Tag Archives: President John F. Kennedy

No Change

I could tell just from my parents’ facial expressions this was bad.  The gallery of people (mostly older men) in similar-looking attire reeked of authority.  For me, all of 9- and 10-years-old, the joy of our first color TV set in this newly-built suburban Dallas home dampened with the drone of voices in that crowd on the screen.  Coupled with my parents’ own head-shaking, I got the sense something was very wrong.  I had no idea.  This was my first exposure to the American political system.  They were the Watergate hearings.

This week marks 50 years since the notorious break-in at the Watergate Office Complex in Washington, D.C., by a gang of misfits operating under the orders of the president of the United States.  Richard Nixon had become so emboldened by his 1968 win that he dared to envision a world where he either had no enemies or enemies that were easily squashed.  He had narrowly lost the 1960 presidential race to John F. Kennedy and then lost a 1962 bid for the California governorship.  Thus, winning the presidency created an authoritarian desire in him to hold onto power at any cost.  He would do anything to ensure he won a second term – which he did, in one of the biggest election landslides in U.S. history.

As recollections of those events abound, the nation is currently encased in more political intrigue.  The January 6 hearings have been underway for a week now, and there’s no telling how long they will last.

In some ways, the events of January 6, 2021 are similar to Watergate.  Both were set off by presidents who wanted desperately to hold onto power and ended up disgracing themselves.  History is still building Donald Trump’s legacy, but at least Nixon legitimately won both of his terms in office.

Trump’s 2016 “win”, on the other hand, was a fluke – a blatant act of fraud in a profession where character often doesn’t really matter.  And, like Nixon, he would do anything to ensure he would serve a second term as U.S. president; the leader of a nation that has long held itself as a beacon of true democracy and freedom.  When the results of the 2020 presidential election began arriving, it became clear Trump was not the winner.  But, as now know, he and his equally maniacal supporters would not accept the results.  Trump had stated months earlier that he would only acknowledged the outcome if he won.  That was the egoist in him talking.  It was also the oligarch in him; a reality TV star who gleefully terminated people in front of cameras, just as he’d surely done during his own professional life.

For decades, many have said we need a businessman in the White House.  Well…we got on with Trump – although we’re now aware he’s not as successful as he claimed to be.  But, with his extreme wealth, he could afford to be brutally honest – a virtue that appealed to the angry (mostly White) masses; a group that had tired of diversity and inclusion and suddenly wanted to claim the victim mantel in the 21st century.

The businessman model failed with the Trump presidency.  In at least one other manner, Nixon resembles Trump.  He never truly admitted wrongdoing.  Just a few years after he left office, Nixon gave a series of carefully-crafted interviews with journalist David Frost, in which he defended his actions; reiterating that, “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”.

Trump sees nothing wrong with the events of January 6, 2021.  From his pathetic vantage point, he did nothing wrong.  Even as the hearings proceed, he still insists he’s a victim of a rigged election system.  I’m sure Al Gore and Hillary Clinton would love to have a word with him about rigged elections.

Facing certain impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives, Nixon resigned the presidency in August of 1974 – the first and (to date) only American president ever to achieve that ignominious feat.  After an impassioned speech to his staff, he boarded the Marine 1 helicopter and left the White House grounds.  There was no gunfire; no bombings; no bloodshed.  The Nixons were dragged from their home and strung up in public, like Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu.  It wasn’t a Castro-type coup we’ve often seen in developing nations.

The events of January 6, 2021 were calamitous – and bloody.  Never has the U.S. Capitol been invaded and overrun by angry citizens.  That’s something that shouldn’t happen here; again, that’s a developing nation type of fiasco.  I’ve seen it on television and read about it in print – an oppressed people storming their national capitol to demand regime change.  We’ve seen it occur in Central America and the Philippines.  It happened across Eastern Europe, as the Soviet Union collapsed.

As the Watergate hearings proceeded throughout 1973 and ’74, more and more information came to light pointing to Nixon as the instigator of the entire mess.  The break-in wasn’t – as one individual dubbed it – a “third-rate burglary”.  The scandal was larger and deeper than anyone had imagined.  When the nefarious arrows finally began pointing back to Nixon, he resigned.  His reputation, along with that of many of his henchmen, disintegrated.  Their political careers were permanently ruined.

