Re­liv­ing the ‘End of Days’

Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s killing still sells books 50 years later

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Ed Feul­ner

There are mo­ments that bring us to­gether as Amer­i­cans, mo­ments when we can all re­call ex­actly where we were and what we were do­ing.

Sept. 11. The ex­plo­sion of the space shut­tle Chal­lenger. And, of course, the as­sas­si­na­tion of John F. Kennedy.

I was sub­sti­tute teach­ing in a west Philadel­phia high school on Nov. 22, 1963. An as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal told me the news dur­ing class, and I was to pass it on to the stu­dents. To say we were all shocked would be an un­der­state­ment. Such an act was un­think­able.

This Fri­day marks the 50th an­niver­sary of that dark day, and the tributes to the 35th pres­i­dent are well un­der­way. The im­ages of the youngest man elected pres­i­dent be­ing cut down as he waves to throngs of well-wish­ers still haunt our col­lec­tive mem­ory.

This Novem­ber brings not only the as­sas­si­na­tion’s an­niver­sary, but a fresh, minute-by-minute ac­count of the killing and its af­ter­math called “End of Days.”

Many new books fo­cus­ing on the as­sas­si­na­tion have come out re­cently (Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Kennedy” is one of the best), but in “End of Days,” award-win­ning au­thor James Swan­son pro­vides a com­plete, sin­gle-vol­ume ex­pla­na­tion of vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing that hap­pened in Dal­las that day, and ev­ery­where else in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. Swan­son is the ideal au­thor to take up the task, as he ably showed a few years ago in his best-sell­ing “Man­hunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lin­coln’s Killer.” This time he has the com­plete story of another pres­i­den­tial as­sas­si­na­tion, and while con­spir­acy the­o­ries will prob­a­bly al­ways sprout like weeds, he con­vinc­ingly ar­gues that Lee Har­vey Oswald acted alone.

Have you heard that no in­di­vid­ual could have made a shot from that dis­tance? “The pres­i­dent was less than 100 yards away,” Mr. Swan­son ex­plains. The for­mer Ma­rine had been trained “to shoot at tar­gets with fixed, iron sights — with­out the aid of a tele­scopic sight — at dis­tances of two hun­dred, four hun­dred, and even six hun­dred yards.”

Re­porters rid­ing in the pres­i­den­tial con­voy could see Oswald and his ri­fle in the win­dow of the Texas School Book De­pos­i­tory, where Oswald worked. He had am­ple time to take three shots at the pres­i­dent’s slow-mov­ing limo.

Pres­i­dent Kennedy, Mr. Swan­son reminds us, wasn’t Oswald’s first at­tempted snip­ing. Less than a year ear­lier, Oswald at­tempted to kill Maj. Gen. Ed­win A. Walker. He missed by about an inch be­cause his shot nicked a win­dow frame, a mis­take he wouldn’t make the next time. Oswald, who had de­fected to Rus­sia af­ter his mil­i­tary ser­vice and had brought his wife back with him, was clearly a cold-blooded killer look­ing for a high-pro­file tar­get.

Kennedy wasn’t the only per­son Oswald killed that day. Shortly af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion, he shot Dal­las po­lice Of­fi­cer J.D. Tip­pit, who had stopped Oswald for ques­tion­ing. When the po­lice cap­tured Oswald, “he ac­tu­ally seemed to en­joy the at­ten­tion as he toyed with the Dal­las po­lice, FBI, and Se­cret Ser­vice in­ter­roga­tors. Oswald in­sisted he was in­no­cent,” Mr. Swan­son writes. The as­sas­sin went so far as to claim he didn’t even own a ri­fle.

Mr. Swan­son also cov­ers the con­tro­ver­sial af­ter­math of the killing. Oswald’s nonex­is­tent es­cape plan. His mer­ci­less killing of Tip­pit. Oswald’s ques­tion­ing by po­lice, and his own killing at the hands of Jack Ruby.

He also brings an era to life with a vivid de­pic­tion of the view­ing and fu­neral. We wit­ness the re­ac­tion of Kennedy’s widow and his sur­viv­ing brothers. We re­live the way Amer­i­cans lined up for miles in the cold to pay their re­spects. We read Jackie Kennedy’s hand­writ­ten let­ter to Lyn­don John­son.

Mr. Swan­son’s book reminds us that his­tory some­times turns on in­di­vid­ual de­ci­sions. From Gavrilo Prin­cip de­cid­ing to shoot Franz Fer­di­nand in 1914, to John Wilkes Booth slay­ing Abraham Lin­coln in Ford’s The­ater in 1865, it re­ally is as sim­ple as one man de­cid­ing to kill another.

While he was be­ing ques­tioned, Oswald pre­dicted that peo­ple would for­get Kennedy within days. He couldn’t have been more wrong. We still re­mem­ber 50 years on, and — thanks to books like “End of Days” — it’s a good bet we al­ways will.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A plain­clothes Dal­las po­lice of­fi­cer car­ries the ri­fle used that day in the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Kennedy.

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