By: Chris Bendel – Asst. Sports Editor
Engrained in the identities of University of Dayton students from the United States, Sept. 11, 2001, influences the American landscape in which they live. In addition to 9/11, for Americans 60 years of age and over, another date – Nov. 22, 1963 – stands out as a defining moment in the context of American history.
On that day, from his perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building, Lee Harvey Oswald fired upon and assassinated the 35th president of the United States, President John. F Kennedy, as his motorcade passed through the streets of Dallas.
Nov. 22, 2013 will officially mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.
Fifty years later, the events of Nov. 22, 1963, stir vivid memories for those who can recall the day first-hand. Regardless of age, they also produce a certain intrigue and fascination stemming from unanswered questions and the media’s preservation of the mystique of the Kennedy family.
Longtime UD mathematics professor Lester Steinlage, then a junior mathematics major at Dayton, attended classes as normal on that Friday in late November. He remembers sitting with his friends in the courtyard area enclosed by St. Joseph’s Hall, UD Chapel, and the Powerhouse.
He said someone approached the group and asked if they’d heard the news about JFK, who was wildly popular among college students.
“He was an up-and-coming leader,” Steinlage said. “Everyone liked him… he was looked upon as a person that was a go getter.”
After hearing of the assassination, Steinlage rushed to the nearest TV set, most likely located in one of the student unions, to follow the breaking story at juncture where the details were hazy and the uncertainty was severe.
During the hours directly following the assassination, Steinlage said he, the UD student body, and the nation weren’t quite sure what to think, much like the moments directly following the attacks of 9/11.
He helped contextualize Kennedy’s assassination for current UD students by explaining how both were attacks on America’s homefront.
“We didn’t know if there was going to be a full-scale war break out. It just threw everything up in the air,” Steinlage said. “Everyone wanted to get to some source of media to find out what was going on. We couldn’t believe that someone had the gull to actually assassinate one of America’s favorite leaders.”
The shock of JFK’s assassination especially resonated with the young people of the time. He was the young president, a leader who promised change at a time when America’s younger generation was ready for it, Steinlage said.
“The younger generation at that time could connect and relate to the [Kennedys] because they did things that young people would do,” he said.
Young Americans still relate to JFK, more so than any other age group in the United States, according to a recent Gallup poll conducted Nov. 7 to Nov. 10, 2013.
Although far removed from his presidency, 83 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 rated President Kennedy as an outstanding or above average president, according to the poll. Individuals ages 65 or older, or those most likely able recall his tenure in office, gave him a 67 percent mark, according to the Gallup poll.
Andrea Leeuw, a sophomore intervention specialist major, said Americans are still fascinated by JFK due to the portrayal of the first family’s personal life in the media.
Recently, in Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling book “Killing Kennedy,” the president’s lifestyle, especially his infidelity towards his wife, Jackie, plays an important role in the revised Kennedy narrative.
The Kennedy family seemed to live a rock-star kind of life, Leeuw said.
“Jackie [Kennedy] was always out there. She was the first public first lady who was constantly in the public’s eye,” said Mario LoVerde, sophomore engineering student.
Steinlage said the availability of media has kept the controversy in the mind of the nation.
When Jack Ruby killed Oswald on Nov. 24, 1963, as local police were transferring the lone suspect in the killing, many questions were left unanswered, LoVerde said.
Like many Americans, he said he has heard of the different theories swirling around in popular culture: Did Oswald act
alone or were others involved? What were the killers’ motives?
“Americans like to debate,” LoVerde said. “They like to question things. They like to challenge the government…I think the conspiracy theories give people that sort of mystery. They want to believe that there is something bigger going on.
The American public may never come to a conclusion of what happened on that November day, but Steinlage, like many others who can recall the events surrounding the assassination, remember JFK as a stabilizing force for the nation.
“He kept a tight line on the world situation at the time,” Steinlage said. “He said what he wanted to do and he would just do it.”