From joyous crowds to bloodshed and chaos along a Dallas highway
President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie, just after their arrival at the airport for the fateful drive through Dallas.
Jacqueline Kennedy, sublime in a strawberry pink Chanel suit and matching pillbox hat, preceded her handsome husband as the smiling couple exited Air Force One.
It was 11:40 a.m. on Nov. 22, 1963. The pair walked across the runway at Love Field in Dallas, headed toward a waiting convertible — and a cruel destiny known only to a lone gunman.
By the time the presidential plane departed barely three hours later, a nation would know and never forget the gunman’s name: Lee Harvey Oswald.
From coast to coast, the crippled country faced a flood of emotions: Loss. Sadness. Anger.
But mostly disbelief.
The handsome young president was dead, his wife’s stylish outfit stained red with his blood. The king and queen of Camelot would reign no more.
“My God!” said a incredulous Speaker of the House John McCormack, tears streaming down his face, when the news reached Washington. “What have we come to?”
Yet there were no ominous signs, no sense of foreboding as President Kennedy followed his wife onto the Texas tarmac. The smiling First Lady was handed a bouquet of red roses.
The handsome couple shook hands, and then more hands. Fears that conservative Texas might turn on the president proved unfounded, as thousands of JFK boosters welcomed the duo.
This frame from the Zapruder film shows the moment President John Kennedy is struck by second bullet.
It took five minutes for them just to reach the motorcade that would bring them into the city.
“Things were very upbeat,” recalled Secret Service agent Clint Hill, author of the new book “Five Days in November,” in a conversation with the Daily News.
“There were thousands of people at the airport when we arrived,” said Hill. “It was an extremely warm, friendly and big crowd. The people really turned out.”
The morning weather was gloomy and overcast, but the skies had cleared before the Kennedys touched down.
The president opted to make the 10-mile trek into Dallas without the plexiglass “bubble” top on his dark blue 1961 Lincoln Continental, known to the Secret Service as “X-100.”
“He had a standard operating procedure,” said Hill. “The only times we were permitted to use the bubble were inclement weather or if the wind would do damage to Mrs. Kennedy’s hair.”
The Kennedys were accompanied by Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie. Secret Service agent Bill Greer was at the wheel. Four motorcycles flanked the rear of the president’s ride.
Kennedy was seated in the back passenger side of the six-seat car, with his wife directly to his left. The governor was in front of JFK and Nellie Connally sat in front of the First Lady.
The group was headed to a Dallas luncheon where the president was the main attraction.
This frame from the Zapruder film shows Secret Service agent Clint Hill and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy on the back of the limo after President Kennedy was shot.
“Welcome to BIG ‘D’” read the sign on a passing bus, touting Dallas as the national headquarters of the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages.
The crowds, a dozen deep on the sidewalks, surged forward as the motorcade approached. The encroaching audience created a narrowing path, forcing the lead car to reduce its speed as they headed toward Dealey Plaza.
“Jackie!” shouted fans of the First Lady, who replied with a wave of her white-gloved hand.
The limousine, at JFK’s direction, stopped at one point to let the first Catholic president speak with a nun and a group of schoolkids.
Standing amidst the assembled masses was Dallas resident Abraham Zapruder, who arrived about 30 minutes early to get a good location with a clear view of the motorcade.
The Russian immigrant, who once lived in Brooklyn, carried a top-of-the-line 8mm Bell & Howell Model 414 PD camera. And he found his spot atop a concrete block near his Dallas office and the motorcade route.
Six stories above Zapruder, Oswald settled into his spot near an open window inside the Texas Book Depository. His co-workers headed downstairs to get lunch in the warehouse, leaving Oswald alone.
He had earlier arrived at work carrying an Italian-made, bolt-operated rifle tucked inside a homemade bag fashioned from wrapping paper and tape.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy cradles her husband President John F. Kennedy seconds after he was fatally shot. This frame grab image was made from a restored version of a film showing the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Tex., Nov. 22, 1963.
Oswald, who bought the weapon via mail order from a Chicago sporting goods store, now assembled his rifle — attaching an inexpensive telescopic sight.
He arranged three cardboard cartons near the window to serve as a gun rest. “Building for today, pioneering for tomorrow,” read the inscription on the side of one box.
A Dallas Morning News photographer on the street down below snapped a picture of Kennedy waving to the crowd, his hair tousled by the breeze, as his wife used one hand to keep her hat in place.
