Tag Archives: JFK assassination

First thought on JFK murder? The Soviets did it!

I was a mere pup of nearly 14 years of age on Nov. 22, 1963.

I was home that day, nursing a bad cold. Mom and Dad had gone to work. My sisters were at school. I was watching TV when the news bulletin flashed on the screen: “Shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas, Texas; no word on whether the president was injured.”

The “word” came quickly. The president was rushed to a hospital. Doctors worked to save his life. They failed. Then came the announcement: “President Kennedy is dead.”

My first thought in the moment was clear and simple: The Soviet Union did it. Not only that, they were going to invade us immediately. The United States was without a president. We had no leadership.

Remember that I wasn’t yet 14. My mind ran wild.

I remember those initial thoughts today as Donald Trump has released many thousands of previously classified documents related to the Kennedy assassination. I’m hearing lots of talk that conspiracy theorists are going to run wild with this stuff. It’s going to substantiate their already-loony belief that someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald was involved. It was the Mob, the Cubans, the CIA, the FBI, LBJ, men from Mars, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I settled down over the years about what I truly believe happened that terrible day.

My 13-year-old concern about the Soviets was ill-founded, to state the obvious. I didn’t realize in the moment that Vice President Lyndon Johnson took the presidential oath of office in Dallas. He took command immediately. And the Big Bad Bear didn’t attack us.

I have grown up since then and have come to believe that Oswald did it. He acted alone. He snuck into the Book Depository Building. He waited for the president’s motorcade to pass under the sixth-floor window where he was perched. He squeezed off three rounds and fled. He got caught in the theater, shot the Dallas police officer and was arrested.

He wanted notoriety and, oh brother, he got it.

I also believe Jack Ruby wanted to be remembered, too, which fueled his desire to kill Oswald in the Dallas PD basement.

I’m glad the documents are out. I hope to read many of them over time. The myriad conspiracy theories they are likely to rekindle are the work of people with too damn much time on their hands.

They need to find work. They need to get and stay busy.

By all means, release those JFK files

Donald Trump plans — at this moment — to allow the release of files relating to one of the 20th century’s most hideous crimes: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

I hope the president does it. He left himself an out, though, suggesting he might not do so if intelligence agencies determine that it’s too sensitive to national security to release them at this time.

Why do I want the files released? I hope — but don’t necessarily expect — the files to put to rest the ridiculous conspiracy theories that have kicked around since that terrible day in November 1963.

I happen to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I do not believe there was a second gunman; nor do I believe that anyone conspired with Oswald to kill the nation’s president.

Release those files

Will the release of those files kill forever those theories? Oh, probably not. We might be listening to cockamamie theories/baloney for as long as we exist as a nation. As Larry Sabato, political scientist at the University of Virginia, noted today, we’re still debating the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, who was killed at Ford Theater in April 1865.

It’s been 54 years since Oswald killed the president and wounded Texas Gov. John Connally. Thousands of pages of valuable information has been kept under lock and key. They’re supposed to be opened to the public next week.

I hope the president follows through, with the expectation that we can push this terrible event a little farther toward the rear of the shelf.

Chaos need not be the new White House norm

As I watch Donald J. Trump’s chaotic first few weeks as president of the United States, I have to keep reminding myself: Does it really need to be this way?

Of course it doesn’t. We’re watching Trump stumble-bum his way through controversy after controversy and his ridiculous rants and riffs with foreign leaders.

Now we’re watching an potentially unfolding major-league scandal involving the president’s former national security adviser, who quit this week in the wake of reports that he had inappropriate — and possibly illegal — discussions with Russian government officials prior to Trump taking office.

Two presidents in my lifetime have taken office amid terrible tragedy and tumult. In both cases, these men grabbed the reins of power and assumed the role of president as if they’d been there all along.

Example one: Lyndon Baines Johnson took the oath of office on a jetliner sitting on a tarmac at Love Field in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. His predecessor’s body was in a casket in the back of the plane and the nation was in utter shock over what had happened earlier that day when a gunman murdered President John F. Kennedy.

LBJ flew back to Washington and asked the nation to pray for him. We did. He convened his team and got to work immediately.

The nation buried JFK a few days later, President Johnson went to Congress and declared “all that I have I would surrender” to avoid standing before the nation in that moment.

The nation marched forward.

Example two: Gerald Rudolph Ford became president on Aug. 9, 1974 as his predecessor resigned in disgrace. The House of Representatives stood poised to impeach Richard Nixon for high crimes and misdemeanors relating to the Watergate scandal. It took a stalwart Republican U.S. senator, Barry Goldwater, to tell the president his time was up. He had no support in the Senate, where he would stand trial after the House impeached him.

