Obama, Clintons honor President Kennedy 50 years after assassination

Thu Nov 21, 2013 1:21am EST
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By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama joined with Bill and Hillary Clinton on Wednesday to recognize the legacy of John F. Kennedy, the president who inspired a generation until he was felled by an assassin's bullets 50 years ago this week.

Obama, former President Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid a wreath and bowed their heads before Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery. As a bugler played "Taps," an eternal flame at the gravesite fluttered in a chilly autumn breeze and Kennedy family members stood nearby.

It was a remarkable meeting of Democratic heavyweights to mark the anniversary of Kennedy's death on November 22, 1963, an event that has spawned countless books and conspiracy theories on whether assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

The day was steeped in powerful political imagery as Obama awarded the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Bill Clinton and 15 other Americans who have made significant contributions to U.S. culture, politics, sports and science.

The White House event was intended as a testament to the memory of Kennedy, who signed an executive order shortly before his death creating the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Kennedy also established the Peace Corps and set the country on a path to landing humans on the moon.

Kennedy was shot to death as he and his wife, Jacqueline, rode in a motorcade in Dallas. America has been awash in televised remembrances of the death of the handsome, vigorous 46-year-old president and subsequent killing of Oswald by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

White House officials decided to mark the occasion with the Medal of Freedom ceremony to remember Kennedy's life rather than the macabre circumstances of his death.

At a black-tie dinner for the award recipients at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Obama was introduced by Kennedy's grandson, Jack Schlossberg, the 20-year-old son of Caroline Kennedy.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L), first lady Michelle Obama (L), former President Bill Clinton (3rd L) and Hillary Clinton participate in a wreath laying in honor of assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, November 20, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed