The Day John Kennedy Died by Bryan Woolley (1991)
Volume : SIRS 1991 History, Article 02
Subject: Keyword(s) : KENNEDY and ASSASSINATION
Title : The Day John Kennedy Died
Author : Bryan Woolley
Source : Dallas Times Herald (Dallas, Texas)
Publication Date : Nov. 20, 1983
Page Number(s) : Sec. Sec. 2-3
DALLAS TIMES HERALD
Nov. 20, 1983, Special Section, pp. 2-3
Reprinted with permission from the author.
THE DAY JOHN KENNEDY DIED
Sun cleared dawn's drizzle, but gloom clouded Dallas
by Bryan Woolley
The valet walked past the Secret Service guard and entered
Suite 850 of Fort Worth's Texas Hotel. He knocked on the door of
the master bedroom. It was 7:30 a.m. "Mr. President," he said,
"it's raining out."
President John F. Kennedy, coming out of sleep, replied,
"That's too bad."
While he was dressing, he heard the murmur of the crowd
outside and went to the window. Below him, 5,000 people were
standing patiently in the soft drizzle, some wearing raincoats,
some holding umbrellas, most simply ignoring the weather. They
were office and factory workers. They had begun gathering before
dawn to hear the speech the President would make in the parking
lot where they stood. Mounted police officers wearing yellow
slickers moved among them. "Gosh, look at the crowd!" the
President said to his wife. "Just look! Isn't that terrific."
In the lobby, he was joined by Vice President Lyndon
Johnson, Gov. John Connally, Sen. Ralph Yarborough, several
members of Congress and the president of the Fort Worth Chamber
of Commerce. They crossed Eighth Street and plunged into the
crowd, shaking hands, smiling. They mounted the truck that was to
serve as the speaker's platform. Kennedy grabbed the microphone
and shouted: "There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth!"
The crowd cheered. Somebody yelled, "Where's Jackie?"
Kennedy pointed toward his eighth-floor window. "Mrs.
Kennedy is organizing herself," he replied. "It takes her a
little longer, but, of course, she looks better than we do when
she does it."
Fort Worth was the third stop on the President's five-city
Texas tour. He had ridden through Houston and San Antonio like a
triumphant emperor, and Fort Worth had stayed up past midnight to
welcome the handsome 46-year-old President and his beautiful
34-year-old wife, lining their route from Carswell Air Force base
to the hotel.
After an informal speech in the parking lot, he would go to
the hotel, deliver a breakfast speech, fly from Carswell to Love
Field, ride in a motorcade through Dallas, deliver a speech at a
$100-a-plate luncheon at the Dallas Trade Mart, fly to Austin for
a banquet and a reception at the Governor's Mansion, and then go
to the LBJ ranch for a weekend of rest.
Back inside the Texas Hotel, Kennedy accepted the ceremonial
cowboy hat from his hosts, but refused to wear it for
photographers and TV cameramen. He would model it later, he said,
at the White House. His breakfast speech was the standard
fence-mending one-- about the greatness of Texas and Fort Worth
and the Democratic Party--and it drew a thunderous ovation.
The President and the first lady retired to Suite 850 to
prepare for the flight to Dallas. Kennedy placed a call to former
Vice President John Nance "Cactus Jack" Garner in Uvalde, Texas,
to wish him a happy 95th birthday, and an aide showed him a
black-bordered full-page ad with a sardonic headline in The
Dallas Morning News. "Welcome Mr. Kennedy to Dallas," it read. In
13 rhetorical questions, something called the "American
Fact-Finding Committee" accused the administration of selling out
the world to communism.
