OMAK Local residents who were children and young adults when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated remember having many questions and fears in the shooting’s aftermath.
And, from the perspective of 50 years, they also reflect on Kennedy’s legacy to them personally and to the country.
Kennedy’s mystique has grown, although the passage of time has revealed both his strength and weaknesses. And, they said, the event also changed how Americans look at themselves.
“Assassinated presidents usually become revered American heroes,” former Okanogan resident Allen Gibbs said. “Kennedy was something of a generational transition during the Cold War. He, his wife, the extended Kennedy family became celebrities, not typical for our presidents. His assassination magnified the celebrity status.”
Kennedy’s appeal to youth stirred people to think beyond themselves, he said.
“Public service became a worthy activity, (along with) setting our sights very high indeed, with the challenge to put humans on the moon. His legacy would be those dreams fulfilled,” Gibbs said.
“His legacy is big, even for the short time he was president,” Omak School Board member Wendell George said of the present who was in office not quite three years. “He balanced the budget and worked for the people without letting politics get in the way.”
When Kennedy died, “I believe America, once again, lost its innocence and began realizing that if things are going to change for the better, then it would have to come from the common people in their everyday living,” Okanogan School District Superintendent Richard Johnson said.
In the years following Kennedy’s death, many social issues were tackled, such as Medicare, civil rights and voting rights.
“In some respects, because of the terrible jolt by the death of a popular president, our country not only pulled itself together, but also became stronger by becoming more active and determined in how we governed and treated all people,” he said.
“As a country, we took a major step in developing the concept of democracy into our daily living. If this is true, then President Kennedy’s legacy should be viewed as nothing short of remarkable, which you would expect to find in a person who loved his country more than his life,” he said.
Oroville resident Ann Marie Ricevuto echoed Johnson’s comments.
“The idea of giving to our country, not so much in money but in time and helping others” is part of the Kennedy legacy, she said. “We should care about people, whether we know them or not. It just made me more aware of the world outside my yard.”
Cold War events “should have offered lessons about foreign interventions that later became tragic,” Waterstrat said, referring to Vietnam. “It is imperative that we leave much of the Cold War ideology behind and operate intelligently.”
Inchelium resident Lou Stone recalls the “haunting warning” from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Kennedy’s predecessor, of an out-of-control military-industrial complex that could damage the concept of democracy in the U.S.
“In my opinion, President Kennedy was assassinated largely due to his attempt to avoid a result anticipated in (Eisenhower’s) prophetic warning about the CIA/
military/corporate machine, and his very assassination for those reasons was the warning to following presidents that ‘the machine’ could and would consume a resistor,” he said.
“I was already scared” by world events when the president was shot, Omak resident and Police Clerk Tommye Robbins said, recalling Civil Defense patrol demonstrations, bomb shelters and practice raids.
“The practice raids were necessary, but I listened at night for the fire sirens,” she said. “If the alarm was long, that indicated the Russians were on the way. Duck and roll. Hide your head. I envisioned the monkeys from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ dressed in uniforms of red with shotguns slung from their shoulders, all the time standing at attention. They stood on every porch in town. I was still scared.”
She said youngsters were already worried about the Cuban Missile Crisis, nuclear bombs, Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, thanks to TV.
Robbins said she now sees Kennedy as a president clouded in mystery.
“Now, 50 years later, I don’t understand about the correlation between the motorcade in Texas or Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, or the police investigation or the Warren Commission,” she said. “I cannot understand the truth. What is it? Now, toss in (Marilyn) Monroe, the Mafia, more money, his brothers and his wife, who abandoned the (U.S.) to be with (Aristotle) Onassis. I’m at a loss.”