Although some cultures (notably through Asia) celebrate the anniversary of people’s deaths (or deathdays), the practice has never been very widespread in the United States. Some big events associated with someone’s death are sometimes recognized, but generally it’s because they are big, not because they are deaths per se. And even such deathday commemorations are more memorial in nature, not really celebrations. We recognize the loss of the Apollo 1 and the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle astronauts, and the attacks on 9/11 and at Pearl Harbor. Perhaps the victims of more recent mass killing events in Colorado, Newtown, Boston and the Washington D.C. Navy Yard will become honored annually, although I think we tend to remember events and the victims collectively, rather than the individuals involved.
But the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, is one of those few deathdays of which we collectively take notice and on which we take a few minutes to reflect annually—especially those of us who are older than 50 years who can remember those horrible days just before Thanksgiving in 1963. To put it mildly, it really put a damper on the nation’s holidays.
The actual assassination on that Friday was shocking and stupefying enough. Juxtaposed with that was the hunt to apprehend the perpetrator or perpetrators. Like with the recent Boston Marathon bombings, the event itself and the consequent law enforcement activities afterwards were two sides of the same coin.
President Kennedy’s body was returned to Washington, D.C. aboard Air Force One and arrived at about 6:00 p.m. EST on that Friday evening. Much research had to be done very quickly to find out exactly what was done for President Lincoln’s State funeral 100 years earlier. After an autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital, the President’s body was placed in a mahogany casket and moved at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday to the East Room of the White House where it laid in private repose. A Catholic mass was held in the East Room on Saturday morning, and the White House received formal visits from various dignitaries. It rained all day Saturday in Washington.
On Sunday afternoon, the flag-draped casket was then moved from the White House by a horse-drawn caisson up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol rotunda, where the casket would lie in state for the next 18 hours. Thousands of people waited for hours in a line miles long to file quietly past the casket to pay their respects. At 9:00 a.m. on Monday, the casket was transported again on the caisson with a full funeral procession to Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, where there was a funeral mass. At mid-day following the mass, the casket was again transported via the horse-drawn caisson to Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River.
At the grave site, First Lady Jackie Kennedy lit an “Eternal Flame” that had to be assembled on short notice at the cemetery. The casket was lowered into the gravesite at 3:34 p.m. EST on Monday, November 25th, stanching the nation’s bleeding and starting a long, still-continuing healing process. The beauty of all this, if there was any beauty at all, is that for most of the country, life was pretty much like any Monday in any November–and the wheels of government continued to roll along. The sun did rise.
I took some heat for posting a comment on the Star Trek New Voyages/Phase II Facebook page on November 22nd that was unrelated to the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. But I was able to take some time off from work to make a sojourn to Arlington National Cemetery yesterday on the 50th anniversary of the late President Kennedy’s funeral. Like in 1963, it was a cold day. Numerous people were there. The Kennedy gravesite in particular and Arlington National Cemetery in general are always busy with visitors—even in inclement weather.
The gravesite has expanded a bit over the years since it was first created 50 years ago, but even if it is crowded sometimes, it remains a quite place of contemplation. The Eternal Flame continues to glow, and President Kennedy is now joined at the gravesite by his youngest child Patrick Bouvier Kennedy (who died two days after being born) and by a stillborn daughter. Jackie Kennedy Onassis was placed there after she passed away in 1994. The overall Kennedy gravesite was expanded to include Senator and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s burial site after he was assassinated in 1968. It was enlarged again when Senator Edward M. (Teddy) Kennedy passed away in 2009.
If you ever get to Washington, D.C., for a visit, make it a point to visit Arlington. Here’s a picture I grabbed when I was there:
Yes, there is some Star Trek-related content here, but not much. President Kennedy is one of the few U.S. Presidents to be included in official TOS Star Trek. Specifically, his image appears in “The “Cage” as the Talosians scan the Enterprise’s computer banks:
This image of Kennedy was replaced when this quick clip in “The Cage” was replaced/updated for CBS Consumer Products’ TOS-Remastered program. The drawing was replaced with a photograph of Kennedy from his “Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs” speech from May 25, 1961. (This is President Kennedy’s speech to a joint session of Congress where he announced the nation’s intention of going to the Moon “before this decade is out.”)
The last “appearance” of President Kennedy was in a bit of dialogue from “Tomorrow Is Yesterday.” This is how the crew of the Enterprise learns that they have been flung into the past: they hear an Earth news report:
“This is the five thirty news summary. Cape Kennedy: The first manned Moon shot is scheduled for Wednesday, six a.m. Eastern Standard Time. All three astronauts who are to make this historic….”
(People often notice that Star Trek correctly predicted that Apollo 11—the first manned landing on the moon—was indeed launched on a Wednesday! Less noticed is that this “newscast” indicates that the launch is to occur during Eastern Standard Time. But July 16, 1969, being during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, happened during daylight saving time; a correctly-predicted “newscast” should have announced the launch as Eastern Daylight Time, not Eastern Standard Time.)
There will be a lot of United States Presidents between 1966 and Star Trek’s time of 300 years from now. But although John F. Kennedy’s presidency lasted only a thousand days, my guess is that, even three centuries from now, he will be included in a more limited pantheon of The Greats of the U.S. Presidents.
Lastly, no discussion of John F. Kennedy and Star Trek is complete without mention of David Gerrold’s e-book The Kennedy Enterprise. The book is an alternate history story of a John F. Kennedy who goes into acting instead of politics and ends up as the captain of the starship Enterprise. You can pick it up for your Kindle here:
Alternatively, you might be able to find an old used paper copy of David’s Alternative Gerrolds collection from 2005.
(Tell him Greg sent you.)
Hat tip Rene Quebec for the Alternative Gerrolds collection recommendation.