The January 6 hearings are almost theatrical.  There is no secret about what happened and who was responsible.  We know Trump urged his followers to “take back” the country and undermine the democratic process.  We know he demanded election officials in a number of states to find votes that would push him into a win.  We know he expected his Vice-President, Mike Pence, not to certify the 2020 election, as was his official duty.  And, to ingratiate the true horror of that day into our minds, video surveillance has been presented to the January 6 Committee showing the moment Pence had to be evacuated from the Capitol floor, as the rioters encroached.  Nixon demanded some people be silenced.  But, as far as we know, he never actually insisted they be murdered.

Everyone who runs for public office has to be somewhat egotistical; at the very least super-confident in themselves and what they have to offer.  They put themselves into the public arena and risk everything.  But egotism reaches dangerous proportions when the individual comes to believe they are better than everyone else and can do no wrong.  It’s nowhere more alarming than in politics where people who win elections are empowered to make decisions that impact the lives of millions.

In looking at Watergate and January 6, it’s amazing how fragile the democratic process remains.  It’s stunning how little seems to have changed.  It’s even more upsetting to think some people still see nothing wrong with any of it.

Image: Robert Pryor


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Right to Control

Many of the cases that arrive before the U.S. Supreme Court begin with individuals either trying right a wrong or make their own lives better.  They rarely expect to launch a national movement.  That was pretty much the case when Norma McCorvey found herself pregnant with her third child in 1969.  An unemployed carnival worker living outside Dallas at the time, McCorvey apparently had led a rough life and had given up her first two children for adoption.  She didn’t need – and couldn’t afford – to bring another child into the world.  However, the state of Texas didn’t allow for abortions except to save the life of the mother.  Even rape and incest victims couldn’t end their unwanted pregnancies.  Like so many women in her situation, McCorvey was too poor to travel to another state where abortions were safe and legal.  She even tried to obtain an illegal abortion, but again the cost was prohibitive.  She sought legal help and ended up under the guidance of attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington.

In 1970, after McCorvey had given birth and given up the baby, Coffee and Weddington filed paper work challenging the Texas law and bestowed the name “Jane Roe” upon their client.  They targeted then-Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade.  Wade had entered the national spotlight nearly a decade earlier when he prosecuted Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald who had been accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy.  (Wade would later come to light as a ruthless prosecutor who engaged in unscrupulous legal maneuvers to ensure criminal prosecutions, no matter the cost and despite evidence to the contrary.)

After McCorvey’s suit was filed, a Texas district court ruled the state’s abortion ban violated the constitutional right to privacy under the 14th Amendment.  Wade persisted, however, and vowed to prosecute any doctor who performed what he deemed unnecessary abortions in the state.  The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court and, in a 7-2 ruling on January 22, 1973, abortion was fully legalized in the United States.

That was pretty much the end of the issue until the 1980s, when right-wing religious leaders began stoking the fires of anti-abortion rhetoric.  It accompanied the presidency of Ronald Reagan who openly stated he wished for a return to an America before the 1960s.  That should say enough about his bigoted state of mind, but it aligned with a growing hostility towards progressive ideology and civil rights legislation.

Earlier this week the unexpected news arrived that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe vs. Wade by the end of its current term in June.  We wouldn’t know anything about this if it wasn’t for the leak of a draft opinion by Associate Justice Samuel Alito who declares the Roe decision “egregiously wrong” in terms of constitutional practicality.  Chief Justice John Roberts has confirmed the veracity of the statement, but has joined many others in condemning the leak.

For many of us the leak isn’t the main concern.  It’s what it says.  There is now a very real possibility that nearly a half century of protection for that part of women’s overall health care could end because a handful of conservative extremists on the High Court want to inject their personal views into it.

For their like-minded ilk in the American public, the overturning of Roe marks the end of a long-fought battle in their alleged “pro-life” agenda; a perverted early Mother’s Day gift.  It doesn’t matter that a majority of Americans don’t want to see a complete ban on abortion.  They’ve been working for this moment over the past four decades.

For liberals, though, this is a much more dire situation.  While the current case that brought Roe back into the forefront is limited to just abortion, progressives see other seminal SCOTUS decisions in the judicial crosshairs.  It really isn’t extraordinary to see such cases as Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, reversed.  Along with abortion, queer rights have been a target of far-right conservatives.  But, if the Court sees fit to outlaw abortion at the national level (and leave it up to individual states), it could also reasonably overturn Griswold vs. Connecticut, which ruled that states could not deny birth control to married couples.  Before that decision, married residents of Connecticut (and a few other states) couldn’t legally purchase birth control.

