This year Thanksgiving fell on November 22, the 49th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. For people over 65, the date is as memorable as September 11. Already the media is preparing for the fiftieth anniversary next year. BilI O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Kennedy, is number one on the best seller list.
The attention is focused on Kennedy’s administration, “Camelot”, and on the day he was killed. Trip in the Dark begins on that day and follows the life of the other victim – John Connally, who was Texas Governor and a lifelong friend of Lyndon Johnson. It assumes that Johnson was behind Kennedy’s assassination, for the reasons stated in earlier blogs, and that Johnson left tapes of his White House phone calls, as did Richard Nixon. The story begins in 1963 and ends in 2001. The book will shortly be released on Amazon.com.
But before going forward it is appropriate to look back to that day, November 22, 1963. It is said that the Kennedy assassination changed America forever. Who were we back then?
We had just been introduced to the Beatles. Their first concert tour in October generated “Beatlemania”. But the biggest hits of 1963 were Louie Louie by the Kingsmen, Our Day Will Come by Ruby and the Romantics and Walk the Dog by Rufus Thomas. Tony Bennett won a grammy for record of the year, I Left My Heart In San Francisco.
Stevie Wonder and Joan Baez made their first appearance on the charts. Bob Dylan released his album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Its signature song, The Times They Are A’Changin’ became the signature song for a generation.
The number one movie in November 1963 was It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a wacky comedy starring an ensemble cast (Jonathan Winters,, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett , Sid Ceasar and Milton Berle). It was replaced in December by Charade, staring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
Americans watched Walter Cronkite on CBS News – “The most trusted man in America”. His sign off “And that’s the way it is” was a popular catch phrase. He had succeeded Douglas Edwards as news anchor just seven months before the assassination. Cronkite had been standing at the United Press International wire machine in the CBS newsroom when the bulletin of the shooting came in. He wanted to get on the air immediately, but in those days it took time to set up the cameras. The network was forced to improvise in order to report the story.
Americans were watching As The World Turns. It was 1:30 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. The exact moment the shots took place. A CBS “bumper slide” broke into the broadcast at 1:40 with a Cronkite voice over. Then the soap opera continued. A Nescafe commercial and an add for the evening’s show Route 66 had just been completed when CBS again broke in with a more complete announcement by Cronkite.
CBS then returned to the soap opera. Since it was recorded live, the cast had continued to perform, unaware of what was happening.
CBS interrupted a Friskies commercial with a third audio announcement from Cronkite, giving more details.
By 2:00 the cameras were ready and Cronkite went on the air. His live coverage was chaotic, with the network attempting to switch from Cronkite to Dallas, where crowds had been waiting for Kennedy at the Dallas Trade Mart., where the network covered the crowds in prayer for the President.
Cronkite continued to anchor the news coverage as best he could, fielding reports of closing of the various stock and commodity exchanges, a telegram from Mrs. Truman stating that her husband, former President Truman, was too upset to make an announcement, and introducing a new young reporter in Texas, Dan Rather, who confirmed that the President was dead. Since the report was not confirmed, Cronkite did not officially announce the death, continuing to report as though the President was still alive.
Cronkite covered other breaking news, various reports regarding the possible assassin, and discussed a recent incident in Dallas,, an attack on Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. At approximately 2:38 P.M. a bulletin came over the wire officially announcing the death.
Americans watched as their most beloved news anchor removed his glasses, wiped tears from his eyes and attempted to regain his composure as he announced the death and the departure of President Johnson from Parkland Hospital.
Two days later, at 2:33 P.M. November 24, Cronkite broke into the coverage of the memorial service in Washington to announce the death of Lee Harvey Oswald.
On November 25, the day of the funeral. Cronkite commented on the momentous events. His words still haunt us:
“It is said that the human mind has a greater capacity for remembering the pleasant than the unpleasant. Today was a day that will live in memory and in grief. Only history can write the importance of this day: Were these dark days the harbingers of even blacker ones to come, or like the black before the dawn shall they lead to some still as yet indiscernible sunrise of understanding among men, that violent words, no matter what their origin or motivation, can only lead to violent deeds? This is the larger question that will be answered, in part, in the manner that a shaken civilization seeks the answers to the immediate question: Who, and most importantly what, was Lee Harvey Oswald? The world’s doubts must be put to rest. Tonight there will be few Americans who will go to bed without carrying with them the sense that somehow they have failed. If in the search of our conscience we find a new dedication to the American concepts that brook no political, sectional, religious or racial divisions, then maybe it may yet be possible to say that John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not die in vain. That’s the way it is, Monday, November 25, 1963. This is Walter Cronkite, good night.”