Saturday, March 03, 2012

A Defining Moment

I heard it said once that the Kennedy assassination was the most photographed murder in American history.

I have no reason to believe that is anything but true. The Kennedy motorcade was photographed by countless people as it made its way through downtown Dallas — by members of the press and folks along the motorcade route.

And it seems to me the Kennedy assassination is remembered not as a single event but more as an ongoing series of events that included the shooting of the alleged assassin and Kennedy's state funeral.

For Americans who were old enough to remember that time, the images probably blur together. I was not old enough to understand what was happening, and I didn't know who Kennedy was — my family did not have a TV in those days so we spent the next four days in the neighbor's house watching theirs.

(I have often tried to convince myself that I remember things from that time, but I really must be thinking of film clips I have seen so many times over the years, and I have persuaded myself that I remember. But I know that I was too young to remember or comprehend very much.

(What I do remember is playing with the neighbors' son's toys. If there is one overriding memory in my brain from that time, it is that I always believed he had the coolest and the latest toys. His family always seemed to be on the cutting edge. They were the first people I ever knew who drove a Mustang!)

Mention the Kennedy assassination to people, and some will tell you that the image that comes to mind is the sequence from the famous Zapruder fim of the presidential car creeping through Dealey Plaza as the shots rang out.

Others will talk about the famous photograph that was taken of Lee Harvey Oswald as Jack Ruby fired a single shot into his midsection.

And still others will tell you that the image of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting at his father's funeral is the one that has remained with them all these years.

It is an iconic image, to be sure, and one that defined the life and career of photographer Stan Stearns, who died yesterday at the age of 76.

His image of John–John's salute — on his third birthday — was a poignant reminder of all that had been lost.

It is a reminder now of how much time has past. Nearly every prominent person in it — including John–John — is gone now.

Even the servicemen in the picture must be in their 70s, possibly 80s, if they are still living.

That photo is Stearns' legacy to future generations, a continuing link to a time and to a people that have receded into the mists of history.