Associated Press

JFK’s assassination still stirs memories, debate 40 years later


November 15, 2003, Saturday, BC cycle

Assassination still stirs memories, debate 40 years later

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR. and PENNY COCKERELL, Associated Press Writers

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 1403 words


Moments before President John F. Kennedy’s limousine reached the Texas School Book Depository on that November afternoon four decades ago, Nellie Connally turned to Kennedy and remarked, “No one can say Dallas doesn’t love and respect you, Mr. President.”

“You sure can’t,” he said.

The first shot sounded like a firecracker. The next two were unmistakably gunfire.

At the 40th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, the moments remain frozen in the American psyche, the assassination still a source of fascination for historians, conspiracy theorists and an estimated 2.2 million people who visit Dealey Plaza each year.

“It’s an age-old search for the truth,” said Greg Silva, 39, a Hilmar, Calif., salesman who wasn’t even born when Kennedy died but made it a point to visit The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza during a recent business trip to Dallas.

For others, the assassination endures as a deeply personal experience – a lingering mix of heartbreak, nostalgia and the lost promise of Camelot. Those emotions are clear at The Sixth Floor Museum.

“If you take people there that are old enough to remember the event, you lose them. They are back with their mother and father, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles,” said Greg Elam, spokesman for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“You can tiptoe away and they’ll never know it because they are back in that experience.”

Politics had brought the 46-year-old president to Texas, a pivotal and worrisome state in his 1964 re-election plans.

At the urging of local politicians, Kennedy ordered the reflective glass shield atop the presidential limousine removed for his visit to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. With first lady Jackie at his side, Kennedy smiled and waved at the crowds from the back seat. Up front, Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie, beamed at the Texas welcome.

Just before 12:30 p.m., the motorcade slipped out of the glass and steel canyons of downtown and zigzagged toward Elm Street and a drab, seven-story brick building.

Then the shots rang out.

A half-hour later, Kennedy was declared dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

At 2:38 p.m., Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president aboard Air Force One, with Jackie Kennedy at his side.

Forty years later, Kennedy remains an inspirational figure – a president more popular in death than in life.

“There’s still so much sentiment for John F. Kennedy, and so much of it is colored by the assassination,” said David Crockett, a political scientist at Trinity University in San Antonio. “He’s the young, attractive, tragic martyr figure assassinated on television, with a wife who’s mourning.”

When many Americans close their eyes, they can still see Kennedy’s 3-year-old son, “John John,” bravely saluting his father’s flag-draped coffin.

After a 10-month investigation, the Warren Commission in 1964 concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed Kennedy, firing shots from the Texas School Book Depository’s sixth floor.

Doubts lingered, however, and in 1978, Congress impaneled a committee to again investigate the assassination. The panel largely relied on the recording of a police motorcyclist’s microphone.

The committee’s conclusion: Four shots were fired, with one coming from a grassy knoll downtown. In other words, it concluded, Oswald didn’t act alone.

But after further studies, the Justice Department in 1988 concluded there was no “persuasive evidence” of conspiracy, and formally closed the investigation.

Oswald was killed two days after Kennedy’s assassination – gunned down by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby as he was transferred from one jail to another.

A Dallas jury convicted Ruby of murder in 1964 and sentenced him to death. An appellate court ruling later set the verdict aside, and Ruby died of cancer in prison in 1967 before he could be retried.

Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, who was four days shy of her 6th birthday when her father died, is the sole survivor of her immediate family. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died of cancer in 1994 and John F. Kennedy Jr. died along with his wife and sister-in-law in the 1999 crash of a small plane he was piloting.

The crash brought still more pain to a family that dealt first with Kennedy’s slaying, then with the assassination of his brother, Robert, during his 1968 presidential campaign.

All of which help explain the unending interest in all things Kennedy.

“They’ve just had great triumph and great tragedy,” said Patrick Maney, a presidential historian at the University of South Carolina.

In Dallas itself, the anguish for some still seems as fresh as on that Friday afternoon 40 years ago.

