Today marks the 50th Anniversary of one of the darkest chapters in American history. The morning of November 22, 1963, was a rainy one in Dallas, Texas. What a monumental shame that the weather didn’t stay that way because perhaps the events that were soon to transpire wouldn’t have taken place. After addressing the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Texas regarding the American military, the President and the First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, along with the President’s contingent, leave the hotel and travel to Carswell Air Force Base, for the less than twenty minute flight to Dallas. After disembarking the plane at Love Field, Kennedy and the First Lady shake hands with a lucky few amongst an enthusiastic crowd of well wishers located behind a fence. One of them gives Mrs. Kennedy a bouquet of red roses that can be seen in countless pictures from that day. The rain has stopped and the weather is fine, so there is no need to put the bullet proof bubble top on the limousine.
Already seated and waiting for the Kennedys in the convertible are the Governor of Texas John Connally and his wife Nellie. Once the motorcade left Love Field, the route that it took brought it through downtown Dallas, headed to the Trade Mart where the President was scheduled to speak at a luncheon. The President and First Lady were serenaded by shouts of joyous exuberance as the limo made its way past throngs of on-lookers. The time is 12:30 p.m., central time, when the convertible turns off Main Street at Dealey Plaza and passes the now infamous Texas School Book Depository. Gun shots are heard. Two bullets hit President Kennedy, one in the neck and the other in the head; Governor Connally is also shot. Parkland Memorial Hospital is the destination of the speeding limousine, but the head shot Kennedy took, unfortunately, ended any chance of saving his life. At 1:00 p.m, America’s intelligent, charismatic, and well spoken leader, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was pronounced dead.
Kennedy became the fourth American president to have been killed while in office. Prior to Kennedy, the sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln, was shot by John Wilkes Booth, while attending the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865. He died the next day from his wounds. The twentieth President, James Garfield was shot by the mentally disturbed Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881, and as a result of botched medical care, died from blood poisoning on September 19th. William McKinley was shot twice by Leon Czolgosz, who claims he did so because McKinley’s policies where unfavorable to American workers. The shooting happened on September 6, 1901 in Buffalo, New York while McKinley was there visiting the Pan-American Exhibit. He died less than two weeks later on September 14th.
While watching one of the numerous television specials that has aired this month regarding the assassination, I heard about the 1967 film “Rush To Judgment.” I was pleased to find a full copy of it on youtube.com. The ninety-eight minute, black and white, documentary was directed by Academy Award nominated director, Emile de Antonio (Point of Order). The structure of the film is taken from best selling author and lawyer Mark Lane’s book of the same name. Lane became one of the first voices of dissent against the findings of the Warren Commission.
For those of you who might not have studied this aspect of history that closely, the Warren Commission was a group which had been assembled on November 29, 1963, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson had been Kennedy’s Vice-President who, immediately upon Kennedy’s death, assumed the presidency. The seven member group was led by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, and also consisted of Louisiana Congressman and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper, former CIA director Allen Dulles, the former President of the World Bank John J. McCloy, and Georgia Senator, Richard Russell. Also on this “blue-ribbon committee” was Gerald Ford, who, was a congressman representing Michigan at the time, as well as the House Minority Leader. He would later go onto become the 38th President of the United States. Their job was to investigate and determine who Killed President Kennedy. The findings that they presented in their report to President Johnson on September 24, 1964, which was released to the general public three days later, came to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone.
The report, virtually from the start, has been contested and debated by numerous individuals who have studied the assassination as to its findings, or its lack thereof. Those who believe that there was no conspiracy involving the Kennedy assassination, point to the Commission’s findings to validate the view that Oswald acted alone in killing the President. The Warren Commission also came to the conclusion that Jack Ruby was acting of his own free will, when he shot Oswald as he was being led from the Dallas Police Department to be transported to jail. Oswald was rushed to the hospital, but died less than an hour and half later, forever denying the American people, and the world for that matter, a chance to hear his testimony, had he agreed to take the stand.
The film “Rush To Judgment” attempts to discredit the findings of the Warren Commission. Mark Lane interviews eye witnesses to the assassination. The people that Lane gets to talk on camera are not guided by him in anyway towards a conclusion. He asks his questions and allows those who he is interviewing to articulate, in their own words, what they remember seeing and hearing on that fateful day; even when a particular witness comes to the conclusion that they believe the validity of the Warren Commission’s report. In addition, he discusses photographs that were either altered before the report was released to the public, or were never seen by the Commission in the first place. The film also includes archival footage taken by the news media at the time.
Lane convinced me, even with the few neigh sayers that are interviewed during the film’s runtime, that there is more to the story of the JFK assassination than we will perhaps ever know. I am certainly not going to write about everyone who Lane interviewed, but the following consists of some of the more interesting accounts. First is Sgt. Nelson Delgado, who served in the Marines with Lee Harvey Oswald, and was his friend. He speaks to the fact that Oswald was a lousy shot, pointing out that during drills, where the Marines would be required to fire ten shots in forty-five seconds, Oswald would usually receive three red flags, known in military parlance as Maggie’s drawers. What that expression refers to is a shooter who has fired a bullet on the target range and completely missed. One is supposed to hear that information from Sgt. Delgado, but yet, wholeheartedly believe that on a bolt action rifle, notorious for jamming, that in less than six seconds, Oswald could get off three shots, including the fatal head shot that killed the President.
