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50 years on, nation pauses to remember John F. Kennedy’s death

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Posted at 8:26 AM, Nov 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-22 15:38:23-05

Live stream: CBS News coverage from 1963 as it happened

By Steve Almasy and Michael Pearson

(CNN) — Five decades after it served as the backdrop for a nation’s grief and disbelief, Dallas’ Dealey Plaza took center stage once again Friday as Americans commemorated the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“A new era dawned and another waned a half century ago when hope and hatred collided right here in Dallas,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in his remarks commemorating Kennedy’s death.

Some 5,000 invited guests were expected to attend the commemorative events, which began Friday afternoon with bagpipers — a JFK favorite — under a spitting gray sky.

The ceremony was also to include a moment of silence marking the moment an assassin’s bullet fatally wounded the nation’s 35th President in a moment seared into the national consciousness.

The tightly choreographed and secured event was expected to be the culmination of a series of commemorations, including wreath-laying events in Kennedy’s home town of Boston and at his Arlington National Cemetery gravesite.

In Washington, where flags flew at half-staff over the Capitol and White House, bagpipers set the mood on a gray morning as Kennedy’s last living sibling participated in the Arlington wreath-laying. Earlier, Attorney General Eric Holder visited the gravesite.

And in the House of Representatives, where Kennedy served from 1947 to 1953, the Rev. John Robert Skeldon of Fort Worth, Texas, reminded lawmakers in his opening prayers that “in commemorating such a one whose life and presidency were cut short, we do so not to sow in tears, as the psalmist says, but rather to reap with shouts of joy.”

“Help us, Lord God, to make the late President’s inaugural vision our own so that together as fellow Americans we may ‘ask not what our country can do for us, but rather what we can do for our country,'” Skeldon prayed, invoking Kennedy’s famous words.

The Dallas event was designed to be a delicate balancing act of honoring Kennedy’s memory without sensationalizing his murder.

The city has spent decades trying to shake off the reputation of “the city that killed Kennedy,” which is not easy, as that dark day of history is rehashed daily by tour operators.

The President John F. Kennedy Commemorative Foundation was to host a program reflecting upon his life. Thousands of tickets were distributed for the event, and the city also showed the ceremony on three giant screens in the city.

Naval Academy cadets will sing, historian David McCullough will read excerpts from famous Kennedy speeches, and bells throughout the city will toll.

And then, the plaza will fall silent at the moment Kennedy was struck.

A new JFK monument also was to be unveiled during the ceremony, in the infamous section of land known as the “grassy knoll.” The inscription on the monument is the final paragraph of the speech JFK intended to deliver at the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963.

Supporters of different conspiracy theories — for example, the Coalition on Political Assassinations — did not gather as they have annually at 12:30 p.m. on the grassy knoll. The area surrounding Friday’s commemoration has been closed off to all but invited guests.

Instead, The Dallas Morning News reports, the group planned to hold an event at the nearby JFK memorial, and then move to Dealey Plaza after the main event was over. Demonstrators gathered at Dealey Plaza on Thursday, and many chanted: “No more lies. No more lies.”

The remarkable Sixth Floor Museum, which chronicles the Kennedy assassination, was set to open from 3 to 8 p.m. CT. Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy died, planned a brief morning ceremony, where the flag will be lowered to half-staff.

Also in Dallas on Friday, a candlelight vigil for J.D. Tippit was set for 6 p.m. at the site where the 39-year-old Dallas police officer was shot.

“I think the remembrance of him calls attention to all of the officers killed in the line of duty. We should remember those who have given their lives for our city,” Marie Tippit, who had been married to the officer for 17 years, told the Los Angeles Times this week. She told the paper she will also attend the ceremony at Dealey Plaza.

The Texas Theatre, where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended by police, was to screen part of the movie “War Is Hell,” the film that was showing when Oswald slipped into the audience without paying.

Commemorations elsewhere

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston asked visitors to gather to watch a video musical tribute to the President that includes James Taylor. A moment of silence was to be held at 2 p.m. ET, the time when a doctor approximated Kennedy died.

Moments of silence were also planned at various other locations around the nation.

And online, a handful of Twitter accounts focused on recreating Kennedy’s movements that fateful day, culminating in breaking accounts of the aftermath of the shooting.