To those of us born after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, it seems perfectly natural to distrust the government. Politicians don’t have our best interests in mind, and there isn’t a sense that we’re all in this together. There is a very apparent sense of “I’m in this for myself, I don’t care what happens to everyone else.”
This, of course, was not always the case.
On November 21, 1963, my mother turned 12. The following day, November 22, 1963 she vividly remembers being given the news that the President had been shot and killed and being sent home early from school. “It was like a make-believe world coming true and then it was all being smashed,” she said.
On November 21, 1963 John F. Kennedy left the White House to go to Texas and start campaigning for the 1964 election. He would be travelling to San Antonio, Houston, and Fort Worth on the 21st and then, despite friends and advisors warning against it, to Dallas on the 22nd. After all, on Oct. 24, UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson traveled to Dallas for UN Day where he was pushed around, yelled at, and spit on.
On the morning of Nov. 22, John F. Kennedy went out in front of the Hotel Texas where he gave a short speech in a light rain to a waiting crowd, then went back inside for a Chamber of Commerce breakfast. From there, President and Mrs. Kennedy, Governor and Mrs. John Connally, Vice President and Mrs. Johnson, and Senator Ralph Yarborough drove to Carswell Air Force Base where they would take a short flight to Dallas Love Field to being their motorcade to the Dallas Trade Mart.
They had decided to take a longer then planned route through Dallas so he could have more exposure to the people waiting to see him. As the motorcade neared the Trade Mart crowds thinned out. They made a right onto Houston Street, then a hard left onto Elm Street. Just before 12:30pm Nellie Connally turned to the President and said “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.”
Then one shot was fired. Many people thought it was one of the motorcycle escorts backfiring, but a few recognised it as gunfire. Then a second shot, and quickly after, a third shot.
Special Agent in Charge Clint Hill ran to the presidents’ limo which was directly in front of him. He pushed Jackie Kennedy back in the car after she inexplicably climbed onto the trunk of the car. He later learned it was to get a piece of the President’s skull and brain. They sped to the Triple Underpass, to Stemmons Freeway, to Parkland Memorial Hospital. At first, Jackie Kennedy would not allow anyone to take the President from the car. Realising why, Clint Hill took off his jacket it and laid it over the Presidents head. Jackie didn’t want anyone looking at the large wound in the back of her husband’s head.
At 12:57pm Father Oscar Huber and Father James Thompson arrived at Parkland Hospital to give John F. Kennedy the Last Rites. At 1:00pm the 35th President of the United States, Kennedy was pronounced dead. At 1:38pm Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office aboard Air Force One.
And in that short passage of time, the country had changed forever. Gone was the vibrant, young president who many trusted to have the country’s best interests at heart. Gone was that perfect presidential fantasy known as Camelot. In its place distrust would grow.
On Nov. 29, President Johnson issued Executive Order No. 11130 to create a commission to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy. What became known as the Warren Commission Report issued a hasty report that was criticised for leaving off important witnesses, destroying evidence, and drawing unsupported conclusions.
The report concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president and wounded Governor Connally, firing three shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository; that Jack Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald on Nov. 24; and that neither Oswald nor Ruby had anything to do with a conspiracy.
Almost immediately, many suspected that the government was covering up some aspects of the assassination. These suspicions were amplified more than a decade later, on Jan. 2, 1979, when the House Select Committee on Assassinations determined that John F. Kennedy was probably killed as a result of a conspiracy. Ironically, many of the men involved with the research and publishing of the Warren Commission report were later implicated in Watergate.
It was easy to see why people doubted the government and where the conspiracy theories crop up from. A series of scandals attached to subsequent presidents would further make Americans question whether the White House had their best interests at heart.
My father, who was 14 at the time of Kennedy’s assassination, tells me it represented a turning point in history: “When he was gone, we didn’t know where we were going. We lost direction, got off track, and since then we’ve never gotten it back. We lost a compassion, we lost hope and we lost drive when Kennedy was killed.”
For the past six years I have been studying and researching Kennedy’s administration and his assassination for a book. I read about his policies, his vitality, his compassion, his desire to help the country, and I truly get sad. My generation has never known that. We ask what our country can do for us, not what we can do for our country.
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