"Oh, you know, we're heading into nut country today," the
President said. Mrs. Kennedy later told author William Manchester
that he paced the floor and then stopped in front of her. "You
know, last night would have been a hell of a night to assassinate
a president," he said. "There was the rain and the night, and we
were all getting jostled. Suppose a man had a pistol in a
briefcase." He pointed a finger at the wall and pretended to fire
Not many in the presidential party were looking forward to
Dallas. Several Texans--some from Dallas--had warned the
President not to include Dallas on his Texas tour, that an ugly
incident was likely to occur there. But Kennedy insisted that the
state's second-largest city be placed on the itinerary.
So the preparations had been made. Dallas civic leaders had
launched a public relations campaign to try to ensure a friendly
turnout for the President.
Seven hundred law officers--city police officers and
firefighters, sheriff's deputies, Texas Rangers and state highway
patrol officers--had been assembled to keep order. About the time
that John Kennedy was waking up, Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry
had gone on TV to warn that his officers would take "immediate
action to block any improper conduct." If the police were
inadequate, he said, even citizen's arrests were authorized.
Others were preparing, too, in the early morning. Waiters
were setting the places for the Trade Mart luncheon. A warehouse
worker named Lee Harvey Oswald sneaked a rifle and a telescopic
sight into the Texas School Book Depository. Because of forecasts
showing that the rain probably would be past Dallas by the time
the presidential party arrived, a Kennedy aide told the Secret
Service not to put the bubble-top on the big blue limousine in
which the President and Mrs. Kennedy would ride.
Air Force One had barely left the runway at Carswell before
it began its descent toward Love Field. The flight took only 13
minutes. The big plane touched down at 11:38 a.m. Police armed
with rifles stood along the roof of the terminal building. A
large crowd waited beyond a chain-link fence. Many in the crowd
were jumping, screaming, waving placards: "We Love Jack," "Hooray
for JFK." Others were less friendly. They held placards, too:
"Help Kennedy Stamp Out Democracy," "In 1964 Goldwater and
Freedom," "Yankees Go Home And Take Your Equals With You." They
booed and hissed when the President and first lady emerged from
the plane, smiled, waved and descended the stairs of Air Force
For the fourth time in 24 hours, Lyndon and Lady Bird
Johnson were waiting to welcome the Kennedys to a Texas city. The
presidential couple was introduced to the 12-man official
welcoming committee. Mrs. Earle Cabell, wife of the Dallas mayor,
presented Mrs. Kennedy with a bouquet of red roses. Then Kennedy
broke from the official cluster and moved along the chain-link
fence, smiling, shaking hands; letting people touch him.
At 11:55, two motorcycle police officers led the motorcade
out of Love Field and turned left on Mockingbird Lane. Police
Chief Curry drove the lead car. With him rode Dallas County
Sheriff Bill Decker and two Secret Service agents. Then came
three more motorcycles. Then the blue limousine with two Secret
Service agents in the front, John and Nellie Connally in the jump
seats and the Kennedys in the back seat. Two motorcycles flanked
the car on each side. Next was another convertible, full of
Kennedy aides and Secret Service agents, and four more agents
standing on its running boards.
Then came the vice presidential convertible, carrying two
Secret Service agents, the Johnsons and Yarborough. A Texas
highway patrol officer and four Secret Service agents rode in the
next car. A press pool car, a press bus, convertibles bearing
photographers, and cars carrying lesser dignitaries completed the
The motorcade would move through a sizable portion of
Dallas--along Mockingbird to Lemmon Avenue, right on Lemmon to
Turtle Creek Boulevard, along Turtle Creek and Cedar Springs Road
to Harwood Street, down Harwood to Main Street, where, at City
Hall, it would turn right and move westward along Main through
the downtown business district.
At the west end of downtown, it would turn right onto
Houston Street and then immediately left onto Elm Street and move
through the Triple Underpass. A few yards beyond the underpass,
it would turn right again onto Stemmons Expressway and move to
the Trade Mart at the intersection of Stemmons and Harry Hines
Boulevard. After the President's speech, it would proceed out
Harry Hines to Mockingbird, turn right, and return to Love Field.