“There are people who lived in Dallas in ’63 who will never come to this site. It is too painful,” said Jeff West, executive director of The Sixth Floor Museum, which chronicles Kennedy’s life, death and the era in which he lived.

But for others, acknowledging Dallas’ place in history helped the healing. “There are people who were here in ’63 who are very proud and pleased that we did something to commemorate and mark the spot,” West said.

Longtime residents recall how Dallas was labeled the city of hate – “Dallas was the only place ever blamed for killing a president,” as historian Conover Hunt put it. Dallas residents talked about telephone operators disconnecting their calls and taxi drivers refusing to give them rides.

“People were spat upon, they were thrown out of restaurants all over the country and this went on for decades,” said Hunt, original curator for The Sixth Floor Museum.

At the time, Dallas had a reputation as an ultraconservative city that didn’t treat liberals kindly. The day before the assassination, handbills were distributed in Dallas with convict-style photographs of Kennedy and the caption: “Wanted for Treason.”

The next day, a full-page ad appeared in The Dallas Morning News. The “American Fact-Finding Committee” demanded to know why the president had “ordered the Attorney General to go soft on communism.”

So, when Kennedy was killed, the backlash was immediate.

“All of the nation experienced sadness. But I think the sadness that was experienced here in Dallas was of such great magnitude that it’s almost hard to describe it,” said Adelle Taylor, 72.

Taylor and her husband, Jim, work as tour guides at Southfork Ranch, made famous by the long-running hit television drama “Dallas,” which, along with the emergence of the Dallas Cowboys as “America’s Team,” helped change the Big D’s image.

“It’s a little ironic that Dallas is known for the shooting of JFK and the shooting of J.R.,” said Mark Thompson, sales and marketing director at Southfork Ranch, which draws more than 400,000 visitors a year.

For years after the assassination, many Dallas residents ignored sites connected with Kennedy’s killing. Then the city tried to acknowledge the tragedy in 1970 by commissioning artist Philip Johnson to create a cenograph, or empty tomb, in a park two blocks from Dealey Plaza. An entire city block was renamed John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza.

But the austere 30-foot blocks of white concrete that were meant to be a place for quiet reflection instead confused some visitors.

Eventually, Hunt and others raised $3.8 million in donations and loans to create The Sixth Floor Museum.

A few miles away, though, trash and pigeon droppings litter the front of the closed Texas Theatre, where police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald. The “E” has fallen off the makeshift “TEXAS” marquee that Oliver Stone put up for his 1991 movie, “JFK.”

City voters have approved $500,000 of the $3 million needed to restore Dealey Plaza to its 1963 look. A group working to renovate the Texas Theatre has raised $2.4 million of the $3.5 million project cost.

The Oak Cliff Foundation envisions remaking the theater as a movie house and performing arts center with a lobby exhibit recounting the theater’s role in history. Executive director Beverly Mendoza acknowledges surprise at the reactions she receives from some longtime residents asked to contribute.

“It just floored me,” said Mendoza, who moved to Dallas in 1995, “for people to still be so ashamed of what happened here that they couldn’t get beyond it to acknowledge it as a place of history.”

On the Net:

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza:


November 15, 2003, Saturday, BC cycle

Witnesses recount aftermath of Kennedy assassination

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR. and PENNY COCKERELL, Associated Press Writers

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 1006 words


President John F. Kennedy’s assassination still kindles vivid memories – especially for those with an inside view:

Even today, Nellie Connally watches her back.

Then the first lady of Texas, she witnessed the huge, enthusiastic crowds that greeted Kennedy along the motorcade route through downtown Dallas.

Kennedy, with wife Jackie at his side, smiled and waved at the crowds from the back seat of the presidential limousine. Up front, Nellie Connally and her husband, Gov. John Connally, beamed at the Texas welcome.

Moments before the limousine reached the Texas School Book Depository, Nellie Connally turned to the president and remarked, “No one can say Dallas doesn’t love and respect you, Mr. President.”

