A picture of the Texas School Book Depository building, left, from the spot on Elm Street where the third bullet struck President John F. Kennedy in the head. The sixth floor window where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired that bullet is the second down on the far right of that building. Some allege the bullet came from the grassy knoll to the front right of Kennedy's open-top limo. Photo by David DeWitt

A picture of the Texas School Book Depository building, left, from the spot on Elm Street where the third bullet struck President John F. Kennedy in the head. The sixth floor window where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired that bullet is the second down on the far right of that building. Some allege the bullet came from the grassy knoll to the front right of Kennedy’s open-top limo. Photo by David DeWitt

Stinging wind and cold rain ripped through Dealey Plaza last week in stark contrast to the sun-soaked warmth of that fateful Friday 50 years earlier when the president was murdered on Elm Street.

In third grade I developed a passion for presidential history, memorizing every name, in order, of those often funny-looking men whose pictures stretched across the bottom of the classroom chalkboard.

The picture of John Fitzgerald Kennedy stood out among them in my young mind, not only as the first color photograph in the series but also from the knowledge of his untimely demise and the fact that the incident could still be viewed: A President of the United States assassinated before my very eyes on the film of Abraham Zapruder’s 8mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series moving picture camera.

I had never before stepped foot into Dealey Plaza until Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. We drove into Dallas Thursday night just as the rain turned torrential.

Several months ago, a fellow Bobcat, a brother-in-arms, Travis Irvine, called to suggest a king hell road trip through the deep south and into the heart of the Lone Star State to bear witness to this somber anniversary.

Plans were set: We were to leave Columbus on Tuesday, drive to Nashville, blast down through New Orleans for my birthday on Wednesday and then make our way over to Dallas to discover what we could about what happened the day John Kennedy was killed.

Irvine, a comedian, raconteur, filmmaker and Renaissance man, was to make a video of our findings, while I was to document the trip in written form. We were joined by videographer Nigel Lyons.

By the time we got to Dealey Plaza Friday morning, confrontation between local police and conspiracy protestors had reached fever pitch. Alex Jones, the radio show host conspiracy theorist, broadcast his show from a headset in the middle of the crowd filled with those wearing tricorne hats and lifting placards assigning blame for the murder.

“LBJ Did It,” was a popular sign. Others placed guilt on Cuba or the CIA or the FBI or the mafia, or any combination of the above. In his gruff intonations, Jones waded through the crowd demanding “the truth.”

The protestors pressed toward the police. The police swiftly pressed back. Mildly violent confrontation ensued, as it often does in these situations.

Having waited until too late to secure media credentials, we were forced to mingle with the conspiracy protestors on the fringe of the official event during the ceremony honoring the life of JFK. As the clock hit 12:30 p.m., I sat on a bench in view of the Texas School Book Depository building, silently listening to the program, grasping for the gravity of the moment.

After the official proceedings ended, Irvine and Lyons began their interviews, asking various members of the crowd, “What do you think happened here 50 years ago?”

Answers varied from Lee Harvey Oswald being the lone gunman to every other incarnation of every conspiracy ever put forth on this grisly murder.

What happened in Dealey Plaza 50 years ago? The question echoed.

The Dallas police took down the barricades by 2 p.m. and I took my first walk down Elm Street. No vehicles were yet allowed so I followed the route of the president’s motorcade. I turned left past the book depository.

I stopped at the spots I had marked off from memory to look back at that sixth floor window, which had been opened on that day and this: First shot, and then another couple yards; second shot, and then another couple yards; third shot.

What happened here 50 years ago?

From the position where that third bullet struck John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the head, I looked back at that sixth floor window: Not as far away as I thought. Back and to the left: I looked at the grassy knoll, even closer. I looked at the storm sewer, alleged hiding place of assassin Lucien Sarti, even closer. But I could draw no conclusions. No theory could possibly be eliminated. No theory could possibly be confirmed.

What happened here 50 years ago?

I walked up the grassy knoll, eavesdropping on people describing the location of the so-called “badge man.” I heard another theory that the real storm sewer was at the top of the grassy knoll, in the corner by the bridge. I walked over there and looked toward Elm Street.

I walked over to the John Neely Bryan pergola and pulled up the Zapruder video on my smartphone to watch it from the very perch Zapruder stood upon to film it. And again, no theory could be confirmed; no theory could be eliminated.

What happened here 50 years ago?

An American president was gunned down in broad daylight on the streets of an American city.

What happened here 50 years ago?

America caught a glimpse of the man behind the curtain. Institutional faith broke irreparably. For several days the American people mourned their president, and then played witness to the murder of his alleged assassin, who called himself a patsy, amongst a throng of police on live television. The shadow fell.

What happened here 50 years ago?

The “who” and the “why” of the murder of John Kennedy may never be known for certain, but the question will linger forever. That fact has shaped America these past 50 years into a culture now justifiably paranoid about its levers of power, how they are manipulated, by whom, and to what ends.

The obfuscation surrounding the assassination of John Kennedy has revealed the apparent decree by some with power that Americans must be “protected” from some truths, like so many children. This so-called protection, and certainly the public awareness of its existence, has not only continued these past five decades but expanded.

The number of heinous acts done without our knowledge or consent that have been uncovered over the years only makes one shudder to think of how many have gone undiscovered. And all of this allows speculation to grow ever-wilder while ever-frustrating those of us who thirst only for truth.

We’ve been compelled to resign ourselves to the fact that many matters of great import have been intentionally rendered unknowable to us. We are meant to accept this and left without choice, only to wonder of the potentially insidious impact on true liberty and true democracy in America.

Thinking of this, I recalled an under-appreciated quote from another president, Woodrow Wilson, 50 years prior to the killing of Kennedy.

“Some of the biggest men in the U.S., in the field of commerce and manufacturing, are afraid of somebody, are afraid of something,” Wilson wrote in 1913. “They know that there is a power somewhere so organized, so subtle, so watchful, so interlocked, so complete, so pervasive, that they had better not speak above their breath when they speak in condemnation of it.”

We left Dallas Friday night. I took the first leg of the trip, driving along U.S. 30 East, following 30,000 feet below roughly the same path Air Force One took back toward Washington, D.C. 50 years earlier: Texarkana, Texas; Little Rock, Ark.; Memphis, Tenn.

Around 5:30 a.m. the rain that had not stopped since our arrival in Dallas began to subside. As I watched early light come over downtown Memphis, I thought of The Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968.

On the evening of that murder, every big city in America saw riots except one. The lone peaceful metropolis was Indianapolis, Ind., where Robert Kennedy—himself with only 63 more days to live—shared the news of Kings’ death with a predominately black crowd.

Relating his own loss, Robert recalled the words of the Greek tragedian Aeschylus.

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom, through the awful grace of God.”

Robert reminded the crowd that despite the hardship of the past and the inevitable hardship to come, we can do well in this country.

I would recall his words now to remind us again:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country… And so let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

Find David DeWitt on Facebook and Follow on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.

 
  • John McNay

    That impromptu speech RFK gave in Indianapolis, in a tense and explosive situation, has to go down with one of the best of all time.

  • David DeWitt

    I agree. I’ve always found it extremely moving.

  • David DeWitt

    I agree. I’ve always found it very moving.

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