Obama and Clinton Visit John F. Kennedy's Eternal Flame

Obamas and Clintons visit JFK's eternal flame as visitors gather to remember Kennedy.

First lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lay a wreath at the gravesite for President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 20, 2013, in Arlington, Va.
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The eternal flame flickered as President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton placed a wreath at John F. Kennedy's memorial.

A small crowd, which included members of the Kennedy family, gathered at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday for a memorial service to honor the slain president before the 50th anniversary of his death Friday.

[SPECIAL REPORT: JFK, 50 Years Later]

After a wreath of white flowers and a purple ribbon was mounted at the site, a bugle sounded out the military Taps and in near unison, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and then finally Michelle Obama, placed their hands over their hearts and looked down toward the ground.

After the ceremony, the Clintons and Obamas mingled with the Kennedy family. President Obama soothed a crying Kennedy baby.

Visitors, while unable to attend the private wreath-laying memorial, have flocked to Arlington this week to commemorate Kennedy's legacy.

Shirley Robinson, 65, was a teenager when Kennedy was shot. She still remembers the sound of the drums beating as his casket moved through Washington, the image of Kennedy's young son saluting his father is etched in her mind.

"We all just lost our innocence that day," Robinson says. "We questioned everything after that. Nothing was taken for granted."

Robinson says Kennedy's legacy was still unknown when he was gunned down in Dallas. He was still pushing for a landmark civil rights bill and teetering on the precipice of prolonged war in Vietnam.

"He hadn't done much, but there was this feeling that he was getting ready to," Robinson says.

[PHOTOS: JFK's Legacy and Presidency]

For Rose Marie O'Keefe, 72, the memory of Kennedy's death is bittersweet.

"My husband and I had our first date on Nov. 22, 1963," O'Keefe says, recalling it was all anyone could talk about. "We were really taken aback. The whole world was," her husband, Frank O'Keefe chimes in.

For Heidrun Erwin, 71, Kennedy's death happened while she was overseas. But the impact remained the same. She was 21, living in Stuttgart, Germany.

"We were all just shocked. We all loved him. He represented the best of America," Erwin says. The next day she went to the consulate, waited in line for what "seemed like forever" just to write a condolence note.

"He was so young and full of spirit. He was the sign of hope," Erwin says even if she was a world away.

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