Mannix About Manatee: Assassination's 50th anniversary gives us pause

November 17, 2013 

The school play had just ended when the principal solemnly came to the podium that Friday afternoon at Nazareth High School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

I'm not sure whether any of my classmates realized the terrible irony in what Brother Thaddeus was about to tell us after we'd watched "Julius Caesar," Shakespeare's tragedy about assassination.

It was Nov. 22, 1963.

President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, the stately Xaverian Brother prelate said, and news reports were he was dead.

Let us pray for him, he commanded.

Almost as one, the entire student body of Catholic high school boys fell to their knees.

I will never forget it.

Nor will I forget the other images that defined those fateful days for a 14-year-old.

Coming home to our cramped apartment where my mother, pregnant with the twins, was absorbed by the news on our black-and-white TV.

Watching with my father that Sunday as Lee Harvey Oswald was shot fatally by Jack Ruby on national TV.

The black veil over Jackie's face at the funeral procession.

Three-year-old John-John's salute.

The riderless horse, empty boots backward.

They're the vestiges of a different time, an era many in my generation look back upon as an age of innocence and promise that died with Kennedy and thrust America into a tumultuous decade.


Urban race riots.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.

Had Kennedy lived and won a second term as president, would that have made a difference?

We'll never know.

Though I was ambivalent about the "Camelot" mystique and surprised at the later revelations of Kennedy's personal life, I've always been fascinated by the man, flaws and all.

Being Irish Catholic might have a little something to do with it.

Oddly, our shared heritage and faith didn't make any difference to my parents.

Dad voted for Nixon.

Mom despised Joe Kennedy, the clan's Machiavellian patriarch.

Still, I admired John Kennedy for several reasons.

His war heroism, saving his surviving crewmen after a Japanese destroyer rammed his torpedo boat, the PT 109, at night in 1943.

His bold vision for America's space program.

His savvy leadership during the Cuban missile crisis.

His political courage, introducing sweeping civ

il rights legislation to Congress in the face of vehement Southern opposition.

Kennedy was revered or reviled.

There's no question how the Irish felt about Kennedy and still do.

When Mom and I visited Ireland every few years and stayed in a family's bed-and-breakfast, there were similar pictures or paintings hanging in the hallway or dining room or guest room.

Christ or his Blessed Mother.

The Pope.

And Kennedy.

One of my favorite stories involves a conversation he reportedly had with his brother, Bobby, in 1963.

Then 46 and confident of winning re-election, Kennedy would still be a young man when he left office.

Evidently, he fancied the idea of buying the Philadelphia Eagles, whose ownership was headed toward financial straits.

Kennedy? The Eagles?


Alas, we'll never know that, either.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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