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Reverent memorials to mark JFK 50th anniversary

JAMIE STENGLE, NOMAAN MERCHANT

Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) — Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, thousands will mark the day with a solemn ceremony in Dealey Plaza, through which the president's motorcade passed when shots rang out.

Friday's event will feature brief remarks by the mayor, the tolling of church bells and readings from the president's speeches by author David McCullough.

It's a reverential approach that will be mirrored in Boston, where the JFK Library and Museum will open a small exhibit of never-before-displayed items from Kennedy's state funeral and host a musical tribute that isn't open to the public, and in Washington, where President Barack Obama will meet privately at the White House with leaders and volunteers from the Kennedy-established Peace Corps program.

The committee convened by current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to plan the city's event wanted to focus "in a positive way more on the legacy of President Kennedy," said Ron Kirk, a former mayor and member of the panel.

About 5,000 tickets were issued for the free ceremony in Dealey Plaza, which is flanked by the Texas School Book Depository building where sniper Lee Harvey Oswald perched on the sixth floor. The U.S. Naval Academy Men's Glee Club will perform in a nod to Kennedy's military service and there will be an Air Force flyover. A moment of silence will be held at 12:30 p.m., when the president was shot.

Numerous events were held around Dallas this year to mark the milestone anniversary, including panels with those who were there that day, special concerts and museum exhibits.

As press aide for Gov. John Connally, Julian Read was in a media bus several vehicles behind the presidential limousine. After the gunshots, he watched as the vehicle, carrying the mortally wounded Kennedy and injured governor, sped away. Read released a book this year recounting his experience and has attended several of the events, which he called cathartic.

"Even though there are all those melancholy thoughts, the way it's shaping up ... gives me more of a comfort than any time since 1963," said Read, who will be at the official ceremony Friday.

The Coalition on Political Assassinations, a group that believes Kennedy's death was part of a conspiracy, usually gathers on the plaza's "grassy knoll" for a moment of silence each Nov. 22. Since it'll be blocked off this year, executive director John Judge — who first came to Dealey Plaza for the fifth anniversary of JFK's death in 1968 — says he's reached a "livable" agreement with the city.

The group — which plans to wear specially made T-shirts with an image of Kennedy's head with a bullet hole and blood and the slogan "50 years in denial is enough" — will gather a few blocks away and move to the plaza after the official ceremony ends.

Also Friday, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce will host a breakfast at the hotel where he gave his last speech and spent the final night of his life.

In Boston, the private musical tribute will feature Paul Winter, whose jazz sextet performed for Kennedy at the White House, along with a U.S. Navy choir and James Taylor. Other notable guests include Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is scheduled to read quotes from Kennedy's speeches.

 

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