Anybody who was born subsequent to 1953 can probably tell you exactly where he or she was when they first heard the news that John F. Kennedy was dead, the victim of an assassin’s bullet while on a trip to Dallas, Texas.
November 22, 1963 certainly is one of the iconic dates in American history, not unlike July 4, 1776, December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001.
Now, everybody — including those who do not personally remember JFK’s death — can relive that day through the new movie, “Parkland,” named for the hospital where the president was rushed after being felled by an assassin’s bullet.
The movie provides a glimpse into Dallas that day and the actions of some of the major players in the event. For those who remember that day all too well, it will fill in some blanks. For those who do not, it will give the event some context.
Most people have an iconic and historical day where they can remember what happened, that remains in their memory years after the event itself.
For me, there are several. I will never forget the morning of November 12, 2001, two months and a day after 9/11, when a large Airbus A 300-600 augured into the street on the block were my son and his family lived, only three blocks from my apartment and a mile from where I worked as a newspaper managing editor.
I remember hearing on the police scanner, “Central, we have a heavy airliner down on Beach 129 and RBB.” Those words still bring chills nearly a dozen years later. That day and the following weeks were perhaps the most hectic of my long life.
So, I am no exception to the rule that everybody who was old enough to remember where they were and what they were doing on any of those iconic dates above, or others of their own, personal choosing, will certainly do so for the rest of their lives.
As to Kennedy, it was a Friday and I had travelled home from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Far Rockaway. The ship upon which I served at the time, the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), a 67,000 ton aircraft carrier, was in the sprawling yards for a refit and repairs and I had become something of a commuter for a few months, riding the A Train to and from the yard each day rather than sleeping on the ship.
I walked into the apartment I shared with my parents in Wavecrest Gardens and put on the television set.
The announcer said something about Kennedy sliding down into the backseat of his limo.
My first thought was that the president had once again hurt his bad back. The reality, I soon learned, was far worse.
I called my then girlfriend (who became my wife four months later and remains so until this day) and she tearfully told me what I happened. I rushed back to the television set and remained glued to Walter Cronkite and the story for the remainder of the weekend.
On Sunday, however, I went to take part in my regular bowling league at the Woodmere Lanes. During a break in the action, I walked into the lounge for a coke and watched transfixed as Lee Harvey Oswald. Who had been arrested for the assassination, was in turn shot and killed by Jack Ruby, the owner of a strip joint in Dallas and a police buff.
It all seemed so surreal, but we all accepted the “fact” that Oswald, an open supporter of “fair play for Cuba” and of Fidel Castro operated alone in killing the president.
On Monday, I went back to the ship and my duties as a court reporter. We had a muster on the flight deck and Captain Gerald Miller, the ship’s commanding officer, read the official orders from Robert McNamara the secretary of defense, announcing Kennedy’s death and the honors that were to be given by each of the armed forces. I still have a copy of those orders on my wall at home.
Fifty years later, the finding that Oswald had acted alone has been alternately challenged and supported in nearly 2,000 books and articles and by a few official investigations.
The first challenge came from author Mark Lane, who quickly wrote an article for the National Guardian in December, entitled “Defense Brief for Oswald.” Lane later wrote a book about the subject.
In 1964, the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald had acted alone and that there was “no credible evidence of a conspiracy that included others involved in the shooting.”
In 1979, however, a House Select Committee on Assassination” took up the question of who killed Kennedy once again, agreeing with the Warren Commission that Oswald acted alone, but that the commission’s report and the action of the FBI in investigating the murder were “seriously flawed.” The House committee concluded that at least four shots were fired and that there was a “high probability” that two gunmen fired at the president that day. “The Warren Commission failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the president.”
Those who favor the conspiracy theory and a governmental cover-up argue that there was witness tampering, intimidation and foul play involved in the investigation, that many witnesses to the event suffered strange deaths, that Kennedy’s body was altered before the autopsy, that it was impossible for the murder weapon to have fired the “pristine bullet” that reportedly killed Kennedy and then injured the Texas Governor who was riding in a jump seat in front of him.
There is the Grassy Knoll and the three “tramps” who were arrested there and then disappeared into history.
In 1996, author William Manchester wrote the seminal book on the assassination, “The Death of a President.” It brought together all the reports and conspiracy theories.
Even today, however, authors continue to churn out works about the Kennedy assassination, some factual, others fanciful. All of them are entertaining in their own way.
The History Channel also continues to churn out documentaries about the subject, keeping it alive in ways that books cannot any longer do, studying the shooting and using computer generated reproductions to show how the shooting might have really happened.
In 2003, a Gallup poll indicated that 20 percent of Americans believed that Vice President Lyndon Johnson had a hand in the murder.
Having lived through it, what do I believe?
First of all, three people can’t keep a secret, let alone hundreds. If there had been a wide-ranging conspiracy in 1963, we would have heard about it by now.
I do think, however, that Oswald was a dupe for the Cubans, the CIA and the mob.
Look at some of the Cubans who were later involved with the Watergate break-in; Bernard Barker and his crew. The Cuban ex-pats hated Kennedy because of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, where Kennedy decided not to back a CIA-funded attempt to retake Cuba from Castro and give it back to the mobsters. So did the CIA. The mob hated Kennedy because it lost its final hope of recovering its gambling profits from Cuban casinos when the Bay of Pigs attack failed.
They were essentially one large group, the Cuban ex-pats, the CIA who funded them and the mob that relied on them for control.
They got Oswald, who really thought that killing Kennedy would help his beloved brothers in Cuba and Russia, to do the deed for them and then walked away.
The debate rages (perhaps the word “rages” is too strong in 2013) even today. New books, both fiction and non-fiction, continue to pop up on e-readers throughout America.
Will we ever know the truth? Probably not. So many of those who were conjectured to be involved in a conspiracy are dead. Others have gone to dementia and nursing homes.
Those of us who were old enough to remember, however, keep the memory alive. I had just turned 24 two weeks prior to the assassination. For somebody who was only three years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Kennedy assassination remains a seminal memory, along with the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, the 9/11 attacks and the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into my hometown.
What are your seminal memories? Think about it and let me know.