The nation, the world — and most certainly Dallas and Texas — are getting set to commemorate a solemn anniversary soon.
It was 50 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1963, that the 35th president of the United States was gunned down in Dealey Plaza as his motorcade made what was thought to be a triumphant procession through downtown Dallas.
I’ve managed to read what seems like truckloads of material about that terrible day in the years since it occurred. I also have been struck by something quite ironic about all of it.
Let’s go back to the run-up to that fateful Texas trip.
It was scheduled as a purely political event. President John F. Kennedy was getting ready to run for re-election the following year. He wanted to come to Texas to mend some fences with those who opposed him politically. Vice President Lyndon Johnson, a true-blue Texan to the core, would accompany the president on this trip. He would run interference for JFK with those on the right who never really liked the idea of a Massachusetts Yankee occupying the White House.
U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson had come to Texas earlier and reportedly had been roughed up by angry mobs of John Birchers. The ambassador had counseled the administration against making the trip. Too fraught with peril, he said.
The John Birch Society — which had a substantial presence in the Texas Panhandle as well — took out ads in Dallas newspapers arguing against the president’s visit.
But the president came anyway. He arrived in the Metroplex on Nov. 21, stayed in Fort Worth during the night and then flew the 30-plus miles from Cowtown to Love Field in Dallas. You’ve seen the pictures of JFK, his wife Jackie in that now-famous pink suit, LBJ and a sizable delegation of Texas luminaries.
They set off in that motorcade. The president insisted he ride with the top down. It was a beautiful day in Dallas. Kennedy wanted the people to see their president up close and in the flesh.
The motorcade found its way downtown, turned the corner in front of the Texas School Book Depository Building.
Three rifle shots rang out. The president and then-Gov. John Connally were hit.
Kennedy, by all accounts, was killed instantly. Gov. Connally would recover from his wounds.
The alleged shooter? He wasn’t a right-winger. He was Lee Harvey Oswald, an ex-Marine and a dedicated Marxist who had lived in Cuba and the Soviet Union before gravitating back home to Texas.
I’ve long wondered about the fixation with the right-wing foes of the president and whether someone such as Oswald merely was able to slip under the radar because the authorities all were looking the other way.
I also know that as the nation turns its attention to this landmark anniversary, millions of Americans will remember where they were, what they did and how they reacted to the terrible news of President Kennedy’s senseless murder.
For me, the curiosity remains about Lee Harvey Oswald and how this left-wing loser pulled off what I believe to be the crime of the 20th century.