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There are significant dates that are etched in our collective memories, and one of these dates is the 22 November 1963. At 12:30pm a gunshot rang out that reverberated right around the world. Years after John F Kennedy’s assassination, people are still captivated by the event that happened here on Elm Street in Dallas, Texas.
We’re still fascinated by how the death of one leader could impact a people, a culture, a nation, a world. Join me as we look more closely into this historic event and the message it carries today.
This is the window, in the Texas School Book Depository, that changed history – in a dramatic, terrible way. You get a clear view from here down to Elm Street, in the city of Dallas.
Lee Harvey Oswald took out a rifle right here, and pointed down toward the motorcade that was bringing President John F. Kennedy through town.
Shots would ring out at 12:30 pm, on Friday, November 22, 1963. Shots that would reverberate across the country and around the world. Kennedy would slump down in his limousine. America’s “Camelot,” a time of hope and optimism, had suddenly ended.
Was there a conspiracy behind that fatal shooting? Theories about Oswald accomplices still spin around. How did those two or three shots from way up there hit so precisely way down here—in a moving vehicle? Why did this very popular president have to die? What might have happened if his term continued?
This Dealey Plaza structure that housed the Texas School Book Depository back in 1963, is now the Dallas County Administration Building. Local government offices occupy most of these floors. But on the sixth floor there’s a museum that pictures details about that fateful day that ended Kennedy’s presidency. It also features his life and legacy. Let’s take a look.
What we are trying to do here is tell the basic history of President Kennedy; who the Kennedy family is, and why he came to Texas that day. This is what it was like right out that open window, where the boxes are sitting, that’s where the shots were fired from. One of the stories we are trying to tell with the museum exhibits is the Kennedy legacy. Now younger people who were not around when he was in office, they don’t have that much interest in his legacy, but the legacy is really quite interesting.
KENNEDY SPEECH: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to the earth.”
Although it started under President Eisenhower in the 1950s – when President Kennedy took office, one of the first directives he issued was “We are going to land a man on the moon in this decade”. And this was just a shocking revelation , especially to people in the business of supplying people and equipment for that project, because this was all of a sudden big boost for them, and of course the US space race has delivered unbelievable treasures.
Astronaut Armstrong’s voice: “One giant leap for mankind”
The Cuban missile crisis was one of Kennedy’s most daunting challenges. He didn’t want nuclear warheads aiming at his country, so close, in that Caribbean island. So he sent out ships to block the Soviet vessels that were bringing rockets into Cuba.
That was the closest the world ever got to a devastating nuclear war between superpowers. It was the scariest of standoffs. But Kennedy’s cautious and sensible strategy would manage to send the Russian missiles back home.
It just indicates what the Kennedy presidency was like: there were extreme highs and extreme lows, just in a few short 1000 days.
Yes, Kennedy would build quite the legacy. He’d become one of the more charismatic US presidents.
But then came that fateful day. Right here on Elm Street is where a few bullets interrupted history very dramatically. Let’s look at just how it happened.
President Kennedy’s motorcade tour through Dallas was planned to give him maximum exposure to the crowds here. He rode in an uncovered limousine with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally’s wife Nellie.
They were headed toward a luncheon with the civic and business leaders of Dallas. There were plenty of enthusiastic people for this foursome to wave at of course, weaving through downtown, passing right here by Dealey Plaza, they were only five minutes from their destination.
Now this southern state of Texas hadn’t been a big supporter of Democratic presidents for some time. But Nellie Connally, the First Lady of Texas, turned around to Kennedy and said, “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.”
Kennedy smiled and nodded, as people here shouted greetings.
But then came the rifle shots.
This is the North Pergola. It overlooks the spot where JFK was fatally wounded. Here at one end you’ll see a pedestal. This is where Abraham Zapruder stood. He just wanted to capture Kennedy on his home movie camera. But he would accidentally document this terrible assassination. Abraham would record the most analyzed 26 seconds of film in history.