The sidewalk crowds were sparse at first. A few people in
the factories and offices along Mockingbird came out to have a
look. The sun was bright now, and Mrs. Kennedy was regretting
that she was wearing the pink wool suit. She had expected woolen
weather. It was, after all, late November. She put on sunglasses,
but her husband told her to take them off. The people wanted to
see her, he said.
At the corner of Lemmon and Lomo Alto, a group of children
held a long banner reading, "Please Stop and Shake Our Hands."
Kennedy ordered his driver to stop. He got out and shook their
hands. Farther along, he ordered another stop and got out to
greet a group of nuns. At Lee Park on Turtle Creek, the crowd
began to thicken. And at Harwood and Live Oak, still two blocks
from the turn onto Main, the people in the motorcade heard the
downtown crowd murmuring like a distant tide.
When the caravan made the turn, it faced pandemonium. People
were standing 10 and 12 deep on the sidewalks. Red, white and
blue bunting fluttered from the buildings. People leaned out
windows, waving and screaming. There were no picket signs, no
sour faces. The feared Dallas crowd was friendly--even adoring.
The nuts had stayed home. It was 12:21 p.m.
At the Trade Mart, the luncheon guests were showing their
tickets to the door guards and filing to their seats. The huge
building was surrounded by Dallas and Texas police, standing at
parade rest, holding riot sticks, glaring at a handful of
protesters. Inside the atrium hall, parakeets flew freely from
tree to tree. A fountain splashed. An organist was practicing
"Hail to the Chief." Dozens of yellow roses adorned the head
table. The presidential seal had been mounted on the rostrum.
As the motorcade neared Houston Street, the size of the
crowd diminished, but the cheers and applause were still hearty.
Nellie Connally turned in her seat and said, "You can't say
Dallas doesn't love you, Mr. President."
Kennedy replied, "No, you can't."
Workers from the Texas School Book Depository, the Dal-Tex
Building and the Dallas County buildings lined the sidewalks at
Houston and Elm as the head of the motorcade turned toward the
Triple Underpass. Others stood on the grass of Dealey Plaza. Many
had brought their children to see the President. Several
spectators noticed a man standing very still in a sixth-floor
corner window of the depository. One man saw the rifle he was
holding and assumed he was a Secret Service agent.
As the blue limousine made the sharp left turn from Houston
onto Elm, the Hertz rental car time-and-temperature sign on the
roof of the depository red 12:30. A Secret Service man in the
motorcade radioed the Trade Mart: "Halfback to Base. Five minutes
to destination." He wrote in his shift log: "12:35 p.m. President
Kennedy arrived at Trade Mart."
Some thought the noises were firecrackers. Others thought a
motorcycle was backfiring. Some recognized them as rifle shots.
Pigeons flew from the roof of the depository. Kennedy lurched
forward and grabbed his neck.
Sen. Yarborough, in the vice president's car, cried, "My
God! They've shot the President!" Secret Service agent Rufus
Youngblood climbed from the front seat to the back, threw Johnson
to the floorboard and covered him with his own body.
In the blue limousine, Gov. Connally had been hit, too. He
pitched forward and fell toward his wife. "No, no, no, no, no!"
Then another shot. The President's head exploded. Blood
spattered the occupants of the blue car. The first lady, in
shock, tried to climb out over the trunk. A Secret Service agent
pushed her back. The car slowed and then lurched out of the
motorcade line and sped past the Triple Underpass, with Chief
Curry's car and the Secret Service car in pursuit.
UPI White House correspondent Merriman Smith was sitting in
the middle of the front seat of the press pool car. He grabbed
the mobile phone. He called the wire service's Dallas bureau and
dictated the first bulletin: "Three shots were fired at President
Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas."
