Fifty-eight years ago, on the last full day of his life, President John F. Kennedy arrived in San Antonio for the first leg of a trip designed to mend a rift between Texas' conservative and liberal Democrats that threatened his 1964 re-election. His purpose in San Antonio was to dedicate the new Aerospace Medical Health Center at Brooks AFB.
More than 100,000 people lined the streets to cheer the president and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the motorcade traveling from the airport, down Broadway and through downtown en route to Brooks. They were in San Antonio for less than three hours, an unforgettable visit made more memorable by what happened the next day in Dallas.
Only Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001, rival the power of Nov. 22, 1963, to collectively evoke searing memories of grief and loss among Americans. Memories of a motorcade moving slowly through the streets of Dallas until the gunshots, the stunned confusion, the blaring sirens and the race to Parkland Hospital where the 35th president of the United States was declared dead.
The 1960s were visited by a plague of assassins' bullets that destroyed a harvest of young and talented leadership like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. All were horrific, but it's what happened in Dallas that's been called the crime of the century because of the office it was inflicted on and the man who held that office.
The Kennedys brought glamour, youth and young children to the White House. Until Barack Obama, no American president looked less like his predecessors than Kennedy. At his inauguration, the contrast between him and the older men on the platform -- including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chief Justice Earl Warren, poet Robert Frost, even his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson -- was striking.
Young, vigorous and standing in the subfreezing weather with no overcoat, he embodied the new generation of which he would speak. It is one of the images of him -- forever young -- forever frozen in the public mind.
No other president had looked like Kennedy, and no other president died the way he did, murdered at 46, in public, riding in a car on an American street.
His assassination is one of the all-time great "Who dunnits?" It's either the greatest unsolved mystery of our time or the greatest mystery solved whose conclusion -- a single gunman was responsible -- is widely disbelieved. Despite the Warren Commission's report that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, polls have consistently shown most Americans believe the president was the victim of a conspiracy.
That's why it's important that all government files related to the assassination be released and opened to the public. And that's why it's disappointing that the Biden administration is following the footsteps of the previous administration in delaying their release.
As the Washington Post reported, under the 1992 John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, all assassination records were supposed to be disclosed in October 2017. President Donald Trump postponed their release to Oct. 26, 2021. But an Oct. 22 memo signed by President Joe Biden says some documents will be released Dec. 15 while the bulk won't be released until late 2022.
The administration attributes the delay to the pandemic without specifying how, saying more time is needed to make sure no harm is done to the military, law enforcement, intelligence or the conduct of foreign affairs. But the memo conceded the cases requiring continued protection are rare.
It's been 58 years and most of those involved are dead. There are no legitimate reasons for blocking release of these records, whatever they reveal. The American government has an obligation to be transparent with the American people.
All of us deserve to know what came before and came after the events of Nov. 22, 1963. The president's life was taken, but that motorcade continues its journey through history, all of us among its wounded passengers.
-- Nov. 19, 2021