As the nation mourned the death of President John F. Kennedy on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, and throughout that painful weekend, no one could have imagined that on Monday, the 25th, there would be three funerals of three murder victims inextricably and eternally tied to the tragic event in Dallas.
The president’s state funeral — complete with all the symbolism of the riderless horse, a horse-drawn caisson bearing the flag-draped coffin and lighting of the eternal flame at his Arlington National Cemetery grave site — was in Washington, D.C., attended by heads of state from all over the world.
In Dallas, hundreds of uniformed police officers and area residents attended services for officer J.D. Tippit, who was killed by Oswald in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas shortly after the president’s assassination that Friday afternoon.
And, in Fort Worth, a small crowd (mostly CIA agents, police and journalists) gathered with family members of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald for his graveside services. Media representatives served as Oswald’s pallbearers.
On this day before the 50th anniversary of his burial, I want to talk about Oswald, whose mother, Marguerite, I got to know pretty well.
I think it was on the 10th anniversary of the president’s assassination that I did a public television report, visually tracing Oswald’s steps from the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, from which the fatal shots were fired, down the steps to a city bus, to Oak Cliff where Tippit was shot and finally to the Texas Theater where Oswald was captured.
I had referred to Oswald as the “ alleged assassin,” and that endeared me to his mother. She called me the next day, and we talked off and on until a couple of years before she died.
While we’ve learned a lot about Oswald since his death, I learned a little more about him this week when a Fort Worth attorney shared an official document with me that has been in his family for the past 50 years.
Attorney John T. Chidgey’s father, Marine 1st Sgt. John G. Chidgey, was head of recruiting for the Marines in the Fort Worth office at the Federal Courthouse. Shortly after the president was killed, he heard that Oswald had been a Marine and had signed up in Fort Worth. The elder Chidgey went to the basement of the building, found Oswald’s original “APPLICATION FOR ENLISTMENT AND INDIVIDUAL DATA CARD,” retrieved it and kept it.
The two-page document, bearing Oswald’s signature, reveals a number of things, including the description of the 17-year-old enlistee: 5-feet-8 inches, 135 pounds, hazel eyes and brown hair.
It shows his place of birth as New Orleans and lists the other places he had lived (including Fort Worth, New York City and New Orleans) since he was 12. His enlistment date was Oct. 24, 1956, when he signed up for three years, and it shows he was transferred to San Diego.
Because he was underage, he needed the permission of a parent or guardian. Oswald’s father died two months before he was born, so his older brother, Robert E. Lee Oswald, signed for him.
On the forms, he lists his mother and stepbrother, John Edward Pic, as his beneficiaries.
The last grade completed in school, according to the document, was the ninth. Oswald did enroll in the 10th grade at Fort Worth’s Arlington Heights High School, but dropped out to join the Marine Corps. He didn’t have the best experience there, being court-martialed more than once.
I occasionally visit his and Marguerite’s grave site, always remembering that Friday in 1963, but also feeling sorry for a tormented mother who always believed her child was framed — a woman who grew more bitter each year because she felt that practically everyone except her had profited from the deaths of Kennedy and her son.