At first, those shots didn’t really ring out—for most people on Elm Street. There was plenty of crowd noise and car noise all around them. The shots didn’t sound that different from a firecracker or a vehicle backfiring. But then the crowd noticed something awful. Kennedy wasn’t waving anymore. He had slumped onto his wife’s lap.
Governor Connally was a World War II veteran. He recognized the sound right away as a high-powered rifle. As Kennedy had waved with his right arm, a rifle bullet penetrated his upper back, went through his right lung, and exited his throat. Kennedy quickly clenched his fists in front of his face, leaning forward and to his left. Jacqueline put her arms around him, suddenly terrified.
A bullet struck Connally in his upper right back. Was it the same one? That question would perplex investigators for many years.
A second, or third shot rang out. This was the fatal one, striking Kennedy’s head.
US Secret Service agent Clint Hill ran forward, and tried to get on the limousine to protect the president. Jacqueline actually crawled back onto the rear trunk lid—perhaps to help him.
Mrs. Connally thought she heard Jacqueline cry out, “They’ve killed my husband. They’ve killed my husband.”
Those bullets came from here, the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. This area has been preserved to look just like it did in 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald had stepped over to this window, after locking the door behind him. He held a Carcano rifle with a scope that could zero in on a target in the distance.
In October of 1963, Oswald had come up from the city of New Orleans, where he grew up. And he got a job here at the Book Depository. Days before Kennedy’s arrival, newspapers were describing the route of the presidential motorcade. It would pass here.
On Friday morning Oswald arrived at his workplace with a big paper bag. He’d left his money and his wedding ring at home. A co-worker would spot him on the sixth floor at 11:55 am, 35 minutes before the assassination.
Lee Harvey Oswald had joined the Marine Corps as a teenager. Going through their intense training, he knew how to handle a rifle very well.
It was here, at this southeast corner window that rifle shots would ring out that penetrated a governor, a president—and U.S. history.
Oswald would quickly hide from the window in here, and then cover his rifle under some boxes.
Then he went down to the second floor, using the rear stairwell. In the lunchroom, he ran into a police officer. The hunt was already on for who had fired those deadly rifle shots. But Oswald’s supervisor identified him as an employee. So the officer let him pass through. Later, people would recall Oswald seemed very calm, with a soft drink in his hands.
With the president lying on the first lady’s lap, the motorcade sped toward Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Oswald would go out the front staircase—just before police sealed it off. A little later he was walking down a sidewalk in the Oak Cliff neighborhood. Police Officer J.D. Tippit was driving by, listening to urgent messages about the assassination. At this point, Oswald’s supervisor had pointed out to police, in the sealed off Book Depository, that Lee Harvey Oswald was the only employee he knew was missing.
Officer Tippit decided to ask this man a question or two. He called Oswald over to his car and stepped out. But just then, Oswald pulled out a pistol and shot him four times. As Tippit died, the assassin fled the scene.
A little later, Johnny Brewer spotted a suspicious figure, and saw him slip into this Texas theater—without paying. Johnny alerted the ticket clerk, and he called the police at 1:40 pm.
Officers swept into this dark theater and put a hand on Oswald. He resisted arrest, attempting to draw his pistol. But the police restrained him, and took him to the station. Later he’d be charged with the murders of Kennedy and Tippit.
In trauma room one, at Parkland Hospital, physicians had identified Kennedy’s condition as “moribund.” That meant he had no chance of survival. They would try, but that shot to his head was fatal.
A priest named Huber, standing at his bedside, would draw a sheet back from the president’s face, and administer the Last Rights. The White House press secretary would officially announce Kennedy’s death at 1:33 pm.
This was the Peace Corp president, the one who took America through the Cuban missile crisis. His administration had started Civil Rights legislation. And the man sworn in after the assassination, Kennedy’s vice-president Lyndon Johnson, a politician from Texas, would become the president behind real civil rights reform in this country.
