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JFK: A sunny day in November, 50 years ago, when everything seemed possible


POSTED: Friday, November 22, 2013 - 6:51pm

UPDATED: Friday, November 22, 2013 - 8:55pm

There were multiple reasons for President Kennedy's November trip to Texas. In fact, Dallas was the next to last stop on a whirlwind two-day swing through the Lone Star State.

After his speech at the Dallas Trade Mart, the president was to fly to Austin for a fundraiser and spend the weekend relaxing at the LBJ Ranch.

That was not to be.

After a breakfast speech at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth where he spent the last night of his life, President Kennedy and the First Lady, made the short flight to Dallas' Love Field, where crowds waited to shake his hand, and the limousines were lined up for the motorcade through Dallas.

11:39 a.m.: Air Force One touches down, but the motorcade doesn't leave until 15 minutes later. There was discussion about whether or not to use the clear, Plexiglas bubble top on the President's 1961 Lincoln Continental. Given the perfect November weather and the 12 mile per hour speeds that wouldn't even disturb the First Lady's hat, they was decided to leave the top off.

Many have speculated about that decision, and while the top was not bulletproof, it perhaps might have deflected the shots just enough to make them either non-fatal or miss entirely. But, no one will ever know.

An unmarked Dallas Police car lead the procession with the Presidential car second, followed by a Cadillac nicknamed the "Queen Mary," loaded with Secret Service agents and presidential aides Dave Powers and Kenny O'Donnell.

12:29 p.m.:  - After winding its way through Dallas, the motorcade made a right turn from Main Street onto Houston Street and entered Dealey Plaza. The President had only one minute left to live.

On Houston, it headed straight toward the Texas School Book Depository Building, roughly on the corner of Houston and Elm.

12:30 a.m: - The president's car slowed down to make a very sharp turn onto Elm Street, passing just below the sixth floor window, where 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald crouched down and peered through a four-power scope mounted on a 1938 Italian 6.5-millimeter Mannlicher-Carcano carbine.

At that moment, the President started waving with his right hand and the first shot was heard, but it missed. Bystander William Tague is wounded as the first shot ricocheted off the street and hit his face.

Dallas milliner Abraham Zapruder was perched on a concrete pedestal holding a high-end Model 414 PD Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series 8-millimeter camera. He was filming the motorcade as it approached him from below moving left to right. He had a perfect, unobstructed view of the visit of the President he admired.

Most witnesses reported the second and third shots were much closer together than the first and second.

As the Presidential limo emerged from behind a Stemmons Freeway sign, Kennedy's mouth was wide open and his hands balled into fists, pulled upward toward his throat. This is now known to be a reaction to the second shot which entered his back below the collar, traveled downward, passed through Governor John Connolly in the limo's jump seat, and lodged in the governor's wrist.

President Kennedy was wearing an armpit to hip body brace as a result of back injuries sustained on his PT boat in World War II. So, instead of falling over into Jacqueline Kennedy's lap as had Governor Connolly onto his wife Nellie's, the President remained upright, slumping slightly to the left making him a perfect target.

Secret Service driver William Greer, commotion in the back seat, slowed from 12 miles per hour to five, inadvertently giving Oswald more time for an aimed final shot.

Secret Service agent Clint Hill jumped off the running board of the following car and began sprinting toward the presidential limo, as the third shot entered the President's head low and to the right rear and blew most of the right side of his skull apart.

The First Lady can be seen open-mouthed in horror and was heard to scream. Hill jumped onto the rear of the car and forced her back in her seat and the car sped away down Stemmons to Parkland Hospital.

12:36 a.m.: - The first national bulletin of the shooting was broadcast on ABC radio.

12:38 a.m.: - The trip to Parkland Hospital took only eight minutes, but it was apparent to everyone in the emergency room that the president's wound was fatal.

12:39 a.m.: - Dallas radio station KLIF carried the first local bulletin of the shooting.

12:40a.m.: - CBS was the first to break the news nationally on television. Walter Cronkite anchored coverage that was virtually non-stop from that point.

Here is a bulletin from CBS News:

"In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded."

12:45 a.m.: - Dallas TV station WFAA interrupted its local programming with the news.

1:11 p.m.: - KRLD newsman Eddie Barker was told by a local doctor at the Trade Mart that the President was dead. CBS reporter Dan Rather phones one of two priests called to Parkland for last rites, and the clergyman confirms, the President's death.

"There are lots of rumors about the President's condition. One is that he is dead. This cannot be confirmed."

1:22 p.m.: - CBS radio announced the President was dead.

1:27 p.m.: - CBS anchor Walter Cronkite used Rather's information to announce unofficially, that the President had died.

1:35 p.m.: - NBC anchor Chet Huntley made the first unofficial announcement of Kennedy's death on his network.

"The President was 44-years-old. He was shot once in the head."

1:38 p.m.: - The official AP report was handed to Cronkite.

"From Dallas, Texas. The flash, apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m., CST,  2:00 p.m.,EST, some 38 minutes ago. Vice-President Johnson has left the hospital."

The next three days were a blur of sorrow and violence. And there was a pervading sense that the country had changed to being less hopeful and more cynical. A loss of innocence, if you will, that we can pinpoint to a sunny day in November, 50 years ago, when everything seemed possible.

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