November 22, 1963

It was not the last word he said, but it was the final word he may have heard. It began in the morning and ended that same day with the nation—and the free world—in mourning. It was both a sentiment and a sight. It was written on signs and placards. It was the name of the site itself. It was the spirit of the city, from the field where he landed to the feeling the state’s first lady expressed when she said: “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.”

They loved him before he arrived at Love Field. They loved him even more when they saw him, when they saw his Boeing 707—with its sheet of polished aluminum and its two shades of blue, with its presidential seal and its bold stripes and bright stars—taxi at the runway; when the First Couple emerged from Air Force One; when the crowd went from the foreground to the background; when the crowd became a sea of black-and-white, while John F. Kennedy and his wife shined in bronze, navy, red, pink, green, silver, and gold.

Fifty-five years later, the anniversary of his death falls on the second-to-last Thursday of the month.

This Thursday is that day. It is Thanksgiving Day.

Fifty-five years later, the torch still burns.

The eternal flame consecrates President Kennedy’s hillside grave.

It preserves his pledge that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

It protects his memory—and more.

By more, it proves everything: that President Kennedy asked nothing more of his fellow Americans than he was willing to give himself; than he gave that morning in November, when he gave the last full measure of devotion; than when he received the Last Rites of the Catholic Church; than when it fell to Walter Cronkite to read the news.

From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.

Photo credit: Art Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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