Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For those of my generation and the one that preceded ours, Nov. 22, 1963, will forever remain a vivid memory. Earlier generations talk of Dec. 7, 1941, - the bombing of Pearl Harbor or Aug. 6, 1945, - the bombing of Hiroshima that effectively ended World War II. Perhaps today's generation will live with the memory of Sept. 11, 2001.
Regardless of the circumstances, that bright November day 40 years ago did indeed change America. Historians will argue for years over the true impact. But those who lived through those exciting days cannot help but wonder what if... What if that event had not happened? What would have become of history? Of course, we can only speculate. We'll never know.
Kennedy, you must remember, was the first president exposed to the world through the new medium of television. Sure, Eisenhower was the president when television began to blossom. But it was Kennedy - the youngest president in history - with his storied family, his unique history and his overwhelming popularity that captured the spirit of a nation. But Vietnam was on the horizon then and we'll never know how that part of history would have been impacted had that event not occurred.
It appears from the television specials, books and magazine articles out this week that we will never be completed satisfied with the facts surrounding that day. Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Castro, the Mafia, the CIA or LBJ himself - just how many conspiracies can we find? And at this point, what matter does it really make other than to pique our interests and feed a frenzy of speculation.
The Kennedy legacy will of course never die. Like so many others, he became larger in death than in life and that was no small feat because, in life, he was an amazing figure in American history.
I've visited the site in Dallas where history unfolded that day. Like so many millions of others, I witnessed live the killing of Oswald just two days later. And even through all of that time, those events are as fresh today as they were back then. I got the news while finishing lunch at Sikeston Senior High School. I was exactly one week shy of my 16th birthday. I can close my eyes and the events unfold as fresh and vivid as yesterday. If you're old enough, you can too.
Maybe part of life - and sometimes a big part - is wondering what if. We can apply that to our personal lives as well. I wonder what would have happened if. You fill in the blanks from there.
Well over half of the population was not alive on that fateful day. They can only imagine the pain and sorrow and shock that followed in the hours and days. But for the rest of us, we'll remember. And always wonder, what if...