Friday, November 22, 2013

Darkness at Noone In Dallas: My Memories of the Assasination

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JFK Inaugural speech "the Torch has
been passed."

Fifty years ago today, a fine autumn day, my brother and I were let out to play for recess. We were in second grade, John Neille Bryon elementary school, the Oak Cliff area of Dallas Texas. Everyone who is old enough says they remember where they were when they first heard the President had been murdered. That's where I was, on the play ground at school. Flash Gorden was just about to take on the Bee creatures from the cartoon panel strip in Boy's Life Magazine.That epic battle was never to take place. Before it got underway the teacher called us all to the black top. As we were going out the Principle had come on the intercom and told everyone the Presideent had been shot. We were given a sort to use the bath room and stretch our legs. Then we were to go back to the class room and our parents would pick us up.

My first reaction was one of anger and shock. I was outraged how could anyone do this? I liked Kennedy. All little kids like the President, whichever one is in office in their childhood. I remembered Eisenhower vegly. I think all I knew of him was form Kennedy's inauguration. I barely remember that on tv. Eisenhower was an old man and Kennedy was young and vigorous. I remember that specifically; thinking, "the other President was an old man he couldn't do anything but this guy is sharp and strong. I took it personally and my immediate reaction was this is an outrage, we can't let this be, I began imagining that I  was a Texas Ranger who was about to bring the assassin to justice. I got so carried away with it that I said out loud "I've got to bring the killer to justice!" The older boys laughed and began mocking, "he's going to bring the guy who shot Kennedy to justice!" My brother pulled me out of the bathroom physically and back to the play ground before things got out of hand.

Mom did come and as we drove home she dispelled romars we heard while waiting. The wildest one was that Kennedy was found hanging dead out of a window in a building down town. At this point we didn't know if he was sill alive or not. We kept saying "maybe he's not hurt that bad." When we got home this was immediately dashed. We turned on tv and Cronkite made the announcement then. We watched as every station was noting but assassination stuff. We were stunned. All we could do was just feel crushed, angered, lost, alone. Helpless. We felt we were living in a nightmare. How could this happen? The world of order and goodness we knew just didn't explode like this. Yet here it was and there was no place to hide from it.

Our next door neighbor Millie Hollinger came over. Her mother had been honorary sheriff of Dallas around 1910, when her father died in office. She had lived there in Oak Cliff in that spot since way before the war. They moved there when it was woods and wilderness. Her husband Gilbert was from San Sabba  Texas. As a young man he was a real actual Texas cowboy in the 19th century. In World War I he had the rare occasion to climb on top of a train and hit the engineer with his pistol to capture the train. So he told me. WWI was basically trench warfare so now I have to look at that with a grain of salt. Millie came in crying. She sobbed openly, tears ran down her cheeks. She usually brought carrot cake, the best I have ever tasted. She would come in the back door without knocking and shout "I'm here!" that's the way it was in that little community of Oak Cliff in the late 50s and early 60's. That way of life was soon to be completely destroyed by white flight. The assassination was like a harbinger or an omen of doom coming for the little life we loved. This time she knocked.

I was stunned by the talk on tv. The pundits trying to figure out who done it. The talk of right wing haters of Kennedy. I had no idea what a backwater I lived in. I didn't know anything about red necks and KKK and any of that. It was all around us. The guy across the alley had been with Bonnie and Clyde.  I put out a little American Flag I just happen to make (paint on white cloth) a few days before for play. I actually stood on the corner writing down the license plate numbers of passing cars becasue I thought that it just might be that they will give a license number of the murderer and it would hep to know he passed this way. Latter I would look at those numbers numbers and feel silly, and helpless.

Kennedy meant a lot to me for two reasons. There was the Cuban Missle crisis. Our parents kept it from us they thought we were too young to fear being blown up. They just didn't know that that fear was the birth right of the times. We found out what was going on by watching the news. They thought we were too young to understand but we did. We both thought, my brother and I, that he "Kennedy is cool." He didn't back down but he didn't get the world blown up. Kennedy saved us. He's great! There was the civil rights movement. Being from Texas I was raised in a racist culture. People in my own family were racist. some of them. Although my parents supported the civil rights movement. My mother was crying when the dogs and fire hoses were being used against the marchers in Selma, and Birmingham. I asked why she was crying. She said "the black people have had to go through so much." I never realized before that time what was being done to them. She expalined it all to me and I was outraged. It's like I had not been alive before. Where had I been living? I started noticing.

It was also mainly knowing black people that got me out of being racist. The Edmund family lived behind us. We played with their kids. That was common in the south, black and white would pay together as kids, they outgrew it and play former play mates as children would hate each other as adults, or be indifferent. A lady named Vivian Douglass moved next door to us. At first I hated her becuase she was new. It meant change. Then she turned out to be a neat person. Former school teacher she helped me with reading, and having dyslexia that meant a lot at that time. So I leaned to respect black people and see them as people because of her. I admired Kennedy all the more for his stand on Civil rights.

