On that Friday, I happened to be home instead of at the Associated Press bureau in Atlanta or out on assignment. Our little black-and-white TV was on when the program was interrupted by the first news report of Kennedy being shot.
From that moment, we were glued to the TV, the pictures seared into the memory — the frantic scenes at Parkland Hospital, the swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson as president aboard Air Force One, the fatal shooting of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, the riderless horse, the caisson bearing the fallen president’s flag-draped coffin and the sad and poignant pictures of little John F. Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father one last time.
It all seemed unbelievable, raising one question after another about how either murder could have happened and especially the Oswald killing on live TV as he was being transferred to a more secure facility. The first questions, of course, concerned how many shots, how many shooters, a conspiracy by whom and why. And the questions, the doubts persisted up to and after the Warren Commission issued its report one year and two days later on Sept. 24, 1964, finding Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy and that Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald.
The lengthening list of books asserting there was a conspiracy — of the wildest sort, even including a supposed plot by Lyndon Johnson — continues to this day. After all, most Americans, having been fed a diet of conspiracy-itis for half a century, don’t believe Oswald acted alone or that Ruby was not part of the conspiracy, assigned to silence the president’s killer.
Now for the 50th anniversary of the assassination, the official, digital version of the Warren Commission report was released Monday by the Government Printing Office and is available online at www.archives.gov. It’s a lot of reading — 888 pages of the report plus 26 volumes of the hearings by the commission with pictures, maps and diagrams from the Dallas murder scene.
Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted mass killer Charles Manson in 1970 and wrote “Helter Skelter,” spent 21 years researching and writing “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,” published in 2007. The book runs 1,612 pages, nearly twice the length of the Warren Commission report. Bugliosi’s conclusion after all that research: Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
The assassination of Kennedy was followed by an extremely violent time in America from 1965 through 1968, marked by major race riots in Los Angeles, Newark, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and other cities, the King assassination on April 4, 1968, and two months later the murder of Kennedy’s brother, Robert, then attorney general. For our country, it was “the worst of times.”