So there were a lot of questions after Kennedy’s death. A lot of investigations. A lot of theories thrown about. What was behind those rifle shots? Wasn’t there a conspiracy? What political forces would want Kennedy killed? Surely such a tragic, historical event couldn’t have been pulled off by just one man, Lee Harvey Oswald!
Well, the assassin would remain forever silent. On Sunday, November 24, he was here at Dallas Police Headquarters, being led through the basement. Officers were preparing to transfer him to the county jail. Quite a crowd had gathered though, trying to get a look at the alleged assassin. Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby suddenly stepped forward—with a revolver, and shot Oswald in the abdomen. It proved a fatal bullet.
Now police officers would not be able to interrogate the man. But there were plenty of other investigations. The Warren Commission, created by President Johnson, would look at all the facts in depth. Their conclusion: Oswald had acted alone. Those three shots came from his rifle.
But many Americans just had to believe there was some big conspiracy behind that fateful shooting.
I was a senior in high school when it happened, and my father, who fought in WWII, was scared to death that the Russians were behind it and WWIII was about to begin. That was the first conspiracy theory. Then when Jack Ruby, a local Dallas night-club owner with mob connections killed Lee Harvey Oswald the suspect in the very state from which Lyndon Johnson had become president, it made you wonder if Johnson was behind the assassination. So that was the second big theory. But over the years all other theories have come forward. The CIA, because they despised Kennedy, they had him killed.
Gary: In 1967, Josiah Thompson published “Six Seconds in Dallas,” a book about what happened here, just off this mound. He suggested Kennedy was struck by two bullets to the head—from two directions, one from the rear, one from the right front.
Close to a thousand books have been published about the assassination. And over 95 percent support some conspiracy.
Some advanced the theory that pro-Castro Cubans made it all happen. Others even pointed to the CIA, the FBI—even President Lyndon Johnson!
And there were all kinds of claims about how the evidence had been altered.
Dallas police must have changed those autopsy shots, to give the appearance that the wounds were caused by one rifle, one gunman.
Yes, a tragedy compels us to create satisfying explanations. Conservative people wanted the KGB involved. Liberal people wanted right-wing businessmen involved. A big event needs a big plan behind it.
The problem with the Kennedy assassination is, there is no-known motif for Lee Harvey Oswald. And yet to this day all of the evidence points to him, and him alone. But most people just aren’t satisfied that one guy, one little tiny individual without any connections to anybody, apparently, was able to do away with the very popular leader of one of the biggest and most powerful countries on the planet. This lopsidedness just doesn’t make sense. As long as there are holes in the story,
and people can plug in their own answers, they’ll probably keep doing so.
Well, we’ll never be sure, of course, if there were other people who helped Lee Harvey Oswald. But here’s the basic fact behind that assassination. Here’s the essential truth which a lot of people have ignored. It was a man’s character that produced that killing. That’s at the bottom of it all.
Lee Harvey Oswald grew up a rather withdrawn and temperamental kid. Once he was even accused of threatening his half-brother’s wife with a knife. Later, truancy from school led to a psychiatric assessment. This young man was found to have a vivid fantasy life, imagining scenes of power—to compensate for his shortcomings and frustrations.
Oswald joined the US Marine Corp just after his seventeenth birthday. He was trained as a radio operator, and served in Japan. But he got into trouble playing around with an unauthorized .22 handgun, accidentally shooting himself in the elbow. Then he got into a fight with his sergeant, who reported the incident, and he was court-martialed. Oswald would have to be punished a third time—because he fired his rifle into a jungle—for no reason. After that, Oswald claimed that his mother needed care, and received a hardship discharge.
Oswald flew to Russia, and played around with becoming a Soviet citizen for a while. But then he got bored, and came back to America.