To some conservatives, abortion has become another form of birth control, which is not what contemporary feminists who jump-started the modern women’s movement desired.  The latter group had always declared that abortion should be a woman’s last choice.  But, with the overall concept of birth control in mind, is it possible a woman who has a tubal ligation could be criminally prosecuted?  For that matter, could men who have vasectomies be subject to criminal jurisprudence?  How about condoms or IUDs?  Could those be outlawed?

Why stop with Roe?  Aside from Obergefell and Griswold, could the Court target Loving vs. Virginia, the case that struck laws against interracial marriage?  How about Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, which outlaws racial desegregation in schools?

Remember that, when Antonin Scalia died in 2016, Republicans in the Senate displayed their usual contempt and disdain for President Obama by refusing to hold hearings on his nominee to the Court, until after Donald Trump got into office.  They stated that, since Scalia’s death occurred during an election year, the incoming president should select his replacement.  Yet, upon the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020, they rammed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett – a character straight out of “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

That social and religious conservatives want to dictate what women can and cannot do with their own bodies conflicts with the long-held American vision of individual freedom.  Many of these people screamed at the thought mandatory mask-wearing or forced vaccinations at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; crying they should have autonomy over their own bodies.  Really?  What an original concept.

Conservatives herald the beauty of life, but a life costs hard dollars in the very real world of child-rearing.  Since 2019, for example, the state of Texas has experienced a 1,100% rise in children placed into foster care.  Love and compassion alone won’t pay those bills, no matter how much prayer one puts forth.  Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie once emphasized that pro-life means the entire life cycle – not just up to the moment the fetus is born.

The reasons why an individual woman wants to end a pregnancy are myriad, but it is no one else’s business.  As painful a decision as it may be, I’d rather see a woman end a pregnancy she doesn’t want than give birth to a child she doesn’t want.  Children who come into the world unwanted are often unloved.  That’s an awful fate for someone.

Regardless, pregnancy and birth are individual choices.  No one – not the Supreme Court and not a politician – has the right to interfere with that.

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Memorial Day 2021

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

John F. Kennedy

Memorial Day

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Retro Quote – John Wayne

“I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my President, and I hope he does a good job.”

John Wayne, on the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy

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President Trump walks to Marine One Friday, October 2, on his way to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“Kennedy deserved to be shot because he was a Catholic!”

My father looked at the old man with the hottest level of anger he could muster in a split second.  All of 30 with a newborn son, my father blurted back at his coworker, “He was our president, you son-of-a-bitch!  No one deserves to get shot!”

It was November 22, 1963, and the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination had just spread around the print shop in downtown Dallas where my father worked.  Emotions were already raw, and my father didn’t care that he – a young Hispanic man – was yelling and cursing at a much older White male; in Texas; in 1963.

The antagonism towards Kennedy and the Democratic Party in Dallas and Texas – and throughout much of the Southeastern U.S., for that matter – couldn’t be more palpable on that tragic day.  Even decades later I’ve heard some conservatives say November 22, 1963 was one of the best days in modern American history.  One was a former friend – an openly-gay Jewish man – in 2003.  The rest of us seated with him at a restaurant table after a Toastmasters meeting were stunned.

“Yeah,” I casually responded.  “Just like the day Hitler escorted the first rabbi into a gas oven.”

No one in their right mind celebrates the death or illness of a national leader.  Even as much as I dislike Donald Trump, I’m not happy to know that he’s come down with the dreaded COVID-19 virus.  Late on Thursday night, October 1, news broke here in the U.S. that Trump and his wife have tested positive with the virus.  Earlier this evening, Friday, the 2nd, Trump was escorted to the hospital.  While I’m sure some leftist extremists are thrilled with this development, I see it for the national implication it has.  This poses a serious threat to our national security.

In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson was concerned with the “Great War” (now known as World War I), which was consuming Europe and now involved the U.S., when a mysterious influenza began rampaging across the globe.  Now known simply as the “Spanish flu”, the scourge afflicted some 500 million people and killed an estimated 50 million.  Understand this occurred long before the jet age.  According to historians, Wilson ignored the severity of the health crisis, even as it began taking lives here in the U.S., and vigorously pursued the end of the war.  In April of 1919, he arrived in Paris for peace talks – and left sick with the very flu he never publicly acknowledged.

Once back home, Wilson was quickly sequestered, and White House press reports simply indicated that overworking had caused the president to come down with a cold and a fever.  The Associated Press emphasized Wilson was “not stricken with influenza.”  In the aftermath of the greatest conflict the world had known, the mere thought of the president contracting the dreaded flu surely would have sent the nation into a panic.  So the true nature of his illness was stifled.

