WASHINGTON -- Bagpipers set the mood on a gray morning in Washington on Friday as President John F. Kennedy's last living sibling participated in a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the anniversary of his death to an assassin's bullet in Dallas 50 years ago.
The ceremony featuring Jean Kennedy Smith at JFK's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery came after a solemn visit by Attorney General Eric Holder, setting off a nationwide day of commemorations of Kennedy's death.
In Kennedy's hometown of Boston, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick laid a wreath at a statue of Kennedy.
In Washington, flags at the Capitol and White House flew at half-staff.
In the House of Representatives, where Kennedy served from 1947 to 1953, the Rev. John Robert Skeldon of Fort Worth, Texas, reminded lawmakers in his opening prayers that "in commemorating such a one whose life and presidency were cut short, we do so not to sow in tears, as the psalmist says, but rather to reap with shouts of joy."
"Help us, Lord God, to make the late president's inaugural vision our own so that together as fellow Americans we may ask, 'not what our country can do for us, but rather what we can do for our country,' " Skeldon prayed, invoking Kennedy's famous words.
But as it did five decades ago, the nation's attention will settle on Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where a moment of silence is planned at the moment Kennedy was shot.
For that city, where Friday's drab conditions stood in stark contrast to the bright, sunny weather 50 years ago, the ceremonies will be a delicate balancing act of honoring Kennedy's memory without sensationalizing his murder.
Dallas has spent decades trying to shake off the reputation of "the city that killed Kennedy," which is not easy, as that dark day of history is rehashed daily by tour operators.
The President John F. Kennedy Commemorative Foundation will host a program that will reflect upon the life of the 35th president. Thousands of tickets were distributed for the event, and the city will also show the ceremony on three giant screens in the city.
Just before the moment of silence, bells throughout the city of Dallas will toll. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and historian David McCullough will read excerpts from famous Kennedy speeches.
A new JFK monument will be unveiled during the ceremony, in the ground on the infamous section of land known as the Grassy Knoll. The inscription on the monument is the final paragraph of the speech JFK intended to deliver at the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963.
If all goes as planned, supporters of different conspiracy theories -- for example, the Coalition on Political Assassinations -- will not gather as they do annually at 12:30 p.m. on the Grassy Knoll. The area surrounding Friday's commemoration has been closed off to all but invited guests.
Instead, The Dallas Morning News reports, the group will hold an event at the nearby JFK memorial, then move to Dealey Plaza after the main event is over. Demonstrators gathered at Dealey Plaza on Thursday, and many chanted: "No more lies. No more lies."
The remarkable Sixth Floor Museum, which chronicles the Kennedy assassination, will open from 3 to 8 p.m. CT. Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy died, will hold a brief morning ceremony, where the flag will be lowered to half-staff.
Also in Dallas on Friday, there will be a candlelight vigil for J.D. Tippit at 6 p.m. at the site where the 39-year-old Dallas police officer was shot.
"I think the remembrance of him calls attention to all of the officers killed in the line of duty. We should remember those who have given their lives for our city," Marie Tippit, who had been married to the officer for 17 years, told the Los Angeles Times this week. She told the paper she will also attend the ceremony at Dealey Plaza.
The Texas Theatre, where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended by police, will screen part of the movie "War Is Hell," the film that was showing when Oswald slipped into the audience without paying.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston will ask visitors to gather to watch a video musical tribute to the President that includes James Taylor. A moment of silence will be held at 2 p.m. ET, the time when a doctor approximated Kennedy died.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will also hold a moment of silence at 1 p.m. CT.
And online, a handful of Twitter accounts focused on re-creating Kennedy's movements that fateful day, culminating in a running re-creation of breaking accounts of the aftermath of his death.
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