Nightmare on Elm; Dark Day in Dealey


No matter what you might think of the Kennedy Assassination, whether you believe one man, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone or that a conspiracy brutally killed the president, the fact remains that a shift in America 's perception of itself occurred soon after November 22, 1963 . A subtle mistrust of the government began to fester, compounded eventually by the war in Vietnam , Watergate , Iran /Contra and the Clinton scandals, as well as revelations about JFK himself. The repercussions of that grim day in Dallas reverberate even today; the imperial designs, deceptions and cover ups culminating in a thinly disguised resource war in the Persian Gulf, trumpeted as liberation, mimicking the deceptions leading to the Vietnam War. The repercussions ricochet ceaselessly around the world, around America , rebounding from the rifle shots heard in Dealey Plaza fully 40 years ago.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his lovely wife Jacqueline--'Jack and Jackie' to an adoring nation and fawning press'were central figures in a media melodrama even before he was elected president in the controversial 1960 elections. A thousand days after the election, the charismatic Kennedys arrived in Dallas , part of a brisk, four city swing that would also take them to Houston , Ft. Worth and San Antonio . A string of limousines awaited the presidential entourage at Love Field for a motorcade through the streets of the city. The motorcade would be almost a leisurely photo opportunity for the charismatic president, with the protective bubble top removed on the stretch Lincoln Continental. Rather than riding on the presidential limousine, Secret Service agents would be passengers in following cars. At Love Field, the cars were shifted and arranged in a semblance of order. Texas governor John Connelly and his wife, Nellie, would ride with the Kennedys that day, and together they would ride off at high noon, not only into history but into a puzzling mystery that increases rather than diminishes with the passing years.

In his revealing book, The Dark Side of Camelot, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Seymour Hersh observes that John Kennedy was coming to Dallas beset with enormous political baggage. Although the trip to Dallas signaled the beginning of JFK's re-election bid, the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert, had secretly decided to drop Lyndon Johnson from the ticket as Vice President in the upcoming 1964 elections. 'Lyndon Johnson was still targeted for political demise,' wrote Hersh. Johnson had been an influential Texas Senator before finagling himself onto the Democratic ticket in 1960, and he certainly wouldn't go without a fight. Johnson--LBJ as he was known--would be in a trailing car with his wife, Lady Bird, Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough and a Secret Service agent.

Aside from the messy political baggage of Johnson's ouster, Hersh also noted the continuing efforts by the CIA and the Oval Office to assassinate Fidel Castro, attempts encouraged by US Attorney General Robert Kennedy, at the request of the President. In addition to this assassination plot, the weight of another political assassination only a month earlier likely crossed JFK's mind. A coup in Vietnam on November 2, instigated by the CIA, had removed the president of South Vietnam , Ngo Dinh Diem, resulting in his execution together with his brother. 'President Kennedy was said to be shocked and distraught by the murder of Diem, a fellow Catholic,' wrote Hersh. 'Both Kennedys admired the young leader's patriotism, fervid anticommunism, and devotion to the Catholic Church.' The coup followed reports, all but ignored in the US mainstream press, that Diem and his brother Nhu had been negotiating a peaceful resolution with the North Vietnamese.

Lastly, although hardly the least piece of baggage accompanying Kennedy to Dallas , was a simple back brace JFK wore beneath his suit. The brace was for a painful injury aggravated, according to reporter Hugh Sidey, by an earlier romp in the pool with an uncooperative woman during a West Coast swing. 'Kennedy tried to put the make on her at the pool. She wrenched away and (the president) fell into the pool, hurting his back.' As Seymour Hersh observed, the back brace would provide Kennedy with a measure of comfort during the limousine ride through Dallas but force him to sit upright and endure the hail of bullets that killed him.

Lee Harvey Oswald, a troubled and embittered Communist sympathizer and former malcontent US Marine--or duped undercover FBI agent and double spy, depending upon one's interpretation of his biographical history--worked in the Texas School Book Depository in 1963. The TSBD overlooked Dealey Plaza and the motorcade route where JFK would be gunned down. Growing up fatherless, Oswald, a lively boy of slight build, adored the masculine world of books and make believe. 'I Led Three Lives,' a television series featuring an FBI counterspy posing as a Communist, entranced the teenage Oswald, as did his older brother's Marine Corps manual, which Lee memorized. According to Wall Street lawyer Gerald Posner, author of the bestseller Case Closed, the violent-tempered and embittered Oswald, no longer the lively child with an easy smile, had a grudge against the capitalist system after his discharge from the Marines and a stay in the former USSR . Oswald, an avowed Marxist now, according to Posner and the Warren Report, was a ticking time bomb with a vendetta against the status quo--and who better to represent that hated system in Oswald's mind than the rich, well-connected and powerful Kennedy. Thus the official image of Oswald emerges, the angry 'lone gunman' possessing a mail order gun and a grudge, with a distinct motive and a convenient means for assassinating the President. At 12:30 p.m. on a gloriously sunny November day, Oswald looked down from his perch on the sixth floor and waited for the motorcade to swing onto Houston Street .

