I earnestly encourage you all to ask your relatives, whatever their age and relation to you, to tell you about what they remember. It doesn’t matter if they talk about what the war was like, or what it was like to date decades ago, or how the world has changed in recent times… It’s all valuable information.
Today, my dad sent me an e-mail telling me about his recollections of that sad day in November 1963 when the world stood still. Other than very minimal editing, all the below is his. Thank you P.J.
“I remember November 22nd 1963. A Friday, like today. It was my last day at school. For some months my mother, a widow with five siblings to raise, had become increasingly irritated with my teenage lifestyle and constantly threatened to take me away from school and send me out to work. Finally, fed up with domestic penury and disillusioned at school, I took her up.
It was a gloomy, miserable autumn day. November is a depressing month, comparable only to February, though the latter at least is the pre-cursor of Spring. I arrived home after my usual two bus journeys – the grammar school I attended was on the far side of the city. I entered, as usual, through the kitchen door (the front door was for posh visitors or tradesmen). Everyone was in the living room, watching the slot-rental TV. I plonked down my school satchel when suddenly a news flash came on the screen – President Kennedy had been shot on a visit to Dallas and had been rushed to hospital. I went upstairs and changed out of my school uniform for the last time and headed to my best friend’s house on a nearby council estate. It was about a ten-minute walk. Just as I entered his living room another news flash came on the TV – President Kennedy had died on the operating table at Parklands Hospital in Dallas. At that moment the world went into deep, dark mourning. The BBC blacked out its schedule and played funeral music with frequent news updates on the magnicide. The profound sense of shock and tragedy at that time was only comparable to 9-11, or what I imagine it must have been like as the news of the attack on Pearl Harbour came through, with the difference that both the latter were tempered by a sense of indignation giving way to an outburst of patriotic pride. The assassination of John Kennedy was simply a tragic waste and, as events unfolded and the details emerged, questions began to be raised about who really ran America and whether the youthful optimism he so clearly represented and the changes he espoused would be tolerated by the entrenched establishment. With hindsight I would have to say not, and I don’t believe Bobby’s death a few years later was at all coincidental. That night in California he was assured of the Democratic nomination, and surely would have beaten Nixon, Nixon the perpetual loser, in the upcoming presidential election.
Regarding the assassination itself I don’t have time to go into detail. Much is being discussed these days about minor, though important, details such as the Magic Bullet, dodgy rifles, faked photos, and so on. Just the timeline of events speaks for itself. President Kennedy was shot at about 12.30. Every police car in Dallas was undestandably ordered to converge on the scene, with one solitary exception. The lone police car was ordered to patrol North Dallas for no declared purpose. At that time there was absolutely nothing to link either Oswald or the Book Depository to the crime. At about 1.10 the officer stopped a person who, after a couple of minutes of apparently amicable conversation pulled out a gun and shot him dead, throwing away his jacket as he ran off. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in a nearby cinema a few hours later and subsequently charged with the officer’s murder. Only later that night was he linked to the Kennedy assassination and charged with the killing.
The FBI and especially the Secret Service were uneasy about the Dallas City Police, whom they regarded as corrupt and incompetent, and requested Oswald be moved to the county jail, where Oswald had said he would speak out (remember the Secret Service, responsible for guarding the President, had absolutely no jurisdiction – murder, even of high officers of state, was at that time exclusively a State crime). Oswald was due to be transferred early the morning of the 24th, but there was an unexplained delay. Some 2 hours after the scheduled time of the transfer Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner friendly with the Dallas police but possibly with connections to organised crime, arrives at Dallas City Police headquarters, walks unchallenged past the police guard down the ramp into the heavily-guarded garage at the exact moment when Oswald is brought down in the lift and shoots him.
What I am trying to say is that, after 50 years, I can still feel, despite all the sordid details subsequently revealed about JFK’s private life, the senseless loss, but more than that I can still smell the putrefaction that surrounded the assassination and the subsequent so-called “investigation”. I have always maintained that the United States is a constitutional semi-absolutist monarchy – a view supported by no less eminent a person than David Starkey, presenter of the Monarchy series on TV. So if you’re going to bump off a President, who better to cover it up than the VP. the heir apparent (The King is dead; Long live the King!) and where better than in the VP’s own home state? Despite being his Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson, the hard-talking, some would say foul-mouthed, Texas rancher had a visceral hatred for Kennedy, the Northern liberal silver-spoon-in-his-mouth pussy. Sound incredible? Why not? If the powers-that-be could get rid of democratic leaders such as Mossadegh in Iran or Arbenz in Guatemala, or later Allende in Chile, for acting against the perceived interests of the United States, is it too bizarre to believe they could conceivably get rid of one (two, if you include Bobby) of their own, if the stakes (viz. vast business gains) were high enough?
One final point; there has always seemed to me to be a strong correlation between politics and culture. The Sixties saw un unprecedented blossoming of youth culture, a generational change famously epitomised in President John Kenndy’s inauguration speech (I earnestly recommend you listen to all 20 minutes of it on YouTube). But the decade of optimism and free expression gradually gave way to the harsh realities of Vietnam which no amount of dope-induced highs could hide, and the establishment finally decided it had had enough of hippies and, more importantly, political protests. The deaths of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King presaged the crackdown on Eugene McCarthy’s candidature at the Democratic Convention later that year in Chicago, where the asinine Hubert Humphrey received the nomination, only to founder miserably against the erstwhile loser Richard Nixon in the subsequent presidential election. A little over a year later the death knell of the political protest was, literally, sounded when students were gunned down by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio. The decade of light, hope and freedom was well and truly over. Don McLean’s “American Pie” catalogues that period, beginning with the happy innocence of Buddy Holly, passing through the dreams of the Beatles and the Byrds and finally ending with the tragic deaths at the 1969 Altamont festival. Marijuana gave way to amphetamines and heroin, the Beach Boys to Lou Reed and the heavy bands. The decade began with “Surfin’ USA” and ended with the Doors’ “The End”. It was not simply “the day the music died”. With the passing of the Kennedys, especially Bobby, who I think would have been a truly great president, part of America’s hitherto unshakeable self-belief also died, and has never recovered – witness the majority of American citizens who believe that JFK’s assassination was both a conspiracy and a cover-up (of its own conspiracy?). That perception is not simply a verdict on an event that happened two genarations ago; it is a stark comment on how the American dream has been diminished – if it ever existed.”