Every November, camera-toting visitors flock to Dealy Plaza; from the grassy knoll and Book Depository to the grave site of alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
And on the 50th anniversary of JFK's death, those with personal connections are also returning to the tragic spot.
The assassination took but a few seconds, yet it changed the course of the nation. In seconds, sheer jubiliation gave way to utter chaos.
CBS 6 award-winning reporter Greg McQuade and photojournalist Jesse Burkett spent weeks interviewing multiple people whose lives were intertwined with President John F. Kennedy that fateful day.
Moments before the shotThe president's convertible Lincoln was midnight blue. Lyndon Johnson used the vehicle during his term, as did Nixon. Johnson had the limo painted black.
JFK and Win LawsonJFK and Special Agent Lawson.
His job was to protect the President of the United States. Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it is a job that still haunts Secret Service Special Agent Winston Lawson to this day.
“You knew it was an important job. You couldn’t let it get to you too much,” Lawson said in his first television interview since the assassination.
In 1960, Special Agent Lawson was assigned to the President Kennedy's security detail. Lawson had previously served a similar role for President Eisenhower.
Agent Lawson grew immediately fond of the new president.
“He was pleasant. He was business like,” Lawson recalled.
Keeping President Kennedy safe however, posed potential problems for his sworn protectors. The president enjoyed mingling with adoring fans.
“They would be yelling, cheering or clapping or whatever,” Lawson said.
When he was not guarding the president on the ground, Lawson would often draw up security measures ahead of Kennedy's trips. Colleagues considered Agent Lawson to be the most detailed and thorough advance agent on the secret service staff.
Lawson planned Kennedy’s celebrated trips abroad to Ireland and Berlin. But nothing could prepare the 35-year-old agent for what he experienced in Dallas, Texas.
Win Lawson, fifty years later
For Lawson, President Kennedy’s fateful trip on November 22, 1963 still haunts and hurts. Lawson was in charge of Kennedy's security detail the day the president was shot and killed.
“I can hardly believe it’s been 50 years,” Lawson, now 85 and living in Virginia, said in an interview with CBS 6 reporter Greg McQuade.
“I’m the only agent in the history of the Secret Service as advance that had the President of the United States killed," Lawson said. "At times I wish I had never been born."
Shortly after the assassination Lawson--assigned to President Lyndon Johnson’s detail – would attend JFK’s funeral.
“I was at the cemetery – pretty close to the gravesite," he said. “It was a terrible tragedy for that family.”
So many years later Win still harbors one regret.
“I never got to say anything to the children, but looking back I wish I had been able to talk to them about how sorry I was that it happened.”
Following the assassination President Kennedy’s murder became a taboo subject in the Secret Service.
“We didn’t say anything to one another and didn’t for years," Lawson said. “Everyone took it in internally and lived with it.”
By then America was 189 years old and four presidents had been assassinated.
- Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865.
- James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881.
- William McKinely was shot by Leon Czolgosz on September 6, 1901.
- John Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963.
If assassinating the president had been a federal crime, Oswald would have been in federal custody and not in the custody of the Dallas Police Department.
James Tague 50 years laterJames Tague was hit in the right side of his face by concrete catapulting through the air from a sniper's bullet that had hit the curb near where he stood watching the motorcade.
“I read in the paper that the president was going to be in town,” James Tague, 27 years old at the time, recalled.
Tague was driving that day, running late for a lunch date with his girlfriend, when police stopped him under a triple overpass near Dealey Plaza.
“Got out of my car and walked into the open of Dealey Plaza,” he recalled. Tague stood on the plaza when President Kennedy's convertible turned onto Elm Street. He was there when shots rang out.
“I said what kind of idiot would throw a firecracker with the president in town,” Tague recalled thinking at the time. "Then the crack, crack of two rifle shots. And I felt something sting me in the face.”
A piece of concrete or bullet fragment fired from an assassin’s rifle hit Tague's right cheek.
“I stood there stunned watching the motorcade for a second. Then I ducked behind the cement,” he said.
Tague moved toward the growing crowd that had gathered near the infamous grassy knoll.
A police officer saw Tague and asked about his injury.
“He turned and looked up at me and says you’ve got blood on your face. I reached up and sure enough there was blood. I remember I was stung,” Tague said.
As the officer took down Tague's statement, Tague noticed a person in handcuffs.
“A detective said 'who you got there?'" Tague recalled. "This is the guy who shot the police officer at Oak Cliff,” the officer replied.
That suspect was Lee Harvey Oswald.
Tague went home and wrote down what he saw and experience. The Warren Commission heard his testimony in July 1964.
Along with President Kennedy and Governor Connolly, Tague was the only other person wounded on Dealey Plaza that dreadful day.
"I didn’t let it affect me. I did not,” he said. "It could have happened to anybody.”
This fall Tague will release his second book “LBJ and the Kennedy Killing.” In the book, he explores the possibility Oswald was not the lone shooter. Even as we reach this milestone anniversary, Tague finds his place as an obscure footnote in the history books – a bit surreal.
“It has been 50 years and I’m still trying to accept what happened. I’m still trying to accept that I was here and part of it,” he said.
Below is a video we created of Dallas fifty years ago, and those iconic spots as they are now. CLICK below to watch.
As a journalist, Sid Davis has enjoyed his front row seat watching U.S. history unfold before his eyes. As a White House correspondent for Westinghouse Broadcasting, Davis covered President John F. Kennedy's time in the Oval Office.
“It was pretty obvious to us that this was a magical figure,” Davis recalled. "I was in the room when he made that speech to Kruschev and get the missiles out of Cuba.”
In November 1963, the former Youngstown, Ohio crime reporter followed the Kennedys during their ill-fated two-day, five-city trip.