President Nixon quit. President Ford took the oath and then told us, “Our long national nightmare is over.” He told us he was “acutely aware” he hadn’t been elected vice president or president. But he was the right man for the job.

He, too, called his team together and instructed them to get back to work.

President Ford would lose his election battle in 1976 to Jimmy Carter. It was Carter who, upon taking the oath of office in January 1977, would turn to his predecessor and begin his inaugural speech by thanking the former president for “all he had done to heal our country.”

Presidents Johnson and Ford had something in common: they both had extensive government experience prior to assuming their high office. They knew how the government worked. LBJ had served as Senate majority leader before becoming vice president in 1961 and had many friends on both sides of the partisan divide. Ford had served as minority leader in the House of Representatives before Nixon tapped him to be vice president in 1973 after Spiro Agnew quit after pleading no contest to a corruption charge. Ford also had many friends on both sides of the aisle.

These men assumed the presidency under far more trying circumstances than Trump did, yet they made the transition with relative ease … compared to the madness we’re witnessing these days with the 45th president.

We are witnessing in real time, I submit, the consequences of electing someone who brought zero public service experience to the most difficult and complicated job on Planet Earth.

JFK murder recalls a curious interview

brooks-at-lbj-swearing-in

Take a good look at this picture. You know the moment it has recorded.

Standing behind the grieving Jacqueline Kennedy, just over her right shoulder is a fellow I used to know pretty well. He is U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks, a Democrat from Beaumont, Texas, and arguably the crustiest, most partisan member of the Texas congressional delegation at that time … or perhaps any time.

Brooks died just a few years ago. He was one of the Democrats who lost his re-election bid in that historic Republican “Contract With America” tide that swept over Congress in 1994.

The previous year, I sat down with Brooks to interview him about the events that occurred in Dallas 30 years earlier. I sought to get into the man’s soul, into his heart. I wanted him to share with his constituents — through this interview to be published in the Beaumont Enterprise — what he felt that day.

Jack was riding in the motorcade that beautiful day in Dallas. It was Nov. 22, 1963. He was riding several vehicles behind the presidential limo that was carrying the Kennedys and Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie.

Rifle shots exploded from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building, hitting the president and Gov. Connally. Their car took off at full speed for Parkland Hospital. The world held its breath when news broke that “shots were fired” at the motorcade.

Then the terrible result flashed around the globe: The president was dead.

I sought to plumb deep into Rep. Brooks’ heart and soul that day.

But I learned something that day about Brooks that I knew intuitively all along. He wasn’t prone to thinking like that. I recall being disappointed at the seeming lack of pathos this man.

Brooks wasn’t the most gracious fellow I’ve ever met. He could be as mean as they come. Perhaps he wasn’t comfortable talking to a media representative about that terrible day.

Surely he knew, I speculated to him out loud, about the immense burden that his mentor and friend — President Lyndon Johnson — was carrying at that moment. Did he sense it? Did he grasp in the moment that the world was watching everyone’s move that day? Brooks didn’t confide much to me during our visit that day.

That interview stands perhaps as the most glaring missed opportunity I experienced during nearly four decades in daily journalism.

Oh, how I sought far more than I got from a veteran Texas politician.

A little perspective seems to be in order

jfk

I’m still in a bit of shock over the election results. It’s going to take some time to get over the notion that a first-time candidate for any public office has just been elected president of the United States of America … for crying out loud!

But I’ll tell you this: There is something of a silver lining at the prospect of Donald J. Trump taking the oath of office and assuming the multiple roles of head of state/head of government/leader of the Free World/commander in chief of the world’s greatest military machine.

It lies in what we’ve endured already as a nation. We have survived — in my view — worse crises than what many of us are feeling now.

Fifty-three years ago, TV news networks flashed bulletins on our screens to inform the nation that “shots were fired” at a presidential motorcade in downtown Dallas. The news trickled in at first. Was the president hurt? Did the gunman hit our nation’s leader?

Then we found out. Yes! The president was taken to a hospital. Doctors were treating him for gunshot wounds.

After that, the worst news possible was flashed around the world: President John F. Kennedy was dead.

I was 13 years old at the time. I have vivid memories of how I felt in that moment. I just knew in my gut that the Russians were responsible. They did it! They killed our president and were planning to invade us. The Soviet Union was going to take over the world, just as they threatened they would. Hey, we were locked in a Cold War with those guys, who had as many nukes as we did.

We would learn in short order — later that very day — that a non-Russian pulled the trigger … allegedly. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with murdering our president. He, too, would be gunned down a couple of days later in the Dallas Police Department garage. All hell broke loose once again.

Crisis begat another crisis.

How did we do? We got through it.

