Don’t let it be forgot That once there was a spot For one brief shining moment That was known as Camelot —Alan Jay Lerner
Part I The Kill Zone
Dallas—The Stage Is Set
Although one of the youngest cities in Texas, Dallas has recorded a meteoric rise to greatness and prosperity. Beginning in the days before Texas became a state, Dallas has grown from a small way station for pioneers to a center of corporate business, insurance, banking, and oil and gas. By 1963, Dallas already was the most influential city in the Lone Star State, next to oil-rich Houston.
However, Dallas also had a reputation for being the stronghold of archconservatives, if not outright right-wing extremists. It is well known in Texas police circles that during the 1940s and 1950s—and stretching into the early 1960s—if a man wanted a job as a Dallas policeman, it helped if he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan or, at least, the John Birch Society. The city police and other governmental offices were filled with members of the Klan, the John Birch Society, and other conservative groups.
But Dallas was instrumental in carrying Texas in a national election. So in 1963, it was included on a quick political trip by President John F. Kennedy.
The Thirty-fifth President
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first U.S. president born in the twenti- eth century. At age forty-three, Kennedy became one of the youngest presidents and. at the time of his death at age forty-six, he had lived a shorter life than any other president.
His brief presidency—1,026 days—stirred the emotions of nearly every American. Hardly anyone was neutral about Kennedy. They either loved him or hated him.
Yet Kennedy seemed oblivious to the controversies surrounding him. Perhaps due to his wealthy background, he appeared more concerned with great historical issues such as civil rights, war and peace rather than the parochial matters of business and politics.
Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, an unpretentious middle-class suburb of Boston. He was the second oldest son of a family that began their American life with the immigration of Patrick Kennedy from Ireland in 1848. Both grandfathers were prominent Demo- cratic Party ward bosses during the time when a group of Irish leaders ruled the local party.
While he grew to manhood, his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, amassed a considerable fortune. By age twenty-five, Joe Kennedy had gained control of a bank in East Boston. By adroit investments in real estate, the stock market, and the film industry—and perhaps some bootlegging money— Kennedy built an empire worth an estimated $250 million.
Jack, as the future president was called, attended only the best schools, beginning with the Choate School in Connecticut, where he won an award for best combining sports and scholastics. While he graduated near the bottom of his class, he nevertheless was selected as the man “most likely to succeed.”
A bout with jaundice forced him to drop out of college, but upon recovery, he joined his older brother, Joseph Kennedy, Jr., at Harvard. Maintaining only a C average, Kennedy concentrated on sports, particu- larly football.
A somewhat sickly child, Kennedy had continuing bouts with illness compounded by a football injury that aggravated an already-weakened spinal column. For the rest of his life, he suffered recurring back problems. In an effort to recuperate, Kennedy left school during his junior year to travel in Europe, where his father had been appointed U.S. ambassador to Great Britain after generous contributions to Franklin Roosevelt’s election campaign. After war broke out, Ambassador Kennedy was forced to resign because of his undisguised admiration for Germany’s Nazi regime.
As a result of this trip and the contact he made with major British political figures, young Kennedy returned to write a senior thesis about England’s complacent attitudes just before World War II. This thesis was well received at Harvard and later was rewritten to become the best-selling book, Why England Slept.
He began to show interest in a writing career, but was interrupted by joining the U.S. Navy two months before the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. Early in the war, Kennedy served as an intelligence officer in Washington, but was transferred to the South Pacific
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after J. Edgar Hoover told his father about young Kennedy’s love affair with a suspected Nazi agent.
In the summer of 1943, Kennedy was in command of a Navy patrol boat, the PT-109. During a patrol in the Solomon Islands, the boat was struck and broken in half by a Japanese destroyer, the only such incident during the war. Although some negligence appeared to be involved, Kennedy went on to become a hero after saving the life of one of his men and helping to arrange his crewmen’s rescue. He pulled his wounded chief engineer, Patrick McMahon, to a nearby island by swimming for four hours with the man on his back held in place by gripping a strap of the man’s life jacket between his teeth. Later, Kennedy arranged for local natives to alert Navy officials to the groups’ location in enemy-held territory. Soon they were all rescued.
The story hit the front page of the New York Times and Kennedy’s name became well known in Boston. While recovering from his ordeal, Kennedy learned that his older brother had been killed while flying a secret mission over Europe. The political aspirations of his father now fell on Jack Kennedy. After the war, a reluctant Kennedy ran for and won a House seat from Massachusetts.
