Every American generation, it seems, has its tragic moment -- that singular event so profound that nearly everyone who lives through it remembers exactly where they were when it occurred.
For the so-called Greatest Generation, it was Dec. 7, 1941, the bombing of the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. For our youngest adult generation, it was likely Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists used hijacked airliners to conduct and coordinate a deadly attack on the nation.
But to most members of the baby boomer generation, that signature tragedy happened 50 years ago Friday when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas.
On that horrible day, Kennedy became the fourth U.S. president to be assassinated, joining Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley in the annals of assassinated chief executives.
Kennedy's killing shook the nation to its core. It was the first assassination in 62 years and the only one recorded on film. Although it was still the early days of television, the film clips were seen by nearly every American.
It often has been said that Kennedy's assassination represented the nation's collective loss of innocence. But that's oversimplified and naive. While the Kennedy presidency was indeed idealistic, optimistic and glamorous, the times in which it operated were anything but innocent.
Just 13 months before Kennedy's death, he and his administration had taken the nation to the absolute brink of nuclear war in a dramatic standoff with the Soviet Union over the USSR's installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba.
A year before that, Kennedy had presided over the disastrously unsuccessful CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion designed to overthrow Cuban President Fidel Castro.
By 1963, his administration had already escalated the U.S. presence in South Vietnam to 16,000 troops up from the 900 advisers the Eisenhower administration had committed.
Meanwhile, on the home front, the civil rights movement, which had been roiling throughout the South for years, had begun to gain significant steam as television news cameras captured nonviolent marches and protesters being confronted by water cannons and police nightsticks.
Hardly innocent times.
But, to be fair, it had been six decades since a president had met a violent end -- and Kennedy's killing was a massive blow to the nation's solar plexus. Our young, vibrant president had been gunned down in broad daylight. The national grief was almost unbearable.
But, as always, the nation did bear it. We gathered ourselves, and we carried on.
Now, 50 years later, as we wistfully wonder what might have been, we still feel the sting. But we also realize that horrible event once again demonstrated the resiliency of America and its people.