“You sure can’t,” he replied.

Seconds later, gunfire rang out in Dealey Plaza. Kennedy later died at a hospital and Gov. Connally was wounded.

“No longer was my life as peaceful as it had been, and I’m careful even now. I look behind me occasionally and I watch out for my children,” said Connally, 84, as she promoted her new book, “From Love Field: Our Final Hours With President John F. Kennedy.”

Forty years later, she finds it hard to believe she’s the only one still alive who was in that car. Her husband died in 1993 and Jackie Kennedy died the next year of cancer.

“For many weeks, it was like a phonograph record,” she said of the assassination. “Now it is pushed back into the back of my mind, never to be forgotten. But I can bring it back up any time I want.

“It’ll be with me forever, but I don’t have to live with it every day.”

Politics had brought the Kennedys to Texas, a pivotal and worrisome state in his 1964 re-election plans.

U.S. Rep. Jim Wright, a Democrat from Fort Worth, flew from Washington to Texas with Kennedy. He was about five cars back in the motorcade when Kennedy was shot.

“I thought someone was trying to fire a 21-gun salute with a rifle,” said Wright, a former House speaker who left politics in 1989. “Then the third one came and it was off cadence.

“I knew when we passed the crowd waiting there on the grassy knoll they had seen something. I could see it in their faces. They were traumatized.”

In her 1970 book, “A White House Diary,” former first lady Lady Bird Johnson described these moments with Jackie Kennedy aboard Air Force One as they returned to Washington:

“We all sat around the plane. The casket is in the corridor. I went in the small private room to see Mrs. Kennedy, and though it was a very hard thing to do, she made it as easy as possible. She said things like, ‘Oh, Lady Bird, we’ve liked you two so much. … Oh, what if I had not been there. I’m so glad I was there.’

“I looked at her. Mrs. Kennedy’s dress was stained with blood. One leg was almost entirely covered with it and her right glove was caked, it was caked with blood – her husband’s blood. Somehow that was one of the most poignant signs – that immaculate woman exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood.”

Now 90, Johnson lives in Austin.

She has recovered her physical strength after suffering a stroke in May 2002, but remains unable to speak clearly, said her press secretary, Becky Tilson.

“She hasn’t given up,” Tilson said. “She still has a wonderful outlook on life.”

Two days after the assassination, Dallas homicide detective Jim Leavelle guarded Lee Harvey Oswald as he was moved from the Dallas County jail.

Then he saw club owner Jack Ruby take two sharp steps and shoot Oswald from less than two feet away.

“What went through my mind was I needed to save my prisoner, so I tried to pull him behind me. But in one second you don’t have much time to do that,” said Leavelle, 83, who retired in 1976.

“He was too close to me and I couldn’t move him. All I did was turn his body. When I turned his body, instead of the bullet hitting dead center in the stomach, it hit him about 4 inches to the left side of the naval.

“If it hadn’t hit the seventh rib, it would’ve come on and hit me, but the rib slowed it down. He just groaned and slumped to the floor.”

Leavelle rode in the ambulance with Oswald to Parkland Hospital.

“A med student was doing CPR and I was holding his wrists, trying to get blood pressure and couldn’t get any. I told the doctors in the trauma room I want that bullet out. … It just popped out in a tray, like a grape seed.

“I gave the nurse my pocketknife and I said, ‘Scratch your initial in that bullet because you and I will testify that that was the bullet.’ I wrapped it in a tissue and put it in the crime lab later for analysis. We both did testify several times on it.”

The Rev. Williams A. Holmes was at the Dallas Trade Mart, awaiting Kennedy’s arrival at a sold-out luncheon for 2,600, when he heard the news.

“I was shocked and very upset, as was everyone who had been at that luncheon,” said Holmes, now 74 and living in Silver Spring, Md.

He set aside his already prepared sermon for that Sunday and began work on a special one. The title: “One Thing Worse Than This.”

