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Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013 12:01 am

Memories of JFK, who made public life matter

 We were young. We were innocent. We were naive. And from that afternoon on, nothing was the same.

I had just finished lunch in the Gizmo at Knox College. As I walked down the long sunlit gallery to the Seymour Lounge a suitemate came toward me. “The president has been shot,” he said.

“No, you’re kidding.”

But he wasn’t

Everyone found a TV. We waited. “The president’s motorcade has been fired on in Dallas,” said Merriman Smith’s dispatch.

We saw a priest come out of Parkland Hospital. Walter Cronkite told us the president was dead.

It was a strange weekend. In Galesburg it rained. We all watched TV. We saw Air Force One bring two presidents back to Washington, saw Jackie in her blood-stained pink suit. Saw the hearse leave for Bethesda.

We watched heads of state gather, felt the majesty of the funeral procession, the family walking behind the coffin on the horse-drawn caisson. Heard the slow muffled drumbeat of the funeral march. Saw the little boy salute his father.

We were angry, confused, sad and scared, very scared. We watched as the assassin was gunned down on live TV and were sickened. In those blithe days we didn’t expect people to be gunned down in the streets. We didn’t expect presidents to be gunned down anywhere.

During the 1960 campaign Kennedy had come to Springfield. He was many hours late, but the crowd waited long into the night to see him, touch him, hear him.

In these cynical times it is hard to remember the excitement he brought. Hard to recall the enthusiasm, the energy, the thrill. He was handsome, eloquent, enthusiastic. He wanted to get America moving again.

His opponent came too and was greeted by throngs at the State Fair Grandstand. The election was about real things. It was about different views of America. There were real debates. The election was close but Nixon was a gentleman. He accepted the outcome and moved on.

After that November day we got used to assassination, and war and governmental deceit. We were charmed by the next two presidents who both disappointed us.

And in time John F. Kennedy, too, disappointed us. The golden boy we mourned that November week turned out be a sick man fueled by prescription pills and involved in a life of pathologic philandering. But still....

Many of us were touched by his death. By his brief promise. We understood that public life mattered. That America needs good people, inspiring people, to fulfill its possibilities. It sounds corny to say it, but there is truth there.

After that day, after that time, many young people, Democrats and Republicans, were inspired to make public service their career. I was one of them. It was a decision I have never regretted.

Phil Bradley of Springfield has been an elected member of the Capital Township Board, the Sangamon County Board and the Lincoln land Community College Board. In the Thompson administration he was director if Rehabilitation Services. In the Edgar administration he served as director of Public Aid. He is a member of the Springfield Civil Service Commission. In 2012 he was appointed to the Health Services and Facilities Review Board by Gov. Pat Quinn.

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