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Associated Press , Published November 22 2013

JFK 50th: Nation pauses to remember lost president

DALLAS — Fifty years after John F. Kennedy fell victim to an assassin's bullet while visiting Texas with his wife, people at home and abroad paused Friday to remember the 35th president of the United States. Collected here are memories of the slain president, details from the day of his death and live updates from the memorial service at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

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WHO KILLED KENNEDY: THE OFFICIAL CONCLUSIONS

There were two government investigations into Kennedy's assassination and their conclusions were starkly different.

The Warren Commission, led by the Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, concluded unequivocally in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he fired three shots from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.

Fifteen years later, the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations — formed in the mid-1970s in the wake of the Watergate scandal and subsequent revelations about CIA activities — found that Kennedy "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy."

But House investigators were unable to identify a second gunman or the extent of the conspiracy. They did conclude that the Cuban and Soviet governments, as well as the Secret Service, FBI and CIA, were not involved, leaving open the possible involvement of individual members of organized crime or anti-Castro Cuban groups.

Not part of any conspiracy, according to the Warren Commission, was Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who murdered Oswald two days after Kennedy's death. The commission concluded the two men never met and it had found "no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy."

— Reported by David Porter in Newark, N.J.

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MEMORY OF KENNEDY: COLLEEN BONNER, 41, HURST, TEXAS

Colleen Bonner, 41, was supposed to attend Friday's event in Dallas with her 67-year-old aunt Sandra Bonner, though the cold, windy weather forced the elder Bonner to stay at her Dallas home.

Colleen Bonner said her aunt told her about being a high school student on Nov. 22, 1963, drawing a diagram on the chalkboard in biology class when someone came on the PA to announce that Kennedy had died.

"She has very vivid memories of it," Colleen Bonner said. In her absence, Sandra Bonner has told her to take lots of pictures and soak in the day.

"President Kennedy has always been kind of revered in our family," Colleen Bonner said, adding: "I just wanted to honor his memory, and I wanted to be a part of history."

— Reported by Nomaan Merchant in Dallas.

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KENNEDY ON SCREEN

Even before his death, President John F. Kennedy was a movie star of sorts. In the 1963 film "PT 109," he was portrayed by Cliff Robertson, whom the sitting president personally cast after viewing Robertson's screen test. In doing so, JFK overruled first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who wanted Warren Beatty for the role.

The actor who has played Kennedy more than anyone is Brett Stimely, who took on the role starting in 2009 with the adaptation of the comic masterpiece "Watchman." He reprised the role in 2011's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," as well as "Kill the Dictator" and "Parkland" in 2013.

James Marsden tried his hand at being JFK in this year's film, "The Butler." Marsden told late-night television host Conan O'Brien it was "virtually impossible" to get JFK's accent right.

"It was a daunting thing stepping into those shoes," he said.

The most recent actor to portray Kennedy is Rob Lowe, who starred in the National Geographic Channel miniseries "Killing Kennedy" that premiered earlier this month.

Lowe said while researching the role, he was moved by a recording of Kennedy giving dictation when he's interrupted by son John Jr.

"Their conversation together was priceless," Lowe said.

— Reported by Jessica Herndon in Los Angeles.

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A PEACEFUL LEGACY

The Peace Corps began with a speech then-Sen. John F. Kennedy gave in 1960. By his time of death, it had already expanded to 28 countries.

Every new Peace Corps volunteer is shown a recruiting video he recorded from the Oval Office, in which he calls their service "one of the most encouraging manifestations of the American spirit this country has seen in many years."

"I hope in the coming months and years that many of you will follow the example of those who have gone before," Kennedy says in the scratchy black-and-white video. "I hope this spirit will grow, that hundreds of other younger and older Americans will go overseas and show our best side."

More than 210,000 Americans have served in 139 countries with the Peace Corps, including more than 3,690 in Paraguay, where country director Emily Untermeyer still gets a thrill every time trainees see Kennedy describing their mission.

"The words still resonate after all these years," Untermeyer said. "It's fascinating to see the looks on their faces and see that moment when they realize they have joined a long legacy of public service. When you see the video of the creator and the visionary and he's talking about things that are just as relevant today in terms of what calls people to public service, it makes it real to them."

The video can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOQ85OEZhWg

— Reported by Mike Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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MEMORY OF KENNEDY: DIANE CARAZAS, 55, Asuncion, Paraguay

When Kennedy was shot, the nuns at Diane Carazas' Catholic school in Chicago "came in and told us we had to get on our knees and pray."

