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Monday, November 22, 2010

The Day America Changed

“The human race's prospects of survival were considerably better when we were defenseless against tigers than they are today when we have become defenseless against ourselves.” — Arnold J. Toynbee

On this day in 1963, 47 years ago, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated while traveling through Dallas, Texas, in an open-top convertible. It was also the day America changed from a nation of optimism and opportunity to one of cynicism and divineness

First lady Jacqueline Kennedy rarely accompanied her husband on political outings, but she was beside him, along with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, for a 10-mile motorcade through the streets of downtown Dallas on November 22. Sitting in a Lincoln convertible, the Kennedys and Connallys waved at the large and enthusiastic crowds gathered along the parade route. As their vehicle passed the Texas School Book Depository Building at 12:30 p.m., Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired three shots from the sixth floor, fatally wounding President Kennedy and seriously injuring Governor Connally. Kennedy was pronounced dead 30 minutes later at Dallas' Parkland Hospital. He was 46.

Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who was three cars behind President Kennedy in the motorcade, was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States at 2:39 p.m. He took the presidential oath of office aboard Air Force One as it sat on the runway at Dallas Love Field airport. The swearing in was witnessed by some 30 people, including Jacqueline Kennedy, who was still wearing clothes stained with her husband's blood. Seven minutes later, the presidential jet took off for Washington.

The next day, November 23, President Johnson issued his first proclamation, declaring November 25 to be a day of national mourning for the slain president. On that Monday, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Washington to watch a horse-drawn caisson bear Kennedy's body from the Capitol Rotunda to St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral for a requiem Mass. The solemn procession then continued on to Arlington National Cemetery, where leaders of 99 nations gathered for the state funeral. Kennedy was buried with full military honors on a slope below Arlington House, where an eternal flame was lit by his widow to forever mark the grave.

Lee Harvey Oswald, born in New Orleans in 1939, joined the U.S. Marines in 1956. He was discharged in 1959 and nine days later left for the Soviet Union, where he tried unsuccessfully to become a citizen. He worked in Minsk and married a Soviet woman and in 1962 was allowed to return to the United States with his wife and infant daughter. In early 1963, he bought a .38 caliber revolver and rifle with a telescopic sight by mail order, and on April 10 in Dallas he allegedly shot at and missed former U.S. Army general Edwin Walker, a figure known for his extreme right-wing views. Later that month, Oswald went to New Orleans and founded a branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization. In September 1963, he went to Mexico City, where investigators allege that he attempted to secure a visa to travel to Cuba or return to the USSR. In October, he returned to Dallas and took a job at the Texas School Book Depository Building.

Less than an hour after Kennedy was shot, Oswald killed a policeman who questioned him on the street near his rooming house in Dallas. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theater by police responding to reports of a suspect. He was formally arraigned on November 23 for the murders of President Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippit.

On November 24, Oswald was brought to the basement of the Dallas police headquarters on his way to a more secure county jail. A crowd of police and press with live television cameras rolling gathered to witness his departure. As Oswald came into the room, Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd and fatally wounded him with a single shot from a concealed .38 revolver. Ruby, who was immediately detained, claimed that rage at Kennedy's murder was the motive for his action. Some called him a hero, but he was nonetheless charged with first-degree murder.

Jack Ruby, originally known as Jacob Rubenstein, operated strip joints and dance halls in Dallas and had minor connections to organized crime. He features prominently in Kennedy-assassination theories, and many believe he killed Oswald to keep him from revealing a larger conspiracy. In his trial, Ruby denied the allegation and pleaded innocent on the grounds that his great grief over Kennedy's murder had caused him to suffer "psychomotor epilepsy" and shoot Oswald unconsciously. The jury found Ruby guilty of "murder with malice" and sentenced him to die.

In October 1966, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed the decision on the grounds of improper admission of testimony and the fact that Ruby could not have received a fair trial in Dallas at the time. In January 1967, while awaiting a new trial, to be held in Wichita Falls, Ruby died of lung cancer in a Dallas hospital.

The official Warren Commission report of 1964 concluded that neither Oswald nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy, either domestic or international, to assassinate President Kennedy. Despite its seemingly firm conclusions, the report failed to silence conspiracy theories surrounding the event, and in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in a preliminary report that Kennedy was "probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy" that may have involved multiple shooters and organized crime. The committee's findings, as with those of the Warren Commission, continue to be widely disputed.

Everyone over the age fifty remembers where they were and what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on Friday, November 22, 1963 at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time (10:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time). I was with a survey crew staking out the bridge for the Santa Monica Freeway over La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. When we broke for lunch we were playing our usual game of double deck pinochle when one to the guys looked out of the window and noticed that the flags on the distant office buildings were at half mast. We wondered why, but since we had no radio we didn’t know what had happened.

After lunch, we packed up and moved to another site to do some work. This is when a contractor’s employee came by and told us the President had been shot. We didn’t know whether to believe him or not so we continued with the task at hand. It wasn’t long after that our supervisor came by and gave us the official news and told us that the Governor, Edmund Pat Brown, had ordered all State offices closed at noon and for us to go home. It took another thirty minutes or so for us to pack up all the equipment and leave the site. The Governor had also ordered all State offices closed on Monday for a Day of Morning and to watch the funeral on television that same day.

By the time I arrived at home Kathy was already there with the TV going. We watched all the news we could handle that night and went to bed. When we awoke on Saturday and turned the TV on news reports were broadcasting conflicting reports all day long. Sunday was the same with the exception that we witnessed Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald as he was being transported from the Dallas Police Station. That Monday Kennedy was buried and we watched the funeral all day. Shortly after the funeral President Johnson empanelled the Warren Commission to review the assassination and publish its findings. In late September 1964, after a 10-month investigation, the Warren Commission Report was published. The Commission concluded that it could not find any persuasive evidence of a domestic or foreign conspiracy involving any other persons, groups, or countries. The Commission found that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the murder of Kennedy, and that Jack Ruby acted alone in the murder of Oswald.

Sometime in the 1960’s the country I grew up in began to change. Most people accredit this change to the Vietnam War; I think it was before that. I believe it was during the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy when the first conspiracy theory books began to appear. Authors, like Mark Lane with his book “Rush to Judgment”, were taking liberty with the facts and publishing books full of half truths based on comments taken out of context to advance their political agenda and themselves. This is the same Mark Lane who represented James Jones, of the Peoples Temple, and blamed the United States Government and CIA for the mass suicide of Jones’ 900 followers in Guyana.

With the popularity of these books, the American public, unable to accept that a lone gunman could assassinate the President of the United States, needed someone to blame, anyone would do even the Government. This is what is happening today with the 9/11 truthers and their conspiracy theories.

To this day after numerous hearings, investigations and forensic tests no factual evidence has ever been found or put forth to dispute the lone gunman theory. While the Warren Commission was flawed and the initial investigations were botched nothing has been presented to overturn the ultimate findings of the Warren Commission that Oswald was the lone assassin

Many books have been written and millions have been made from the promotion of the two or three gunman theory. Like the theories surrounding the Lincoln assassination these theories will also fade way into the dark recesses of history. There will always be those individuals who will not accept the facts and will look beyond them for the sinister hands of a conspiracy.

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