Remembering President Kennedy Then and Now

FILE - This undated photo shows U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Washington. The Kennedy image, the "mystique" that attracts
FILE - This undated photo shows U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Washington. The Kennedy image, the "mystique" that attracts tourists and historians alike, did not begin with his presidency and is in no danger of ending 50 years after his death. Its journey has been uneven, but resilient, a young and still-evolving politician whose name was sanctified by his assassination, upended by discoveries of womanizing, hidden health problems and political intrigue, and forgiven in numerous polls that place JFK among the most beloved of former presidents.(AP Photo, File)

Larry Lane co-authored this piece.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, many Americans are remembering where they were that fateful November afternoon.

I will never forget my first grade teacher interrupting my first grade class to tell us that John F. Kennedy had been shot. I recall immediately turning to the back of the room where a framed portrait of the president stood atop a bookcase. I distinctly remember watching his funeral on our black and white TV. In America, indeed the world, it was a time of sorrow and reflection.

November 22, 1963 shaped the lives of all Americans who lived through it, and everyone has their own "where were you?" story.

Recently my good friend Larry Lane, at the time a Capitol Hill staffer and George Washington University student, shared his story with me aided by several letters he had written to his parents from that fateful day and the weeks that followed.

Larry was working in the House of Representatives for Congressman Robert Giaimo, D-Conn., when he heard about the tragedy in Dallas. "Today is a day never to be forgotten. At 1:30 we got the news bulletin about Kennedy being shot," Larry wrote, "Later news about his death caused the sounds of tears. Words cannot describe the feelings that hit us all... never have I seen tears in so many people's eyes."

Larry vividly described a scene of shock, and a Capitol security apparatus that was far different than what we know today. Members and staff suddenly realized that House Speaker John W. McCormack, D-Mass., third in the line of presidential succession, lacked a security detail and was only protected by then-unarmed Capitol Police. House members formed a phalanx around McCormack until the Metropolitan Police Department arrived to provide security.

After leaving the Capitol, Larry returned to his dorm and then made the 5-minute walk from campus to the White House to see President Lyndon Johnson arrive back in Washington, just hours after being sworn-in aboard Air Force One. "Throughout the city then and still now, sirens alarm the air. Policemen decorate every corner," he wrote.

Larry later wrote to his parents from outside the Capitol in a miles long line of mourners wishing to pay final respects to the fallen president. After a seven and a half hour wait in the November night, Larry, accompanied by friends, managed to say farewell to President Kennedy.

Later, Larry witnessed Kennedy's funeral procession from the Capitol, past the White House, and on to Arlington National Cemetery. Larry describes the scene; "The street is lined completely about six thick. The only noise that can be heard are foot steps and radios... if it wasn't so solemn, it would be beautiful."

John F. Kennedy's legacy includes inspiring a spirit of service in many, including me. As a child, I took 13 cents and taped it to the bottom of a handwritten letter to Jackie Kennedy to help construct the Kennedy Library in Boston. As a child, her framed thank you note and a model of PT 109 stood above my bed. Irrespective of differences on issue positions, I deeply admired the commitment to service of my namesake.

In today's poisonous political environment when popularity of Washington political institutions are at all time lows and the inability of our government to address issues is first and foremost on the minds of citizens, the idealism and optimism of that time seems beyond our reach.

John Kennedy called upon all to hold high ideals and to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." That commitment to selflessness and service is as old as the Republic. Perhaps reflecting on JFK will spark all political players to rally around this unifying ideal and return our great nation to a more hopeful future.

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy (@HonMarkKennedy) leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).

Larry Lane is Vice President, Government Relations with Genesis HealthCare LLC, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Lane is a George Washington University (GWU) alum (BA-67, MA-76) with a Doctorate in Public Administration from the University of Southern California. He is a member of the Board of Advisors for the GWU Graduate School of Political Management.