"It just felt like the whole world stopped," she recalled of being a 5-year-old kindergarten student.

But when she was old enough to understand the meaning of his words, Kennedy gave Carazas hope. She joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer and now works for the organization as a trainer in Paraguay.

"I was a kid who grew up in the Sixties on the South Side of Chicago, so I was looking for words of hope anywhere. He inspired me with so much hope. That we all are basically the same, the only difference is opportunity. That's what I got from him," Carazas said. "My whole life is about opportunity, creating multiple opportunities everywhere for everyone."

Carazas says Kennedy was "so ahead of his time," and points to what Paraguayans have told her volunteers when they're asked what they think of Americans — "we adore them."

"This is President Kennedy's vision realized. The Peace Corps is why they understand and love Americans. That is his dream realized," she said, "It brought me to tears when I realized that."

— Reported by Mike Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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PLAQUE MARKS THE SPOT

A new marker that will be unveiled Friday on Dealey Plaza in Dallas will feature the last paragraph of the speech that President John F. Kennedy was set to give at a luncheon on Nov. 22, 1963.

"It will be very dignified and very tasteful and very meaningful," said Ruth Altshuler, chairwoman of the committee convened by the mayor to organize city's event to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

Kennedy's motorcade was en route to the Trade Mart in Dallas when he was assassinated.

His speech that was to be given that day ends with Kennedy noting that Americans are "watchmen on the walls of world freedom" and therefore must strive to be worthy of that power and try to achieve peace.

— Reported by Jamie Stengle in Dallas.

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CANADIAN CONTINGENT

Sean MacLean, 35, of Calgary, Alberta, was one of the limited number of people from outside of North Texas to get a ticket to Friday's event in Dallas.

MacLean became a Kennedy enthusiast in 1991, the year he watched Oliver Stone's film "JFK."

"A lot of it is fiction in the movie, but it piqued my interest anyway," MacLean said.

He traveled to Dallas alone, and was in line about 8 a.m. talking to people he had just met. MacLean said he was looking forward to hearing from people of different ages and learning more about the president.

"I knew I had to be here," he said.

— Reported by Nomaan Merchant in Dallas.

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MEMORY OF KENNEDY: HILARY HOPKINS, 75, CAMBRIDGE, MASS.

Hilary Hopkins, then 25, was returning from lunch to her job at Harvard University when she learned President John F. Kennedy had been shot. She and another woman rushed out to the parking lot to sit in a car and listen to the radio — that's when they learned he was dead.

"We both burst into tears," she said.

No one was told to leave work, but everyone did. Hopkins walked home through Harvard Square, weeping like everyone else. She turned on her tiny black-and-white TV and didn't turn it off for three days.

Hopkins credits Kennedy with prompting her interest in politics that continues to this day.

"Here came this person who seemed like me," she said. "He was young, attractive, smart. He was witty. He spoke about things in a way that I could understand them. And so I thought, Oh, politics, that's something I can do, something I can be interested in. This isn't just for old, bald men. This is for young people too."

When he died, she said it felt for a time like all of that ended.

"I think we had this wonderful drawing in of young people into government and then all of a sudden it just slammed shut," she said. "That's not true of course. There is still plenty of room for young, smart, heartful people in government, but it didn't feel that way at the time."

— Reported by Rodrique Ngowi in Boston.

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STANDING STRONG: BOSTON'S STATUE

A steady rain fell in Boston on Friday morning as Gov. Deval Patrick, accompanied by Major Gen. Scott Rice of the Massachusetts National Guard, stood at attention during a somber wreath-laying ceremony at the John F. Kennedy statue at the Statehouse.

No words were spoken during the ceremony and the U.S. and Massachusetts flags in the front of the historic building were lowered to half-staff.

The bronze sculpture depicts a confident JFK striding forward. Dedicated in 1990, it has been largely off limits to public viewing since security procedures that took effect after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Massachusetts opened the area to visitors Friday.

Both of Kennedy's grandfathers served in the Massachusetts Legislature, and in January 1961 the president-elect came to the Statehouse to deliver one of his most famous addresses, which came to be known as the "City on a Hill" speech, just before heading to his inauguration in Washington, D.C.

— Reported by Bob Salsberg in Boston.

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THE VIEW FROM ARLINGTON

Bagpipes played, a British cavalry officer stood guard and the flame burned steady as it has for the last 50 years at President John F. Kennedy's grave in Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.

