Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama hailed the “daring” legacy and the “sober, square-jawed idealism” of John F. Kennedy on Wednesday, as he marked the 50th anniversary of the 35th U.S. president’s assassination.
Obama also paid homage, alongside fellow two-term Democratic president Bill Clinton, at Kennedy’s hillside grave to honor a man murdered at the age of just 46, but whose legend endures for Americans as a symbol of their nation’s spirit and possibility.
Later, at a dinner honoring winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award minted by Kennedy, Obama said that the wealthy slain president could have enjoyed a life of luxury and ease, but picked instead “a life in the arena.”
“Fifty years later, John F. Kennedy stands for posterity as he did in life, young, bold and daring,” said Obama, who was two years old when the 35th U.S. president was killed.
“He stays with us in our imagination, not because he left us so soon, but because he embodied the character of the people that he led,” Obama added at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History in Washington.
“In his idealism, his sober, square-jawed idealism, we are reminded that the power to change this country is ours.”
Obama and Clinton, along with First Lady Michelle Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, earlier laid a large blue and white wreath on the sun-dappled grave of JFK, who was killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
They then stood together, with their hands on their hearts, as a bugler played the military lament “Taps.”
Extended members of the Kennedy clan looked on at the tableau of presidential power, past, present and possibly future.
The observance came after Obama awarded Bill Clinton, and 15 other luminaries of the arts, sports, science and innovation the medal of freedom, his nation’s highest civilian honor.
The Kennedy grave and eternal flame is at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington on a hillside with a paved area fashioned from Cape Cod granite quarried from near Kennedy’s family homebase in Massachusetts.