Six months later matters worsened for Wilson when he suffered a debilitating stroke.  It’s plausible the flu exacerbated the onset of the stroke.  Wilson never really recovered and would die in 1924.  During the 18 months he had left in his presidential tenure, Vice-President Thomas Marshall should have taken his place.  But, at the time, the vice-president was little more than a figurehead.  In fact, throughout Wilson’s presidency, Marshall later claimed he performed “nameless, unremembered jobs” that had been created solely to prevent him from doing any harm to the nation as a whole.  But, as history eventually revealed, First Lady Edith Wilson served as de facto Commander-in-Chief.  She literally presided over cabinet meetings and other presidential duties; all while hiding her husband’s grave condition.

After Woodrow Wilson’s debilitating stroke in October 1919, First Lady Edith Wilson practically took over his White House duties.

Just less than four years after Wilson endured his stroke, President Warren Harding suffered a similar event – but with fatal consequences.  Harding and his wife, Florence, had just arrived in San Francisco after touring the Alaskan territory when he experienced a heart attack.  Vice-President Calvin Coolidge was at his father’s home in Vermont; a dwelling without electricity or a telephone – not uncommon in rural abodes even by the 1920s.  When word reached Washington of Harding’s death, two Secret Service agents got in a car and drove all night to Vermont to rouse Coolidge.

It’s difficult to imagine that now: a house with no phone and Secret Service agents having to drive to scoop up a sleeping vice-president.  It’s equally unimaginable what allegedly happened in the days following Harding’s demise.  First Lady Florence Harding charged into the Oval Office upon returning to the White House and cleaned out her husband’s desk; apparently removing a number of documents along with personal effects.

Secrecy has always been a part of any presidential administration.  It has to be.  And sometimes it’s mixed with basic respect for an individual’s privacy.  Not until after Franklin D. Roosevelt died, for example, did many Americans learn he had been stricken with polio in the 1920s and was all but bound to a wheelchair.  At the 1940 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Roosevelt fell as walked to the podium.  Film footage of the event wasn’t released until a few years ago, and most convention-goers remained quiet about the incident.  Footage of Roosevelt being wheeled onto the deck of a military vessel almost remained hidden for decades.

Most Americans weren’t aware of the severity of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s heart attack in the fall of 1955; the White House press initially disguised it as a cardiac event.  As with Roosevelt, the American public bestowed respect for medical privacy upon the president.  But when Eisenhower experienced a mild stroke two years later, some questioned his fitness for office.  By the time he left the White House, he truly looked like the 70-year-old man he was.

Therefore, most Americans were thrilled when John F. Kennedy – the first president born in the 20th century – arrived.  He wasn’t just handsome and charming; he was vibrant and energetic.  Yet not until long after his death did the public learn that Kennedy had become addicted to a variety of pain pills to help him cope with both a back injury he’d suffered in World War II and the effects of Addison’s disease.

Kennedy’s assassination was the first since William McKinley in 1901 and his death the first in nearly 20 years.  It had been a given that the vice-president would succeed the president, if something detrimental happened to the latter.  But, what if something happens to the vice-president?  McKinley’s first vice-president, Garret Hobart, died of heart disease in November 1899.  McKinley didn’t replace him, even though he selected Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate during his 1900 reelection campaign.

The question of succession became urgently relevant on November 22, 1963.  Many people forget that Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was in the same motorcade as Kennedy; a few cars away.  When shots rang out, a Secret Service agent shoved Johnson to the floorboard where the vice-president began complaining of chest pains.  That was kept secret from the public, as a horrified nation needed no further bad news.

Thus, the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was created.  It established a definite line of succession to the office of the president, beyond just the vice-president.  And it received its first real test on March 30, 1981 when President Ronald Reagan was shot just outside a hotel in Washington, D.C.  Vice-President George H.W. Bush was aboard Air Force Two, returning to the nation’s capital, when a Secret Service agent informed him of the shooting.  Back in Washington chaos rocked the White House, as the country felt the nightmarish echoes of Kennedy’s death.

On March 30, 1981, Vice-President George H.W. Bush sat aboard Air Force Two watching news reports about the shooting of Ronald Reagan.

A junior in high school at the time, I vividly remember the confusion.  While most of my classmates seemed oblivious to the fact the president of the United States had just been shot, I was worried.  The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan more than a year earlier and were poised to invade Poland to squelch a labor uprising.  As with rumors about the Kennedy assassination, was this a Soviet plot?  I knew Bush was vice-president, but I didn’t know he’d been in Texas.

