DALLAS — Thousands poured into downtown Dallas on Friday morning just as many had a half-century ago.
On Nov. 22, 1963, it was to catch a glimpse of the young president and his beautiful wife as they passed through the city during a sunny lunch hour.
This Friday, however, under overcast skies, The 50th: Honoring the Memory of President John F. Kennedy brought people from far and near to pay tribute to the man at the place where he lost his life.
But it was an important moment for Patrick Silke.
“We’re here to pay our respects,” Silke said.
He traveled 5,000 miles from Birmingham, England, to honor Kennedy after 35 years of interest and memorabilia collection.
He and fellow Brit Jonathan Notham were at the event by the luck of the draw.
“It was really a bucket-list moment when we were selected,” said Notham, who flew in from San Francisco.
They were among 5,000 who were awarded tickets by a lottery to attend the commemoration, standing outside for hours in frigid and wet conditions.
At noon, it was 37 degrees, with a 29-degree wind chill and a drizzle in downtown Dallas, according to the National Weather Service.
Inclement weather forced a planned Dallas Symphony Orchestra opening and a flyover salute to be canceled during the first city-designated tribute to Kennedy that Dallas has ever held.
The British duo wore matching shirts — black with white print, Kennedy’s image across the chest.
“It’s everything for us to be here,” Notham said.
They planned to visit The Sixth Floor Museum today and attend a book signing for “Five Days in November” with Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent who protected the first lady, and his co-author Lisa McCubbin, and meet up with some others to visit the sites around town, including Parkland Memorial Hospital.
After the event, Notham said the commemoration was “very moving.”
For Michael Brown and Melissa Morgan, of Dallas, it wasn’t their first time coming out: The husband and wife were at the 30th and 40th anniversary events.
Brown said he didn’t remember hearing about the death but remembers lying in front of the television on the Air Force base in Shreveport, La., watching the funeral and being upset that his cartoons weren’t on.
“I thought maybe it was Lincoln,” because, at 5, he knew that was a president we had who died, he said. “I guess I wasn’t very smart then.”
Mrs. Morgan’s father was a naval pathologist at Bethesda Naval Medical Center at the time, and she said he always remarked about how lucky he felt to be off duty that day.
She watched the funeral on a black-and-white Muntz television in the basement of their house.
“It made quite an impression …” she said. “We loved the Kennedys.”
For the couple, this anniversary was more dignified than those they attended in the past.
Brown said it was nice to be without the sideshow. In years past, for example, Jesse Ventura has been in Dealey Plaza, “crowing and strutting around,” people shouting conspiracy theories and blaming Lyndon B. Johnson, and others putting “that big tacky ‘X’” on Elm Street, marking the spot where Kennedy was shot.
Despite protesters not being allowed to set up near the event site, some made it inside. Among a handful of people granted admission through the lottery system were a few wearing shirts that read: “50 years of denial is enough.”
But as much as it was about the people who came to remember the man and his legacy, it was about a city so shadowed by the actions of one man, whose name was never mentioned.
It was a solemn ceremony to mark an anniversary this city isn’t proud to call its own.
Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, gave an invocation that reflected how Dallas bore the blame for the action of one man and all that has flourished in a place that was once disgraced.
The city’s leader spoke about how the city had changed since the 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.
“We were all very young ... Our lives, our hopes and dreams in front of us. Dallas was very young as well, barely a century old,” he said. “And given the nature of youth, we all felt invincible. … We all grew up that day. … Our collective hearts were broken.”
During his speech, a new plaque was unveiled on the Grassy Knoll bearing the final lines of Kennedy’s undelivered speech as Rawlings read those words: “We in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.
“We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’”
About 12:30 p.m., almost the same moment Kennedy was shot 50 years ago, the mayor led those present in a moment of silence that was only broken by bells tolling across the city.
“John Kennedy’s words, again and again, are fired with his love of life and love of his country and its history,” David McCullough, author and historian, said during his remarks. He read pieces of Kennedy’s speeches and spoke of the legacy he left with those words.
Kennedy “spoke to the point and with confidence. His words changed lives, changed history,” he said. “Rarely has a commander-in-chief addressed the nation with such command of language.”
He quoted Kennedy: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contributions to the human spirit ...”
It was Kennedy’s words that leave lasting impressions.
“Many passages from what he said apply now no less than half a century ago and will continue, let us hope, to be taken to heart far into the future the world over,” McCullough said.
And they do to this day for Dan Nolte.
He and his wife, Jean, drove down from Lincoln, Neb., for the ceremony.
Nolte was in first grade when Kennedy died, but he always had been interested in the president and said Kennedy was the reason he entered public service. Today, he is an elected official in Nebraska’s Lancaster County.
He called the event “very nice, very appropriate,” but he “was expecting it to be warmer.”
The ceremony was one of looking forward.
“As he himself said,” McCullough quoted, “‘For I can assure you that we love our country, not for what it was — though it has always been great — not for what it is — though of this we are deeply proud — but what it someday can and, through the efforts of us all, someday will be.’”