My mother says that when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, I turned from the TV and asked her: "Did he shoot him?"
I don't remember that, but I did remember that the man she worked for was named Jonsson, and the new president was going to be a guy from Texas named Johnson, and I thought her boss was going to be the next president.
It was a confusing time, and it must have been even more confusing for people beyond their fourth birthday, which was still almost half a year away for me.
A few years later, when Bobby was murdered just a couple of months after MLK was, it just seemed to me that that was what we did in this country. We just killed people, especially leaders, especially Kennedys.
I mean, after all, we were killing "Viet Cong" -- or was it "Kong?" -- and we were beating students at national political conferences, and we were killing students/hippies at Kent State, and we were hosing down "negroes" and we were basically just the Ugly Americans that people around the globe said we were.
Killing was something we did.
Growing up in Dallas, the city carried a guilt about what happened to JFK on its streets. And that's a shame, because Dallas had nothing to do with it other than being the tragic venue. I'm pretty sure whoever killed him wouldn't have had the same kind of luck had the day that dawned with rain not cleared up. That open-air car would not have happened, and shooters from whatever vantage point would have had to wait for another day.
For years, I drove through Dealey Plaza every single day on my way to work just a few blocks away. From my office window, I could peer down Houston street and see that building that skulks above Elm Street. When Oliver Stone reenacted 11/22/63 for his movie, I watched one day as he did several takes showing a car with actors round onto Houston and then make that ridiculous left onto Elm, hear the echoes of shots and screams as the terrible crime was reimagined.
It was sometime in the 70s when I became fascinated with this case and its lingering questions. Mark Lane's "Rush To Judgment" opened the door I walked through. Zapruder proved the lie. It simply couldn't have happened the way Warren said it did.
I've read so many books and articles on the JFK case I can't remember all of them. Some were ridiculous. Some were scarily believable. All of them question what we were told. By the time Nixon was evicted in 1974, it was obvious that the government -- or at least parts of it -- were serial liars with their own agenda and couldn't be trusted.
Stone's "JFK" took a peripheral conspiracy character and gave him more credence than he deserved. Jim Garrison indeed had some interesting discoveries, as well as the guts to come forward with them. The New Orleans angle -- Oswald was born there -- has a role in this story. Carlos Marcello, David Ferrie, Guy Banister, Clay Shaw/Bertrand -- all of these people floated in a cesspool of curious activities and had paths cross. Marcello was a mob boss, ingloriously deported twice by AG RFK, and pissed about it. Ferrie was a spook. Banister was a loose cannon with CIA ties.
It was a stew of people with one thing in common: They didn't like the Kennedys, communists or Castro. The mob lost millions when Castro took over Cuba and ran them off. The CIA and the other hawks in government needed an enemy, and they didn't want interference. The CIA made money off of shady dealings, such as working with the mafia in moving drugs (which they'd later need to get through a pipeline into a southeastern Asian hellhole colloquially called "French Indochina").
The mob and the CIA were in bed together. JFK made life hard on both of them. The hate was real, and the mob and the CIA were trained killers. Taking out bigwigs was a challenge. But not impossible. They had means, motive, and opportunity.
All they needed was a patsy.
I don't think we'll ever know what really happened. We know parts of the story. The rest you have to kind of connect the dots.
I never expected to be in Boston. It's fascinating to have trod repeatedly in the places where JFK died. Now I've been around where he was born and lived. The home where he was born is just a few miles away in Brookline on a beautiful street with a stunning canopy of old trees.
Massachusetts has an unequaled history as a place where great American leaders have earned their stripes. It didn't start with Kennedy. He was just one of the most recent.
There is a lot of anticipation about the 50th anniversary of the assassination. JFK's library is going to have artifacts on display from the funeral. Just thinking about it makes me teary.
The murder of JFK was a blight on the American Dream, an awful stain on the hopes of our ideals. This young imperfect and flawed visionary broke barriers and grew before a nation's eyes... only to be cut down by the most venal and base zealots and criminals on the other side of the American character. Senseless crimes happen, but Oswald had no reason or motive to do it. Plenty of others did, and in this sick, cynical nation... they did just that.
Oswald was a weird little dude, and died with a lot of secrets. But he wasn't capable of killing a president.