50 years later, Kennedy death still haunts

Amer­i­cans look back at dark day that changed the coun­try for­ever

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY SAN­DRA MCEL­WAINE

Nov. 22, 1963 — the day that haunts us still.

That beau­ti­ful cloud-free morn­ing in Dal­las, when the youth­ful and hand­some pres­i­dent of the United States and his equally ap­peal­ing wife, Jac­que­line, rode in an open limou­sine with Gov. John Con­nally and his wife, Nel­lie, in the mo­tor­cade through the heart of the city.

Mrs. Kennedy wore a shock­ing pink copy of a Chanel suit with a match­ing pill­box hat and car­ried a bunch of ver­mil­ion roses. (That un­for­get­table out­fit, now care­fully en­shrined in a vault in the Na­tional Archives, re­mains one of the most pow­er­ful sym­bols of the Kennedy mys­tique.)

It was so warm and sunny that the Se­cret Ser­vice had re­moved the Plex­i­glas bub­ble top from the pres­i­den­tial ve­hi­cle, so there was noth­ing to sep­a­rate the charis­matic cou­ple from the cheer­ing crowds. (The pres­i­dent hated us­ing the bub­ble on any oc­ca­sion.)

They seemed re­laxed, smil­ing and wav­ing un­til sud­denly three shots rang out from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book De­pos­i­tory on Dealey Plaza.

Mer­ri­man Smith, the ven­er­a­ble UPI reporter, snatched the only phone in the press car sev­eral cars back, screamed the news to his bureau chief and alerted the world.

A dress man­u­fac­turer, Abraham Zapruder, cap­tured the slay­ing in the most no­to­ri­ous 26-sec­ond film clip in his­tory. The first bul­let missed. The sec­ond struck the pres­i­dent in the throat. The third blasted through his head. One sick­en­ing frame shows the hor­rific ex­plo­sion.

Fifty years later, the re­crim­i­na­tions, the con­spir­acy the­o­ries, the what-ifs and the sec­ond-guess­ings linger.

Dr. Ken­neth Sa­lye, who was a 27-yearold res­i­dent at Park­land Hos­pi­tal, re­cently de­clared that Kennedy might have sur­vived if he had not been wear­ing a back brace. Be­cause of chronic back pain, the pres­i­dent al­ways wore a tightly laced, chest-to-waist corset, which that day pre­vented him from duck­ing or mov­ing in or­der to avoid that fi­nal fatal shot.

Ac­cord­ing to Se­cret Ser­vice agent Clint Hill, Mrs. Kennedy cra­dled her hus­band in her arms whis­per­ing, “Jack, Jack what have they done to you? I love you.”

Mr. Zapruder never used his cam­era again.

Later, CBS an­chor Wal­ter Cronkite looked at the clock on his of­fice wall and mourn­fully an­nounced that the youngest elected pres­i­dent in U.S. his­tory had died at 1 p.m. Cen­tral Stan­dard Time, 2 p.m. East­ern Stan­dard Time, “some 38 min­utes ago.” John F. Kennedy was 47. The world seemed to stand still. Ev­ery­one who was alive re­mem­bers that hor­ri­ble Fri­day and ex­actly where they were and what they were do­ing. (It’s an in­vis­i­ble, emo­tional scar equiv­a­lent to the horror of Sept. 11, 2001.)

Shat­tered, we hud­dled around blackand-white TV sets for the weekend, ask­ing friends to stop by. It was com­mu­nal grief. We needed to share.

CBS cor­re­spon­dent Roger Mudd was re­port­ing in the Se­nate on Nov. 22. He re­called a gag­gle of South­ern se­na­tors, many who op­posed Kennedy, stand­ing around the As­so­ci­ated Press ticker tape in the Capi­tol, some qui­etly weep­ing.

The unan­swered ques­tions

Tele­vi­sion news zoomed into our lives. In real time, it gave us the shoot­ing death of as­sas­sin Lee Har­vey Oswald by night­club owner Jack Ruby in the Dal­las jail. It was another in­com­pre­hen­si­ble act that launched myr­iad con­spir­a­cies the­o­ries that still ex­ist.