In the sermon and a nationally televised interview, Holmes maintained that while Dallas did not pull the trigger, the “spirit of assassination” had flourished in the politically conservative city. Even worse than the assassination, he said, would be Dallas taking no responsibility for the death.

His suggestion that Dallas somehow contributed to the assassination drew a flood of angry threats from citizens.

Police put him, his wife and two young sons under police guard for several days.

Holmes went on to serve as minister of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, the denomination’s national church. He retired in 1998 after 24 years as senior pastor.

After the assassination, his anxiety level always rose when he contemplated addressing a national or international issue from the pulpit, he said.

“At the same time, I realized that such feelings, while intense, couldn’t rob me of my freedom to stand over and against them,” he said.


The Associated Press State & Local Wire

November 17, 2003, Monday, BC cycle

Historians see similarities, differences in Kennedy, Bush

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 658 words


Pick the year: 1963 or 2003.

The man who occupied the White House came from a politically powerful family.

A product of elite Eastern schools, he had won the presidency three years before in one of the closest elections in history. The losing candidate had been the other party’s two-term vice president, who appeared stiff on television.

With a tough re-election battle looming the next year, this commander in chief engendered equally strong passions among supporters and opponents.

Most Americans, it seemed, either loved him or hated him.

If you answered 1963 and John F. Kennedy, you would be right. If you answered 2003 and George W. Bush, you also would be right.

Forty years after the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of Kennedy, historians and political scientists cite striking similarities – and obvious differences – between the president who was killed in Texas and the president who hails from Texas.

“To the extent that there is such as thing as a political dynasty, you’d look at the Kennedys and the Bushes typifying that,” said Kenneth Stevens, a Texas Christian University history professor who teaches a course on the American presidency. “Of course, in America, any type of dynasty that you establish is always subject to the will of the voters.”

But parallels between Kennedy and Bush go beyond influential family ties, said David Crockett, a political scientist at Trinity University in San Antonio.

Both embraced the philosophies of their party’s patron saint of the 20th century: Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Democrats and Ronald Reagan for the Republicans, Crockett said. For Kennedy, that meant trying to extend Roosevelt’s “new deal” to a new generation, while Bush has pushed Reagan-style tax cuts.

“We still live in a Reagan world the same way I think Kennedy lived in a Roosevelt world. And I think Kennedy and Bush face a similar leadership problem,” Crockett said, suggesting the danger lies in a president pushing an agenda too hard and alienating a huge segment of the population.

Differences between Kennedy and Bush are just as stark, other experts said.

Kennedy was an intellectual, a foreign policy wonk, who won a Pulitzer Prize in history for his 1956 book “Profiles in Courage.” A liberal Democrat, he served in the U.S. Senate before running for president. He was the first, and only, Catholic elected to the nation’s highest office.

Bush is a decision-maker, known as more practical than cerebral. A conservative Republican, he served as managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team before winning two terms as Texas governor. He is a born-again Christian from the Bible Belt.

“I think Kennedy had much greater intelligence, much greater charm and wit. He was much more articulate,” said Robert Dallek, author of “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963” and a contributing editor to American History magazine.

Or maybe that’s just northern liberal prejudice, suggested John McAdams, a Marquette University political scientist who teaches a course on the assassination.

“People that hate Bush, a lot of that is the fact that Bush is a Texan,” McAdams said. “Being a Texan and being a Christian are worse than being a conservative.”

Like Kennedy, Bush heads the nation at a time of war and threats of attacks on America. While Kennedy confronted the possibility of nuclear war, Bush deals with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“This is so different. It’s very much, in some ways, more difficult because these are terrorists in many cases without a state,” said Michael Riccards, author of “The Ferocious Engine of Democracy,” a two-volume history of the presidency.

But the Cuban missile crisis faced by Kennedy posed a greater challenge than terrorism, said Patrick Maney, a presidential historian at the University of South Carolina.

“We now know that’s the closest we’ve ever come to a nuclear war,” he said.