I remember Secretary of State Alexander Haig stepping into the White House Press room and announcing, “I’m in control here.”  Haig was criticized later for inserting himself as the interim authoritarian.  But, in a morass of hysteria, someone had to take command!

I also recall my mother sitting before the TV upon returning home from work that evening – and tearing up as news of the shooting spilled out.  It took her back to that tragic autumn day in 1963, as she sat down to watch “As the World Turns” while nursing me, and Walter Cronkite suddenly interrupted to tell of Kennedy’s shooting.

The magnitude of the Reagan shooting didn’t come into full view immediately as news figures couldn’t determine if Reagan had, indeed, been shot.  (It turned out a fragment of a bullet that had hit a car had struck Reagan.)  The White House later concealed the seriousness of Reagan’s health in the aftermath.  Days after the incident, Reagan posed for a photograph; clad in his robe and smiling.  No one knew at the time he was running a high fever and almost collapsed once the picture was taken.

Reports of Donald Trump’s condition continue to flood our news feeds.  We’re now learning that several people within the President’s inner circle have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and that the outdoor ceremony on Saturday, September 26, announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, may have been the “super spreader” event.

Trump is now in isolation and being treated for the ailment.  I don’t bemoan that he’s being treated with the most potent medicines available and has a complete medical staff around him.  Whether anyone likes it or not, he IS president of the United States, and his health is extremely important.  I don’t care much for Donald Trump, but I don’t want to see him get sick and die.  I only wish the best for him in this crisis.


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Retro Quote – John F. Kennedy

“Life is never easy.  There is work to be done and obligations to be met – obligations to truth, to justice, and to liberty.”

John F. Kennedy

Sadly, today marks the 56th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination here in my beloved home town of Dallas, Texas.  I feel that, despite his short life and even shorter presidency, Kennedy helped to cultivate and enhance the concept of a true democratic society and successfully challenged Americans to work hard for those goals and to make their own lives better.  We desperately need such leadership and forward-thinking ambitions today.

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One More Hero – Officer J.D. Tippit


President John F. Kennedy certainly wasn’t the only person to die on November 22, 1963.  But, only one other individual associated with his death also lost his life that day, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit.  Moreover, Tippit died at the hands of the same madman, Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot the officer on a street in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas less than an hour after Kennedy died.

Born to a farming family in Red River County, Texas on September 18, 1924, Tippit grew up hunting and making do with life in a rural community, often devoid of telephones and electricity.  In July of 1944, he joined the U.S. Army, like so many young men of his generation.  After being injured in the Rhine Valley in January 1945, he returned to the U.S. to await deployment to the Pacific.  But, in 1946, he was discharged and returned to Texas.

On the day after Christmas that same year, he married his high school sweetheart, Marie Frances Gasway.  Shortly afterwards, the young couple moved to Dallas to start their life together.  They briefly moved back to Red River County, but returned to Dallas in 1952.  With 3 children to support, J.D. quickly found his true calling: police work.  Being a police officer in Dallas, even in the 1950s, could be dangerous.  He almost lost his life at the hands of a demented man in April of 1956.

On November 22, 1963, Tippit returned to his home to have a quick lunch with Marie.  Then, word came about the shots in Dealey Plaza and a description of the suspected gunman.  Tippit didn’t stand a chance against Oswald’s lunacy.

On November 20, 2012, the city of Dallas honored Tippit’s sacrifice with a historical marker.  A few days ago I was surprised to learn that Jacqueline Kennedy had sent a letter to Marie Tippit shortly after the double tragedy, expressing her condolences.  At the same time, both women became widows, each with young children, under the most horrific of circumstances.  Each man died doing their jobs: Kennedy making a goodwill visit to Texas as president of the United States, and Tippit hunting a killer.

This is for all the law enforcement officials whose lives often end amidst such horror.  Their watch may end on a certain day, but their legacies of service and responsibility go on forever.


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Kennedy’s Presidential Limousine – The Lincoln X-100


I mentioned this last year, on the 49th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, but I wanted to bring it up again on this special occasion.  My car fetish knows few bounds, even though it’s limited to most anything pre-1980.  That includes the vehicle Kennedy was riding in that fateful day: a 1961 Lincoln Continental X-100.  It was a 4-door convertible, and X-100 was its Secret Service code name.

Ford Motor Company assembled the car at its Lincoln plant in Wixom, Michigan in January 1961.  Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, Ohio customized the vehicle to function as a presidential parade limousine; literally cutting it in half, reinforcing it, extending it 3½ feet in length and making numerous other modifications.  Ford Motor Company and Hess & Eisenhardt collaborated on engineering and styling.  It debuted at the White House in June 1961.  The car remained the property of the Ford Motor Company, which leased it to the Secret Service for $500 per year.

