The Assassination of
President John F. Kennedy, 1963
Air Force One touched down at Dallas’s Love Field at about 11:30 on the
morning of November 22, 1963. On board was President John F. Kennedy who was
beginning the first day of a planned two-day trip to Texas. Within minutes, the
president and his wife Jackie took their places in the rear seat of the presidential
limousine and joined a motorcade that would escort America’s leader to
The young president had been in office less than three years. The highlight
of his tenure had occurred in October a year earlier when nuclear war had been
averted by the diffusion of a confrontation with the Soviet Union over their
deployment of missiles in Cuba.
His trip to Texas was a political one – an attempt to mollify a factious
division within the Texas Democratic Party that might threaten his run for
re-election the following year. Accompanying the president in his open limousine
was the Democratic Governor of Texas, John Connally, and his wife Nellie. Vice
President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird rode in a following limousine
accompanied by Texas Democratic Senator Ralph Yarborough.
|President Kennedy and Jackie arrive
in Dallas, 11:25 AM 11/22/63
Click picture to see
the assassination site
The motorcade (led by Dallas police, interspersed with Secret Service cars
and followed by press cars) slowly made its way through the streets of Dallas
to the accompaniment of cheering crowds that filled the sidewalks. By 12:30
it was approaching its end as it slowed to make a sharp left-hand turn in front
of the Texas School Book Depository Building. Suddenly the festive atmosphere
was shattered by the sound of three shots and immediately replaced with horror
As spectators ran or fell to the ground in self-protection, the motorcade
accelerated to top speed and raced to near-by Parkland Hospital. The president
was dead, Governor Connally wounded.
The president’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, fled the scene. About forty-five
minutes later, Oswald was confronted by a police officer on a Dallas street.
Oswald shot and killed the officer and then ran into a near-by movie theater
where he was captured. Two days later, Oswald himself became the victim of
an assassin’s bullet as he was being escorted from police headquarters
to the Dallas County Jail.
Lady Bird Johnson made a tape recording of her recollections
of the president’s assassination two or three days after the event. We
join her story as the motorcade leaves the airport:
"It all began so beautifully. After a drizzle in the morning, the sun came out
bright and beautiful. We were going into Dallas. In the lead car, President and
Mrs. Kennedy, John and Nellie, and then a Secret Service car full of men, and
then our car – Lyndon and me and Senator Yarborough.
The streets were lined with people.- lots and lots of people – the children
were all smiling, placards, confetti, people waving from windows. One last
happy moment I had was looking up and seeing Mary Griffith leaning out of a
window and waving at me.
Then, almost at the edge of town, on our way to the Trade Mart where we were
going to have the luncheon, we were rounding a curve, going down a hill and
suddenly there was a sharp, loud report – a shot.
It seemed to me to come from the right above my shoulder from a building.
Then a moment and then two more shots in rapid succession. There had been such
a gala air that I thought it must be firecrackers or some kind of celebration.
Then the lead car, the Secret Service men were suddenly down. I heard over
the radio system ‘Let’s get out of here, ‘ and our man who
was with us, Ruf Youngblood, I believe it was, vaulted over the front seat
on top of Lyndon, threw him to the floor and said, ‘Get down.’ Senator
Yarborough and I ducked our heads.
The car accelerated terrifically fast – faster and faster. Then suddenly
they put on the brakes so hard I wondered if we were going to make it as we
wheeled left and went around the corner. We pulled up to a building. I looked
up and saw it said ‘Hospital.’ Only then did I believe that this
might be what it was. Yarborough kept saying in an excited voice, ‘Have
they shot the President?’ I said something like, ‘No, it can’t
As we ground to a halt – we were still in the third car – Secret
Service men began to pull, lead, guide and hustle us out. I cast one last look
over my shoulder and saw, in the President’s car, a bundle of pink just
like a drift of blossoms, lying on the back seat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy
lying over the President’s body.
Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as
aboard Air Force One
Jackie Kennedy stands at his side
3:38 PM 11/22/63
They led us to the right, the left and onward into a quiet room in the hospital
- - a very small room. It was lined with white sheets, I believe.
People came and went – Kenny O’Donnell, Congressman Thornberry,
Congressman Jack Brooks. Always there was Ruf right there, Emory Roberts, Jerry
Kivett, Lem Johns and Woody Taylor. There was talk about where we would go – back
to Washington, to the plane, to our house. People spoke of how wide-spread
this may be. Through it all, Lyndon was remarkably calm and quiet. Every face
that came in, you searched for the answers you must know. I think the face
I kept seeing it on was the face of Kenny O’Donnell who loved him so
It was Lyndon, as usual, who thought of it first. Although I wasn’t
going to leave without doing it. He said, ‘You had better try to see
if you can see Jackie and Nellie.’ We didn’t know what had happened
to John. I asked the Secret Service men if I could be taken to them. They began
to lead me up one corridor, back stairs and down another. Suddenly I found
myself face to face with Jackie in a small hall. I think it was right outside
the operating room. You always think of her – or someone like her, as
being insulated, protected – she was quite alone.I don’t think
I ever saw anyone so much alone in my life.
I went up to her, put my arms around her and said something to her. I’m
sure it was something like, ‘God, help us all,’ because my feelings
for her were too tumultuous to put into words.
And then I went to see Nellie. There it was different, because Nellie and
I have been through so many things together since 1938. I hugged her tight
and we both cried and I said, ‘Nellie, its going to be all right.‘ And
Nellie said, ‘Yes, John’s going to be alright.’ Among her
many other qualities, she is also tough."
Lady Bird Johnson’s remembrance of the assassination
is located in the National Archives, NLLBJ-D2440-7a; Manchester, William, The
Death of a President (1967); United States Warren Commission, Report of the President’s
Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1964).
How To Cite This Article:
"The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 1963" EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2007).