November 22, 1963 – After a typical, unmemorable toddler’s lunch (I was 4), my mother put me and my two-year old brother down for our afternoon naps. I wasn’t tired, though, and hid myself between the bed and my bedroom windows to play with my Little Kiddles dolls (or whatever they were called).
Coming upstairs to check on us, my mother found that I was not in bed. Asking why I wasn’t napping, I said I tried but I just wasn’t sleepy. Mom thought this over for a moment.
“Well, all right,” she said. “But just play quietly. Don’t wake up your brother.” She left and went back down to the kitchen. The radio was tuned into WOR; Mom never watched television in the afternoons; she detested the soap operas. Presently, the phone rang.
“I know, Mom,” she said. “I just heard it on the radio. I’m turning on the TV to see if they have any news.”
At that moment, there was a wailing sound outside in the middle of our street. I pulled myself up to the windowsill. Hanging on, I peered out in the pale afternoon. There, three or four of the housewives had gathered in the middle of the street, crying and hugging one another. I can still remember their fall jumpers and the black-framed eyeglasses of a younger girl, one of our teenaged neighbors. The older women comforted her.
“But he was so young!” she cried.
At that moment, I heard my mother say to my grandmother, “Hang on, Mom; something’s going on out in the street.” She opened the front door and looked out. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted me looking out my bedroom window. I sank back down to the floor.
She got back on the phone. I could hear a man’s voice on the television confirming President Kennedy’s death.
“That’s it,” Mom said. “He’s really dead. I can’t believe it.”
They spoke some more and Mom said, “This means they’ll probably be closing the schools. Billy will be coming home soon.”
There was a cheerful thought. Billy was coming home; I’d have someone to play with. I looked across the hall at my younger brother who was awake, and evidently listening also.
I knew who and what President Kennedy was. My parents had taught me about America, how there were 50 states and how we lived in freedom. Other countries weren’t so free they said; travelers had to show papers just to go from one place to another. The President wasn’t a king; adult people went to places called polls and cast ballots to choose the person they thought should lead the country.
My parents were not fans of Kennedy. They were straight-line Republicans. They were certainly not enchanted by the Kenney mystique (the myth of Camelot only came after Kennedy’s murder). They thought the whole thing was over-romanticized, that he wasn’t that great a president, and that he stole the 1960 election through his father’s influence. They were about the same ages as Jack and Jackie; Dad was two years older than JFK and Mom was five years older than Jackie. My mother particularly hated Jackie. She thought the First Lady was a snob and didn’t like the way she exploited her children.
“Every day,” Mom complained (before the assassination) to my father, “we have to see pictures of these kids. Well we have kids, too. What kind of mother is this woman, always putting her children in front of the cameras?” Actually, later biographies revealed that the photo ops were Jack Kennedy’s idea, not Jackie’s. In fact, she frequently argued with her husband and his staff about it. Mom realized later that Jackie was very protective of her children, keeping them in isolation after Camelot was over. Jackie’s motherhood was redeemed in my mother’s eyes and in fact, she admired Jackie and pitied her for having had to witness her husband’s murder. Many women who didn’t like Jackie sneered that she was a coward trying to escape the limousine, leaving her mortally wounded husband to save herself and that the Secret Service agent had to push her back into the car. Jackie Kennedy said she was trying to help him in.
I championed Jackie to my mother much later on. “Mom, what would you do if your husband’s head was blown off as you were sitting next to him? I don’t know about you, but I’d sure want to get out of there. If she really was trying to escape, can you blame her? But she says she was just trying to help the agent into the car. She must have spent years in therapy after that day.”
Mom agreed and relented in her criticism of Jackie.
My parents often complained about JFK, particularly his foreign policies. They had to admit the economy was going well, but they thought he was soft on Communism. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, they suspected that he’d made a deal with Khrushchev to remove our missiles in someplace called Turkey.
“Well,” my father said, “now the Russian tanks will be able to roll right over the border and take over Europe the way Hitler did.”
I asked them if they were glad Kennedy had been shot.
“No!” they answered, quite seriously. “Of course not! This is a very serious matter. It’s true we didn’t vote for him. But he was still the President of the United States and it’s a very bad thing that he was shot. We can’t just have people going around shooting our presidents. That happens in other countries, but that’s not what we do here in America. If the country doesn’t like a president, they elect someone else. We don’t shoot them.”
“Was it somebody from another country?” I asked. “Are we going to go to war?”
“Nobody knows yet,” my mother replied. Suddenly, she looked worried. “They’ve arrested someone but he’s an American, although he lived in Russia for awhile, they’re saying.”
Three days of mournful music, pall bearers carrying coffins, crying mourners and more mourners and more dirges, and funeral processions filled our days. Having a black and white television only added to the solemnity. We understood that people were sad but the proceedings were awfully dull for children aged 2, 4, and 8.
“Mommy, why can’t we watch some cartoons?” I whined.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but this is all that’s on.” She showed us all the other channels. Funeral, funeral, funeral.
“It’s just one dirge after another,” my older brother added, scowling at the television.
“It really isn’t fair to the children,” my mother said in aside to herself. “They don’t understand what’s going on or why it has to go for so long.”