The car, equipped at the Lincoln plant, would have retailed for $7,347.  Custom built, it cost nearly $200,000.


Special features on the limousine included:

  • Removable steel and transparent plastic roof panels
  • Hydraulic rear seat that could be raised 10½ ” to elevate the president
  • Massive heating and air conditioning system with auxiliary blowers and 2 control panels
  • Dark blue broadcloth lap robes with gray plush lining and hand-embroidered presidential seals in special door pockets
  • Four retractable steps for Secret Service agents
  • Two steps on rear bumper for additional agents
  • Flashing red lights, siren
  • Blue Mouton rug in rear
  • Indicator lights when door was ajar or steps out
  • Two flagstaffs, two spotlights
  • Auxiliary jump seats for extra passengers
  • Two radio telephones
  • Interior floodlights

I have a replica of this car by Yat Ming, which is part of its “Presidential Limousines” collection.  Yes, it’s made in China, but I love it anyway.  And, I know owning such a thing sounds macabre, yet the vehicle is an indelible, albeit tragic, part of our nation’s history.

My replica of the 1961 Lincoln X-100.

My replica of the 1961 Lincoln X-100.

The Strange Saga of the JFK Assassination Car.”

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Through a Tiny Window

On November 22, 1963, I was just less than 3 weeks old.  At the time, my parents and I lived in an apartment above a garage owned by father’s oldest sister and her husband on the northern edge of downtown Dallas.  Through the small bathroom window, my mother caught a glimpse of President Kennedy’s motorcade, as it raced towards Parkland Hospital.  She had no idea at that moment what tragedy had just unfolded.


That siren; that God-awful siren!  It came from down the hall, and I had no idea why.  I had just turned on the TV to watch my show, “As the World Turns.”  My older sister got me hooked on it while I was on “maternity leave.”  Actually, in those days, there was no such thing.  Women just had to quit work and hope they had a job later, if they wanted it.  That’s fine, I’d told myself.  At that moment, with my new baby boy, I didn’t care about going back to a desk to argue insurance claims.

I’d almost died having him.  I wasn’t supposed to have him.  The doctors told me I just couldn’t have a baby.  But, my husband and I didn’t listen.  We turned our hopes to a higher authority.  I was almost 31, when he was born; so old to be a new mother back then.  I cuddled him close, as he quietly nursed; a diaper over his head.

It had been so hot – since summer!  Advice to future mothers: don’t get pregnant until summer passes.  Just a thought.  I had to sleep sitting up; otherwise, I’d choke to death.  We had a floor fan blowing all night to keep me cool.  My husband wore pajamas to bed that summer; the fan would make the room so cold for him.

But, why were those sirens so loud?  So many of them.  I scooted towards the bathroom window and looked to my right.  Through the trees in the back yard and the neighbors’ back yards I saw a flash of red lights and black cars.  Just a blur; a long streak of red and black.  For a second, I thought I also saw a flash of pink.  But, I think now it was just my imagination.

I knew President and Mrs. Kennedy were in town.  It would have been nice to go downtown to see them, but I couldn’t with the baby.  And, my husband had to go to work.

I went back into the front room, and the show had already started.  “Nancy” (Helen Wagner) was speaking to her father.  I don’t remember what they were talking about.  Then, without warning – in one of those moments that sears into your mind – Walter Cronkite interrupted the show.

And, said President Kennedy had been shot.

But, he was just here!

In Dallas.

The motorcade – that flash of red and black.  That’s what it was.

But, it was just there!

I’d just seen it.

I rushed back to the bathroom window.  I could see more traffic on Harry Hines.  I went back into the front room.

Walter Cronkite looked as if he was about to cry.  How do you announced something like that to millions of people and not break down?

I suddenly became terrified.  I had to call my husband.  Still cradling the baby, I dialed the phone from the bedroom.

The assistant manager – the owner’s brother-in-law – answered.

“I just saw on the news,” I told him.  “President Kennedy’s been shot!”

He was silent for a second.  “Is this a joke?”

“No!”  Why would he even ask that?  We didn’t joke about those things back then.

“Cathy, turn on the radio!” he said.

I looked at my baby, still nursing, oblivious to the world around him.  Is this the world he would inherit?  Where the president of the United States gets shot in broad daylight?


