I touched JFK.
It was 1960 and the presidential campaign was gearing up. I was 9.
My parents were avid supporters of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. They thought he might change the world, bringing fresh ideas, youth, vigor to the White House, an antidote to years of war, the buttoned-down 50s and the stodgy Eisenhower administration.
So, when Kennedy scheduled a visit to Akron, Ohio, where we lived at the time, my parents decided immediately to go see him and take my brothers and me along. We arrived early at the Akron-Canton Airport where JFK was scheduled to fly in.
It was sunny and warm. The Kennedy entourage gathered in a small motorcade with JFK sitting on the top of the back seat of a black convertible.
He looked tanned and fit, a star materializing before my eyes from the pages of Life magazine. I learned only recently that the tanned appearance of his skin might have been the result of the medicine he was taking for Addisons disease.
As the motorcade started to move, people surged forward to shake hands with JFK. There was no Secret Service or any other noticeable security of any kind that I recall, just people jamming up against JFKs car as it inched through the crowd.
I left my mothers side and ran for the pileup. This was my chance to shake the hand of a future president.
I managed to get right next to the convertible, running alongside as JFK pressed the flesh with admirers on the other side of the car. I grabbed his suit coat and yanked on it to get his attention, a maneuver that worked.
Kennedy turned around, looked down at me and extended his hand. But just as I reached to shake it, a large man (thats all I remember about him) knocked me out of the way and grabbed JFKs hand.
It wasnt exactly a momentous brush with fame. But it does seem more significant to me now, in light of everything that happened after that.
JFK won a close race with Vice President Richard Nixon, and our family was ecstatic. And in some particular ways, the world did change.
America was the most powerful nation in the world, run by an emerging cohort of World War II veterans who had prospered from the GI bill and a humming economy. The new president, a decorated veteran himself, epitomized this changing of the guard, the passing of the baton to a new generation.
America, with Kennedy in charge, seemed capable of anything. And, in the bargain, JFK and his radiant family brought new verve and glamor to the White House.
Camelot existed for many of us, if only fleetingly. We saw the Kennedys JFK and Jackie in particular as our American-bred royalty, aristocratic, rich, well educated, attractive but down to earth enough to run for public office, serve in the military and play touch football in the yard.
Jackie brought culture to the White House, French food, famous writers, Pablo Casals and a complete interior redecoration. Jack brought wit, sailing, cigars, a favorite rocking chair and his brother Bobby.
But the image was illusory to a large extent. We now know that JFK was not healthy and vigorous; he had a chronic, life-threatening disease and back pain so severe that he was regularly injected with a concoction of pain killers and speed. His wasnt a contented marriage; he was a serial adulterer.
JFK didnt accomplish much during his time in office, and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba early in his presidency was a fiasco. His most lasting success probably was the nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union. JFK also stood up to the Soviets during the Cuban missile crisis, which brought the two nations to the brink of war, and in defying attempts to push the Allies out of Berlin.
But thats a thin record on which to hang a lasting legacy. Kennedys main attraction lay in his unrealized potential as a champion of civil rights, space exploration and nuclear disarmament, and as someone who might have avoided the quagmire of Vietnam.
Its hard to see how his reputation as a near-great president can withstand the test of time. As baby-boomers die off, the eternal flame could expire.
Yet the dazzling image and the hopes of what might have been remain intact for now, frozen in time by an assassins bullets. Fifty years later, on this day, the Kennedy legend is bolstered by shared memories of the shock and grief we experienced collectively as a nation, the memories of where we were and what we were doing when we learned the president had died.
Do I remember? Of course. I was in Mrs. Hagens seventh-period world history class at Perkins Junior High School. An announcement came over the public address system that the president had been shot, then, moments later, another announcement saying he was dead.
Everyone filed into the cafeteria. Some girls, especially the Catholic girls, were sobbing. Then we were sent home.
Nov. 22, 1963, was a Friday. We spent the weekend watching news coverage on black-and-white TVs. We watched, live, as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the gut.
There was no school on Monday. Everyone watched the funeral procession the caisson, the boots mounted backwards on the black stallion, the white-gloved honor guard, Jackie in a black veil, John-John saluting as his fathers body passed.
Jackie later quoted from the musical Camelot and the title songs reference to one brief shining moment.
There'll be great presidents again," she added, "but there'll never be another Camelot again it will never be that way again.
For good or ill, I suspect she was right.
James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by email, at email@example.com.