In­nu­mer­able books, movies, TV shows, doc­u­men­taries and mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles have been writ­ten and pro­duced pos­ing or at­tempt­ing to an­swer, who killed JFK and why? Did the itin­er­ant Mr. Oswald act alone? Was there a sec­ond gun­man? Was the Mafia in­volved in the mur­der? How about Fidel Cas­tro, whom the CIA at­tempted to snuff out? Even Vice Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son’s name en­tered the mix.

De­spite the find­ings of the War­ren Com­mis­sion, which con­cluded there was a lone gun­man and a sin­gle bul­let, con­spir­a­cies and con­spir­acy buffs flour­ish.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, the first non­govern­men­tal foren­sic pathol­o­gist al­lowed to view Kennedy’s au­topsy re­port in 1972, calls the ev­i­dence he saw “botched and in­com­plete.”

The as­sas­si­na­tion is “a cold case that needs to be rein­ves­ti­gated. There were two shoot­ers — one be­hind the picket fence on the grassy knoll and one in the rear who may or may not have been Lee Har­vey Oswald,” Mr. Wecht as­serts.

As for the va­lid­ity of the War­ren Com­mis­sion re­port? “Pure non­sense,” he an­swers.

In a new book, “The Ac­ci­den­tal Vic­tim,” au­thor James Re­ston Jr. in­sists Oswald was out to kill Con­nally, not JFK.

So, the mys­tery en­dures.

The aura of Jackie

Jackie Kennedy cre­ated the im­age of Camelot to en­sure her hus­band’s legacy and place in his­tory. She per­pet­u­ated the glam­our and op­ti­mism of the New Fron­tier by writ­ing a mem­oir for the JFK Me­mo­rial Is­sue of Look mag­a­zine in Novem­ber 1964, one year af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion.

Sur­rounded by touch­ing pho­tos of her young chil­dren, John-John and Caro­line, she penned, “Now he is a leg­end when he would have pre­ferred to be a man.”

For mil­lions, the youth­ful Kennedys with their pic­ture-per­fect chil­dren epit­o­mized so­phis­ti­ca­tion and style, and as Kennedy would say, “vi­gah.”

It was the era of the jet set. The on­ce­dowdy White House be­came the fo­cal point of art, cul­ture and swanky din­ners. Hol­ly­wood stars, fash­ion­able New York so­cialites, mu­si­cians and artists, dressed to the nines, gath­ered around well-ap­pointed can­dle-lit ta­bles to dine on el­e­gant French cui­sine. The guests were witty, the con­ver­sa­tion sparkling, the peo­ple beau­ti­ful. Pub­lic ser­vice was per­ceived as noble.

The Kennedys were Amer­ica’s royal cou­ple. And Wash­ing­ton was the place to be. It was a mag­i­cal time.

“Peo­ple did not come here for liquor li­censes or asphalt con­tracts,” said syn­di­cated colum­nist Mark Shields. “They came to work on big is­sues to help peo­ple around the world, and they were proud to do so.”

Af­ter JFK’s ma­jes­tic fu­neral mod­eled on the ser­vice for slain Pres­i­dent Abraham Lin­coln, and her move to New York, the 34-year-old for­mer first lady re­mained on a pedestal, cloaked in the in­tox­i­cat­ing aura of the most fa­mous and ad­mired woman in the world.

But five years af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of her hus­band and four months af­ter the slay­ing of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, the Arthurian leg­end crashed to the ground. Jackie mar­ried Greek ship­ping ty­coon Aris­to­tle Onas­sis, the lover of her younger sis­ter Lee and opera diva Maria Cal­las.

There was a sense of out­rage and dis­be­lief around the globe. One Fleet Street tabloid blasted: “Jackie weds blank cheque.” Another in Rome roared: “JFK dies a sec­ond time.”

Her ex­pla­na­tion was un­sat­is­fy­ing to many. “If they are killing Kennedys, then my chil­dren are tar­gets. I want to get out of the coun­try,” she pro­claimed.

Her per­sonal al­lure en­dured as she trav­eled the world, a slim fig­ure hid­den by mam­moth sun­glasses con­tin­u­ally shop­ping at pricey bou­tiques, swarmed by pa­parazzi. She even­tu­ally be­came a re­spected book ed­i­tor.

