50 Years After His Death, President Kennedy's Legacy Lives On In Oklahoma

Thursday, November 21st 2013, 11:06 pm
By: News On 6

John F. Kennedy's thousand days in the White House were marked with successes and failures, but always carried on his belief that this country could do better, and should do better.

One of his enduring ideas, the Peace Corps, sending Americans across the globe to help developing nations, is at work in 76 countries.

So, while we remember the man who died on that Dallas street, there are Oklahomans who work every day to keep that President's idealism alive, just as it so brightly lit this country 50 Novembers ago.

For 50 Novembers, we've watched them walk off that plane. For 50 Novembers, we've watched that big navy blue Lincoln driving towards doom, wishing we could jump into the haze and scream "Go back, turn around, stop!" before that turn onto Houston, and then to Elm, where that old brick warehouse looms. Where a loner with a rifle waits in a window.

Fifty Novembers ago, everything changed.

For 50 Novembers, there has never not been someone outside the Schoolbook Depository, pointing, taking pictures, quietly wondering "Why?" and "What if?"

"My first memory is actually my mother crying when we watched the assassination of President JFK on TV," said Con Tagaraulias, of Newcastle, Australia.

"Fifty years later, you always go back to that era, because there was just magic to it," said Marilyn Shaw, of Croghan, New York.

"And it just left an indelible mark on my psyche," Tagaraulias said.

For all those who come to Dealey Plaza on a personal quest, the assassin's floor of the book depository, the sixth, has become a museum. The sniper's perch sits behind Plexiglas. The jumble of boxes and the view from the window represent a generation's collective pain.

"The biggest question is 'Why?' Why did it happen? How could it have happened? Could it happen today?" Nicola Longford, of the Sixth Floor Museum said.

Instead of focusing on how the President died on Elm Street, Jacqueline Kennedy always hoped her husband would be remembered for how he lived and the inspiration he sparked across the world.

More On President John F. Kennedy's Legacy From The JFK Library

And 50 years since John Kennedy's death, you can still find his idealism at work across Oklahoma.

At Owasso's Stone Canyon Elementary School, you'll find it in the work of JoAnna Dossett. She teaches English to immigrant children.

A revelation came to her a decade ago, in the faraway Cape Verde Islands, as a volunteer in President Kennedy's Peace Corps.

"It's really amazing how it worked. I had no idea before, no idea what I wanted to do with this great expanse of life that was ahead of me, and Peace Corps just showed me," Dossett said.

President Kennedy said in a public service message in the 1960s, "There can be no greater service to our country and no sense of pride more real than to be a member of the Peace Corps of the United States."

"I could see right away that's something I wanted to join," said former Tulsa Mayor Rodger Randle.

And so in 1965, as a college student, Randle went to Brazil as a Peace Corps community development volunteer.

He keeps a photo of the home in which he lived in his wonderfully cluttered office at OU-Tulsa. It's a repository of a lifetime of travels and public service that began when he answered John Kennedy's challenge.

"We were representatives of the idealism of America and our presence was a concrete expression of that idealism," Randle said.

JoAnna Dossett keeps a favorite quote in her classroom, next to some of her Peace Corps photos. It's her reminder to travel through life with a heart open to new people and experiences.

"What I have now is so beautiful, you know, what I carry with me from the Peace Corps experience," Dossett said.

So many still flock to Dallas - to see the "X"s painted on the street, that sixth floor window - to remember where a man died. But to find the true measure of that man, look elsewhere, to where three little ones are heading to the future, carried there on a promise that echoes still across 50 Novembers.

As President Kennedy said on February 8, 1963, "A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death."

Friday, and continuing for four days, CBS News will stream its original assassination coverage, as it happened, beginning at 12:40 p.m., with Walter Cronkite's first bulletin.

CBS coverage of the 50th anniversary of President John Kennedy's assassination