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A day to remember JFK

Thousands mark grim anniversary

DALLAS -- Thousands of mourners, conspiracy theorists, and the just plain curious gathered yesterday along the downtown street where President Kennedy was assassinated 40 years ago, with many of them recalling where they had been at the moment they heard the news.

Some looked up to the sixth floor of the former Texas School Book Depository, the building from which officials say Lee Harvey Oswald fired the deadly shots at 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963. Others gravitated toward an "X" painted on the pavement to mark the spot where Kennedy's convertible was passing when he was hit.

A makeshift memorial with dozens of bouquets, signs, and flags was assembled nearby.

"John F. Kennedy has been gone nearly as long as he lived, yet the memory of him still brings pride to our nation and a feeling of loss," President Bush said in a written statement.

Jim Johns, of Houston, recalled being in class in the seventh grade when the announcement of Kennedy's assassination was made over the school intercom. "It was devastating," said Johns, 52, standing at Dealey Plaza in Dallas yesterday. "Everybody that age, we all loved him.

"My teacher started crying, all the girls started crying, all the boys started cursing the Russians -- that's who we thought it was. . . . We all wanted to go to war."

David Heath, 46, of Sheffield, England, said he booked a flight months ago to be in Dallas for the anniversary. "It was quite definitely a moment in my childhood," he said. "Can you imagine this happening for any other president?"

Near Washington, Kennedy family members gathered at Arlington National Cemetery early in the day to pray beside the eternal flame that marks the president's grave. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and her husband and children -- along with Kennedy's brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts -- were joined by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington.

In Boston, at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, the assassination date brought a steady stream of visitors, as it does every year, including tourists from around the world. The Columbia Point museum acknowledged the day quietly, with a bouquet of white and lavender roses near the front entrance and an exhibit of condolence letters sent to Jacqueline Kennedy, including notes from students in Kuwait, a television repairman in Mississippi, and Indira Gandhi.

Nearing the end of a long trip to the United States, 69-year-old Newton Aluda of Kenya visited the museum yesterday with his nephew, who lives in Norwood. Aluda said Kenyans had looked to Kennedy for help in establishing their national identity in the 1960s and felt the president's death as a heavy blow: "He was such a man, that worried more about the unfortunate than the fortunate. I wish he'd had more time to lead."

Some visitors lingered in the dimly-lit hall, near the end of the exhibits, where five small screens show black-and-white footage of Kennedy's funeral procession.

In the museum's 110-foot glass pavilion, views of Boston Harbor sparkled as Shari Polli recalled where she had been that day: in a third-grade classroom in California, a young teacher newly married and pregnant with her first child. "Somebody opened the door to tell us, and the kids started crying," said Polli, who has lived in Braintree for 20 years. "I'll never forget it; I thought the world had ended."

The museum left its lights on overnight yesterday in another quiet tribute to the former president. Kennedy would be 86 today if he had lived.

Globe staff reporter Jenna Russell contributed to this report.

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