Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of President Kennedy. It seems like an eternity and yet in someways, for me, it seem like yesterday. Now I was only 4 years old at the time of JFK’s death but I do have a few recollections. The clearest recollection is that of being at my aunts house looking at all the pictures of what was called the Zapruder film. This was published frame by frame in the famous Life Magazine issue. These images came from a man who stood on a pedestal on the edge of the famous grassy knoll. From this high vantage point he filmed the assassination of a President on a silent 8mm film camera. Our family had one of these film cameras. The were the closest thing to a video camera. The film was tiny, each frame of film being about the size of the eraser on then end of a pencil. As a result the film was grainy. They also filmed at 30 frames per second, about half of the minimum to provide a smooth seamless movie. And because of this they had a distinct roughness all around. But then again, it was all we had back then.
Anyway, back to my recollections. Besides the Life Magazine I remember thinking about the young boy saluting the casket during a funeral. JFK Jr. and I were about the same age. I also remember the somberness. I didn’t understand it all other than the idea of an important person had died and everything was kind of sad. None of the typical laughing and fun that our families normally shared. It was only a few years later that I took more of an interest. By then the conspiracy theories were born. There were two shooters, or was it three. It was the Mob that ordered a hit, or was it Fidel Castro. The only thing that was certain to the people pushing these theories were that it wasn’t simply a nutcase by the name of Oswald acting out alone. Later on the death would be used to smear Dallas, conservatives and anything else but communists, of which Oswald was a member. By Jr. High and High School I had checked out the Warren Commission Report from the library. It was the government report on the assassination and concluded that Oswald was the sole shooter. It was generally derided as a typical government coverup. I also watched a video of the Zapruder film, looked at a variety of images of the site and pretty much had the whole layout in my mind as well as an image of what it all looked like.
Later on, in 1992, a film called JFK that was released and designed to flame the whole conspiracy theory. By this time I certainly knew most all of the important details. The idea that there were multiple shooters being controlled by who knew what group or government. But what interested me the most I think was the actual physical layout. I’ve always been attracted to historical sites. There is something about standing on the site where famous history took place that connects with me. So imagine my excitement in 2001 when I decided to visit the site between baseball games in Dallas and Houston. I had impressions of all the landmarks. The Book Depository where it was said that Oswald fired his gun from. The Grassy Knoll where a supposed second shooter fired from. I knew the location of the pedestal that Zupruder stood to film the motorcade. I could basically draw it all out on a piece of paper at that point and I was anxious to observe the viability of the various theories.
There was no GPS for cars back then so I had purchased a map and planned my route. I had researched the 6th Floor Museum and was ready to explore. I had this impression in my mind that after walking up the sidewalk that Delay Plaza would unfold in front of me just as I pictured it in my mind. Boy was I in for a surprise!
After parking on the street I walked toward the Book Depository Museum and before I could get within a block I was confronted with a variety of strange looking characters. I wasn’t quite sure if they were homeless men or just my first look at conspiracy nuts. But the one thing they all had in common was that they were peddling newspapers that all claimed to have the real story. All the details of the conspiracy to kill the President. I kid you not, one guy was even pushing that it was aliens. You know, the kind from outer space. I did my best to avoid eye contact as I continued to proceed to my target. As I reached the corner of the museum I experienced my second surprise. Delay Plaza was miniscule compared to what was impressed into my mind. Like way, way smaller then I expected. I looked at the street, at the grassy knoll the underpass further down the road an it was such a small space. The road that JFK was killed on was also not nearly as level as I expected; it sloped down and away from the Book Depository significantly.
Into the museum I went. On the sixth floor the nest of boxes that Oswald created near the window is recreated, but off limits, surrounded by plexiglass. However you can walk right up to the window next to it and look down on the street. Once again I was shocked when I looked down on the street and realized that the window to the left was the perfect spot to shoot from. For one thing the street goes straight away from this location so a target would not be moving left or right but almost perfectly straight away. Then the steep slope of the street that I wasn’t expecting caused me to quickly realize that while not on a perfect angle, it was close enough that the President was almost a stationary target, similar to if you stood in the middle of a straight street and someone road a bicycle straight away from you. The target would get smaller, but in your rifle scope it would hardly move left, right, up or down. Knowing where on the street the President was hit, I once again was surprised at how close the shot was. Maybe a hundred yards?
Now I grew up with guns. My family deer hunted much of the fall. As a young boy I learned to shoot rifles and by high school one of the things I enjoyed with friends was going out shoot at varmints, targets and, during college, LOTS of jack rabbits and prairie dogs. I had a pretty good idea about how much easier it was to hit a prairie dog popping out of his hole compared to a jack rabbit running left to right. We killed, well never mind how many, prairie dogs. We never did hit a jackrabbit.
I looked down and thought to myself, wow, I could make that shot. I had no doubt that my older brother could make that at least 9 of 10 times. Trust me, if you have ever hunted or shot rifles it just is not a very difficult shot. Later I looked at a picture on the wall of Ruby being shot. It is the one shown here. Next to it was a framed original of a hand written description by one of the people in that picture provided to the police. It has great and specific detail. The only problem is that much of it conflicts with what can be seen in the picture. I realized that what people think they saw is often not what really happened.
Next I went down to the grassy knoll. I looked at the pedestal that Zapruder stood on. Realized once again that the area was much smaller then I imagined. I walked back to where the second shooter was supposed to have been located and looked back at the street. I shook my head. It was the jack rabbit shot. It was the worse place possible to shoot from because the target would be moving rapidly from left to right and from a higher elevation to a lower elevation. In addition he would have only been about 25′ behind Zapruder and firing over his shoulder and several feet to the side. Trust me Zapruder could not have helped but hear the muzzle blast.
In the end I couldn’t help but conclude that the simple answer was the best one. That Oswald picked a near perfect location to make what for him was probably not that difficult of a shot. He was after all a US Marine. They are pretty good with a rifle. I also never understood the idea that it was not possible to fire 3 shots in 6 seconds with a bolt action rifle. Really, it is only shooting two shots in 6 seconds because the first round is loaded and the clock doesn’t start until the first shot is fired. That means there are 3 seconds to operate the bolt aim and fire and repeat that once more.
My conclusion is that Oswald was likely the precursor to the mall and school shooters of today. Loners who have failed to find a role or acceptance in society.
- Oswald tried to find acceptance in the Marines and failed.
- He tried the Communist Party but found little acceptance there.
- He defected to Russia but even they had little use for him as he had no real intelligence to offer them. They allowed him to stay around after he tried to kill himself when ordered to leave the country. The Russians were concerned they would have a diplomatic issue if died while there.
- I suspect he sought to seek notoriety and prove his importance by the act of killing a President.
- In the end it was likely his way of proving his worth to the soviets that rejected him.
As a final note I would highly recommend a trip to Delay Plaza and the Book Depository Museum if you are ever in Dallas. Take a look and draw your own conclusions but do your best to avoid those characters selling papers on the street corners.
Note: Three days after visiting Daley Plaza the country was once again shocked. This time by the 911 terrorist attacks.