November 22, 1963

Lady Bird Johnson: “It all started so beautifully”


I was in Science class. The teacher was in the teacher’s lounge smoking a cigarette. Sister Sharen was making a fried egg sandwich at the diner where she worked. Brother Bill was in English class. Mom was preparing Dagwood Bumstead’s favorite dinner- Yankee Pot Roast. Dad was in his car, returning from a speaking engagement in Mason City, Iowa- the city from which Buddy Holly’s plane departed in 1959- the snowy morning that became known as the day the music died.
The speakers in my classroom suddenly sputtered to life- through the static we heard the sounds of traffic, people yelling, the reporter saying something about Dallas, Texas. Something was going on but we didn’t know what it was- there had been shots, a limousine would speed away…little by agonizing little, we would learn that shots were fired at the President’s vehicle. Later-that perhaps that he had been hit, then that he had been had been wounded…
The limosine carrying JFK arrived at the hospital, Lady Bird Johnson was in the Vice Presidential car and she would remember… “I cast one last look over my shoulder and saw, in the President’s car, a bundle of pink just like a drift of blossoms lying on the back seat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the President’s body.” Perhaps Mrs. Kennedy was clutching what she had desperately retrieved from the trunk of the limo- a piece of her husband’s brain…
So, indeed, as we were to learn later that afternoon, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, had been assassinated …
As Dad drove home he was puzzled to see cars pulled over the side of the highway, their drivers and passengers motionless in their seats. Within seconds he said he drove past cars who had slowed and saw drivers sobbing. It was then that he turned on the radio and heard the terrible news about the President…
He had witnessed a few of the many who Simon and Garfunkle would memorably sing…
“Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence….”
And my question to all who remember is the question that has been posed millions of times since that infamous day ” Where were you when the President died?”

35 thoughts on “November 22, 1963

  1. snarkk

    I was a first grader in parochial school. News of the President being shot rang through the school late morning. Then, we soon heard he was dead. All the nuns and support staff adults were crying. So, the kids started, too. We figured if the adults were crying, things must be bad. Plus, he was the first, still only Catholic president, so the impact was especially hard, as if whatever was happening was directed at us. I had just seen him the year before at the Fresno airport. He had flown out in Air Force One to go up to Los Banos and dedicate with Pat Brown the San Luis Dam and the CA water project, which was then a very big deal for the Central Valley. My mother had held me on her shoulders to see him as he walked the rope line from the plane towards the helicopter. I was maybe 5 feet from him as he went by – my only remembrance was that his hair was far more red than I had figured from the magazine pictures. Anyway, from school we were dismissed at noon, and parents came to take us home. My mother was already crying, and didn’t stop much during the rest of that day. Adults were wondering if this was the start of a Russian attack. In those days, that was a real concept and considered a possibility, at least the government and media kept that burner on. The next few days on the weekend were nothing but watching TV on the big black and white. Then, Ruby shot Oswald on live TV. I saw it. The world had gone mad. Nobody knew what would happen next, maybe not the Russians, but some group or the military was trying to take over the government? I do remember watching the funeral procession. The Kennedy family all walked in back of the caisson. I came to know later that walking all the way from downtown DC to Arlington cemetery is pretty damn far. Anyway, the black horse with no rider and boots backwards was not cooperative at all. He was very pissed off and gave his handler trouble the whole way, jumping and trying to get rid of the bridle. Like the horse knew this was all very wrong, very wrong and he wanted no part of it. I remember seeing a tall, old guy standing with all the dignitaries in black. He had a funny hat and a military uniform. That was deGaulle. In 2011 we took the Snarkkettes to DC and to Arlington. We saw the JFK grave. I had seen it fairly often. Once as a kid, then taking visitors when Mrs. Snarkk and I lived in the DC area in the ‘90s. It didn’t have much meaning for the Snarkkettes, but it brought me back to those days long ago when I was a kid, when adults cried and the world had gone crazy. I see very selfish and foolish people blogging now on various sites that say they’re sick of this JFK stuff, he was a weak president, a philanderer, etc., and it doesn’t matter to anyone under 50. As if history matters only if you experience it yourself. Look at this country now. Does anyone really think the remnants of the Civil War don’t color our politics now? In Dallas that day, there were signs on the streets that the President was a “traitor”. Ring any bells of today? It may be trite, but I believe it is true that this country received a body blow on Nov 22, 1963 from which it has never recovered. We didn’t lose innocence, previous wars took care of that. But, the hope and exuberance of a young President and his wife, their kids, helped power a young country to thinking it was on the rise, on top of the world, with endless possibilities. Whoever killed JFK destroyed that feeling, which was a real feeling, whether it was objectively true, or whether it would have come true had he lived. The MLK and RFK murders were half a decade away, and those were huge, too, but along with Vietnam they just cemented the end of whatever youthful exuberance we had left. Now, we seem to be not only a sober country, but one greatly divided, always angry, not caring much anymore for one another, driven by money, not principle, and thereby headed for decline. That day in Dallas, something much bigger died than a young President…