In later years, Joe Kennedy was quoted as saying: “I told him Joe was dead and it was his responsibility to run for Congress. He didn’t want to. But I told him he had to.”
With the Kennedy name and Kennedy money behind him, Kennedy easily won two more elections to Congress. Then, in 1952, he defeated Henry Cabot Lodge to become junior senator from Massachusetts.
In 1954, his back condition forced him to use crutches and Kennedy underwent dangerous and painful back surgery. While recuperating, he wrote Profiles in Courage, a book detailing how past senators had defied public opionion. This book, actually written by associates such as Theodore Sorensen, helped identify Kennedy with political courage in the minds of voters.
It was during this bedridden convalescence that Kennedy was conve- niently absent during the stormy Senate debates on Joseph McCarthy’s censure. In fact, Kennedy refused to take sides on the issue.
Despite an uninspiring senatorial career, by 1956 Kennedy’s name was brought up as a possible running mate for Democratic presidential hopeful Adlai Stevenson. Although edged out as vice presidential candidate by Estes Kefauver, a graceful concession speech caused Kennedy’s political stock to rise to new heights.
With an eye toward the 1960 election, Kennedy and his supporters went all out to ensure an impressive victory in his 1958 Senate reelection campaign in Massachusetts. Indeed, he won by the largest margin in the state’s history. By 1960, Kennedy was ready for the Democratic presiden- tial nomination, but there were hurdles to overcome. One of these was the fact he was a Catholic and no Catholic had ever been elected president. He
overcame this problem by entering—and winning—a series of state pri- mary elections. In West Virginia, with 95 percent Prostestant voters, Kennedy beat Senator Hubert Humphrey handily, thanks, according to FBI reports, to large organized crime donations made through Frank Sinatra.
At the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Kennedy was challenged only by conservative Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. De- spite a late “draft Adlai Stevenson” movement, Kennedy won on the first ballot by 806 votes to Johnson’s 409. The pragmatic Kennedy immediately knew that conservative Democrats were needed to win against Republican Richard Nixon, so he forged a temporary coalition by selecting the defeated Johnson as his vice presidential running mate, despite objections from labor and liberals. There was no thought of Johnson’s qualifications as president should anything happen to Kennedy. It was sheer spur-of-the-moment political tactics.
In his acceptance speech, Kennedy set the tone for his campaign and his presidency:
… we stand today on the edge of a new frontier—the frontier of the 1960s . . . Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past . . . But I believe the times demand invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be new pioneers on that new frontier.
Nixon, and his running mate Henry Cabot Lodge (whom Kennedy had defeated in the 1952 Massachusetts Senate race), tried to raise the issue of experience during the ensuing 1960 election campaign. “Experience Counts” was their slogan, despite the fact that both Nixon and Kennedy had been elected to Congress in 1946 and that Nixon was only four years older than JFK. The slogan mostly was to call attention to Nixon’s role as vice president to the popular Ike Eisenhower.
Again the issue of Kennedy’s Catholicism came up. Fundamentalist preachers regaled their congregations with the spectre of a Vatican-dominated White House. The issue prompted Kennedy to tell a meeting of Protestant ministers in Houston:
Because I am a Catholic and no Catholic has never been elected president, it is apparently necessary for me to state once again—not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in. I believe in an America where separation of church and state is absolute—where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.
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Perhaps the real turning point in the 1960 election came in September when Kennedy and Nixon met in the first televised debates in American history. The four debates were viewed by nearly half the population of the nation and no one denies that Kennedy emerged the victor—although radio listeners judged Nixon the winner.
The debates were TV show business, prefiguring the slick marketing of candidates of today. It was all image—Kennedy with a good makeup job appeared robust and self-confident while Nixon, suffering from little makeup and five-o’clock shadow, appeared uneasy and unsure of himself. Their images aside, there was very little difference in the positions of the two candidates on most issues.
Ironically, when Kennedy called for support of the Cuban exiles in their attempts to regain Cuba from Castro, he was propounding the very program that Nixon had been pushing for many months. However, Nixon felt compelled to attack Kennedy’s suggestions as irresponsible since “the covert operation [the Bay of Pigs Invasion] had to be protected at all costs” and, thus, Nixon came out opposing his own plan.
