Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Sixth Floor

By Mark W. Danielson

For those old enough to remember, November 22, 1963 and The Sixth Floor will forever stir emotion. On this day, from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was struck down by two bullets fired by Depository employee Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy had just finished parading through downtown Dallas in his Lincoln convertible after landing at Love Field. Less than four hours later, Air Force One was flying our new Commander-in-Chief to Washington DC. To this date, Kennedy’s assassination remains one of the world's greatest murder mysteries.

With Jackie Kennedy at his side, Vice President Johnson took the Presidential Oath aboard Air Force One; Jackie still wearing her blood-stained pink suit. Concerned over the potential international turmoil, there was an urgent need for President Johnson to return to Washington DC, but he refused to leave without Jackie and her husband’s body. Once Kennedy’s casket was on board, the Presidential Boeing 707 took flight.

The Warren Commission’s report of the Kennedy assassination is still one of the most controversial documents ever to be released. Some of its findings are so implausible, even fiction writers wouldn’t use them. Take, for example, the “magic bullet” reportedly found on the hospital floor after it fell from a gurney. This near perfectly shaped bullet, positively linked to the rifle found on the sixth floor and Oswald, supposedly pierced Kennedy’s neck, and then continued through Governor John Connally’s back, ribs, and wrist, fracturing several bones. Now, I’m not saying this didn’t happen; only that I don’t believe it. I base this on my observation that every bullet I’ve ever fired has been distorted after hitting a solid object. Bone certainly qualifies as solid.

Back in Dealey Plaza, law enforcement officers converged on the Depository after hearing the shots. They briefly detained Oswald, but released him once he proved he was an employee. This decision led to the murder of Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit who was questioning Oswald. A witness to this slaying used Tippit’s police car radio to describe Oswald as the killer. Further tips led to Oswald’s arrest in a movie theater.

Oswald, a disgruntled former Marine sniper who had spent time in Cuba, lived in Russia, and taken a Russian wife, denied any involvement in the killings, but before the truth could be determined, the unthinkable happened. While Oswald was being transported on live television through the tunnel beneath the police department, nightclub owner Jack Ruby stepped out of the crowd and shot Oswald point blank. But how did Ruby get there, and how did he get so close? Did Oswald recognize Ruby, as some have claimed? The only certainty is Jack Ruby successfully silenced Oswald, and later died in prison of cancer. Both he and Oswald took their secrets to the grave.

Jack Ruby’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination is as puzzling as Oswald’s. Ruby was known to have connections with “The Mob”, he and Oswald both spent time in Louisiana, the Organized Crime bosses hated John Kennedy, and yet any Mob connection was dismissed by the Warren Commission.

There has always been speculation about a second gunman shooting from the grassy knoll. Footage of Kennedy’s head movement supports this theory, and yet there is no confirmation that a second gunman existed. Many re-enactments have occurred, including on the Mythbusters television show, but no one has ever provided conclusive evidence that disclaims the Warren Commission’s finding that Oswald acted alone. Today, an X on the street marks the spot where Kennedy was shot. From The Sixth Floor Museum, this X provides a clear view of Oswald’s vantage. But how likely is it for one man firing a blot-action rifle to squeeze off four shots that would hit a moving target? Even our best marksmen using their military sniper weapons would have a difficult time replicating this task.

Many books have been written on the Kennedy assassination, but rather than provide answers, they stimulate more questions. Sad memories flow from visitors to The Sixth Floor Museum as images flash back to the day when live news reporting came of age. Who could have imagined that in a 48 hour period, two assassinations would occur on live TV? From the Dallas parade to “John-John Kennedy’s” salute as his father’s horse-drawn casket was paraded through Washington DC, the world’s eyes were glued to its television sets.

Forty seven years has failed to dim memories or answer the many disturbing questions. Perhaps President Johnson said it best when he remarked that he never doubted that Oswald fired the fatal bullet, but he also never believed he acted alone. There is no question that we will never know the truth about what really happened on that fateful day in Dallas.


Terry Stonecrop said...

A sad story and mystery to be sure. No wonder there are so many conspiracy theories on this.

No one believes the Warren Commission report because it just doesn't ring true.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Terry, no one could write a mystery as good as this one, for it will always keep us guessing. Let's just hope there isn't a sequel.

Chester Campbell said...

I remember it well. It occurred a week before my 37th birthday. I was in my office at Nashville Magazine when the news came on the radio. I was no supporter of Jack Kennedy, but I hated to see this sort of thing happen to anyone, particularly when it forever marred the face of American politics.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I was young but remember the assasination well. I don't believe it was a coincidence that both Kennedy brothers were killed.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Chester, Jean, I totally agree. Regardless of one's opinion of our political leaders, assassination is an unforgivable act.

The Kennedy family has been hit so hard with unfortunate events. Jack and Bobbie were surrounded by controversy, so it seems likely that both could have been victims of contract hits.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. I don't think we'll ever know for sure.