The Texas School Book Depository, seven stories tall, lay a distant block from the 'original' parade route along Main, but sometime at the last moment, according to conspiracy theorists, the parade route was changed. Ostensibly, the detour down Houston and then Elm Street was coordinated by two Secret Service agents, Winston Lawson and Forrest Sorrels, early in November, but the Texas trip was planned months earlier. Although the motorcade map on the front page of the Dallas Morning News didn't show the turn onto Houston or Elm, a brief description inside the paper described it. Perhaps even more ominous was the headline of the DMN the day Kennedy arrived: 'Storm of Political Controversy Swirls Around Kennedy' and 'Nixon Predicts JFK May Drop Johnson.' Another full page in the Dallas Morning News carried a column bordered in funereal black, paid for by the John Birch Society, and the ironic sarcasm of the title--'Welcome Mr. Kennedy To Dallas''scarcely concealed the veiled threat. The page castigated Kennedy for being soft on communism and attacked the President's unwillingness to invade Cuba .

At 12:28 p.m., the motorcade approached Houston Street and Elm--a cul-de-sac for a killing if ever one existed'with Lyndon Johnson visibly nervous two cars behind the President's Lincoln, according to witnesses. Conspiracy theorists suggest the choice of the motorcade route was secretly implemented by Dallas mayor Earle Cabell, brother of general Charles Cabell, recently deposed Deputy Director of the CIA. Charles Cabell, like his boss, Allen Dulles and fellow CIA heavyweight, Dick Bissell, had been acrimoniously fired only months before the assassination by the very man riding in the open limousine: John F. Kennedy.

The three ton Lincoln motored down Main , slowed at Houston and turned, drove another block and slowed to a crawl at Elm. The severe angle at Dealey Plaza from Houston to Elm required the car to slow to walking speed. The big black car had hardly accelerated past the Texas School Book Depository when a sound'backfire? burst tire? firecracker?'resounded, scattering pigeons from the rooftops. Kennedy looked radiant, tousled hair swirling in the gentle breeze, sunlight capturing the easy smile, and people in the crowd waved or snapped pictures. Jean Hill, closest eyewitness to the president and co-author of JFK-The Last Dissenting Witness, claims she heard four to six shots and saw a man run from the TSBD and a shooter flee the Grassy Knoll. Dallas policeman J.B. Marshall, astride a motorcycle at the right rear of the President's car, said, 'When that head shot hit Kennedy, I was sure it was coming from the right front because of the direction the blood flew. It looked to me like at least two people were firing from a forward position, and I thought there might be as many as six in all.' Abe Zapruder, clothing manufacturer with an office in the nearby Dal-Tex building, aimed his Bell & Howell 8mm movie camera from atop a pedestal near the Grassy Knoll and filmed the motorcade as it crawled past Jean Hill. Although Abe suffered from severe vertigo, his secretary steadied him while he recorded, without pause or hesitation, the 19 seconds that changed America .

Curiously, the Zapruder film began a journey of its own that day. After being duplicated into three copies that evening, however, the Zapruder tape would not be publicly shown on television for a dozen more years. Except for a brief airing in New Orleans at the conspiracy trial of Clay Shaw, brought by District Attorney Jim Garrison, the public would rely only on memory and the statements of witnesses for details of the JFK assassination. The film and all rights were purchased by Life magazine for $200,000 in 1963. Returned to the Zapruder family years later--for the token sum of one dollar--the film is estimated to have generated almost $10 million in income for the family of the man who shot it.

Following the first shot, which all sides seem to agree somehow missed the open limousine and the President altogether, Oswald wounded Kennedy with his next bullet. According to supporters of the Warren Report, Oswald chambered a second shot from the concealment of the sniper's lair and wounded both Kennedy and Connelly with the pristine bullet'or so-called 'magic bullet' to detractors'which was found on a stretcher in nearly pristine shape at Parkland Hospital, where the two wounded men were taken. The third shot, the fatal head shot to Kennedy, occurred as the limousine slowed to a crawl, (some witnesses claiming the car stopped altogether), as the Secret Service driver turned twice to look at the stricken President, a serious breach of security in a city surrounded by tall buildings, open windows and thinly veiled threats. The last shot, which everyone agrees killed Kennedy, either rocketed his head back according to those who believe a shot or shots were fired from the Grassy Knoll, or thrust him forward and then wrenched him back, according to Nobel prize scientist Louis Alvarez, corroborating the Warren Commission. The only bullet retrieved'the pristine or 'magic' bullet'fit the rifle found at the sixth floor of the TSBD.