But there was some excitement in the offing. We all sat down together, I guess it was on Saturday morning, to watch as they transferred the suspect to another jail. But as he was being led out in handcuffs a man jumped out from the crowd. Bang, bang, bang! The sheriff handcuffed to Oswald eyes popped open wide and he drew back with a look of horror and disbelief. Meanwhile, my usually silent, taciturn father jumped out from the living room couch, pointing at the TV set.
“Did you see that? Did you see that? They shot him! They shot him!!” he exclaimed.
We children tittered. Of course, we saw it. What we’d never seen is our father get so excited about anything.
“So much for a trial,” he said, composing himself after his extraordinary performance. “Now we’ll never know who really shot Kennedy or why.”
“Well, they might be able to save him,” Mom said.
“No,” Dad replied. “I’ve seen that kind of gunshot wound [during World War II]. He’s done for.”
The days passed. Life resumed its normal course. We got our cartoons back. Dad pronounced the new president the worst scoundrel ever to hold the high office of president (until today). My parents said he was a ruthless politician and that Kennedy only selected him in order to win votes in the state of Texas. Theories abounded about who shot Kennedy. According to the New York Daily News, which we saved for posterity and which I later learned to read, witnesses in the Texas School Book Depository had Lee Harvey Oswald in the company lunchroom at the time of the shooting. The Daily News reprinted their Nov. 23, 1963 issue today; all mention of those witnesses is missing.
As the months passed, Mom said that her cousin on her father’s side was an attending physician at JFK’s autopsy. “He was there,” she said, with a grim look as she washed dishes at the kitchen sink. “Bethesda Naval Hospital.” He had hinted that something was very wrong about the way the assassination was handled. He said that the room was very crowded and hard to work in and that government officials were telling the doctors what to do. One of them supposedly turned to the agent and asked him if he’d like to perform the autopsy himself.
The years passed. My parents grew angrier and angrier at the socialist turn the country was taking. They especially disliked Robert F. Kennedy. When RFK was assassinated in June of 1968, the news came in the early morning, while they were still in bed. Five years older, five years of increasing socialism, taxes, chain immigration, rising crime, riots in the cities, hippies, drugs, and the anti-war protests had made them callous indeed. When they heard the news, they cheered, “Hooray! They’ve shot another Kennedy!”
That summer, my grandparents’ cat Molly was due to have kittens. It was also the year of the great flood earlier that Spring. The kittens hadn’t arrived yet. But something had arrived in the mail for my grandfather from his nephew, the Bethesda Naval Hospital physician, shortly after RFK’s assassination: Cousin B’s copy of the autopsy report for JFK, with his own notes in the margins. Grandpa was annoyed.
“Why did he send you this, Dad?” Mom asked. “Why didn’t he send it to Uncle B. [his own father, who was also a physician, trained by the Navy during World War I, but ultimately in private practice on Park Avenue in New York].
“Oh, he thinks there’s some kind of conspiracy going on, just like all these other nuts. He thinks I can do something about it because I have connections to the Navy,” he replied. “But I don’t want this thing in my house. I’m going to mail it back to him. If the government wants people to believe a single gunman shot Kennedy, let them.”
“But, Pops,” my mother persisted, “why would B send you the photos if the Warren Commission Report is right? B was right there at the autopsy.”
“Aw! The conspiracy theory nuts are all crazy! There was no conspiracy! They’re all crazy! This Oswald kid,” he said, waving his arm at the television set in front of him, “did it. He acted alone. He’s the one who shot the president. Comes back from Russia his head filled with all this Communist crap and he goes and shoots Kennedy!”
My mother’s cousin wrote my grandfather that the autopsy room was so packed with FBI agents, Secret Service agents, and admirals, that they could barely work. He was scared that someone would try to destroy the notes and photos, especially after the second killing of a Kennedy. He felt somebody needed to get the truth out. Grandpa had some pull through his Merchant Marine/Navy ties. But he thought it was nonsense.
I sat on the living room floor, my younger brother next to me playing with his cars. The pictures were gruesome and gory. The starkest photo was of Kennedy laying bare on the cold, steel table, his eyes staring up vacantly, his mouth slightly open. This was a photo before the tracheotomy was performed (there was another after the procedure). There was one bullet hole in his throat and another right between his eyes.
I looked up at my grandfather, whose eyebrows had climbed up his forehead. My mother ushered me into the kitchen. She said I could go on looking at the report, but I had to do it out of sight of my grandfather.
Cousin B died of a heart attack just a few years later. As Mom noted, he was a heavy smoker, just like his father. Grandpa never did send the autopsy report back to his nephew. Instead, he hid the report in a nook in his basement machine shop. My brothers knew the secret location; I did not. Reviewing the report became an annual tradition for me and my brothers. Occasionally, Mom and Dad would join the conversation. The stark photos of the dead president, his eyes staring openly up at us, were morbidly fascinating. We knew from the publication of the Warren Commission Reports that one set of photos or the other had been “doctored.” My father said that when you have a room full of admirals, you follow orders.