My husband came home early.  His boss had closed down the shop.  He was happy to see me and the baby.  But, he was as shocked as me – and angry.  “What’s wrong?”

“Some dumb son-of-a-bitch at work said he was glad Kennedy had been shot!”

Who would be happy about that?

That whole weekend – that entire, awful weekend – all we saw on TV was about Kennedy.  None of us could believe it.  My husband’s family gathered at his parents’ home to watch the funeral.  The black horse that wouldn’t cooperate; the long procession; the masses of people.  When John-John saluted his father, we all just about lost it.  This wasn’t really happening, was it?  I couldn’t say it out loud.  This couldn’t be happening – right?

Then, amidst the sadness and completely out of nowhere, one of my husband’s sisters-in-law asked, “Why are the flags only halfway up the poles?”

We all thought for a second or so and then, just looked at her.  Here she was, a hair dresser at an upscale salon, earning thousands of dollars every month when most people in those days only got by on a couple of hundred dollars, and she asks that.

My husband, sitting next to me, said, “Because they ran out of string.”

And, if I say we all felt guilty when we laughed, I’m not lying.  We literally burst out laughing.  Only my husband could say something like that and get away with it.  He then picked up a box of tissue and began offering some to everybody.

If I think about it now, it really hurts.  How could that happen?  Here!  Why did that happen?  That baby I held is now a half-century old, and the world is a much more violent place.

I close my eyes and think for a moment.

And can hear those sirens.

And see that flash of red and black.

And Nancy’s face.

And Walter Cronkite’s twisted mouth.

All from that tiny window.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

© 2013

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Now Dallas, You Can Move Forward


For the past half century, the city of Dallas, Texas has been defined by three elements: the Dallas Cowboys, the television show “Dallas” and the assassination of the country’s 35th president, John F. Kennedy.  I’ve always admired Kennedy.  He was a true military hero who barely survived World War II.  He was witty and charming with a strong vision for America’s future.  In his inaugural address, he uttered the most inspirational words I’ve ever heard: “And so, my fellow, Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  It was a challenge for a country that – although already accustomed to them – to do more.  It’s certainly something this nation, filled with self-righteous individuals, needs today.  It’s why I vote regularly and speak out when I see injustice.  If you want your society to work for you properly, you have to be willing to do something right for it.

Several years ago, while working my first job as a package clerk at a nearby grocery store, a woman from California asked me how I felt about the city of Dallas.  It was a curious question.  But, it was her first trip to Texas, and she just wanted to know.  She mentioned that, in her native California in 1963, her fellow citizens immediately came to loathe the city of my birth and the entire state of Texas.  She saw people hurtle rocks and bottles at a couple of cars that bore Texas license plates.  Then, I told her I was only 17 days old on the day Kennedy died and that my mother had seen the presidential motorcade race by the garage apartment where we lived on its way to Parkland Hospital – though at the time, she had no idea what had just transpired.  She was nursing me and had sat down to watch “As the World Turns” – a program she’d become addicted to while on maternity leave – and just happened to hear the sirens in the distance; blaring through the open bathroom window.  Not until she returned to the front room to resume watching her show and Walter Cronkite interrupted did everything change.

The California woman – a blonde in her early 40s – froze.  The event became personal again.

It’s a good thing for a city to be associated with a great sports team.  After the horror of the Kennedy assassination, the Dallas Cowboys had the burden of transforming the city into “America’s team.”  Its image as a real estate and oil metropolis were certified in “Dallas,” one of the cheesiest programs the American entertainment community has ever produced.  Fortunately, I know the real Dallas, and I’m happy to announce it’s not that bad.  This place of nearly 2 million people is a blue enclave in a red state.  The city boasts a non-White majority population that still trends Democratic in presidential elections.  In 1995, Dallas elected Ron Kirk as mayor, the first Black to hold that office.  In 2004, Dallas County elected Lupe Valdez as its first Hispanic, female and openly gay or lesbian sheriff.  Two years later it elected Craig Watkins as its first Black district attorney.  There are two schools named after Kennedy here: Kennedy-Curry Middle School and John F. Kennedy Learning Center.  It’s a city with a diverse population and an international reach.  Yes, it boasts its share of crackpots.  Show me a city this size that doesn’t and I’ll show you a pile of rocks.

When word about Kennedy’s death spread throughout my father’s workplace, a printing company on the edge of downtown, an older man groused that Kennedy deserved to be shot because he was Catholic.  My father, then in his early 30s and unafraid to speak his mind, snapped back, “You son of a bitch!  He was our president!”

