Nov 14, 2010

The Assassination of JFK - Revisited

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is one on those events that is permanently etched in my mind. People may not remember exactly what they did last Friday but they remember exactly what they were doing on Friday, November 22, 1963.

The days that followed were just as profound. We were all glued to our television sets. It has been said that, “Television came of age” that day. Today with CNN and 24-7 coverage on so many channels it hard to remember that there was a time when that was not the norm – most newscasts in 1963 were only 15 minutes long. For four days all other broadcasting and all commercials stopped. It was if the whole county had come to a standstill.

In the months and years that followed the story of the assassination took many twists and turns. At one point I thought if I read all the books printed on the event I could discern the truth. I finally gave up realizing that the story was so muddled I would not recognize the truth so I accepted the simple, official version – Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin.

Recently John and I were in Dallas and the Texas Book Depository Museum was on my must-do list. It was on the sixth floor of the building where the city’s schoolbooks were stored that Oswald fired the shots that killed JFK. Most of the building now houses offices but the sixth floor has been turned into a museum. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza has an excellent audio tour with photos and first person narratives of people associated with the assassination.

Using nearly 400 photographs, 45 minutes of documentary films, and artifacts, the exhibition recreates the social and political context of the early 1960s, chronicles the assassination and its aftermath, and recognizes Kennedy's lasting impact on American culture.

When Kennedy was elected his youthfulness and his young family symbolized a new era. After the assassination I recall college professors saying that when Kennedy was elected many of their colleagues quit they jobs and rushed to Washington to be part of the new era only to have their dreams dashed on November 22. But from the Kennedy years came the impetus for the Space Program, Civil Rights legislation, and the Peace Corp.

Much of the displays dealt with what I already knew such as the Conspiracy Theories and the Zapruder film. Having the details of Kennedy’s last hours and the steps the led Lee Harvey Oswald to that window in the Book Depository all in one place was riveting. And add to that Jack Ruby’s assassination of Oswald made all the exhibits mesmerizing. Especially impressive was the video presentation showing the national and international response to the assassination.

The museum did not awaken any of my former needs for definitive “answers” - and then I saw the sniper’s nest. The motorcade came down Houston Street. The view from the sniper’s window was unobstructed and with the motorcade moving at a slow pace there would have been plenty of time to aim and get off several shots. When the motorcade turned onto Elm Street the angle was more difficult plus there was a huge overhead sign and trees in the way making firing much more difficult. Why didn’t the assassin fire when the motorcade was on Houston Street?