Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Later!

On Nov. 22, 1963 I was in the Indian state of Orissa representing our government.  JFK’s election had inspired me to become a Foreign Service Officer, and India was my first assignment.
I was asleep when the president was assassinated, so I heard the news on the morning of Nov. 23.  I cancelled the program we had scheduled for that day and drove to Puri, where my wife and daughter were spending a few days on the beach.  When she awoke she discovered that a note from an English woman had been slipped under the door.  It said, “We are devastated by what has happened.  We feel the loss as if it had been our Queen.”
Like everyone, we were in a state of shock.  We returned to Kolkata, where we lived, and found that the impact of Kennedy’s death among Indians was astounding.  By the thousands they lined up to sign a condolence book in the Consulate, as they did at the Embassy in Delhi and our other Consulates in Mumbai and Chennai.  This public outpouring of grief surprised me.  I knew that in India, as elsewhere, Kennedy connected with people more than any American in memory.  Even so, I was taken aback by the breadth and depth of their feelings.
What is going on here, I asked myself.  What I realized is that while the Indians complained a lot about the United States, with Kennedy as our leader we represented a beacon of hope that they couldn’t find anywhere else.  With Kennedy gone, the outlook for what was possible in the future was significantly diminished.  For millions of Indians it was personal.  A member of their family had died prematurely.
Fifty years later, we could profit from remembering the lesson that John F. Kennedy’s death taught us.


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