“The crowd went crazy at the airport," Davis said about landing with the president and first lady in Texas. "They gave her [First Lady Jackie Kennedy] a huge bouquet of roses.”
On the press bus, Davis joined the presidential motorcade through the streets of Dallas.
“We were about 80 feet behind the presidential limousine,” the 86-year-old journalist recalled as if it was yesterday.
As the president reached Dealey Plaza, gunshots jolt Davis and his fellow journalists.
“There were three distinct shots. No question about it. We didn’t know who they hit. All we saw was that people started to run. People scattered,” Davis said. “We looked up ahead and saw the presidential limousine just disappear. It was chaos. All hell broke loose.”
White House staffer takes Sid Davis to LBJ's swearing in
Davis raced to Parkland Hospital where he awaited word on the president's condition. There he had to quickly filter fact from fiction.
“They had security pretty well established by the time I got there. They wouldn’t let reporters in the emergency room area,” Davis said. "Then he [the Kennedy assistant press secretary Malcolm Kilduff] said President John F. Kennedy died today at 1 p.m. central standard time here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound to the brain.”
Davis reacted immediately.
“I ran for the phones," he said. "You’re putting on air for the first time that President John F. Kennedy is dead.”
While in the middle of filing reports from Parkland Hospital, a White House staffer ordered Davis into an unmarked police car.
“Where are we going?" Davis recalled asking. "I can’t tell you,” was the reply he said.
Davis ended up at Love Field, the airport where Air Force One had landed. Davis was about to witness another momentous event.
“We are told the vice president will be sworn in as president in just a few minutes,” he said. Davis watched as Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office. Jackie Kennedy stood by his side.
“The blood on her stocking, congealed. It was thick and glistening,” he recalled.
Lyndon Johnson takes oathWith Jackie Onassis beside him, Lyndon Johnson became the 36th President.
Davis' place in history was sealed in one of the most iconic photos ever taken.
“That is me leaning down with the glasses writing into my notepad,” he said of the swearing-in photo. “That is me right there. I’m writing my notes.”
Other reporters on the presidential plane waited for Sid’s detailed account.
“The story I gave them was the first word flashed to the world that Lyndon Johnson was president,” he said.
Davis said he was able to hold his emotions together during the adrenaline-filled day, but eventually the weight of that dark day took its toll. Sid signed off his coverage with a quote from of Kennedy's favorite poets – Robert Frost.
“That is where I fell apart. 4:22am November 23rd 1963,” Davis said.
Sid Davis shared his story, which you can watch in the video player below.
Zapruder cameraThis is the camera that took the 26 seconds of film that captured the entire assassination. Perhaps the most famous footage in history.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is arguably the most notorious murder in American history.
The Newseum’s “JFK: Three Shots Were Fired” exhibit, which opened this year, explores the killing of Kennedy and the chaotic hours and days that followed. The exhibit recall the story through precious artifacts and rare news footage of this unspeakable moment in time.
“Many reporters we talked to that say, I will never forget that day. There is not a moment in my career that will ever surpass the work, the reporting that was done that day,’” Senior Manager of Exhibit Development Patty Rhule said.
The exhibit includes evidence that was locked away in the National Archives for 50 years.
- The jacket and shirt Lee Harvey Oswald wore the day police arrested him inside the Texas Theatre.
- A military drum played during President Kennedy’s funeral procession.
- The pistol belonging to Secret Service agent Clint Hill.
- News correspondent Sid Davis’ reporter’s notebook.
- The Bell and Howell 8-millimeter camera Abraham Zapruder used to record the assassination.
“This is the camera that took the 26 seconds of film of the assassination. Probably the most famous 26 seconds of film in history,” Rhule said.
“Well actually walking through I couldn’t stand and watch it. I just had to take a quick glance and keep going because I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take it,” emotional visitor Freddie Franklin commented about the exhibit. “There was no one like him in my lifetime.”
"I was just devastated. I can still feel emotions. I can imagine myself right there,” visitor Heather McLaren said.
The Newseum’s “JFK: Three Shots Were Fired” exhibit runs through January 2014.
Click on the video below to see inside the exhibit.
Unlike President Obama’s bulletproof limo known as the Beast, JFK’s limo was not bulletproof. At the time of his assassination, only one government limo was bulletproof and that belonged to J. Edgar Hoover.
One of the most haunting images of history captured Jackie Kennedy crawling along the back of the limo to collect the president’s brain matter.
X-100 the limo was called
The limo was also one of the most historic pieces of evidence ever. It was immediately loaded onto a plane and flown to Andrews Air Force Base.
Few people know what happened to the limo after JFK’s assassination.
After the investigation, it was determined that the car would be rebuilt and put back into the presidential fleet. In fact, the car was used until 1977. Presidents Nixon and Ford rode in it as did Lyndon Johnson.
LBJ was said to be apprehensive about riding in the vehicle, understandably. He was two cars behind Kennedy that day in Dallas. The Lincoln was painted black on his command, over the midnight blue Kennedy loved.
One of the modifications made after Kennedy’s death was the addition of a permanent roof that could not be removed and the whole vehicle was surrounded with bullet-resistant glass.
The evolution of presidential protection now yields a far more complex system, and features a limo model that boasts its own blood bank with the president’s type, and an air supply.
The limo is now on display at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich.
Below are images snapped by reporters Greg McQuade and Jesse Burkett while reporting this story.
The iconic couple
Where were you November 22, 1963? Perhaps, like many, you were not even born yet.
Regardless of whether you were alive on that day, the assassination of history's most beloved president affects us all in some way or another.
What are your thoughts? How has it changed us as a nation? Do you subscribe to conspiracy theories? Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone?
SHARE these thoughts, and starts dialogue on our guestbook, here: http://wtvr.com/2013/11/22/holmberg-where-were-you-when-jfk-died/