Settling in Dallas, Oswald was hired by a graphic-arts firm. But he was inefficient and quite rude—to the point that fights threatened to break out. After he was fired, he bought a 6.5 caliber Carcano rifle by mail-order, using another name. Lee Harvey Oswald obviously had personal problems.
There may well be conspiracies in this world, but the bottom line, when it comes to terrible deeds, is human nature. Tragedies happen most frequently because we are bent in the wrong direction.
Well, Lee Harvey Oswald’s background is really interesting in that he was one of life’s losers. We‘ve all known people in life no matter what they do, no matter how hard they try – they fail.
At the time of the assassination Lee Harvey Oswald had a minimum- wage job, here in the Book Depository building. He had no future, most every job he’d ever had, he got fired. He had 2 baby girls and a wife who despised him. They were living apart. He had no prospects. And in short, he was a guy who had no future. And when men are put in that position, they tend to do very dramatic things. When Oswald woke up that morning -he had spent the last night with his wife- he left virtually all his money and his wedding ring on the dressing room table.You know, when a man makes a statement like that, that’s a very powerful decision. He has decided to do something drastic. Did he go out and kill the President for some reason? Well, that’s what the evidence says. Was he going to do something else and just call it quits or something? Well, we don’t know. Jack Ruby cheated history, so we’ll never know.
You know there’s an assassination in history that puts a spotlight on that issue. It’s the killing of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
This is the man who bled to death on a Roman cross. But he wasn’t just a political leader; he wasn’t just a religious leader. He was the Son of God laying down his life—for sinful human beings. He was all about—reconciliation. Listen to Colossians 1:21 and 22:
“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight…” Colossians 1:21,22
That assassination on the cross—2000 years ago—actually gets very personal. The cross is about our problems, our weaknesses, our alienation. Like Lee Harvey Oswald, we try to compensate for our shortcomings and frustrations in all kinds of ways. We get into quarrels and fights. We blame other people. We go from one place to another, trying to escape our inadequacy. We blow up—about pressures at work, conflicts at home.
But there’s only one real way to deal with our shortcomings, our frustrations. And that is the cross of Jesus Christ. This Messiah absorbed all our moral failures in his own body. And He offers to exchange all our failures with his own blameless, perfect life. He promises that we can be accepted by a Holy God – “in the Beloved,” in the Son.
You know, John F. Kennedy was shot with his arms out, waving at scores of people. After his assassination, he’d become quite the presidential hero, with quite the legacy.
But he wasn’t a perfect president of course. He wasn’t even a very faithful husband to Jacqueline, who would hold his bleeding head in her lap.
But Jesus Christ was the perfect Messiah, the spotless Lamb of God. He died with his arms out wide, on the cross, welcoming all of humanity. He would become an undying hero. His legacy can take us from our human weaknesses – straight into heaven.
The cross is a legacy with your name on it. It carries the weight of God’s love for you. The cross can set you free. It gives your life a stable center.
Isn’t it time to stop blaming some conspiracy way out there? Isn’t it time to accept the fact that our human weaknesses create most of our misfortunes? But there is a way out, there is hope. We can accept the fact that one significant death has made the most impact on our world.
If you would like to know more about Jesus and the hope, happiness and inner peace that He brings, then I’d like to recommend the free gift we have for all Incredible Journey viewers today.
It’s the booklet, The One and Only. This inspiring booklet is our gift to you and is absolutely free. I guarantee there are no costs or obligations whatsoever. So make the most of this wonderful opportunity to receive your free gift now.
If you have enjoyed our journey to Dallas Texas in the footsteps of JFK, and our reflections on the free gift of salvation that God offers us, then be sure to join us again next week, when we will share another of life’s journeys together. Until then, let’s pray and ask for God’s blessing on us and our families.
Dear Father, thank you for writing my name on the cross. Thank you for reaching out so powerfully. I need you. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of. I ask for forgiveness. I ask you to receive me as a repentant sinner. Thank you for the legacy you created. Thank you for accepting me completely in Jesus Christ. Amen.