Shortly after sunrise, Attorney General Eric Holder paid his respects at Kennedy's recently refurbished grave. Later, the last surviving Kennedy sibling, 85-year-old Jean Kennedy Smith, laid a wreath at her brother's grave at 8:30 a.m., joined by about 10 members of the Kennedy family.

A few hundred tourists watched the short, silent ceremony on Friday morning. Kennedy family members joined hands for a short prayer and left roses at the grave.

A steady stream of tourists walked up the hill during the morning to the gravesite, where the eternal flame stands vigil. Tourists wielding camera phones gently jostled for position. A French-speaking man brought his trumpet and played Taps at the grave.

At 10:30 a.m., another stream of dignitaries visited to lay a wreath at the grave, including the Moroccan ambassador. Other visitors brought flowers, Peace Corps memorabilia and other mementos to leave at the grave.

The cemetery has set up a live webcam on the gravesite throughout the day.

— Reported by Matthew Barakat, Arlington, Va.

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PLAZA PREPARATIONS

About 10:45 a.m. Friday at Dealey Plaza, an American flag and Texas flag flew at half-staff, flanking the stage where the city was set to hold a solemn ceremony in the coming hours.

Workers were drying off seats placed in front of the stage for attendees. A giant scrim with JFK's image could be seen behind the stage.

In the non-seated areas on each side, people were standing and watching large screens showing footage from Kennedy's visits to Berlin and Ireland. Earlier, the screens showed footage of Kennedy spending time with his family.

—Reported by Jamie Stengle in Dallas.

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MEMORY OF KENNEDY: U.S. SEN. EDWARD MARKEY, 67, Boston

A 17-year-old student at Malden Catholic High School near Boston, Edward Markey was attending an afternoon football rally when one of the religious brothers took the microphone and broke the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

For Markey, who grew up in a working-class Irish Catholic family and would later represent Massachusetts in Congress for 37 years before winning a special election to the U.S. Senate earlier this year, Kennedy's success was a validation of his own life.

"I remember watching the 1956 convention when John F. Kennedy ran for vice president and all of the commentators saying he could not win because he was Irish and Catholic and from Massachusetts and that's who I was. So that was important to me," Markey said. "When he won (his race for president in 1960), he immediately became someone who changed perceptions of how the country viewed Irish Catholics.

"He was very smart, very graceful."

Markey said in time, he realized Kennedy's appeal transcended his Boston roots.

"It turned out he wasn't just our hero, every ethnic group in the country in some way saw themselves in him," Markey said. "We were part of this larger group."

— Reported by Steve LeBlanc in Boston.

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TALK ABOUT THE WEATHER

By the time President John F. Kennedy landed at Dallas' Love Field late in the morning on Nov. 22, 1963, rain clouds had given way to brilliant blue skies and the temperature had climbed to the high 60s. The high temperature that day was 70.

By contrast, Friday's 50th anniversary ceremony will be cold — temperatures in the mid-30s with winds around 25 mph and a chance of light spotty rain. About 5,000 are expected to gather in Dealey Plaza for the solemn ceremony. The expected high Friday is 38.

"Texans are tough and a crisp day won't prevent us from marking this important time in history," Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

"We believe this important event cannot be duplicated in another location, so the commemoration will take place ... as planned," he added.

— Reported by Jamie Stengle in Dallas.

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DISPATCH FROM DUBLIN

Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore joined the staff of the U.S. Embassy and more than a dozen retired Irish army officers who, as teenage cadets, had formed an honor guard at President John F. Kennedy's graveside in November 1963.

Together, they gathered Friday in the front garden of the embassy in the heart of Dublin to observe a minute's silence and lay two wreaths from the Irish and American governments in memory of JFK. The day was crisp, windless, with trees full of autumn leaves and a cloudless blue sky, the sun blindingly low on the horizon.

A half-dozen Irish soldiers toting guns with brilliantly polished bayonets formed their own guard of honor outside the embassy as the U.S. flag was lowered to half-staff. Their commander drew a sword and held it aloft as a lone trumpeter played "The Last Post," the traditional British salute to war dead. A bagpiper played laments, and then a U.S. Marine raised the flag again as the bugler sounded an upbeat "Reveille."

Inside the embassy, staff observed from the building's circular balconies as Gilmore paid tribute to JFK's legacy. Frankie Gavin — a fiddler who was six years old when he performed with his family's band for Kennedy during his June 29, 1963, visit to the western Irish city of Galway — played a lament and a jig.

— Reported by Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin.


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