The Valdosta Daily Times
We are in the second longest period in American history that the nation has not experienced the death of a sitting President.
The longest stretch is 52 years, the period from George Washington being the first president in 1789 with no sitting-presidential deaths until President William Henry Harrison died a month after his inauguration in 1841.
We are now at 50 years since the brutal assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who died Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.
That span may well be part of the reason why there is so much discussion of his loss today on the anniversary of Kennedy’s death.
From 1841 to 1963, every generation experienced a president dying while in office. During that period of time, most Americans experienced more than one presidential death.
Though the nation wept and grieved at the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died while Americans still fought World War II, who had led the nation for an unprecedented 12-plus years, through the Great Depression and horrific war, there were no massive public remembrances at the 50th anniversary of his death in 1995, not like the ones that have been printed, aired and held for Kennedy in the past several weeks.
Kennedy was young. He did not die of illness. He was shot. Not only was he shot in public but in front of his terrified wife. The first television President, his death and funeral became one of television’s communal events. Everyone watched the funeral coverage and with a pool camera broadcasting everything, everyone watched the same images and the same perspective no matter the network. And we have thankfully not lost a sitting President to death since.
Anyone in their mid 50s and younger has no perception of the immediate chaos such a death causes, of the constitutional transfer of power, of the impact it can have on everything from the stock market to the military movements of other nations.
We have no idea, and hopefully, we will not know such a crisis ever again. Not knowing, however, may kindle our curiosity. Not knowing may be part of why we look back today: What was it like? How did the nation react? How did our leaders react? How did people react?
For years, the old question used to be, where were you when you learned JFK was killed? At 50, fewer people can answer this question. The majority would now must answer, they had yet to be born.
On this anniversary date, let us remember the man who passed, let us remember a time gone by, and let us pray that such a moment does not occur again.