Why would someone have doctored the photos, we wondered. Who ordered it and why? Why did the original newspaper accounts cite witnesses who said they heard shots from the grassy knoll? How could anyone have shot him directly between the eyes from either side of the road? Wouldn’t a shot like that have had to come from straight ahead? And why did today’s edition of the New York Daily News’ reprint of the 1963 paper leave out all the testimony of the witnesses?
In those days, the Media was very careful not to give too much of a view of that overpass, which you must have noticed in your visit to Dealey Plaza wasn’t too far away from where the motorcade had stopped, probably to allow the Secret Service agent time to get into the car. Also, it seems never to have occurred to anyone that a sniper could have fired off a shot from a sewer on the side of the road.
After my grandfather died in 1985, the autopsy report disappeared. We weren’t sure who took it – our uncle (my mother’s brother), his daughter, the next-door-neighbor. Finally, my younger brother admitted that he had sold them to a JFK collector. “Not for the money,” he said, “but so that someday people will know the truth.” He said the dealer told him the report would have to be resold numerous times to cover its tracks so that the trail wouldn’t lead back to our family or my mother’s cousin’s family. Or to him. To paraphrase the woman in the Oliver Stone movie, these are serious people. If they’d shoot a president, average people wouldn’t stand a chance.
Fifty years after JFK’s assassination, and 12 years after 911, the conspiracy theories are being knocked down again. For awhile, people began to believe in a government cover-up, that there was more than one shooter. The Oliver Stone film, JFK, helped to lend credence to other theories, especially based on examination of the Zapruder film. I have no doubt Oswald was there, but so were other shooters. The government would have had the case sign, sealed and delivered if hadn’t been for the Zapruder film.
But since the 9/11 Truthers came out of the woodwork, blaming GW Bush, the CIA, Mossad, and who knows who else for the September 11th attacks, people have become wary again of conspiracy theorists. The Media is playing the government tune. Even now, they’re trying to persuade people that the Lone Gunman theory was the correct one. They’ve even tried to discredit the doctors at Bethesda as not being as well trained in forensics as law enforcement.
They still insist Kennedy was hit in the right, back side of his head, even though the autopsy photos – to say nothing of the Zapruder film – show that it’s the left back side of his shirt that’s soaked in blood. Even though the film shows the spray of blood going off towards Jackie. Even though Gov. Connolly’s wife was even more soaked in blood than Jackie. Even though pictures at the time showed that Jackie’s skirt and stockings were soaked in blood. In the Zapruder film, you can see her face is spattered with blood.
The so-called experts have now come up with new, crazy zig-zag theories to explain how the shot could have gone through his back, through his throat, and then through Connolly (sic), and come out relatively undamaged. A new documentary now says that the bullet was flattened somewhat, but still pretty much intact. Witnesses accounts are still being dispelled, that what they head were echoes. Echoes bouncing from where? There were no buildings on the driver’s side of the limo. Yet the Media are accepting this nonsense and not even questioning it, not even you.
Someone put a video on Youtube, exploring all the possible sniper nests on Dealey Square. As he walked back up the motorcade route, he turned the camera back on the overpass for a moment, then forward again to the motorcade route. Then he turned the camera back to the overpass again, as if doing a sudden double-take. I haven’t seen the distance between where the limo stopped and the overpass, but you have, and it’s my belief that the distance between the last location of the limo and the overpass isn’t as great as we were led to believe. Someone familiar with guns and shootings needs to rethink that trajectory.
Someone is very, very scared of the truth about an assassination that occurred 50 years, whose key players are practically all dead or in dotage. What are they afraid of, all these years later? How people can see the evidence right in front of them (the Zapruder film) and yet still succumb to pressure to accept what is obvious falsehood, not believe their own eyes, is unfathomable. It’s the old doctors in white coats syndrome. We’re not experts. The witnesses heard echoes, not more shots. The blood was on the right side of the car, not the left. The right side of Kennedy’s head was blown off, not the left. What about the motorcycle cop who said he was nicked by a bullet? Why, there’s no evidence anyone said any such thing. That’s not in the Daily News’ reprint. Neither are witness testimonies placing him in a lunch room at the time of the shooting. So what if no one actually saw him shooting at the moment? His fingerprints are still on the gun. Anyone who believes there was a conspiracy is crazy. Anyone who doesn’t believe the government’s Warren Commission Report is just a nut.
Someone has the real, undoctored photos. I don’t know who it is. I don’t want to know. I don’t know whether he’s discovered that it’s too dangerous for him and his family to expose the truth about Kennedy’s assassination. But my brothers and I are here to tell you (Mom’s too old and nervous to do so): don’t believe Lone Gunman or crazy bullet trajectory theories for a moment. I’ve never heard of a wildcat bullet that can exit cleanly right between a man’s eyes.
If you’d seen the autopsy photos as we did, you’d know the truth. You’d know the Warren Commission Report was a cover-up, with a compliant, modern-day Media helping resell it, for some reason. Even reliable broadcasters like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are reselling the Commission’s report. Keep asking questions, as Glenn Beck is always exhorting us to do, and hope whoever has the real autopsy report (if they haven’t destroyed it) comes forward with the evidence someday.