On Election Day, Kennedy won, but by one of the slimmest margins in American history. He polled 34,227,096 votes to Nixon’s 34,108,546—a margin of 49.9 percent to 49.6 percent. Affluent whites, college graduates, women, Protestants, farmers, senior citizens, business and professional people mostly voted against this eastern liberal.
On January 20, 1961, standing coatless in bristling twenty-degree tem- perature in Washington, Kennedy took the oath of office from Chief Justice Earl Warren (who would later head the commission looking into his death) and announced: “The torch has been passed to a new, generation of Americans …” Later in his speech, he issued his famous challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” (His original text carried the word “will” but Kennedy had marked it out and substituted “can.”)
Oddly enough, Kennedy’s highest ratings in the polls came just after the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion as Americans rallied to their president. About 82 percent of those polled expressed approval of his handling of the situation, which prompted Kennedy to remark: “My God, it’s as bad as Eisenhower. The worse I do, the more popular I get.”
By the fall of 1963, polls showed Kennedy’s popularity had dropped to 59 percent, largely due to his stand on civil rights. However, his desire to negotiate with the communist world, his attack on the tax havens of the wealthy corporations, and his attempts to regain civilian control over the Pentagon and its intelligence agencies also engendered hatred and fear among the most powerful cliques of this country.
Newsweek magazine reported that no Democrat in the White House had ever been so disliked in the South. A theater marquee in Georgia adver-
tised the movie PT-109 with these words on its marquee: “See how the Japs almost got Kennedy.”
Kennedy supporters were looking toward the 1964 election, hoping for a mandate that would give Kennedy’s ambitious programs much needed popular support. It never happened.
In the fall of 1963, he went to Texas. 5fc ^ ^
Kennedy had carried Texas by the slimmest of margins in 1960, largely through the efforts of Lyndon Johnson. He needed the state badly in 1964, particularly if his hopes of achieving a large mandate were to be realized. According to Texas governor John Connally, Kennedy first talked of coming to Texas in the summer of 1962. He again mentioned it in the summer of 1963.
According to former Senator Ralph Yarborough, he was contacted by Kennedy aides in mid-1963 and was asked what could be done to help the president’s image in Texas. Yarborough told this author: “I told them the best thing he could do was to bring Jackie to Texas and let all those women see her. And that’s what he did, although I thought it was premature. I didn’t think he was going to do that until 1964.”
So, in an effort to enhance his image and to raise money, Kennedy, along with his wife, made the fateful journey to Texas in November 1963. On November 21, they visited Houston and San Antonio, both cities with heavy defense and space industries. There Kennedy came out strong for defense and NASA expenditures. The crowds loved it. That evening, he flew to Fort Worth, landing at Carswell Air Force Base and driving to the historic Hotel Texas for the night.
In his hotel suite, original paintings by Van Gogh and Monet had been hung on the walls in an effort to impress the Kennedys with Texas sophistication.
The morning of November 22, Kennedy spoke at a breakfast in the hotel sponsored by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Beforehand, more than a thousand persons crowded in front of the hotel stood in light drizzling rain to hear the President make brief remarks. As the presidential party prepared to leave the hotel, Vice President Lyndon Johnson arrived to introduce his sister, Lucia Alexander, to Kennedy. Reflecting on the surprisingly warm welcome he had received in Texas, Johnson later was to recall Kennedy as saying: “We’re going to carry two states next year if we don’t carry any others: Massachusetts and Texas.” Johnson wrote in The Vantage Point that these were the last words spoken to him by Kennedy.
As the rainclouds were breaking up, Kennedy drove back to Carswell for the fifteen-minute flight to Dallas. Fort Worth and Dallas are so close that even before reaching its full climb. Air Force One began its descent to Dallas. Looking out the plane window, Kennedy commented to Governor Connally: “Our luck is holding. It looks as if we’ll get sunshine.”
When Air Force One landed at Love Field the sky had cleared and a
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bright sun brought Indian summer weather to North Central Texas. By the noon hour, many people were in their shirtsleeves. The occasional cool breeze from the north was welcomed by Texans weary of the interminable summer heat, which often lasts well into the fall. It was the sort of day that stirs the blood, causing people to seek action outdoors, whether it is working in the yard or attending the local football game.
