By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
This year is the centennial celebration of the birth and life of our nation’s 35th president, John F. Kennedy. He was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.
Despite the official conclusions of the Warren Commission, the killing of Kennedy has been shrouded in mystery for decades. Fifteen years after the Warren report pronounced Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman acting on his own, a congressional inquiry into the events of 1963 determined that it was “probable” that there was a conspiracy.
Like many, I had always been fascinated by the events culminating in the shooting in Dealey Plaza and the aftermath. So last week I traveled to Dallas to see for myself what I had read in books and seen in actual film footage… the site of America’s most shocking murder.
I traced the route of the presidential motorcade. It traveled along Houston Street with a sharp left turn on to Elm Street and passing by the infamous Texas School Book Depository Building. It then proceeded along Elm Street in Dealey Plaza approaching the much talked about grassy knoll. It was like going back in time. Everything is exactly as it was.
My first impression was how much smaller the area was then I imagined from pictures. The Book Depository Building is literally within shouting distance of where Kennedy was shot and the grassy knoll even closer.
It was easy to recall the scene of that fateful day with hundreds of people on either side of Elm Street in the approximately 75 yards between the Book Depository building and the grassy knoll.
I stood on the knoll near the wooden picket fence where so many witnesses thought they heard shots coming from. Standing near the fence one could readily see how a concealed shooter with a high powered rifle would have had a clear shot at the approaching presidential limousine.
I also toured the sixth floor of the Book Depository Building and peered out the window next to the window where the Warren Commission said three shots were fired by Oswald as the motorcade passed by.
Two bullets were said to have struck Kennedy, the second of which was the fatal head shot. One bullet missed badly. The first bullet was said to have hit Kennedy’s back and exited through his throat, then striking Texas Governor John Connally, in multiple spots as he sat in front of Kennedy. That bullet was recovered in near pristine condition.
Oswald owned and allegedly fired at the motorcade from an old, Italian-made rifle of World War II vintage. It was a gun that requires a manual bolt action before every shot.
I imagined what it would be like trying to shoot and then twice more re-set the weapon and hit a target moving away as the Warren Commission asserted Oswald had done. Three shots in seven seconds, the final and most difficult one with deadly accuracy.
Most likely Oswald was firing his gun from that building where he was recently employed. But were there other shots fired from the grassy knoll, which had a much better vantage point and angle?
The famous film footage taken by a bystander, Abe Zapruder, seems to suggest just that. It graphically shows Kennedy’s body violently jolted back from the second impact as if the shot came from the front and right as opposed to from the rear and above.
Being at the site, it seemed quite obvious to me that what appears so clear in the footage was likely what happened. If so, there was a conspiracy.
After he was apprehended and in custody, Oswald was defiant that he was being set up.
“I’m a patsy,” he insisted. But two days later he was shot to death by Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner with mob ties. Ruby died several years later while in prison. He said he had a story to tell if he were transported out of Texas, but that never happened.
So the intrigue and questions surrounding Oswald, Ruby and their connections to organized crime and possibly even former CIA agents have been relegated to investigative journalists, curious historians and fascinated citizens like me.
Seeing Dealey Plaza for myself was both eerie and somewhat awe-inspiring. It was the exact spot that American history was changed forever even as the lingering questions of the how the why and who to this day remain unresolved.
In two weeks, I will make another historical visit to the beaches of Normandy, France, the site of the D-Day invasion in 1944, which was the pivotal moment in World War II. It is the spot where so many thousands of young American soldiers lost their lives.