As more information came in my Dad began to formulate the early rudiments of a conspiracy buff obsession. I remember the first thing that got him going was he noticed they said the rifle was a Mouser and then said it was something else (Cargano). It was the death of Dorothy Kilgallen that convinced him it was a conspiracy. He was otherwise rational and normal. He was cool. He was slow to anger, strong and able to defend himself, but slow fuse. He never got up set, he took on emergencies and problems with rational focus. In fact my sister-in-law had a joke about him; she would say "Here is A.D. in an earthquake" then she calmly and methodically pretended to turn the pages of a book. But on the assassination topic he was ranting and raving. Boy would he give it to the Warren commission. After years and years I finally realized it was a from of mourning. What else could one do? Either keep in inside and ignore it or vent the rage in some pseudo constructive way. The manufacture of some conspirators and the attempt to bring them to justice was probably the best way given the limitations.

Do I think it was a conspiracy? Yes I do. I'm not going to spend a bunch of time on that because I think it overshadows the loss. For some it's a way to mourn but I think it would be more healthy to acknowledge the grief and honor Kennedy for his life. Of course justice matters, bringing the killers to justice, but I think we are a bit late for that. E. Howard hunt of Watergate fame, long identified as one of the four bums arrested by the triple over pass but never booked by the Dallas Police, confessed on his death bed to taking part int he conspiracy. No one seems to care.

I've known several people who were there at the sight when it happened. One didn't know what had happened even while it was going on and didn't bother to find out until she got home. Then said "O that's what that noise was? That's all those people were running about." I knew a woman who took pictures just moments before the shot, they were so close and clear you could see the shade of lipstick Jackie was wearing. I don't know what became of the pictures but I bet they were wroth a lot of money. I saw them. They were actual photographs, unpublished. I knew a woman who said she felt the bullet  from the grassy knoll grazed her cheek. She felt the heat as it brushed by. She heard the shot form the knoll and saw smoke form that direction. I don't believe the second gun-man because of her story, however, I already believed it before I met her. Moreover, she didn't strike me as very credible. She was written about by several conspiracy book authors. She had known my sister in high school I think the three of us lunched together after chruch one Sunday. My father was two blocks away when it happened. He didn't see anything but he did think Kennedy looked right at him as they passed.

Let's don't forget it's also the anniversary of J.D. Tippit's death. The brave officer, truly  Dallas finest I say that sincerely, who gave his life murdered by Oswald before he went into the Texas theater. I went to school with his son in 1967-68. A small private Christian school in Oak Cliff. He was a nice guy, the son. Apparently the mother married another cop. We used to go that theater. I saw Lawrence of Arabia there. In latter years it deteriorated into a porno house. That whole part of town deteriorated. That theater was in Oak Cliff. There's another connection to my life, the apartment Oswald lived in was right down the street from our doctor where we would go for check ups. My life has been inextricably linked with the Kennedy assassination.

For years after the assassination we would hear stories of people traveling abroad who would say "I'm from Dallas" and the people of the land would go "bang bang" give the gun sign and walk away. I was outraged. I would think "I loved Kennedy! It's so unfair! I didn't shoot him." I took it personally. People I knew would travel abroad and they would say they were from Ft. Worth.

Kennedy left a powerful legacy. His Presidency wasn't that effective. He got several small things done, test ban treaty (granted had huge consequences but was just one small step) and dealt with the steel strike. He put us deeper in to Vietnam, but nothing like Johnson did. His two major achievements may have been supporting the civil rights movement and the promise to land on the moon by the end of decade. The civil rights stand was less than perfect. He had  friction with the leaders of the movement and held back on total support. Just the fact that the U.S. President was seen to be allied with the movement was a huge step for the movement. That was a risk for him to take because it sawed off the whole southern wing of his party. That was  true Profile in Courage. Going to the Moon was a crucial step at the time. It not only assumed us economic stimulation that gave us full employment (which was offset by Vietnam--Under LBJ) and it gave us technological innovation that pulled up out of the mechanical age and gave us wherewithall to face problems we were making for ousreles in polition and energy shortage.

Unfortunately JFK's greatest legacy will always be his death. In getting killed he succeeded becuase he became a martyr and made it possible for LBJ to pass the civil rights legislation. But the main thing is it leave su with a negated promise. We must always wonder how would it have been? If Camelot had gone on eight full years what would have been. That unanswered promise will always beckon us on to the ideal. Of cousre it would not have been idea. He would probalby not have gotten that much done. Yet the potential of what he could have done will hand over the record and lead us on to try more and continue the struggle. He was strong, he was cool, he was a true leader. He was great, and he was taken from us.

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 form Inaugural speech:
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
  We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
  Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

hear the Promise: Kennedy Inauguration Speech (full)
the greatest speech in American history

Dion Singing Abraham, Martin and John on the Smothers Brothers


JBsptfn said...

Awesome entry, man. I never heard of Dorothy Kilgallen before.

Metacrock said...

Glad you like it. she was part of my childhood. My parents and Grandmother avidly watched "I've got a secret" game show that came on at night in prime time (Sunday night). Very popular in early 60s. they had people like Frank Loyd Wright was on it. Jerry Lewis as "mystery guests." blind folded panelists try to guess who is. Then on the regular ones they would have an ordinary person they had to guess what that person did for a living.

Kilgallen was really smart, she got a them right more than anyone else. I was stunned when she died.