A new president took the oath of office aboard a jetliner dubbed Air Force One. He flew back to the capital with the body of his slain predecessor. President Lyndon Johnson asked for his nation’s help and God’s strength to see him — and the rest of us — through this terrible moment.

Yes, we’ve exhibited tremendous resilience over many years. World wars, economic collapse, constitutional crises and all manner of conflicts large and small haven’t taken us down.

Donald Trump’s election, while still shocking to many of us, was conducted in accordance with the rules and laws prescribed by our founders. He won this contest fair and square. And, no, the results were not “rigged.”

Understand this: I am not equating a presidential election with a presidential assassination. I mention the JFK tragedy only to put matters into what I believe is their proper perspective.

Remember this, too: If the new president messes up — as many folks believe he will — we have a civilized method to embark on a course correction. We call them “elections.”

Don’t look for these rivals to make up

cruz-trump_jpg_800x1000_q100

Recent political history is full of examples of how rivals for the presidency have said means and occasionally disgusting things to and about each other … and then hooked up as allies.

In 1960, U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson fought each other for the Democratic presidential nomination. JFK was nominated and then picked LBJ to run with him. They won the election and the rest is, well, history.

Twenty years later, former Gov. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush battled for the 1980 Republican nomination, with Bush labeling Reagan’s tax plan as “voodoo economics.” Reagan won the GOP nod and then picked Bush to run alongside him as vice president.

In 2008, the combatants were Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden fighting for the Democratic nomination. Biden dropped out, Obama won the nomination and picked Biden to run with him. President-elect Obama then turned to another campaign rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and selected her to be secretary of state.

In 2016, well, matters are quite a bit different.

The battlers this time are Donald J. Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. They are fighting for the Republican nomination.

The gloves are off. The brass knuckles are on. The men loathe each other. Trump calls Cruz “Lyin’ Ted.” Cruz is now responding with attacks on Trump, referring to him as a “pathological liar” and a “serial philanderer.”

Trump now says that Cruz’s father might have been a principal — are you ready for this one? — in the assassination of President Kennedy. Cruz’s response was classic: “Let’s be clear: This is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is kooky,” Cruz said in Evansville, Ind. “While I’m at it, I should go ahead and admit yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard.”

Cruz is likely to get battered badly in today’s Indiana GOP primary. He’s going all-out against Trump. The men seem to truly despise each other.

https://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/03/bracing-indiana-loss-cruz-unloads-trump/

Trying to predict any outcome in this year’s wacky presidential contest is a dicey proposition at best.

I feel comfortable, though, in asserting that Trump and Cruz will not team up for the fall campaign.

Lady Bird had the right idea

flowers

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — Lady Bird Johnson well might have been the most intuitive first lady ever to grace the White House.

The picture accompanying this blog post illustrates my point.

The picture is of a small meadow just down the road and around the corner from my brother-in-law’s home in this tiny burg near Austin.

The flowers brightened our day as we drove to his house after a lengthy drive from Amarillo.

Lady Bird became first lady in November 1963 under the most dire of circumstances. Her husband’s predecessor as president, John F. Kennedy, had been murdered in Dallas. The nation, indeed the world, was in shock. We were grieving deeply.

That was the context the Johnsons inherited when Lyndon Johnson became president and “Bird” became first lady.

Understand this: I have no earthly idea whether Lady Bird was reacting to our national tragedy when she came up with the beautification initiative. First ladies have “themes” they promote while they live in the White House. Mrs. Johnson chose to make beautification her signature effort.

She embarked on a campaign to promote wildflower planting along public rights of way throughout the nation. Texas, of course, became a sort of “ground zero” for that effort. And why not? She and Lyndon were native Texans, so she might have felt obligated to gussy up her home state.

I’m happy to report that in the Spring of 2016, Lady Bird Johnson’s flower-planting initiative has taken root.

The flowers in this picture are wildflowers. Of that I’m quite sure.

So, too, are the bluebonnets and the Indian paint brush we saw spread for miles along Texas 71 between Llano and the outskirts of Austin. I regret I didn’t take pictures of them; you’ll just have to take my word for it. They’re gorgeous.

With that, I want to bow in honor of Lady Bird Johnson. She helped lift the nation — whether she intended to or not — from its deepest despair.

 

Please, no conspiracy theories about rally violence

Donald-Trump_3372655b

Donald J. Trump says Bernie Sanders has planted protesters at rallies to stir things up and provoke violence.

Sanders denies it categorically.

Now a Florida congressman — a Trump supporter — says Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign is guilty of prodding the Trumpsters into striking back at the protesters.

No word yet from the Clinton campaign; I’m quite sure there’ll be a categorical denial there, too.

Conspiracy theories have this way of never dying. JFK assassination? Area 51 cover-up? 9/11?

