JFK 50 years later: “There’s still a healing going on”

Posted Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Bill Paxton can still remember the excitement and anticipation in the crowd — and the magic of the moments that followed.

An 8-year-old boy at the time, he was part of the crowd of thousands who watched President John F. Kennedy walk outside the Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth and give a brief speech the morning of Nov. 22, 1963.

“There was a real electricity in the crowd,” Paxton, now a well-known movie and television actor, said Wednesday night. “Everybody was so excited.”

He said he didn’t remember a lot of Kennedy’s speech, but he did remember the president said he was sorry his wife couldn’t make it. He said she tended to take longer to get ready than he did.

Paxton’s memories were among those shared Wednesday during a “Fort Worth Remembers JFK” program at Texas Christian University geared to make sure that the president’s overnight visit to Fort Worth nearly 50 years ago is not forgotten.

He joined a crew of journalists — CBS’ Bob Schieffer, a former Star-Telegram reporter, historian Hugh Aynesworth, former Star-Telegram reporter Mike Cochran, former KLIF radio anchor Gary DeLaune and former KRLD radio announcer Bob Huffaker — as they recalled events surrounding the president’s visit in November 1963.

President Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy arrived at the then-Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth late on Nov. 21, 1963, to a crowd of thousands and much excitement.

“Fort Worth opened up its heart to the Kennedys,” Cochran recalled. “It was something to behold, the affection Fort Worth had for the Kennedys.”

The next morning, the president spoke outside the Hotel Texas, now the Fort Worth Hilton; talked to those gathered for a breakfast of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; and rode in a motorcade seen by thousands from downtown to Carswell.

About an hour later, Kennedy had arrived in Dallas and was assassinated while riding in the presidential motorcade.

‘Biggest story I almost got’

Schieffer tells the story about how he was the Star-Telegram’s night police reporter and unfortunately not involved with covering the president’s visit to Fort Worth.

His brother woke him up on Nov. 23, 1963, telling him the president had been shot.

He hurried to the newsroom, only to find phones ringing off the hook and an empty newsroom because most of the reporters had been sent to Dallas to cover the president’s assassination.

Trying to help, he answered a phone and heard a woman on the other end ask if someone could give her a ride to Dallas.

“Lady, we don’t run a taxi here,” Schieffer recalls telling her.

The woman told him she believed her son had been arrested in the shooting of the president.

Schieffer quickly got her address.

He and another reporter soon picked up Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother.

He interviewed her on the ride over and said she talked about how people would feel sorry for her daughter-in-law, and send her money, but nobody would care about her and she would starve.

“The woman was truly deranged,” Schieffer recalled.

He took her to the Dallas Police Department, stayed with her, and thought he was going to be in the room when she and her son finally spoke.

About that time, an FBI agent in the room asked who he was and Schieffer admitted he was a reporter.

The man told him to leave the room and told him that “if I ever see you again, I’ll kill you.”

Schieffer quickly left and still believes that was the “biggest story I almost got.”

Aynesworth is widely considered one of the most respected authorities on JFK’s assassination — he witnessed Kennedy’s shooting, the arrest of Oswald at the Texas Theater and the shooting of Oswald by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

Initially, he said, he was irritated because he was one of the few reporters at The Dallas Morning News who didn’t have an assignment.

But he decided to go ahead and watch the motorcade because it’s not very often people had a chance to see the president. He stood near the depository and heard shots shortly after the president’s car passed him. He said there was pure chaos — people screaming, crying, running around in the street.

Trying to determine the best place to be, he soon heard on a police scanner that a police offer had been shot. Having a feeling that it was connected to the president’s assassination, he ran to the theater and arrived in time to see the police arrest Oswald.

DeLaune was the first person to tell the world that Kennedy had been shot, “perhaps tragically.” He also was standing just feet from Oswald when he was shot by Ruby.

‘A healing going on’

Schieffer said there are moments in history etched in people’s memories “because they were so overpowering.”

For many, one of those dates is Sept. 11, 2001.

For many, another of those dates is Nov. 22, 1963.

“It was the weekend that changed America,” Schieffer said.

After all this time, Paxton said, he was glad to get a chance to be part of Wednesday’s event that remembered the country’s fallen president.

After the assassination, he said, “everyone in North Texas wanted to pretend like it never happened,” he told the Star-Telegram. “It was like it never happened. It was such a dark time.”

For so long, he said, Texans simply wouldn’t talk about the trip or the shooting.

“We forget what a great trip they had until it all went wrong,” he said. “There’s still a healing going on.”

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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