The presidential limousine, moving at about 11 mph, passed the Dallas County Courthouse. The large electric clock atop the red brick book depository flashed the time — 12:30 p.m.
Nellie Connolly leaned back to utter the last words the 46-year-old president would ever hear:
“Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you!”
“That is very obvious,” he replied — JFK’s last words.
Within seconds, as the car neared the depository, three loud cracks echoed through Dealey Plaza. The first popped like a firecracker, UPI reporter Merriman Smith later recalled — and one of the motorcycle cops riding with the limo said a quick prayer that Smith was right.
“Lord, let it be a firecracker,” thought Officer Bobby Hargis, who was instantly splashed with the president’s blood.
Secret Service agent Clint Hill jumps onto back of the limousine carrying mortally wounded President John F. Kennedy as it races toward the hospital seconds after he was shot in Dallas.
Secret Service agent Hill, riding in the car behind the Kennedys, wasn’t exactly sure what happened.
“I heard an explosive noise, but I wasn’t positive it was a gunshot,” he told the News. “I turned toward that noise, but I never got any farther than the president’s car.”
The next two sounds were unmistakably gunshots, fired by Oswald from his 40.2-inch long, 8-pound weapon. Two of the three bullets killed a president and launched a thousand conspiracy theories.
JFK was struck immediately. His hands reached for his throat, where one bullet tore a hole. And then his skull appeared to explode.
Chaos erupted around the dying president. The panicked first lady climbed out of her seat and onto the limousine’s trunk. Hill sprinted from his vehicle, jumped on the moving limo and put the first lady into the back seat.
“The president fell to his left, with his head landing on Mrs. Kennedy’s lap,” said Hill. “I could see that his eyes were fixed. And you could see through the hole in his skull.”
Jacqueline Kennedy, after instinctively using her body to shield JFK, recalled that her husband never made a sound as a “sort of quizzical look” passed over his face.
“I remember thinking he just looked as if he had a slight headache,” she later recounted. “I remember falling on him and saying, ‘Oh my God, they have shot my husband!’
President John F. Kennedy slumps down in the back seat of the presidential limousine after being fatally shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Jacqueline Kennedy leans over the president while Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who raced forward after the gunshots, stands on the bumper.
“And, ‘I love you, Jack.’”
The so-called “magic bullet” that passed through Kennedy struck the Texas governor, who thought he was dying inside the car.
“My God,” the badly bleeding Connally said to no one in particular, “they are going to kill us all.”
Standing in the crowd, Zapruder had aimed his camera at the limo — and recorded the most scrutinized 26.3 seconds of film ever shot.
He never flinched as the president’s head seemed to explode in his view-finder, even as other onlookers and photographers hit the ground for safety or stood as if paralyzed.
First word of what happened moved on the United Press International wire: “THREE SHOTS WERE FIRED AT PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S MOTORCADE IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS.”
UPI’s Smith called in the flash after fighting off his Associated Press competitor Jack Bell for the lone phone in the pool car following the president.
Smith, hours later, proudly showed off the bruises inflicted during his scoop. He received a 1964 Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the assassination.
Seven years later, “Smitty” was dead of a suicide — a single gunshot to his head. Like Kennedy, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Lee Harvey Oswald fired from the top right window on sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Tex.
Hill, after scrambling over the trunk as bystanders gaped, delivered a single, simple gesture to his fellow agents: Thumbs down.
As all hell broke loose below, shooter Lee Harvey Oswald calmly left his window perch. Witnesses recounted seeing him inside a second-floor lunchroom after the shooting stopped.
Cops, directed by witnesses pointing skyward, were soon scouring the depository in search of the assassin.
Oswald was already out on the street.
* * *
Dan Rather, then a young reporter for CBS News, was waiting on the other side of the plaza’s soon-to-be-infamous grassy knoll to make a film pickup.
It was typically a job handled by a go-fer, but Rather — who was supervising network coverage of the routine visit — decided to leave the office and catch some fresh air.
He arrived at his appointed spot shortly before 12:30 p.m.
An unidentified plainclothes police officer carries the rifle used in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Tex., in this Nov. 22, 1963 file photo.
“I didn’t hear any gunshots,” Rather told the Daily News. “I had no idea what happened. It took a few seconds to realize anything had happened.