Experts: Presidency more difficult after Kennedy

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 839 words


The fringe benefits: limousine rides, lifetime security, a rent-free White House.

In exchange, the modern American president must put up with personal attacks, intrusions into his private life and cameras that never stop rolling.

It’s a tough job – even tougher in the 40 years since John F. Kennedy was assassinated, historians and political scientists say.

“Nasty attacks on presidents have become commonplace,” said John McAdams, a Marquette University political scientist who teaches a course on the assassination.

Not only is the scrutiny more intense in an era of 24-hour news channels and constantly updated Web sites, but public respect for the office has diminished.

“Even a minor miscue can be magnified a hundred times on television,” said Patrick Maney, a presidential historian at the University of South Carolina. “You have to be so careful with what you say, but I think an even greater challenge is just being heard above all the clatter.”

Before Kennedy’s assassination, most Americans respected whoever was president, even if he didn’t reflect their own political views, McAdams said.

That started changing with Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, McAdams said.

Johnson “never got the benefit of the doubt from the national media that Kennedy got. A lot of people were hostile to Johnson,” McAdams said. “It was assumed that he must be some kind of right-winger himself because he was from Texas. But in fact, he was more liberal than Kennedy.”

As Johnson escalated the Vietnam War, he became the target of vicious rhetoric.

“LBJ, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?” anti-war protesters would chant.

In the 1970s, Democrats referred to Richard Nixon, who followed Johnson as president, as “Tricky Dick.” Two decades later, Republicans adopted a similarly derogatory nickname for Bill Clinton: “Slick Willie.”

The harsh words coincided with a series of presidential scandals – from Watergate to Monicagate – that hurt the office’s image.

At the same time, the media became much more inclined to delve into presidents’ personal lives.

“In the 1960s, the media never would have revealed the kind of private behavior that the media now feel is fair game. They never would have written stories about the president’s sex life,” said Robert Dallek, author of “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963.”

Dallek’s book, released in May, contained the first report of Kennedy’s supposed affair with a 19-year-old intern.

“It’s not that the media didn’t go after presidents in terms of any kind of influence peddling or bribery or money changing hands,” Dallek said. “But when it came to private life, they were much more sensitive to the president’s needs and showed much higher regard.”

Ironically, the heightened interest in presidents’ personal lives can be traced to Kennedy, Maney said.

Before Kennedy, a presidential vacation might draw a few reporters, who would alert others if anything newsworthy happened, he said. But the nation’s fascination with the Kennedys – America’s version of royalty – drew cameras hoping to catch a glimpse of him playing football with his brothers.

Still, the intense interest in the Kennedys did not translate into reporting about the president’s personal life, such as his flirtation with actress Marilyn Monroe.

“There was kind of a private zone that most of the press respected,” Maney said.

Not anymore.

The line between public and private hasn’t just been erased, it’s been reversed, Maney said. “In some ways, there’s more interest in the private than there is the public,” he said.

While critics lament media coverage that is often more superficial than substantive, politics have become more polarized and presidents more arrogant in their use of power, experts say.

“Our current president is just not someone who is paying attention to anybody who has different ideas. He’s confident that everybody else is wrong, and I think to a large degree Bill Clinton behaved the same way,” said Jeffrey Cohen, a Fordham University political scientist and author of “Presidential Responsiveness and Public Policymaking.”

David Crockett, a political scientist at Trinity University in San Antonio, longs for the days when the presidency was more republican – with a small “r,” he stresses – and less populist.

The framers of the Constitution envisioned a balance of power between equal branches of government, Crockett said.

Instead, he said, the nation has moved rapidly toward a president-centered system where the executive branch takes its agenda directly to the people and adjusts it based on public opinion polls.

No longer a vital branch of policy making, Congress exists solely to advance or stall the president’s agenda, he said.

“It’s the president’s program that needs to be passed. Otherwise, he’s a failure,” Crockett said. “We’ve ratcheted up the expectations … and when presidents inevitably fail, that just increases public disillusionment or even cynicism with the process of government.”

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