  2. Nipper

    I was in US History class when word of Kennedy’s death was announced over the PA system by our Principal. Girls cried and everyone was of course sad and shocked. Still the Varsity Basketball coach insisted we have practice anyway. When I got home my mother was red hot with anger about that coach’s decision.

  3. snarkk

    link to Kennedy’s visit to the Central Valley I talked about.
    August 1962. There’s a video of his speech near where the San Luis dam is today. They had rudimentary teleprompters in those days, per wiki, but I don’t he had one here. He looks into the crow too much. Seems to be most of his speech is remembering from notes, or just winging. it. Best public and extemporaneous speaker as president in my lifetime, it’s not even close.

  4. channelclemente

    Hello Michael. My inaugural post.

    I was in 11th grade Latin class trying to understand why in the hell Horatio had to get on that damn bridge with a sword and then live to tell us all about it. When the announcement came over that big box on the wall PA system, I was in the 4th desk back, center isle, right hand raised to ask a question. The rest of the day is honestly a mystery to me until late afternoon, just chaos. I do remember that people, that day, eventually, just needed to talk..especially the older adults. I was in a extra credit Russian class that afternoon, and the teacher in that class (who everybody revered as a mountain climber who kind of looked like a longer haired version of Robert Ryan), just started to ramble in a stream of consciousness monologue about his days in the OSS and parachuting into Germany in the spring of 1945. No one even knew he’d been in the service, much less the OSS. Hesaid he thought he was probably one of the few men who had both Gestapo and KGB wanted posters on him. He’d tear up every now and then as he talked. It was like he needed to confess and clear his conscience or just talk because he’d had a lot bottled up for years. It was a very weird day.

  5. twinfan1 Post author

    As always, fine comments here. Nice to see you, CC…
    Several commenters on the Merc blog wanted to talk about conspiracy theories, and I do believe that it was a conspiracy. But there is no way I could do that story justice in a brief blog post. So I opted to attempt to capture a little of the emotions of the day itself. The quotes from Lady Bird, what my father witnessed as he drove home, and “The Sounds of Silence” formed the fabric that I used to try to convey some of the great sadness of that dreadful day.

    1. twinfan1 Post author

      And the photo of JFK and Jackie as they arrived in Dallas that morning is so evocative of the youth and vibrancy of the President and his lovely wife. Knowing what was to transpire, it is a heartbreaking photograph…

    2. snarkk

      I have always believed it a conspiracy. Not because I want to believe something so monstrous could not have been perpetrated by a single deranged, or calculating person, but because there is no much unexplained, and circumstantial evidence of more than Oswald. Even the other day, on the WaPost website there is a brief, recent video of the only MD still alive that tended to JFK at Parkland in the emergency room. A young trauma surgeon in his late 20s at the time. He said, paraphrasing, that it was clear to him that the wound at the back of the head was an exit wound. Meaning that the head shot must have come from in front of the vehicle. Yes, the grassy knoll, a 2nd person. At the time, this MD had seen lots of GSWs. I also read something I hadn’t seen before. That the fact JFK always wore a back brace may have doomed him. The first shot through the back exited under his larynx. Such a shot might normally pitch a person forward, bending the upper body down and towards the front of the car. Had that occurred, the head shot may not have been as easy, perhaps not available at all, and he may have survived the shot through the neck. The back brace likely stopped his upper body from going forwards and lower below seat level, hence the head shot was available. What I find strange from that tidbit is that the Oswald-only explainers say that the head shot came from the back (Oswald) occurred, even though JFK’s head and neck clearly snapped backwards towards the rear of the car, This is the opposite of the explanation of the back brace stopping his body from pitching Forwards from the obviously rear-sourced neck shot…

  6. twinfan1 Post author

    My goodness, the unexplained and unexplainable discrepancies in the “official” report are enough the fill the hundreds of books that have been written to attempt to detail them. I believe that the entire Warren Commission report has never been released and won’t be until 2038. Perhaps then we’ll know the story that has been withheld from us for 50 years…

  7. channelclemente

    If it’s a conspiracy, it’s devilishly complex one. Those are hard to sustain, but we still don’t know where Hoffa ended up…ground or ground up…, so I suppose it’s possible. It’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, IMO. By that I mean those with something to hide, and those who may have been truly involved. In fact only two things stick in my craw…where were the over watch snipers attached to SS details, and I believe it is physically impossible to fire a bolt action Cocano twice in 1.96 seconds, the time between shots one and two, if one is to believe the frame count timing on the Zapruder film. One just wishes it hadn’t been such a forensic screw up by Dallas PD and the FBI.