The cheers of greeting in Dealey Plaza rose to screams of
horror and fear. "They killed him! They killed him! They killed
him!" Parents grabbed children and ran. Men and women lay
prostrate on the grass and sidewalks, as if dead. The motorcade
was disintegrating, the cars veering hither and yon, trying to
get through the crowd and follow the limousine. Helmeted police
officers leaped from motorcycles, pulled guns, looked wildly
about. The Hertz clock still read 12:30.
The staff at Parkland Memorial Hospital had only five
minutes notice of the massive emergency rushing upon them, and
many thought the message was a joke. When the blue car arrived,
they weren't ready. No one was waiting at the emergency entrance.
A Secret Service agent dashed inside to order stretchers.
Connally--whose wounds were serious but not fatal--was
wheeled to Trauma Room No. 2, Kennedy to Trauma Room No. 1. Teams
of surgeons and nurses went to work. The Secret Service regrouped
around the Johnsons and hustled them to seclusion in another part
of the hospital. Reporters dashed around the halls and offices,
searching for phones. Parkland patients heard the news and rushed
to have a look.
"Gentlemen," a weeping Yarborough told reporters, "this has
been a deed of horror. Excalibur has sunk beneath the waves."
Mrs. Kennedy insisted on being in the trauma room with her
husband. A nurse protested, but she was admitted.
Outside, more of the motorcade vehicles were arriving. Their
passengers tumbled out and stared in horror at the blood-soaked
At 1 p.m., Dr. Kemp Clark, the senior physician working on
the President, pronounced him dead. A priest administered last
rites. At 1:13, the news was carried to the vice president. At
1:26, the Secret Service, fearing the assassination was part of a
massive plot against the government, spirited the Johnsons away
to unmarked cars and sped to Love Field. They boarded Air Force
One at 1:33, while Kennedy press aide Malcolm Kilduff was
announcing the President's death to the press.
Police were still combing the Dealey Plaza area for
Kennedy's murderer. Indeed, only a minute after the fatal shot
was fired, Marrion Baker, a Dallas motorcycle officer, had
pointed his pistol at Lee Harvey Oswald. Baker had been riding by
the Texas School Book Depository when the killing occurred, and
he jumped off his motorcycle and dashed inside with Roy Truly,
the building's superintendent. They encountered Oswald in the
second-floor lunchroom. Baker drew his gun. "Do you know this
man?" he asked Truly. "Does he work here?" Truly said he did, and
Baker let him go. A minute later, Oswald walked out the front
door of the depository, where he encountered NBC reporter Robert
MacNeil, who was looking for a phone. Oswald told him he could
find one inside. Five minutes later, police sealed off the door.
At 12:44, Oswald boarded a bus at Elm and Murphy streets,
seven blocks from the depository, but got off a few minutes later
when the bus was caught in a traffic snarl. By 12:45, Dallas
police had questioned the witness who had seen the man standing
in the depository window with the rifle and had broadcast his
description from a radio car in front of the depository. Two
minutes later, Oswald caught a taxicab at the Greyhound bus
station and rode to Beckley and Neely, a corner near his Oak
Cliff rooming house. He went to his room, got a pistol and left
Meanwhile, Roy Truly had drawn up a list of depository
employees and told police that Oswald was missing. At 1:12,
sheriff's deputies found three empty cartridge cases near the
sixth floor corner window. Ten minutes later, they would find the
rifle, hidden between boxes of textbooks in the room.
At 1:15, Dallas officer J.D. Tippett was cruising by a drug
store at 10th and Patton, less than a mile from the Oak Cliff
rooming house, and spotted Oswald walking along the sidewalk.
Tippett, for reasons never determined, pulled over and stopped
him. Oswald jerked his pistol from under his jacket, shot four
times and ran away. Nine people saw the shooting. A pickup truck
driver took the dead officer's radio mike and said, "Hello,
police operator. We've had a shooting out here."