This day there was another reason for wanting to get outside. The President was coming to town. The local media had been full of the news for days. The Dallas Morning News carried headlines that morning reading, LOVE FIELD BRACES FOR THOUSANDS and DETAILED SECURITY NET SPREAD FOR KENNEDY. That morning’s edition had even run a small map of the President’s motorcade route, which would take him from Love Field to the new modern Trade Mart. However this map only indicated the motorcade would travel west on Main Street through the downtown area, through the well-known Triple Underpass, and on to Stemmons Freeway and the Trade Mart, where President John F. Kennedy was scheduled to attend a 12:30 P.M. luncheon.
The city’s other daily paper, the Dallas Times Herald, had given a more detailed description of the route. In a story published the previous Tuesday headlined YARBOROUGH GETS JFK TABLE SPOT, it told how liberal senator Ralph Yarborough had been invited to sit with Kennedy at the head table during Friday’s luncheon. It also mentioned that the motorcade would “pass through downtown on Harwood then west on Main, turning back to Elm at Houston and then out Stemmons Freeway to the Trade Mart.”
This was one of the only newspaper mentions of the zigzag in the motorcade route, which would violate Secret Service procedures and place the President in a small park area surrounded by tall buildings on one side and shrubs and trees on the other.
The motorcade had been scheduled to pass through the downtown business section during the noon hour so office workers could watch the parade during lunch. This strategy worked well. Literally thousands of Dallasites turned out in the balmy sixty-eight-degree weather for a view of Kennedy, already acknowledged as one of this nation’s most controversial presidents.
For his part, Kennedy really had had no choice but to visit the Lone Star State. With the 1964 election year coming up, everyone—even his enemies— agreed he seemed unbeatable. However, Kennedy still needed to win over a few states in order to acquire the broad mandate he was seeking. Texas was one of them.
Texas politics were in disarray. The Democrats had been aghast the previous year when a Republican, former schoolteacher and radio disk jockey John Tower, had been elected to fill Johnson’s Senate seat. Tower was the first Republican to win a Texas Senate seat since the Civil War. The Democratic Party, dominant in the state since Reconstruction, was split between conservatives, headed by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson
and Governor John B. Connally, and a small but noisy group of liberals, led by Senator Ralph Yarborough. The party rift was serious. Yarborough and Connally were hardly speaking to each other. And Texas conservatives were highly vocal against Kennedy’s policies toward Cuba, civil rights, and a nuclear test ban with Russia, not to mention his plan to rescind the 27.5 percent oil depletion allowance, a mainstay of Texas oil wealth.
Democratic unity was needed badly as the 1964 election year ap- proached. And a presidential visit to Texas seemed just the remedy.
Houston was the oil capital of the state while Fort Worth and San Antonio were big defense industry centers. It would be easy to tell those folks what they wanted to hear. Dallas was a problem. No visit to Texas could ignore Dallas, yet the city had earned a reputation for being both politically bedrock conservative and intolerant of any deviation from that position.
A month earlier, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson had been pushed, spat upon, and hit in the head with a picket sign while visiting in Dallas. Just the previous Tuesday, cashiered Army major general Edwin A. Walker had made the news by shoving a TV cameraman during a Dallas speech by Governor George Wallace of Alabama.
Stevenson, along with others close to Kennedy, warned the young president not to journey to Dallas. But in early June plans for a trip to Texas were finalized during a meeting between Kennedy, Connally, and Johnson in El Paso. In October, a motorcade was added to the plans.
On November 22, the apprehension of the Kennedy entourage about the trip was still evident, especially in light of a full-page newspaper ad that ran that morning in the Dallas Morning News suggesting the President was soft on communism and guilty of traitorous activities.
A leaflet handed out to some of the people lining the motorcade route was not as subtle as the newspaper ad. It pictured Kennedy under a headline reading WANTED FOR TREASON.
Yet after landing at Love Field about 11:45 A.M., the Kennedy entourage found the Dallas crowds large, enthusiastic, and friendly. With horns honking, radios blaring, and the shouts and cheers of the crowd ringing off the sides of the office buildings, the scene was chaotic despite what had been hailed as one of the tightest security efforts in recent memory.
As the motorcade swept toward the central business district, it reached speeds of almost thirty miles per hour. But once downtown, the crowds became larger, often spilling out into the street, and the pace slowed considerably.
The motorcade was the center of attention.