  8. snarkk

    There are so many conspiracy theories, the Cubans, the Russians, the Mob, the CIA, LBJ, or add your own. I don’t think there was a forensic screw up. I think the forensics were deliberately screwed up. The Feds took over the body and all the evidence immediately. As for what’s plausible, I always thought that the spymaster E. Howard Hunt had the secrets, and was involved. He knew too many people, did too many things over the years before 1963, and was basically a hired gun/wild hair still on CIA payroll at the time. He was a huge liar, and denied complicity in JFK’s death until essentially he thought he was dying in 2003 or so, and supposedly confessed that he was involved in the assassination, and named names including some CIA pals that supposedly were at the grassy knoll. Hunt was just a shit disturber and jack of all trades bad dude since WWII and the OSS. If anyone could have had the cojones to be involved in such a thing, he would have them. Later, he was involved in the WGate burglary and ultimately blackmailed Nixon into giving him and his cohorts hush money to keep quiet about the Plumbers unit. Just wild stuff…

    1. channelclemente

      When I was a little boy, 4-5, my parents had a friend who was an army buddy of my stepfather (army diver in Panama). He ran guns for Hunt, or so I’ve been told, in the great United Fruit rebellion of 1953-4 in Guatemala. What I remember, of course, was the ’32, 5 window Ford Coupe hotrod he was always working on.

      1. snarkk

        Sounds about right. Hunt was big into S. American intrigue for many years. And, he had a role in the Bay of Pigs. The guy was like the Where’s Waldo of spooks for a quarter century…

      2. snarkk

        No, did not know. I think, though, that EH Hunt was a bit more tightly wound than Dean Martin. Though, apparently Howard could mix and down a mean martini…

  9. twinfan1 Post author

    I haven’t followed the many theories, but of the more plausible theories, I find the one that advances the scenario where Castro ordered it in retaliation for the many attempts on his life to be the most convincing. It was what Lyndon Johnson believed and I find Castro’s attempts to advance his own theories to be disengenous and intended to deflect suspicion. Oswald was the fall guy, IMO- I don’t know what happened to them, but shortly after the conspiracy theories began in earnest, photos of Oswald in Russia were suddenly released. But there was a problem- I don’t know where Oswald really was in the photos but he wasn’t where he was said to be- the shadows of Oswald didn’t jibe with the time of day or even the season where the photos were alleged to be taken- the photos were created to advance the theory that he was a soviet operative. In reality Oswald was a small time bungler with an obsession- the perfect fall guy to pin the murder on…

  10. channelclemente

    The most likely ‘explanation’ for conspiracy buffs is the one that involves what’s come to be called the MJ-12 (?) plot, IMO. When Dulles screwed up and had Diem assassinated in 62 or 63 (?), Kennedy went ballistic and decided to dismantle Dulles pet working group, MJ-12, I think it was called, and fire Dulles. It’s from that any conspiracy was most likely to have flowed, IMO. Not that having motivation makes you a conspirator, but that redirected US foreign policy into supporting those two crazy Vietnamese brothers, who’s names I forget, who ran us headlong into a full commitment in Vietnam a few years after Kennedy was killed.

  11. Chico

    I wasn’t even thought of yet, but my mother told me stories that when the news broke, everyone at her high school was in tears.. The killing of President Kennedy also inspired my father to join the military (volunteered in the summer of ’66).. Both of my parents, while not being old enough to vote at the time, were big Kennedy supporters as were all of my grandfolks on both sides..

  12. twinfan1 Post author

    The sheer wealth of conspiracy theories tends to discredit all of them to many. And many of the conspiracy theorists are pretty wacko. Whatever went down, I do think the true story will be told one day. Delaying the release of the true report will make the conspiracy a matter of genteel scholarly debate- not the outrage and possible war that it would have sparked while the principles were still alive and in positions of power.

  13. Nipper

    Conspiracies usually fall apart rather quickly. This one may be the exception but it’s doubtful at best.