Among the witnesses in Dealey Plaza that day was S.M. Holland, a railroad supervisor, who had a perfect view of the assassination. He saw the first bullet hit the President, and states that Governor Connally had not been hit at the time, which destroys what I have always considered to be the ridiculous magic bullet theory. The theory is that one bullet hit both President Kennedy and Governor Connally, as it travelled a path that completely defies the laws of physics. Holland saw a second bullet fired that hit the Governor, and he witnessed the fatal head shot. Mr. Holland states that he saw the head shot bullet come from the fence area behind the grassy knoll, and that smoke lingered in the air afterwards. The Warren Commission called Mr. Holland to testify, but only included a small portion of his testimony in the report it released to the public. The most glaring omission was that Holland testified to hearing four shots fired. The investigators only found three bullet casings on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, where Oswald fired his shots; so where is the fourth bullet casing? Law enforcement found everything else, including Oswald’s rifle. Mr. Holland is among countless people, who were there that day, that say they heard four shots fired, not three. The following is a quote from Governor Connally regarding the history altering incident: “I turned to my right, I had time to think. I had time to react, and I turned to my right to look back over my right shoulder to see if I can see anything unusual, and particularly to see if I could catch him (Kennedy) out of the corner of my right eye, because I immediately thought of an assassination attempt the moment I heard the shot. I didn’t see anything except just the general blur, waving of people, nothing really unusual. I did not see the President out of the corner of my eye and I was in the process of turning to look back over my left shoulder and had about come to the point where I was looking straight forward again when I felt the impact of the bullet that hit me.”
Richard C. Dodd, who was standing next to Holland, could have corroborated everything that Holland said, and did on camera for the film, but he was never called to testify by the Warren Commission. He also states that after the fatal head shot was fired at Kennedy, that he ran behind the picket fence up on the hill of the grassy knoll and saw tracks, as well as cigarette butts, right where he believed the shot was fired from. James Leon Simmons, also heard a gun shot coming from the area of the picket fence and saw smoke. He also was never called by the Warren Commission.
James Tague heard shots as soon as the Presidential Limousine turned the corner; he ducked for cover. Upon looking up, he saw a motorcycle officer, stop, pull out his revolver, and race up the hill of the grassy knoll. Tague told a sheriff’s deputy, shortly afterwards, that he felt like something had grazed his cheek. The deputy informed Tague that he had blood on his cheek. The two men walked down to the curb, and the deputy pointed out to Tague, the reason, he had blood on him was because there was a bullet marking on the curb in front of the grassy knoll. The deputy told Tague to go to the city police headquarters and make a statement, which he did. When asked where he first heard the shots coming from, Tague replied that they came from behind him to his left, from the wooden fence area.
Orville Nix was filming just prior to and during the assassination. His film was confiscated, and when he finally got it back, frames of the film were missing. When the shots were fired, he was convinced that the shots came from the fence behind the grassy knoll. He later changed his mind because he didn’t want to go against the Warren Commission’s conclusions.
J.C Price was standing on the roof of the terminal annex building he worked in to get a good view of the President’s motorcade. When asked where he thought the shots came from, he said from behind the fence up on the grassy knoll. He also states that immediately after the shots stopped, that he saw a man running away from the fence. He marks on a map where he thought the shots came from, and he states that he never once looked at the Texas School Book Depository building while the shots were being fired.
Charles Brehm, a Ranger who had been shot in combat during the second World War, said it was like riding a bike: once you know that sound, it stays with you forever. He said he saw the President hit by two different bullets, and he was standing, along with his five year old son, closest of any of the spectators to the motorcade’s path. He is convinced that the gunshots came from behind him. He spent three hours at the Dallas Police Department being questioned. He was never called as a witness by the Warren Commission.
An Associated Press photographer took a picture of the tail end of the motorcade which was passing in front of the Texas School Book Depository after the first shot had already been fired. It has been hotly debated, but a man standing in the doorway of the building looks like Lee Harvey Oswald. If Oswald was downstairs when the first shot was fired, how could he have gotten up six floors in enough time to fire the other two shots, going on the theory that there were only three shots fired? The FBI investigated and said that it was another employee in the building, who bore a resemblance to Oswald. The man, who was supposedly in the picture, was never called to testify before the Warren Commission, and no member of the Commission ever saw a photograph of the man that supposedly had a similar look to Oswald, nor was the press able to obtain one.
Let’s say for arguments sake, that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t involved with anyone, that no one used him as a ‘patsy’ as he claimed right before he was killed. He was, after all, a fairly insignificant man, not exceptionally bright, and a wife beater, who from all accounts from the people who knew him, lived a life of anger and frustration. He wanted to make his mark on history, as vile as that mark would be; or at least he wanted the warped inner satisfaction of knowing what he had done if he had not been caught. While looking through the newspaper, he sees, along with the rest of Texas, exactly where the President’s motorcade was going to be passing. Oswald knows he wants to assassinate Kennedy. He senses an opportunity that he might never get again, to forever be remembered through the annals of time, if, he did get caught, or even if he himself was killed in the process. Oswald sneaks his rifle into the depository, waits until Kennedy’s motorcade passes by, and fires off his three shots. If that is what happened, then there was never a conspiracy, and so be it. What if, however, another loner, who had more brain power than Oswald, read the exact same newspaper report and determined that he too wanted to take President Kennedy out. He sets himself up beyond the picket fence, in a place that was easier to escape from than the Book Depository, fires the fatal head shot, flees the scene of the crime, and keeps his mouth shut for the rest of his life. There would have been no conspiracy involving organized crime, anti-Castro exiles, or shadowy government operatives, which I am not saying didn’t happen, but it would still validate the claims of countless people. . .individuals who witnessed the horrific tragedy take place in real time, and who have always maintained that they heard four shots fired.