CHARLESTON, W.Va.--For those who lived through John Kennedy's presidential campaign in West Virginia, the events that transpired 50 years ago today remain crystal clear.
Special programs on the assassination have aired in recent weeks, but Ed Rowan, 86, of Charleston, doesn't watch them.
He can't, he said, and doesn't need to. He remembers that day clearly.
The afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, found Rowan, then 36, working at a car dealership in Putnam County. The news first came over the radio the president had been shot in Dallas and later that he was dead.
After the radio announcement, Rowan found he couldn't work, so he went to the home he shared with his wife, Madeline, and six young children, and turned on the television.
"I stayed in that mode for the next four or five days," Rowan said. "I followed him all the way to his burial at Arlington.
"I think at that time, part of me died with him," Rowan said. "I can remember so much about the campaign.
"We knowingly elected him as the president and we unknowingly sent him to his death."
Rowan had worked on Kennedy's campaign in West Virginia and watched as support for the Massachusetts Democrat grew. He maintains that West Virginia put Kennedy in the White House.
John F. Kennedy for President
It was 1960 and Rowan was 33 years old when a family friend told him Ted Kennedy was coming to Charleston to sign up volunteers and start a local campaign office for his older brother.
The theory was that it would be a tough battle in the Mountain State for John Kennedy because of his Catholic faith.
"Being a Catholic, I felt very close to him and wanted to do all I could to help him overcome that problem," Rowan said.
The campaign brought John Kennedy to West Virginia in April 1960. Newspapers had announced his arrival, but when his plane landed at the old Kanawha Airport, there were only eight people on hand to greet him.
Rowan was among them.
"He attracted thousands of people as the campaign went on, but it started with eight people at the airport," Rowan said.
He said West Virginians were suspicious at first. They weren't enthusiastic about meeting him or hearing what he had to say. From the airport he went to Morris Harvey College, now the University of Charleston, to kick off his campaign.
One of the first questions after his speech at Morris Harvey was about his religion.
"He answered it in such a positive way that the crowd erupted with applause," Rowan said. "It was then I started to get the feeling that he had that certain charisma that would overcome his 'handicap' of religion."
Rowan said the senator welcomed questions about his beliefs. He always boiled it down to a separation of church and state, Rowan said.
Neil Boggs, a Clay native who covered the 1960 election for WCHS-TV and would later work for NBC News as moderator and host for "Meet the Press," said the anti-Catholic sentiment was made up for the election and that the Kennedys wanted to prove a Catholic could win a heavily Protestant state.
"A magical way"
Kennedy stopped in the biggest towns and the smallest communities. He brought his brothers, Ted and Bobby, and his sisters, who went door to door in the coalfields to garner support.
The campaign also brought in people West Virginians respected -- such as Sam Huff and Eleanor Roosevelt and her son, Franklin Roosevelt Jr., a man whose name was magic in the coalfields.
Boggs, now 84 and retired in New Mexico, was 30 years old when he covered the Democratic primary. He recalled being at the WCHS-TV studio where the politicians filmed live television spots and ads. The studio also was the site of a debate between Kennedy and Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey.
Bobby Kennedy, who would later be assassinated in California during his run in the 1968 presidential election, was running his brother's campaign. Boggs remembered him as short-tempered and more than a little bossy. John, on the other hand, Boggs recalled, was more amiable and rolled with the punches.
He remembered people's reactions to John.
"They were awestricken," Boggs said. "He was a celebrity. The closest we'd ever had to that was Ike (President Dwight Eisenhower) and there was a deep mystique to him because he was a five-star general. Kennedy was like a movie star."
Though eight people met Kennedy's plane the first time, hundreds were at the airport when he returned on a subsequent visit. He said the crowds were so heavy no one could get within 100 yards of the plane.
"When you were with him, or in a crowd with him, he just had a magical way of meeting people, and although he was an Ivy Leaguer, he could get down to the people of West Virginia and tell them what he envisioned the country could be and they seemed to react to it," Rowan said.
Kennedy won the primary with a decisive margin and would go on to become the 35th president of the United States. He didn't forget about West Virginia.
As president, he sent millions in federal funding to aid the needy and build up the state's infrastructure. He often said he felt indebted to the state.
He welcomed then-Gov. William Barron and a group of Boy Scouts and high school students to the White House and the recently completed Rose Garden in May 1963.
The group presented the president with the state flag. He told them the flag would fly at the White House on the state's centennial, June 20, but afterward it would be framed and hung in his office "because there is no state whose flag I would rather have," according to remarks filed on the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum's website.
He returned to West Virginia for the centennial celebration. It rained that morning. But it didn't stop the more than 10,000 people who showed up to hear him speak. Rowan stood among them, off to the side toward the back, holding his son.