Called the 'humanitarian rifle' by the Italian soldiers issued it (because it never intentionally hurt anyone), the Mannlicher-Carcano had a poor reputation for combat. The Mannlicher-Carcano cost Oswald $12 and the 4x scope another seven. A former member of the House Select Committee on Assassinations' firearm panel and an expert marksman, Monty Lutz, declared during a mock Oswald trial in 1986 sponsored by British television that no one had ever duplicated Oswald's alleged shooting expertise. Likewise, in a test held in 1967 by CBS, replicating the Warren Commissions version of the Oswald marksmanship, not one of the eleven marksmen scored two out of three hits on their first attempts. Seven of these top riflemen failed on all of their attempts. Oswald, hardly the steadiest individual according to all who knew him, had only one attempt with his war surplus rifle, and his first shot missed.

Reportedly, Oswald had attempted an earlier assassination in Dallas with this same rifle. General Edwin Walker, a decorated war hero and outspoken critic of Kennedy, a fiery orator and member of the radical John Birch Society and a segregationist who was arrested for attempting to block integration in Mississippi , apparently angered Oswald, according to Gerald Posner in Case Closed. Reportedly in April 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald took a shot at the general with his Italian war-surplus rifle. On that April evening, Oswald aimed across Walker 's lawn at the general, seated inside his home, but the bullet shattered a window and missed him instead. Which begs the question: If Oswald couldn't hit a stationary target from less than a hundred feet of level ground, how could he have hit a moving target'Kennedy--from over twice that distance, while shooting from six floors above? Even more puzzling: Why had Oswald tried to assassinate a prominent right wing figure--Walker--with a violent grudge against Kennedy and then, six months later assassinate Kennedy, who was branded 'soft on communism' by all factions of the right, a President accused of signing secret peace agreements with the Soviet Union?

Could the CIA and a sprinkling of right-wing extremists together with a group of Cubans with a grudge against Kennedy for what they considered his betrayal at the Bay of Pigs, have conspired to kill Kennedy and keep it silent for 40 years? Using fear and intimidation, using the threat of violent death ('we can easily do to you exactly what we did to Kennedy') a group of conspirators could believably silence anyone. Dozens of people connected to the Kennedy assassination have already been murdered mysteriously or died unnatural deaths. Penn Jones, newspaper editor and long time critic of the official version, calls these 'Convenient Deaths.' CIA/Pentagon liaison officer Fletcher Prouty says, 'It is possible now to reconstruct the scenario of that day, and, with new information, to show why the murder of JFK may properly be called the "Crime of the Century." If we the people of the United States do not demand its resolution . . . it will doom a third century of democratic government in this country.'

If a convincing story of an angry, lone assassin'Lee Harvey Oswald'satisfied the media and most of the public in 1963, then the story should have died. Lyndon Johnson took office and handpicked a panel of seven men, including former CIA head Allen Dulles, to gather testimony and evidence. The result satisfied those in power that Oswald acted alone. Anyone who disagreed with the official version and tried to shed some light on the subject--like Jean Hill, Jim Garrison or Fletcher Prouty--would be branded by the media as ambitious crackpots espousing wacko conspiracy theories, individuals simply seeking the limelight rather than the evident truth.

But did such a conspiracy happen? Or was Oswald simply what Allen Dulles and the Warren Commission claimed him to be? A lone assassin whom fate placed at the apex of history with a rickety war surplus weapon and a grudge against the most powerful man in the world? 'Almost everyone who has taken the time to do any reading and thinking about that crime knows by now that John Kennedy was killed not by a lone assassin," Prouty claims. 'This is a game for the biggest stake of all--absolute control of the government of the United States of America ; and, with control of this government, control of the world. And yet the real crime underlying all of this has not even been identified, stated, and charged. The real criminals still walk the streets, run their corporations, control their banks, and pull strings throughout their political and financial machines."

Conspiracy anyone?

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Douglas Herman's picture
Columns on STR: 149

Award winning artist, photographer and freelance journalist, Douglas Herman can be found wandering the back roads of America. Doug authored the political crime thriller, The Guns of Dallas  and wrote and directed the Independent feature film,Throwing Caution to the Windnaturally a "road movie," and credits STR for giving him the impetus to write well, both provocatively and entertainingly. A longtime gypsy, Doug completed a 10,000 mile circumnavigation of North America, by bicycle, at the age of 35, and still wanders between Bullhead City, Arizona and Kodiak, Alaska with forays frequently into the so-called civilized world of Greater LA. Write him at Roadmovie2 @