“. . .we might have ridden into an ambush/’ — Kennedy aide David Powers
Dealey Plaza—November 22, 1963
Leading the presidential motorcade on November 22, 1963, was an enclosed sedan driven by Dallas police chief Jesse Curry. Sitting to Curry’s right was Secret Service advance man Winston G. Lawson. In the back seat, behind Curry, sat Dallas county sheriff J. E. “Bill” Decker and, to his right was Secret Service special agent-in-charge Forrest Sorrels.
More than two car lengths behind this car was the presidential limousine, a specially-made long blue Lincoln Continental convertible sedan designated Secret Service Car No. 100-X.
Driving the limousine was Secret Service agent William Greer, the oldest man in the White House detail. Next to Greer sat Roy Kellerman, assistant special agent-in-charge of the Secret Service White House detail.
In the center of the car in fold-down jump seats were Governor Connally, on the right, and Mrs. Connally. In the rear, on a padded seat that could be raised or lowered mechanically sat Kennedy with Mrs. Kennedy on his left.
Behind the limousine about a full car length was a follow-up car for Kennedy security guards, a 1956 Cadillac convertible touring sedan spe- cially equipped for the Secret Service and designated SS Car No. 679-X.
Following this security car was a 1964 Lincoln four-door convertible carrying Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Mrs. Johnson, and Senator Ralph Yarborough. The driver was Texas state trooper Hurchel Jacks and Secret Service agent Rufus W. Youngblood rode to the right of him. Their car was trailed by Johnson’s Secret Service guards and the rest of the motorcade, consisting of five cars for local dignitaries, three cars for press photographers, one bus for White House staff, and two press buses.
A pilot car, which preceded the motorcade by a quarter of a mile checking for “motor vehicle accidents, fires and obstructions along the route,” contained Dallas deputy police chief G. L. Lumpkin, two Dallas homicide detectives, and Lt. Col. George Whitmayer, commander of the local Army Intelligence reserve unit.
Oddly, while a press pool station wagon had been designated to follow Kennedy’s Secret Service follow-up car ( i t had the number 5 taped on its
side), for some unexplained reason it was shoved farther back in the motorcade. This prevented the media photographers from witnessing the assassination or capturing it on film.
Everyone in the presidential limousine appeared to be enjoying the open- air ride and the cheering admiration of the crowd, although Mrs. Kennedy was beginning to feel warm in her pink wool suit and pillbox hat. As the motorcade cruised into the downtown area, apprehensions of the Dallas visit seemed to dissipate as quickly as the morning’s overcast.
Bob Hollingsworth, veteran Washington correspondent for the Times Herald, had accompanied the Washington press corps to Dallas. He noted:
On into Harwood and then into Main the motorcade traveled and the amazement over the size of the crowd turned to awe. For those of us who had been with the President since he left the White House for Texas Thursday morning, this was the largest, the most enthusiastic and the best reception he had received in Texas.
The awe of the news reporters was reflected in the silence that prevailed within the long, dark-blue Lincoln Continental limousine of the President. Few words were spoken by the car’s occupants as they basked in the tumultuous shouts and cheers of the dense crowd packed along Main Street.
Up ahead clear blue sky could be seen as the presidential car began entering a small triangular-shaped plaza at the end of the long, dark corridor of tall buildings.
The motorcade broke into the open space of Dealey Plaza, named after George Bannerman Dealey, a pioneer Dallas civic leader and founder of the Dallas Morning News. The 3.07-acre plaza, the site of the first home in Dallas as well as the first courthouse, post office, store, fraternal lodge and hotel, has been called the “birthplace of Dallas.” It was acquired by the city for the construction of the Triple Underpass, which allows railroad traffic to pass over Commerce, Main, and Elm streets. The property was christened “Dealey Plaza” in 1935 and placed under the authority of the city’s Park Board in 1936 with the official opening of the underpass.
Both incoming and outgoing traffic between downtown Dallas and the major freeway systems to the west is channeled through Dealey Plaza. It is bounded on the east by Houston Street. Facing onto Houston are the new County Court House (still under construction that day), the historic old County Court House, the Criminal Courts Building containing the county jail and the Sheriff’s Office, the Dallas County Records Building, and the Dal-Tex office building. Just west of the Dal-Tex building, across Houston, is the red-brick building that in 1963 contained the Texas School Book Depository and publishers’ offices.
Bisecting Dealey Plaza is Main Street, with Commerce Street branch-ins off to the south and Elm Street curving in on the north. These three