Most reminiscences from us Boomers start with where we were when we heard the news. But I don't have many strong memories of that day; just a bewildering announcement on our car's radio. What I do remember much more vividly are two incidents from the autumn of 1960, during the campaign.
The first memory is a conversation with a couple of neighbor boys I was playing with. They solemnly informed me that their public school teacher had told them that if Kennedy were to be elected, all Americans would be forced to convert to Catholicism. Despite the grudging respect that the Church had earned in 20th-century America by raising up great men like Fulton Sheen, that's the kind of casual Protestant anti-Catholicism that Kennedy, and all of us, still had to live with.
The second memory is being allowed to accompany my mom to a Kennedy campaign rally in Long Beach, California. I don't remember anything about his speech — not surprising, I guess, for a 10-year-old —but I do recall how tanned his face was, and how broad and sincere his smile looked. Our seats were only about 50 yards away from him. Closer than the sniper in Dallas.
I think he set a bad precedent in his famous apologia (to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association) for being a Catholic candidate, seeming to banish the Faith from the public square. This attitude of the Kennedy Democrats, after all, morphed into that of the Cuomo Democrats not long after, when Roe v. Wade was handed down: personally opposed to grave evil, but unwilling to "impose our morality" on others. At MercatorNet.com, Sheila Liaugminas quotes both Peggy Noonan and George Weigel at length about this; these will give you better background than I could.
Despite the many sins that drag down his legacy, he left behind many great statements that will always buoy it up. I'll just imitate Sheila, and close with this:
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.