Chapter 6: The End of the World: November 22nd, 1963
President Kennedy and the First Lady rose from bed early on the morning of Friday, November 22nd. Though reluctant to leave each other's’ embrace, both had busy days ahead of them, as each was painfully aware. The President gave a speech in a crowded square praising the city of Fort Worth for its burgeoning aviation industry, and a second at the Texas Hotel’s grand ballroom. The second of these was interrupted at the fifteen minute mark by the arrival of Mrs. Kennedy, who received a round of hearty applause. The President smiled warmly at her arrival. “My wonderful wife, ladies and gentlemen.”
As the speech was wrapping up, Roy Kellerman, the Secret Service agent in charge of the trip, was advised by Kenny O’Donnell that the Presidential limousine should keep its bubbletop on, as the weather reports predicted rain in Dallas during the procession through the city.
Press Secretary Mac Kilduff showed the First Couple a disturbing advertisement seen in The Dallas Morning News ironically headed “Welcome Mr. Kennedy to Dallas.” The ad morphed into a laundry list of complaints about the current administration, and blamed the President for many of the issues facing the world. Kennedy turned to the First Lady, gripping her hand tightly. “We’re heading into nut country today.”
At 11:38 AM, CST, the First Couple landed at Love Field in northwest Dallas aboard Air Force One. The cars for the Presidential motorcade had been lined up in a certain order earlier that morning. As he had been instructed, Agent Kellerman began to attach the bubble top to the back of the limousine. Through vexing winds and a steady drizzle of rain, reporters for local and national radio and television news arrived to catch the President as he and the First Lady made their way off of the plane. Still in the swing of their newfound closeness, Kennedy proved the gentleman, and was photographed holding an umbrella over Jackie as she made her way down to the car.
The First Couple would not be alone in the Presidential Limousine. Also in the car would be two secret service agents, one the driver, and the other in the front passenger seat; Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie would occupy the middle row of seats. President and First Lady Kennedy would take up the rear seats of the vehicle. As they filed into the automobile, the President cracked a joke about the rain, which nearly every weatherman in the country had failed to predict. The Texas Governor, no friend of the Kennedy administration despite his party affiliation, did not laugh, though his wife did. “Tough crowd.” The President whispered to Jackie, who hardly suppressed the chuckle which ensued. After the first couples posed for a picture in the car, Kellerman attached the bubble top.
Earlier that day, at 7:23 AM, across the city, Lee Harvey Oswald showed up for work at the Texas Book Depository, carrying an ungodly long, cumbersome object wrapped in paper packaging. When asked by co worker Buell Wesley Frazier what was in the packaging, Oswald simply shrugged the question off. “Just some curtain rods.” He says, dismissively. “Did I tell you about the time I met Joe DiMaggio?”
The motorcade departed Love Field at 11:45 AM, immediately setting a course for downtown Dallas. There, despite the less than ideal weather, nearly 150,000 people had gathered to see the President and First Lady as the limousine passed by. Kennedy, ever charming, did his best to remain animated and wave to the crowds through the confines of the car’s plastic bubble top. The onlookers and well wishers are a far cry from the critical, even threatening ad that the First Couple read earlier in the day.
At 12:29 PM, the Presidential motorcade entered Dealey Plaza after taking a 90 degree right turn from Main Street onto Houston Street. As they completed the turn, Nellie Connally turned to the President and grinned, gesturing to the thousands gathered beneath umbrellas and clutching their raincoats. “Mr. President,” she remarked. “You can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.”
Having waited, rather impatiently, all day for the big moment, Oswald was ready. His “package of curtain rods” had been unfurled, revealing inside a 6.5x52mm Carcano Model 91/38 infantry rifle, with a telescopic sight. Italian made and ordered by Oswald through the mail under his alias of “Alek Hidell”, the rifle would be his tool for this job; the instrument of his vindication.
The former Marine sharpshooter rubbed his eyes and opened the sixth story window next to his hastily constructed sniper’s nest. “Fuck.” He whispered to himself. “Still raining. Oh well, shouldn’t make too much of a difference.”
The Presidential limousine came into view as it finished the turn from Main to Houston. Through his scope, Oswald could see the throng that had braved the weather, that had come out to see their “champion”. He scoffed and took a deep breath. They will never understand what I have come here to do. But perhaps their children may be able to. I shall be the Lenin of my age, or the Robespierre. I will be reviled in my own time, but history will forgive me, as it does all great men, all great revolutionaries.
The vehicle passed the Book Depository. The back of President Kennedy’s head began to line up with Oswald’s crosshairs. Oh Shit.
The damn rain was starting to fog up the scope. Better do this quick, I’ll miss my chance
. Oswald’s finger reached for the trigger, but his mind was as foggy as the sights on his weapon. He thought back to that trip to Mexico, meeting that baseball player, heard his words echo over and over again in his mind. "Do something that means something..."
Oswald's arms trembled and his perfect shot grew shaky and uncertain.
On the ground, the President felt the squeeze of Mrs. Kennedy’s hand against his own. “What is it, Jackie?” He asked, his famous boyish grin spreading across his face.
