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Dealey Plaza in Dallas is Focus of 40th Anniversary Observance of JFK Assassination - 2003-11-22

The 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy drew several thousand people to the place where it happened in Dallas, Texas Saturday. There was no official memorial, but the event was marked by those who believe the president was the victim of a conspiracy.

A woman sang the old spiritual "Amazing Grace" on the grassy knoll on Dealey Plaza, where the fatal shots were fired 40 years ago. There was a brief moment of silence around 12:30 PM local time, the exact time of the shooting on November 22, 1963. The city of Dallas chose not to have a ceremony, partly to honor the wishes of the Kennedy family, which prefers to have the fallen leader remembered as he was in life, rather than for the tragic circumstances of his death.

The memorial that did take place was dominated by people who believe in various conspiracy theories. The president of one such group, known as JFK Lancer, Debra Conway, has organized conferences on the assassination here for the past several years. Even though she was only a small child at the time it happened, she says the assassination had a big impact on her and she believes questions about it need to be resolved for the good of the nation.

"I am just very interested in the process of democracy and when you study the Kennedy assassination you see that we had a bump in the road there with the democratic process and the American people need the healing that comes from smoothing out that bump," she said.

Ms. Conway notes that around 70 percent of people surveyed in the United States believe there was a plot to kill President Kennedy and only about 30 percent believe in the official version that the murder was done by a lone assassin named Lee Harvey Oswald.

Those who believe in a conspiracy point to evidence, including some eye witness reports, indicating that other gunmen were present that day. Ms. Conway says the unanswered questions intrigue not only people here in the United States but from all over the world.

"(There is) a very large group of Britons (British) that are here this year. We have a lady from New Zealand. We have people from Norway. There are documentary film crews from all over.

But as each anniversary of the assassination is observed, there are fewer and fewer people alive who were witnesses or principal players in the real-life drama. The majority of people alive today had not even been born yet when President Kennedy was assassinated and their image of the man known as JFK comes from old news film and history books.

One adolescent who came to Dealey Plaza on Saturday wearing a tee-shirt with Kennedy's picture was 15-year-old Travis Mackie. The self-described history buff from a Dallas suburb says most people his age have little interest in Kennedy and the anniversary of his death.

"Actually, when I told some of my friends I was coming out here, they were just like, 'Wow, what are you doing that for? Don't you have other things to do?' Most of the kids my age are not really interested. They do not care about history, they just think about having fun and things like that."

For people born just after World War II, who are part of what is called the "Baby Boom generation," the Kennedy assassination was defining moment. The mystique surrounding JFK and his tragic end will continue to draw many of them to Dealey Plaza in the future, but the number of visitors may diminish as the people who remember President Kennedy grow older and the number of people born after his death grows ever larger.