Several years ago, while working as a contractor for a government agency, my company’s liaison – a hard-right Republican who almost got teary-eyed whenever he mentioned Ronald Reagan’s name – unexpectedly commented that the Kennedy assassination was “one of the best days in this country’s history.”  The three of us standing there with him – my supervisor, a coworker and me – were literally startled.  The statement had come out of nowhere.

Even I who despised Ronald Reagan got scared when he was shot in 1981.  “No!” I announced to the man, while standing beside my supervisor.  “The day Kennedy was shot was one of the worst days this country has ever experienced!”  I reiterated how, on the day Reagan fell victim to a crazed gunman, I was glued to the television.  My mother arrived home from work and sat down to watch a local broadcast – and began to cry.  It had only been a little more than 17 years since Kennedy’s death, and the nightmare had been rejuvenated.

I stormed out of my supervisor’s office, genuinely pissed off, and returned to my desk.  The man, twice my size with an equally imposing voice, followed me and meekly apologized.

Every major metropolitan area has its extremists; its cache of lunatics who are filled with vile against anyone and anything they don’t like.  There were certainly plenty of them in Dallas in the early 1960s.  But, the nation was at the start of a cultural tumult, and such types filled a lot of cities, especially in the Deep South.  It had been a century since the start of the Civil War, and many White Southerners didn’t like the thought of Negroes gaining equality.  When Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Claudia (whom Lyndon affectionately dubbed “Lady Bird”), visited Dallas in September of 1960, they were met, in part, by a hostile crowd.  Although a native Texan and then-Senate majority leader, Johnson was vilified by some folks as duplicitous in a liberal Yankee agenda (e.g. civil rights for Negroes) by agreeing to run on the Kennedy ticket.  As the Johnsons exited a downtown theatre, a young woman lunged forward and snatched Mrs. Johnson’s white gloves from her dainty hands.  Lady Bird’s face turned as white as the gloves that ended up in a sewer.  The senator hustled his wife into a waiting car and hurtled an invective back towards the angry crowd.

When Kennedy died, it had been 13 years since someone made a concerted attempt to assassinate a sitting U.S. president; 18 years since one had died in office; and 62 years since one had been killed.  At age 43, Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected to the U.S. presidency, the first born in the 20th century – and the last to die in office.  His death shocked the nation – and the world – into a new, more brutal reality.  Few could fathom such evil in those days.  Kennedy’s vision for a better nation held so much hope.  That a lone gunman with a Napoleonic complex could possibly destroy the beautiful stones of Camelot with three bolts of lead hadn’t entered the public conscious.

When I was a senior in high school, an English teacher told me everything that erupted in the 1960s had been brewing the previous decade; a time many still view through a delicate stained glass window.  Historians and various cultural observers now agree that Kennedy’s assassination is when the 1960s actually began.  The moment a bullet pulverized the skull of the handsome, young president and compelled his beautiful, glamorous wife to clamber onto the back of the limousine to gather the bloody fragments – like a tomboy collecting rocks – is when that stained glass window shattered.  The patriotism of the 1940s and the economic security of the 1950s collapsed into the reality of a cold, dispassionate universe.  As a whole, Americans realized the nation hadn’t lived up to its ideals of equality and freedom for all.  The Watergate scandal then seemed to confirm things aren’t always how they seem, and we needed to start questioning authority.

The exact moment when everything changed in America.

The exact moment when everything changed in America.

What’s often ignored about Kennedy’s visit to Texas is the overwhelming joy with which he and his wife, Jacqueline, were greeted.  When the couple arrived in neighboring Fort Worth late on November 21, a large, enthusiastic group had gathered in the rain to see them.  As the motorcade cruised through downtown Dallas on that bright, sunny Friday afternoon, hundreds of people lined the streets; waving and cheering.  At one point, Nellie Connally, the wife of Texas governor John Connally, turned to the president and gleefully pointed out that Dallas enjoyed the First Couple’s presence.  They did; they really did.

Several years ago someone painted a white X in the middle of Elm Street, identifying the exact spot where Kennedy was hit.  Somehow that dubious insignia withstood rain, sleet, triple-digit temperatures and Dallas drivers.  Recently, however, the city paved over it as part of a concerted infrastructure improvement plan.  But, it was also a symbolic move.  No, Dallas can’t just get over what happened here on this day five decades ago; pretending it was nothing more than a rough afternoon.  Yes, we grieve today about one of the most tragic events of the 20th century.  That’s the honorable thing to do.  But, we also need to consider Kennedy’s view of a better world – and then move forward.  We have no other choice.


John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library

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