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Nation

Somber nation marks 50th anniversary of JFK death

Friday was the first time Dallas organized a large event for the assassination anniversary.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Friday was the first time Dallas organized a large event for the assassination anniversary.

DALLAS — A half-century after rifle bullets cut through a presidential motorcade, the city that has long struggled with its own wounds from the Kennedy assassination paused Friday to honor the fallen leader, remembering a young, handsome president with whom Dallas will always be ‘‘linked in tragedy.’’

On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, Mayor Mike Rawlings presided over a solemn ceremony at the exact time and place where the president was gunned down in an open-top limousine. It was the first time the city had organized such a large event, issuing 5,000 free tickets and erecting a stage with video screens.

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‘‘We watched the nightmarish reality in our front yard,’’ Rawlings told the crowd in Dealey Plaza, just steps from the Texas School Book Depository building where Lee Harvey Oswald fired from the sixth floor onto the motorcade. ‘‘Our president had been taken from us, taken from his family, taken from the world.’’

Somber remembrances extended from Dallas to the shores of Cape Cod, with moments of silence, speeches by historians and, above all, simple reverence for a time and a leader long gone.

Two generations later, the assassination still stirs quiet sadness in the baby boomers who remember it as the beginning of a darker, more cynical time.

‘‘A new era dawned and another waned a half-century ago, when hope and hatred collided right here in Dallas,’’ Rawlings told the crowd that gathered under gray skies and in near-freezing temperatures. The mayor said the slaying prompted Dallas to ‘‘turn civic heartbreak into hard work’’ and helped the city mature into a more tolerant, welcoming metropolis.The slain president ‘‘and our city will forever be linked in tragedy, yes,’’ Rawlings said. ‘‘But out of tragedy, an opportunity was granted to us: how to face the future when it’s the darkest and uncertain.’’

Historian David McCullough said Kennedy ‘‘spoke to us in that now-distant time past, with a vitality and sense of purpose such as we had never heard before.’’

Kennedy ‘‘was young to be president, but it didn’t seem so if you were younger still,’’ McCullough added. ‘‘He was ambitious to make it a better world, and so were we.’’

Past anniversaries have been marked mostly by loose gatherings of the curious and conspiracy-minded.

The mayor unveiled a plaque with remarks the president was supposed to deliver later that day in Dallas. Rawlings’s comments were followed by a mournful tolling of bells and a moment of silence at the precise time that Kennedy was shot.

Shortly after sunrise, US Attorney General Eric Holder paid his respects at Kennedy’s recently refurbished grave at Arlington National Cemetery, where a British cavalry officer stood guard, bagpipes played, and a flame burned steadily as it has since Kennedy was buried.About an hour later, Jean Kennedy Smith, 85, the last surviving Kennedy sibling, laid a wreath at her brother’s grave, joined by about 10 members of the Kennedy family.

The tributes extended across the Atlantic to Kennedy’s ancestral home in Ireland. In Dublin, a half-dozen Irish soldiers toting guns with brilliantly polished bayonets formed an honor guard outside the US Embassy as the American flag was lowered to half-staff.

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