Ray Combes traveled a long way to show respect for President John F. Kennedy.
But as the New York man placed flowers Thursday in Dealey Plaza — just feet from where Kennedy was shot to death 50 years ago Friday — he got closer to the one thing he was seeking: “Closure.”
“I was 7 years old when we heard the news,” said Combes, who traveled to Dallas with his wife, Cynthia, for the anniversary of the assassination. “We are out here getting our own thoughts and conclusions.”
He was among countless tourists and spectators who have swarmed downtown Dallas in recent days to pay tribute to the 35th president and see the infamous site where the shots that claimed his life rang out.
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On Friday, Dallas will hold its first formal event, The 50th: Honoring the Memory of President John F. Kennedy, to acknowledge his life and contributions.
But Thursday was all about preparing for the memorial — building stands and risers for the media, preparing the stage, testing the sound system and allowing satellite trucks for television crews from around the world to park nearby.
Some downtown roads have been blocked off, and many more will be closed near the event and the Sixth Floor Museum.
Around 5,000 people who won tickets to this event, and cleared screenings by Dallas police, will crowd into Dealey Plaza early this morning.
By 11:30 a.m., a pre-ceremony will begin as musicians from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra perform.
A color guard will enter the cordoned-off area at Dealey Plaza, the national anthem will be played, and Mayor Mike Rawlings will speak about the president and his contributions to the country.
The hourlong program will include prayers, a reading by award-winning presidential historian David McCullough and songs by the 73-member U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club.
Church bells will toll throughout the city, and a moment of silence will mark the time Kennedy was shot. The memorial will end with a flyover.
Longtime Dallas civic leader Ruth Altshuler headed up the committee that raised money for and planned the free event. Organizers said they wanted to find a respectful way to remember the president’s last moments in Dallas.
Dallas County government buildings will be closed today.
“We shouldn’t forget what has happened,” said Sharon Bush, 70, a Californian who walked around Dealey Plaza, watching the work Thursday. “It brings back a lot of sad memories for me.”
Raymond Averna made the journey from New York to witness the anniversary event.
Long fascinated with the assassination, the 53-year-old attorney has traveled around giving lectures and speeches about it. But not until this week did he come to the city where everything happened.
“It’s a part of history,” Averna said. “I was too young to remember it when it happened. But I’ll remember where I was for the 50th.
“Whether you are a Democrat or Republican … this was a major part of history that forever changed history.”
Anyone who wants to see the ceremony but didn’t get a ticket can head to three alternate viewing sites in downtown Dallas: the AT&T Plaza at American Airlines Center, Annette Strauss Square and the JFK Memorial at Founders Plaza.
A number of researchers who have focused on the assassination and do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone generally gather on the grassy knoll to hold a moment of silence at 12:30 p.m. every Nov. 22.
Officials have said the knoll will be empty this year at 12:30 p.m. — the time Kennedy was shot as the presidential motorcade drove through downtown — because of this ceremony.
But a moment of silence will be observed by all who attend the memorial event.
Those skeptical about who was behind the Kennedy shooting are expected to gather a few blocks away for their own moment of silence.
During today’s ceremony, a memorial plaque, which was covered up Thursday, is expected to be unveiled at Dealey Plaza. Officials said it will quote the last part of the speech Kennedy had planned to give in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
“We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.’”
Ray and Cynthia Combes won’t be in Dealey Plaza for the event.
But they hope the flowers they left in the president’s memory will be.
The card tucked into the bouquet offered a short message for the president.