Saturday, November 22, marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. National Correspondent Jim Malone recalls a day that shook the world, and looks at a presidential legacy that remains both inspirational and controversial.
January 20, 1961. A new president is inaugurated and a new era in American politics begins.
"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans," President Kennedy said.
Less than three years later, President Kennedy traveled to Texas in hopes of unifying Democrats in advance of his re-election bid in 1964. The crowds were friendlier than expected as the president's motorcade made its way through downtown Dallas.
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News," announced Walter Cronkite. "In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting."
Dallas radio reporter Ron Jenkins describes what happens next.
"The presidential car coming up now. We know it is the presidential car. We can see Mrs. Kennedy's pink suit," he said. "There is a Secret Service man spread-eagled over the top of the car. We understand [Texas] Governor [John] and Mrs. Connally are in the car with President and Mrs. Kennedy. We can not see who has been hit if anybody's hit, but apparently something is wrong here. Something is terribly wrong."
News of the shooting sent shock waves around the country and around the world. A short time later, the worst fears are realized.
"From Dallas, Texas, the [news] flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. central standard time," he announced. "Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th President of the United States."
In the evening the president's plane, Air Force One, returned to Washington and the new president, Lyndon Johnson, addressed Americans for the first time.
"I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bears. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help, and God's," he said.
Back in Dallas, police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald and charged him with assassinating the president.
"These people have given me a hearing without legal representation or anything," Oswald said.
"Did you shoot the president?" a reporter asked.
"I did not shoot anybody. No, sir," Oswald answered.
Two days later, Oswald was himself shot to death on live television by a Dallas nightclub owner named Jack Ruby.
Reporter Ike Pappas was there when it happened.
"There is the prisoner. Do you have anything to say in your defense? Oswald has been shot! Oswald has been shot!" he shouted.
A 10-month investigation into the assassination led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy. But opinion polls over the years indicate that most Americans still believe the assassination was the result of a conspiracy that has yet to come to light.
Beyond the questions about John Kennedy's death, his legacy remains a lively subject of debate.
Surveys continue to place him near the top of the list of presidents Americans admire most.
Kennedy biographer Robert Dallek says he thinks he knows why.
"So there is a sense that Kennedy was a man with great promise that was aborted, cut short. But the country clings to him, in a sense, as someone who promised the best for America and the best for the world," he explains.
For others, Kennedy's lasting contribution was his call to national service made during his 1961 inaugural.
"And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country," President Kennedy said.
"John F. Kennedy was a president who broke the mold. Really, neither before or since, has there been a president who, in the television age, had the power to inspire Americans beyond themselves to spur this country to deed of idealism beyond selfish interests," explains Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at the American University in Washington D.C.
Kennedy's image has been somewhat tarnished over the years by revelations of compulsive womanizing and because he kept an assortment of serious health problems secret from the public.
But on balance, author Robert Dallek says the Kennedy legacy remains largely inspirational because of the sense of optimism that John Kennedy conveyed while he was alive.
"Was he a great president? I do not think you can say he was great in the sense that he was there such a brief time," he says. "But he does give the nation something that does not seem to end, namely a kind of attachment to him as a hopeful figure, as someone who, if he had lived, would have made the country a better United States and made the world a better place. And that is a pretty good legacy for a president to leave behind."
Had he lived, John Kennedy would have been 86 years old this past May.