They say it was one of the most violent scenes ever recorded. I did not witness it personally, but joined hundreds of other Americans who watched on television as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy crawled onto that trunk of the presidential limo trying to collect pieces of the president’s head.
It was shortly after noon on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, when President Kennedy and his wife rode along in that motorcade waving at the gathered crowd. A shadowy man in a nearby window raised a bolt-action rifle, pulled the trigger and fired a bullet through the throat of an American president. In an instant, President Kennedy was gone and America will never forget. Time was frozen for many, and the sights and sounds of that day are still remembered like it was yesterday. The assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, quickly became a household word. On Nov. 24, 1963, Oswald was shot and killed while in police custody. A nation was in grief and the world paid respects to our fallen president and his family.
Even to this day, 50 years later, some refuse to accept that Oswald was the lone assassin. A feeling that there was a conspiracy afoot to kill President Kennedy continues. A few days ago, a coworker asked me if I could answer this question for him. He still has his suspicions.
My answer was simple. I had no first-hand information and like most Americans accepted the conclusion of the Warren Commission, which extensively examined this case. A lone gunman, not the CIA, Mafia, or political enemies had shot and killed President Kennedy. Since I had no crystal ball and theories abounded, I accepted the results of the commission.
Following the shooting, one of the most-asked questions seemed to be, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” As best I can remember, I was in Washington, D.C., working and was out for lunch. I was walking down a public street when people came running out of restaurants and buildings screaming, “President Kennedy has been shot!”
It was a shocking, unexpected event. A popular president, who told us we could go to the moon, had been assassinated. Why? People rushed to their television sets to find out and they knew our nation suddenly had changed. Everywhere people paused in respect and in reflection. President Kennedy had asked us to do more for our country. He was filled with confidence and optimism. Could we keep alive his hope and continue that historical period known as “Camelot?”
Fifty years later, we have our doubts. Still among us are extremists who arouse hatred and commit dastardly deeds against our nation and people. In Dallas, on that sad day, there was some hostility to President Kennedy. Even retailer Stanley Marcus warned it might not be safe for a presidential visit. Even so, there were cheering crowds and the president came and rode in a topless limo to greet them.
We will long remember and will pray that no more such tragedies befall our nation. Even with the passage of time, we still try to make sense of this senseless act. Theories about the assassination continue. The Kennedy case seems to remain open in spite of 26 volumes of Warren Commission reports.
Jack Simpson is a former educator, a veteran, an author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.