On Air Force One, stewards were removing some of the seats
in the tail compartment to make room for President Kennedy's
coffin. In the plane's stateroom, Lyndon Johnson was watching
Walter Cronkite on television and was asking aides and
congressmen whether he should be sworn in immediately or wait
until they had returned to Washington. Some thought he should
wait. Others thought it might be dangerous for the country to be
without a President while he was en route. Johnson decided he
would assume the office in Dallas. "Now," he said, "What about
The aides and congressmen were embarrassed. They could
remember neither the words nor where to find them. They couldn't
remember who, besides Supreme Court justices, was authorized to
administer the oath. Everyone was in such shock and confusion
that phone calls were made to several Justice Department
officials in Washington and Dallas before someone remembered that
a President may be sworn in by any judge and that the oath is in
the Constitution. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach
dictated it by phone from Washington, and U.S. District Judge
Sarah Hughes, an old friend of Johnson who had been appointed to
the North Texas federal bench by Kennedy, was dispatched to Love
At 1:40, Lee Oswald ran into the Texas Theater on West
Jefferson--eight blocks from officer Tippit's body--without
buying a ticket. The box office attendant called the police.
Cruisers began converging on the theater. At 1:50, the house
lights went up, and officers moved up and down the aisles, looked
into the faces of the few patrons. Officer M.N. McDonald stopped
at the 10th row and said to a man sitting alone: "Get up."
"Well, it's all over now," Oswald said, according to
witnesses and he stood up. But when McDonald moved closer, Oswald
struck him in the face and went for his pistol. McDonald struck
back and grabbed for the gun. Oswald pulled the trigger, but the
web of skin between McDonald's thumb and forefinger was caught
under the hammer. The gun didn't fire. Other officers joined the
fight. They subdued Oswald and hustled him out of the theater. "I
protest this police brutality!" Oswald shouted.
Twenty-five minutes later, Capt. Will Fritz, chief of
homicide, returned to the Police Department and ordered that the
missing Texas School Book Depository worker named Lee Harvey
Oswald be arrested as a suspect in the presidential killing. An
officer pointed to a small young man with a bruised eye who was
sitting in a chair. "There he sits," he said.
At Parkland, a Secret Service agent called Oneal's Funeral
Home in Oak Lawn to order a casket. The funeral director, Vernon
Oneal, arrived with it at 1:30. After the President's body had
been placed in the casket, Mrs. Kennedy entered Trauma Room No.
1, took off her wedding ring and placed it on her husband's
finger. The casket was closed and placed on a funeral home cart
to be moved to the hearse.
Dr. Earl Rose, the Dallas County medical examiner,
protested. Kennedy was a homicide victim, he said, and the body
couldn't be released legally until after an autopsy had been
performed. A quarrel developed between him and the Secret
Service. Kennedy aides and the Secret Service agents forced the
casket through the crowd that had gathered at the hospital door
and loaded it into the hearse. Mrs. Kennedy rode in the back with
it. At 2:20, the dead President was carried up the stairs into
Air Force One. Mrs. Kennedy retired to the bedroom.
Judge Hughes boarded the plane at 2:35 and was handed a
small white card with the oath scrawled on it. Capt. Cecil
Stoughton, an Army Signal Corps photographer, tried to arrange
the crowd in the cramped stateroom so that he could take a
picture of the ceremony. "We'll wait for Mrs. Kennedy," Johnson
said. "I want her here."
Mrs. Kennedy came out of the bedroom still wearing the
blood-soaked pink suit. Johnson pressed her hand and said, "This
is the saddest moment of my life." The photographer placed her on
Johnson's left, Lady Bird on his right. Judge Hughes, the first
woman to administer the presidential oath, was shaking.
"What about a Bible?" asked one of the witnesses. Someone
remembered that President Kennedy had kept a Bible in the bedroom
and went to get it.
"I do solemnly swear..."
The oath lasted 28 seconds. At 2:38 p.m., Lyndon B. Johnson
became the 36th President of the United States. The big jet's
engines already were screaming. "Now, let's get airborne," he
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