“Come close.” She whispered, giddy. “I don’t want the bores in front to hear.”
The President leaned in toward his wife, intent on hearing what she had to say. Instead he heard what sounded at first like a motor bike backfiring in his other ear. Confused, he instinctively turned his eyes to the sky. A piece of the limousine’s bubble top flew inward, narrowly missing him and careening into the seat in front of him.
Before anyone could think, Mrs. Connally screamed, and a second shot was fired, its rapport suggesting the source to be the same as before. This time, the President felt a sharp, hot pain in his right shoulder. He knew in an instant that he’d been hit, even before the blood began to seep from the freshly made wound. The bullet seemed to have passed through him however, as in front of him, Governor Connally let out a grunt of pain just a second after the President felt his.
Not knowing what else to do, the President ducked, making himself as small as he could in the backseat of the limousine. By now, shrieks of terror were erupting from the crowds of people. Running away in a panic, many vacated the roadside, dropping their umbrellas to the grassy knoll as they sprinted to hopeful safety, away from the gunshots.
A clumsy third shot rang out in the plaza, but this one seemed to miss the Limousine completely, at least as far as the President could tell. Keeping his head low, he barked to the driver, his voice cold and hard as wrought iron. “Drive! To the nearest hospital as fast as you can!”
Following orders are something of a speciality for the secret service, and before long, the engine was gunned. The limousine gained speed and a moment later had vacated Dealey Plaza, making all possible speed for Parkland Hospital.
Kennedy, feeling intense pain, but also relief, wasted no time in sitting up and looking in his wife’s direction. “Jackie!” he cried, praying that she was unharmed.
Though sitting perfectly still and silent, the First Lady was unharmed. At first unable to speak, she threw her arms around her husband. “Oh, Jack!” She cried, tears beginning to form. “Are you alright? Did he get you?”
The President gently removed his hand from Jackie’s, now covered in sweat, and held down the wound on his shoulder. “I’m fine. I told you, absolute nut country.”
The First Lady, seeing the exit wound, removed her hat and held it over her husband’s hand. “Jack, I… I Love you so much.” She pulled him close and kissed him, harder and truer than she had since their wedding day. Still shaking, she reached out to Mrs. Connally. “Nellie, John! Are you alright?”
Nellie Connally did not respond right away, she was still reeling from what had happened. “Nellie!” The President called to her this time. “What’s going on up there?” He reached forward to try and get a better look and was appalled with what greeted him: a massive hole in the center of the Texas Governor’s chest. Kennedy took a deep breath and steeled himself. The ride to Parkland were the longest seven minutes of his life.
Back in Dealey Plaza, local police were swarming like hornets around a nest. Oswald, realizing that in his haze he had missed his date with destiny, wasted no time in getting the hell out of there. Cursing under his breath every step of the way, the would be assassin hid his Carcano rifle behind some boxes in the northwest corner of the Depository and swiftly made his way downstairs to the second floor of the building. As he reached the second floor lunchroom, Oswald walked with purpose but with a face completely void of emotion. This would serve him well.
“Put your hands in the air!” A motorcycle cop - Oswald could tell by the helmet - pointed a .38 revolver at him and held it steady. “Who the hell is this one?” The cop, Baker, according to his nametag, asked Roy Truly, the superintendent of the building, Oswald’s boss.
“He’s Harvey!” Truly replied. “Let him go, he’s one of mine!”
No more words were needed. The cop lowered his gun and the pair continued their ascent up to the sixth floor, where witnesses reported hearing gunshots coming from. Oswald saw his chance and took it, walking out the front door of the Depository at 12:33 PM.
Following a convoluted path back to the rooming house where he stayed during the week, the shooter gathered what cash he had on hand, the .38 Smith and Wesson revolver he’d ordered along with the rifle through the mail, and a suitcase full of spare clothing. Charging out into the street, he flagged down an approaching truck, a 1950 Ford F-6 and whipped out the pistol at the driver. “It’s not worth your life pal, is it?”
The driver agreed and immediately left the truck, darting down the road as soon as he saw the gun. Once behind the driver’s seat, Oswald got it into gear, reversed, and sped as quickly as he could toward the city limits. Before long, the police would be closing Dallas, and Oswald had no intention of being caught. Not until I do something with meaning.
The shooter’s eyes were wide, and full of rage. Not until I go down in history.
At 1:13 PM CST, acting White House Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff entered a nurses’ classroom at Parkland Hospital filled with press reporters. His hair tousled and soaked with sweat, Kilduff gave the first official announcement on what had occurred. “President John F. Kennedy was the intended target of an assassination attempt this afternoon in Dallas. The President was shot in the shoulder. He is undergoing surgery at the moment in what the doctors are calling severe, but not critical condition. He is expected to not only survive this attempt on his life, but to make a full recovery. Governor John Connally was not so lucky. The bullet which struck President Kennedy’s shoulder passed through the President’s arm and pierced Governor Connally’s heart, rendering him dead almost instantly. I have no further details regarding the assassination of the Governor, but will pass on information as soon as it is made available.”
Rest in Peace: Governor John Bowden Connally Jr.
February 27th, 1917 - November 22nd, 1963