It might be that long after this campaign has ended, we’ll hear conspiracy theories kicked around about who started the violence at the Trump rallies as the candidate stumps for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

Here’s my theory.

Trump started it by inflaming his crowds from the podium.

Punch people in the face? Beat the “crap” out of someone? Offer to pay legal fees for those charged with crimes?

The candidate is inciting the violence and that — all by itself — is what gives this story its staying power.

I get that violence has occurred over many decades. The 1968 Democratic National Convention provoked a full-scale series of street riots in Chicago. Police vs. Protesters turned into the stuff of hideous, actual “reality TV” for those of us who watched it unfold.

It spilled onto the convention floor. Security personnel beat up delegates and media reporters.

Do you recall hearing pols exhorting protesters from the stage? Neither do I.

Yes, this campaign is vastly different.

It has brought the level of political campaigning to a level not seen by anyone, near as I can tell.

It’s also prompted the goofballs among us to suggest that it’s all being orchestrated by mysterious evil political opponents.

It’s not so complicated. The violence is a result of a candidate fomenting the anger expressed by those who support his bid for the presidency, which has dared those who oppose him to respond with protests.

Why in the name of sanity — and decency — can’t Donald J. Trump start delivering a positive message of change?

I hope it isn’t too late.

 

O'Reilly getting a taste of his own brew

The Bill O’Reilly story isn’t going away any time soon.

It might not ever disappear. Why is that? Well, look at it as payback from other media organizations that have been on the receiving end of O’Reilly’s sanctimony over many years.

http://mediamatters.org/blog/2015/02/24/oreilly-lied-about-suicide-of-jfk-assassination/202655

The left-leaning media watchdog groups around the country are taking a serious look at the allegations of embellishment and falsification that have piled up around O’Reilly. The Falklands War story still is resonating in some circles. O’Reilly has implied that he was in serious danger while covering the 1982 Falklands War between Great Britain and Argentina. He didn’t show up on the battlefield, but was in Buenos Aires covering riots and other disturbances during the Falklands conflict.

Was he in the danger he says he was? His former CBS colleagues dispute it.

Now comes another allegation of falsehood, that he was present during the suicide of a principal in the John F. Kennedy assassination. That, too, has come under challenge.

This story will have legs for some time for one simple reason: Bill O’Reilly has made considerable hay over the years criticizing other media outlets and reporters for their own transgressions. He’s held himself and his employer, Fox News, as the twin paragons of virtue and truth-telling. The “No Spin Zone,” which he calls his Fox TV show, has every bit as much “spin” as any other TV news talk show. O’Reilly just chooses to “spin” his stories his way.

Another reality, though, is that O’Reilly isn’t getting any more of a media vetting than Brian Williams got when it was revealed that he really wasn’t shot down in Iraq in 2003 as he has suggested. Nor is he being hammered any harder than former CBS News anchor Dan Rather was when he reported erroneously about President George W. Bush’s Air National Guard duty in the 1970s.

However, O’Reilly’s penchant for sticking it to other media means this story will continue for a good while longer.

This kind of scrutiny goes with the territory. O’Reilly knows it better than most.

 

JFK conspiracy? I still doubt it … seriously

A few of my closest friends and members of my immediate family know that Robert F. Kennedy was the first politician I grew to actually admire.

I watched him grow from a ruthless operative to a serious leader of Americans looking for a serious change in the political landscape.

An assassin ended that dream in June 1968.

I am dismayed, then, to read that RFK harbored some doubts about the official findings associated with the death of his brother, President John Kennedy, who also was cut down by an assassin on Nov. 22, 1963.

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/was-bobby-kennedy-a-jfk-conspiracy-theorist-111729.html?hp=pm_1#.VDvTQFJ0yt8

According to author Philip Shenon, Bobby Kennedy believed the mob had a hand in his brother’s death. The Warren Commission, charged by President Johnson to examine the details of the assassination, didn’t interview RFK, who reportedly had this notion that the mob figures working with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro played a role in the murder in Dallas.

I cannot pretend to know all the details. RFK, then the attorney general of the United States, had access to information very few Americans ever will have. Who am I to doubt his view that Lee Harvey Oswald was part of a grand conspiracy?

Well, I keep going back to this fundamental question: How does anyone keep quiet about such a monstrous act over the course of 51 years?

The answer I keep getting is this: Because there’s no one to blab; the one guy who did the deed was himself shot to death in the Dallas Police Department basement two days after he killed the president.

Still, this notion presents another set of questions.

What precisely did RFK know? If he knew something was amiss, why in the world didn’t he say something publicly at the time when the Warren Commission released its findings?

We cannot know the answer to either of those questions. Robert Francis Kennedy is the one man with the answer. We cannot bring him back.

Thus, these theories live on.