“I thought I saw the presidential limousine go by. I thought I saw Mrs. Kennedy. And when the rest of the motorcade didn’t follow immediately, I knew something was wrong.”
Rather hustled across the green expanse, heading toward the CBS offices. As he came to the top of the ridge, he looked down on the shooting’s chilling aftermath.
“It was an incredible scene of people screaming, people crying,” recalled Rather, now a news anchor on AXS-TV. “I saw fathers dropping on top of their children, their wives.
“People were pointing up at the Book Depository. I had no idea what, but I knew something big and bad had happened.”
It was 12:36 p.m. when Kennedy’s limp body arrived at Parkland Hospital after a four-mile, high-speed ride that topped out at 80 mph. A medical team awaited after Dallas police called.
The president remained in the back seat of his limo, his shattered head still in his wife’s lap.
“They murdered my husband,” she said. “They murdered my husband.”
Agent Hill covered JFK’s head and upper torso with his suit jacket to prevent any photographs of the mortally injured chief executive.
Bullet found on stretcher in Parkland Memorial Hospital and believed by Warren Commission & House Select Committee on Assassinations to have wounded both President John F. Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally.
Gov. Connally, bleeding badly from his own gunshot wounds to the wrist, ribs and lung, was rushed inside. He survived his injuries.
The magic bullet was found on the gurney used to transport the governor.
A local priest arrived and administered the last rites to John Fitzgerald Kennedy at 12:57 p.m.
“Eternal rest grand unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him,” declared the Rev. Oscar Huber, a priest at the nearby Trinity Catholic Church.
“May he rest in peace, amen.”
Jacqueline Kennedy, caked in blood, leaned in to kiss her husband farewell on his lips, but he was already gone. The president was pronounced dead three minutes later by neurosurgeon Dr. William Kemp Clark.
The abandoned bouquet of crumpled roses remained in the back seat of the presidential limousine.
Rather, upon reaching the CBS offices, learned the president was shot and seriously wounded. He grabbed a phone and dialed Parkland Hospital.
Movie theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested after shooting U.S. President John F. Kennedy -- and Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippitt.
A switchboard operator hung up on him. Rather redialed.
“I said, ‘Please don’t hang up! Can you put me in touch with somebody, anybody, about the president?’” Rather remembered. “Fortunately for me, a doctor was passing by.
“The operator put him on the phone, and he flatly said the president was dead. Also, eventually, so did a priest.”
There was an open phone line from Dallas to CBS’ New York headquarters, and Rather delivered the grim news. It was read almost immediately on the air — much to the reporter’s surprise.
“I didn’t mean for them to announce it,” he said. “I had said it, but frankly, maybe I should have consulted with somebody or asked somebody else.
“And the thought crossed my mind: ‘Wow, it doesn’t get much heavier than this.’”
The CBS announcement came ahead of the official word of Kennedy’s death, and was delivered on television by Walter Cronkite — the most trusted newsman in America.
“We just have a report from our correspondent Dan Rather in Dallas that he has confirmed that President Kennedy is dead,” Cronkite informed a nation left stunned by the sudden, savage slaying of its handsome young leader.
At the Trade Mart, where JFK was scheduled to speak, a crowd of hundreds waited for a president who would never arrive in a world that would never be the same.
Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested and taken out of the Texas Theater in Dallas, Tex., on Nov. 22, 1963.
Seven blocks from the depository, Oswald boarded a half-empty Dallas Transit System bus and took his seat.
The vehicle was soon stuck in traffic as Dealey Plaza transformed from triumph to tragedy and life ground to a halt.
A driver climbed out of his idled car and told the bus driver about reports of the shooting.
Oswald sat trapped inside as the man at the wheel of the bus shared the sad news with his passengers.
“He got to cussing at the driver, but they were locked in solid,” recalled Dallas police homicide Det. Jim Leavelle. The assassin abandoned the bus and made a beeline to the Greyhound Bus Terminal.
It was about 12:40 p.m. He jumped a cab to his rooming house in Oak Cliff, where his landlady watched Oswald’s arrival.
“She said he came walking in, in a hurry,” Leavelle recounted. “He picked up a tan jacket, put it on and walked out.”
Daily News front page the day after the assassination.
He also grabbed a pistol. As he left the house, it was almost 1 p.m.
Twelve minutes later, Dallas police discovered a rifle stuffed between boxes near a staircase in the depository. Near the southeast corner window on the sixth floor were three spent bullet cartridges.
