprehend what took place in Dallas on this day in 1963?

John F. Kennedy had brought so much promise into the White House when he assumed the presidency in January 1961. He embodied the youthful enthusiasm that would define much of that decade, benefitted significantly by the glamour that he and his wife, Jacqueline, projected.

Not everyone, however, was enamored with Kennedy’s boyish charm. As the youngest man to ever be elected president, questions lingered about how prepared he was to meet the challenge of the office.

And the challenges came early.

Several months after taking office, Kennedy gave the go-ahead for an invasion of Cuba by U.S.-trained dissidents. The Bay of Pigs fiasco would cost Watertown native Allen Dulles his job as CIA director and made the new president appear weak as he stumbled out of the gate.

Kennedy found Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev more difficult to win over than he had imagined. Their meeting in Vienna in June 1961 produced no tangible benefits for the United States. Toward the end of the year, Kennedy could only sit and watch as Khrushchev achieved his plan of enslaving the people of East Germany by constructing the Berlin Wall.

A year later, though, Kennedy stood firm on his demand that Khrushchev remove ballistic missiles from Cuba. It was the closest that the United States and Soviet Union came to starting a nuclear war, and the president struck the right balance of diplomacy and resolve to navigate these difficult waters.

Perhaps a more experienced leader would not have permitted the missiles to be shipped to Cuba in the first place. Regardless, Kennedy’s status as the chief defender of freedom throughout the world rose considerably.

It is easy to get caught up in the mystique surrounding the Kennedy family. But much like the history of his ancestral homeland, a good deal of JFK’s allure is wrapped in misty legend.

Despite the picture of health and exuberance he portrayed, Kennedy confronted serious illnesses much of his life. Most Americans remained unaware of the range of drugs he took daily just to stay on his feet.

And the nation’s first Roman Catholic president had little regard for some of the Ten Commandments. He was said to have carried out numerous affairs throughout his term in office, once again away from public scrutiny.

When he was assassinated 50 years ago today, Kennedy left many plans unfulfilled.

JFK reluctantly approached civil rights for black Americans and finally began pushing legislation to ensure their liberties, a task that others had to complete. He had hoped that our involvement in Vietnam would be brief, but we would remain there for the next decade. And the new era of peace he had envisioned seem to die with him in Dallas.

However, Kennedy has since inspired countless people to strive for a better world. He founded the Peace Corps, which has brought improvements to impoverished nations. In addition, we made good on his dream of exploring the moon — and our space missions have now moved beyond this.

We must remember John F. Kennedy as a man with many flaws who experienced his share of setbacks. But Americans will undoubtedly continue to follow his example of reaching for great things, keeping his presidency as relevant today as it was in the 1960s.

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