Hanging Out The Warsh — November 19, 2013

Over the weekend the metropolitan newspapers were filled with “what were you doing when you heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated” accounts.

Bringing it closer to home, I asked fellow Journal employee Ron Dodds where he was and what he was doing. His answer was quick—he was eating dinner at his parental home when the breaking news came over their TV set.

He finished off the meal in a hurry and returned to the Journal where he was operating a linotype. He knew he and the others would be pressured to get the type of the United Press story of the Dallas shocker set before the press deadline.

Scott Schock, our publisher, was a freshman at FCHS. He was in a class seated in the balcony of the old gym when the news came. School continued.

Our other four employees hadn’t been born.     

I was the Journal’s city editor working on late items for the afternoon’s paper and was seated next to the chattering teletype when bells on it began ringing—big news was on its way. The president had been shot in Dallas! Bits and pieces about the scene in Dallas began appearing and then shortly after l p.m. the teletype, with more bells ringing, ran off a paragraph that President Kennedy was dead. Within minutes the UP’s Merriam Smith’s memorable story of the assassination began unfolding. Thanks to the three linotype operators in the back shop the complete story made it into that Friday’s Journal.   

I remember that business came to a standstill in Falls City that weekend as most everyone remained glued to their TV sets. Scenes and anchormen’s (like Walter Cronkie) accounts were played over and over but that didn’t matter. Breaking news flashes interrupted them. We just couldn’t get enough information. Then on Sunday we—again nearly everybody—were watching when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald at point blank range. My gosh, how much more could there be? There was–on Monday the funeral service and the historic walk to Arlington National Cemetery. Everything is being reviewed on TV this week on the 50th anniversary of the assassination and it all will come back.

Although I believe I probably voted for Richard Nixon rather than JFK in the presidential election, I regarded Kennedy as the real World War hero he was. I have been intrigued with the assassination for the past 50 years and have read most all of the books about the assassination and President Kennedy the Library has on its shelves as well as numerous others. William Manchester’s “The Death of a President,” published in l967, tops all of them (even Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Kennedy”), in my opinion. Manchester was commissioned by the Kennedy family to write the book, but they had a falling out with the family over it, and was sued by Jacqueline Kennedy.

With Oswald’s death, the source of the why’s and how’s began and have persisted for these 50 years. One has to come to the conclusion that Oswald fired the shots. I still can’t fathom how he did it so rapidly and so accurately with a two-bit, bolt-action rifle, even with a scope. The conjectures are endless.

Here are some personal bits with a relationship to the above.

In l962, Colonel Ernest J. White, a lifelong friend from Falls City days who was the commanding officer of Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod, Mass., invited me to spend a January weekend there and possibly to shake hands with President Kennedy or maybe just observe from up close as he flew into Otis on Air Force One for the weekend at the famous Kennedy compound. Ernie always met the President and escorted him to the compound. So on Thursday an Otis AFB Constellation aircraft picked me up at the Lincoln Air Force Base. A couple of hours into the flight bad news came over the plane’s radio. A l4-inch snowfall had closed down the Otis runways except for emergencies and the President had canceled the trip. So our pilots diverted to McGuire AFB in New Jersey. The next day we flew to Otis and I spent the weekend learning how the fighter pilots there would tangle with any enemy aircraft approaching our upper East Coast.  I also more than glimpsed the red telephone on White’s desk connecting him with the White House. Any peon would have been impressed.

I don’t think it has been so much an idolization of John F. Kennedy with me as it has been a lasting intrigue with that horrific day in Dallas. Along with most everyone visiting Dallas, Dorothy, our daughter, Laurie, and I had to see Dealey Plaza and the School Book Depository building. Dorothy and I also visited the Eternal Flame burial site in Arlington National Cemetery and in Boston’s environs the Kennedy Memorial Library with the replica of JFK’s PT l09 boat outside.  

Of course I’ll be watching at least some of the documentary programs this week.  The Omaha World-Herald summed it up real well in Sunday‘s special section on the assassination with the headline, “Frozen in Time.” What took place in Dallas on Nov. 23, l963, sure has been for me.

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