Finger and palm prints were taken, and both would link the assassination of the president to Oswald.
About 1:18 p.m., the already-rattled city echoed with the sounds of more gunshots. Oswald opened fire on Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippitt, who was mortally wounded.
An alert moved on the police radio: Officer down.
Stunned eyewitnesses watched in horror as Oswald opened fire, including two sisters who watched the suspect run past their front porch. Four empty .38 caliber cartridges were scattered on the ground.
A cabbie eating his lunch beneath a nearby shade tree ducked beneath his dashboard, afraid that Oswald planned to comandeer his taxi.
“The poor damn cop,” he heard Oswald say on the way past.
Oswald fled, dumping his jacket in a shuttered thrift shop. He quickly sought refuge inside the darkness of the Texas Theater — a business financed in part by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.
View of flowers on the backseat of Vice-President Lyndon Johnson's Lincoln convertible as it sits parked near the entrance of Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963. Johnson's car was two lengths behind the car in which President Kennedy was assassinated; after the shooting, the entire motorcade was driven to the hospital, where Kennedy was pronounced dead.
“CRY OF BATTLE” — starring Van Heflin — was playing in a double feature with “WAR IS HELL.” Admission was $1. Oswald bolted inside without opening his wallet.
He initially went up to the balcony, and then came back downstairs.
A witness to the Tippitt shooting led police to the theater, where a concession stand worker steered cops to Oswald.
“Get on your feet,” said Officer Nick McDonald.
“Well, it’s all over now,” said Oswald.
But the suspect had no intention of surrendering, as McDonald — a Korean War veteran — recalled in his memoir.
“He made a fist and bam — hit me right between the eyes,” he said. “Knocked my hat off. I came back and hit him.”
Oswald managed a pull his pistol, only to have McDonald wedge his hand between the hammer and the firing pin.
Lyndon Baines Johnson is sworn in as the 36th President of the United States on board the presdential airplane after the assassination of President John F Kennedy. Lady Byrd Johnson is behind him (left) and the grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy (right) still wears coat stained by her husband's blood.
“I stood rigid, waiting for the bullet to penetrate my chest,” he wrote. Nothing happened, and McDonald wrested the handgun away from the killer.
Oswald — another five live shells still in his pocket — was handcuffed and led outside. It was about 2 p.m.
“Murderer!” shouted outraged onlookers as a posse of police loaded Oswald into a car and sped off. He was grilled for more than nine hours, and placed in three lineups.
At 11:26 p.m., he was charged with assassinating John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America.
* * *
Vice President Lyndon Johnson was riding two cars behind the late president when the shooting started. Now, about 90 minutes later, he sat aboard Air Force One eating crackers and a bowl of vegetable soup.
While awaiting the arrival of the widowed Jackie Kennedy, LBJ spoke with the president’s brother Bobby in Washington. Bobby urged the chief executive-in-waiting to succeed his slain sibling right there on the Dallas tarmac.
Lady Bird Johnson recalled Jacqueline Kennedy’s heart-breaking appearance after her arrival. The widow’s leg, right glove and pink dress were stained with her husband’s blood.
Lady Bird gently asked if the First Lady wanted to change her clothes.
Jacqueline Kennedy, her dress stained with blood, stands with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, holding her hand, as they watch the casket of her slain husband, President John F. Kennedy, placed in an ambulance at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., late on Nov. 22, 1963.
“I want them to see what they have done to Jack,” she snapped, coming out of her funk.
It was 2:38 p.m. when LBJ placed his hand on a Catholic missal to take the oath as the nation’s new president. He was joined by Mrs. Kennedy, quivering yet somehow composed.
A casket holding her husband’s body was in the rear of the plane, where some seats were removed to clear space.
Judge Sarah Hughes, a close friend of LBJ and Lady Bird, handled the duties. They shared a silent embrace before getting down to the business at the new president’s hand.
The nation’s 36th president placed that hand on the Bible and took the oath of office. Jackie Kennedy stood beside Johnson as he succeeded her martyred husband.
Johnson then delivered his first executive order: “Let’s get this plane airborne.”
Within 60 seconds, the grim ride back to Washington and the White House began with the slain president and his successor both aboard.
Jackie Kennedy moved to the back of Air Force One, finding a chair beside the coffin. She stayed there throughout the flight back to Washington.