Monday, April 11, 2011
Memories of the JFK Assassination or How to Learned to Love History
"The Kennedys" mini-series on REELZ channel concluded last night with the assassination of JFK. All in all, I thought the series was entertaining, well-acted, and reasonably accurate, drawing on well-respected JFK biographies. But I was disappointed that the assassination in Dallas was more or less glossed over, with Lee Harvey Oswald depicted as the only assassin. Also, there were factual errors. For example, Abraham Bolden, the first African-American secret service agent on the Kennedy detail, only served JFK in 1961. In the movie, Bolden was shown as still serving in 1963. Bolden was reassigned to duty in 1961 after he complained of racism. In November 1963, he learned of a plot to assassinate JFK in Chicago. JFK's visit was cancelled. When he tried to inform the Warren Commission in 1964 of the Chicago plot as well as misconduct (drinking on duty) by his fellow agents, he was arrested for allegedly taking a bribe and served a six year prison sentence. The principal witness later recanted and Bolden claims he was set up. No information about the Chicago plot was released to the public, probably because two Cuban nationals had been under surveillance. They were never captured. Please read "Echo from Dealey Plaza," Bolden's account of all this for more information. An excellent read. Anyway, "The Kennedys" was still a good show. It brought back my own memories of the assassination nearly forty-eight years ago:
12:30 p.m., November 22, 1963. Set for a long boring afternoon of history, social studies and geography with our equally boring homeroom teacher. 12:40 p.m. The teacher from across the hall enters, looking upset and leans against the wall whispering to my homeroom teacher. Something is wrong. They both look disgusted and my teacher says "Was she hurt?" I think he means our star gymnast, who was carted off in an ambulance after a bad fall earlier that week. Then my mind blanks. Years later, my friends remind me the teacher had told the class the President had been shot and had a TV wheeled into the room. The principal had allowed us to go home early. But I don't remember any of this. All I remember is not taking any of it seriously and goofing around with a girlfriend as we walked through the park in the rain. And it was raining when I crossed a busy street to get to my house. I remember the headlights shining on the dark pavement as I ran across. The porch light was lit and my father was already home, the old 1957 green Buick Riviera parked outside. When I sat in front of the black and white TV, the plane with the President's body was just returning to Washington, DC. It was five o'clock, Central Time. And my father said "You're watching history being made today." I didn't know what he was talking about. It only meant another death and I didn't want to be reminded of it because I had just lost two grandparents recently. I hated cemeteries and I hated death, picking weeds around the graves. It was so depressing. But the next day I watched. And the next day. And the funeral on Monday, when we had off from school. I was riveted and sad but I couldn't stop watching. And my memory of it raining Friday is correct because it did rain on Saturday, November 23, in Washington, DC, when visitors viewed the President's body. The rain that had been in Wisconsin the day before.
From then on, I was hooked, devouring every new book about the Kennedys and the assassination, becoming a skeptic like much of the population--two-thirds according to a 2004 poll--that didn't believe in a single assassin or the single bullet theory. What I don't understand is why two assassins were considered so dangerous? So two people concocted a scheme to murder the President. Why does the existence of only two people signify a sinister conspiracy? Unless there was more to it than that. Why was the government so insistent on covering up evidence of any additional participants and we know they did because they were afraid of possible links Oswald had to Castro and to Russia. Coming just after the Cuban Missile Crisis, this could easily have ignited World War III. And the Kennedy administration was allegedly planning a coup against Cuba set for December 1, 1963. (See "Ultimate Sacrifice" by Lamar Waldron, another excellent read). And why was Lee Harvey Oswald allowed back into the country so easily after defecting to our arch enemy, the Soviet Union? I remember thinking that even as a teenager. It defied common sense. Obviously these questions still stir controversy.
But in spite of the awful events, I became obsessed with history and tragedies and how they could have been prevented, whether it was the Titanic, the Hindenburg, the assassinations, September 11, or the rise of Hitler. I majored in political science and history in college. And it also helped me to develop my 'what if's?' when I write books. Like what if a Presidential candidate long thought dead (RFK) was still alive? ("Sworn to Secrecy") What if the assassination of the Secretary of State was all a mistake? ("A Question of Conspiracy") What if a foreign leader was killed on American soil? ("Time of the Eleven") And my treasure hunt books: "The Secret Sentinel" (Lost Confederate Gold), "The Montezuma Secret" (Montezuma's Lost Gold-One of the Top Five Missing Treasures). Amazing to think how a little twist of history could have changed the world. And when I visited Dallas and stood where Abraham Zapruder stood and afterwards met Robert Groden, a consultant on Oliver Stone's "JFK", he signed one of his books for me. And when I toured the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, I wrote in the guest book that my love of history had come from the day my father had said…"You're watching history being made today."
Next week: "The Top Ten Conspiracy Theories-My Take"