Camelot fades

At the same time, the darker side of JFK’s life be­gan to emerge, tar­nish­ing the im­age of Camelot. His reck­less and fla­grant wom­an­iz­ing with in­terns, so­ci­ety women, even one of his wife’s as­sis­tants, hit the tabloids. The most ex­plo­sive rev­e­la­tions ex­posed Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and Ju­dith Camp­bell Exner, the mis­tress of mob boss Sam Gian­cana.

In a stun­ning ad­mis­sion, Ms. Exner told Kitty Kel­ley in Peo­ple mag­a­zine that she car­ried in­for­ma­tion “en­velopes” back and forth be­tween the two men. She also said she ar­ranged at least 10 meet­ings be­tween them. One may have been in the White House.

Kennedy’s stand­ing in pub­lic opin­ion slipped fur­ther when the cover-up of his many ill­nesses was re­vealed. He suf­fered from Ad­di­son’s disease, back pain (he fre­quently re­treated to a rock­ing chair), stom­ach and res­pi­ra­tory ail­ments along with a va­ri­ety of other se­ri­ous ail­ments. To hide his pre­car­i­ous health from the na­tion, he took a mix­ture of steroids, painkillers and am­phet­a­mines com­bined with high-pow­ered in­jec­tions ad­min­is­tered by a well-known Dr. Feel Good Lo­ca­tions of iconic items from the day Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy was as­sas­si­nated, Nov. 22, 1963: from New York.

De­spite the pain, he was al­ways debonair and never, ever com­plained, skipped an event or changed his sched­ule.

Al­though the dy­nas­tic myth has frayed and dimmed over the past half-cen­tury, the Kennedy fam­ily re­mains a thriv­ing cot­tage in­dus­try.

Steve Fer­ber, a dealer in po­lit­i­cal col­lectibles in Scotts­dale, Ariz., said Kennedy me­mora­bilia is the most sought-af­ter world­wide. The most pop­u­lar item: a rare mu­si­cal rock­ing-chair doll, which was taken off the mar­ket and de­stroyed by the man­u­fac­turer right af­ter the pres­i­dent’s death.

“We like to think that JFK lives on be­cause the items that we see ev­ery day bring those mem­o­ries back to us,” Mr. Fer­ber said. “That’s what it’s all about: mem­o­ries.”

The next gen­er­a­tion

Since the death of Jackie Kennedy Onas­sis in 1994 and John Jr. in the crash of the plane he was pi­lot­ing in 1999, Caro­line Kennedy has stepped into the lime­light. The 56-year-old mother of three — a lawyer, au­thor and strong Obama sup­porter — was sworn in this month as the first U.S. fe­male am­bas­sador to Ja­pan. She spent her hon­ey­moon in Ja­pan and said her fa­ther had hoped to be the first U.S. pres­i­dent to visit the coun­try.

Be­side her at the cer­e­mony, steal­ing the scene, stood her son, John “Jack” Schloss­berg, a tall, lanky, good-look­ing 20-year-old who is at Yale, train­ing to be an emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian.

The dash­ing only grand­son of the 35th pres­i­dent grace­fully in­tro­duced Pres­i­dent Obama at the JFK Me­mo­rial Din­ner at the White House on Wed­nes­day evening.

He has talked can­didly about his po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions. At the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in 2012, he told CNN: “Pol­i­tics def­i­nitely in­ter­ests me. I’m most in­ter­ested in pub­lic ser­vice. I think that’s some­thing that I got from be­ing part of my fam­ily, which is such an honor.” For many, that legacy burns on.

Young Jack Schloss­berg may just be the next mem­ber of the trou­bled dy­nasty to pick up the torch.


JOY­FUL­NESS: In the last mo­ments be­fore his­tory changes course, Pres­i­dent Kennedy rev­els in an ador­ing Dal­las crowd from his mo­tor­cade with first lady Jac­que­line Kennedy, Nel­lie Con­nally and her hus­band, Texas Gov. John Con­nally.

Ar­ling­ton House sits atop a hill over­look­ing the eter­nal flame at the grave site of for­mer Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery.

The cais­son bear­ing the flag-draped cof­fin of Kennedy leaves the White House in pro­ces­sion down Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue en route to Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery.

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