Church bells will toll. Flags will be lowered. Wreaths will be laid. Children will sing. And in cities and towns across the country, people will reflect upon the words of a charismatic president whose soaring rhetoric continues to inspire.

In a proclamation ordering flags be lowered to half-mast, President Barack Obama on Thursday recalled Kennedy's leadership in the Cuban Missile Crisis, his Cold War "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in divided Berlin, and efforts to advance the rights of African Americans and women in United States.

"Today and in the decades to come, let us carry his legacy forward," Obama wrote. "Let us face today's tests by beckoning the spirit he embodied that fearless, resilient, uniquely American character that has always driven our Nation to defy the odds, write our own destiny, and make the world anew."

Kennedy's voice still echoes through history to so many Americans. "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," he urged Americans at his inaugural address on January 20, 1961.

Cut down in his first term at the age of 46 as he was driven through Dallas, Texas in an open-top limousine on November 22, 1963, Kennedy's unfulfilled promise has become a symbol of the lost nobility of politics.

He was a president who enlisted the nation in lofty goals, like putting a man on the Moon, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

And he declared that we "will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit."

Obama hailed Kennedy's legacy at a ceremony on Wednesday for recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which the slain Democrat established months before his death.


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