      1. Chico

        He only lasted about 2 1/2 months on it.. It made him depressed and he couldn’t sleep, no matter what they gave him for sleep.. He’s on a wait and see approach and has taken up a diet (bought a juicer) and is going that route.. Not sure how much difference that makes, but he’s following a specific diet (with some beer thrown in too ;) Thanks for asking Mike. Appreciate it.

  14. Bozo

    I was 8 and in school at the time, it took me a long time to grasp what had happened. When Bobby was shot I guess I was 13 (it was 5 years later right?). I was getting more into politics and I stayed up and watched him get murdered, I was devastated. For JFK, there is so much that points to a second gunman. The one that I believe the most, was an accidental shot from one of the Secret Service. The guy that was usually a driver but got pressed into the fender duty when so many of the protection crew were too hung over that day to work.

  15. unca_chuck

    Yeah, being Irish Catholic, it was a pretty big deal in our house. I was 2, so I don’t remember it. My mom told me again and again it was the last time she voted becasue it was the last time she ever felt fully connected to a candidate. I was 7 by the time RFK was killed, and I remember watching all that unfold with my mom and her tearful resignation toward Robert being killed. After MLK, RFK, the riots at the DNC, Vietnam, and the Kent State shootings, I was concvinced there was going to be a full-scale revolution in the country. And I was 9.

    Funny thing is, I think we may be heading there again. The rich get richer, the middle class bears the burden of the tax base at the cost of corporate profits, and the great unwashed don’t know any better and blame Obamacare.

    Yeah, I had heard that Kennedy’s back brace propped him up for the kill shot. The one that sure looks like it comes from the grassy knoll area, as the back of Kennedy’s head is blown off.

    PS, apropos of lightening this up, I alweays loved the Seinfeld episode regarding Newman and Kramer getting spit on after a Mets game. They blamed Keith Hernandez as the siptter, but there was a 2nd spitter. Can’t remember who it was. Vince Coleman?

    1. snarkk

      The photos are numerous of people at Dealey Plaza pointing immediately after JFK’s car left the plaza. They are pointing to the grassy knoll for the police to go there. I think there was a reason for that…

  16. snarkk

    John Foster Dulles was also on it. Kennedy fired him from director of CIA after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. I’m not the only one finding it strange that an ex spook in chief was put onto a commission to investigate the murder of the boss who fired him, a murder which many suspected the CIA was involved…

    1. snarkk

      Sorry, it was Allan Dulles, he was the ex CIA chief. JF Dulles was his older brother and was Sec of State for Ike…

  17. snarkk

    Arlen Specter was the chief counsel for the Warren Commission. He invented the famous “magic bullet” theory that supposedly hit JFK in the back, came out under his throat, moved in mid-air with about a 40 degree course correction to the right, went through Connally’s car seat back, into his back, blew out a rib, came out and went through/shattered his wrist, and then came out of his wrist and landed in his thigh, only to be found on Connally’s gurney. And the bullet was virtually unscathed. The problem is there is now video of interviews that day of doctors that say they removed a bullet from Connally’s thigh during his surgery, so that puts the magic one that was “found” on his gurney in never never land…

  18. snarkk

    I don’t know if any of you have been to Dealey Plaza. I have. It is smaller than you might imagine. In fact, JFK was a sitting duck. How the Secret Service allowed the presidential car to go through essentially a perfect spot for an assassination is beyond me. I would hope no way such a thing would happen now. The depository building looms right over the roadway, and the “grassy knoll” is closer to the road than it looks on TV. Anybody with experience in long weapons would not have a problem doing what was done, the distances to the car are not very far. I was very surprised at the closeness of everything…

  19. twinfan1 Post author

    The fatal shot was said to have jerked JFK’s head forward on impact according to the Warren Report- and there is what appears to be evidence of that on the Zapruder film- but in fact, the frames that appear to show that were smeared and it was not Kennedy’s head moving forward but it’s Zapruder jerking his camera at the sound of gunfire. That last shot was fired just 7/10’s of a second after the previous one. No expert marksman has ever been able to achieve that ( that is my understanding).

  20. Del Mar Dennis (@DelMarDennis)

    Fantastic stories by one and all. Thanks for sharing. Being only 47 I obviously wasn’t around at the time. Watching some of the many TV specials this past week I got a better understanding of how great an impact his death not only had on this country, but in people’s personal lives. It really was a life-changing event.

    I heard former football coach Bill Curry recount his story on ESPN a few days. Very emotional and heartfelt.

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