Mt. Vernon Register-News

November 22, 2013

Remembering a slain president

By RICK HAYES
The Register-News

MT. VERNON — —

Every generation seems to go through a historic event that sets it apart.

For this generation, the scars of 911 still penetrate the inner soul. For older folks, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt "will live in infamy."

For those 60 years of age or older, today's anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is that event.

Around 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy was fatally shot by a sniper while traveling with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally's wife, Nellie, in a presidential motorcade in Dallas.

A 10-month investigation in 1963-64 by the Warren Commission concluded that Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, and that Jack Ruby also acted alone when he killed Oswald before he could stand trial.

Although the Commission's conclusions were initially supported by a majority of the American public, polls conducted between 1966 and 2003 found as many as 80 percent of Americans have suspected that there was a plot or cover-up. As recently as 2013, an Associated Press poll showed more than 59 percent of those polled still believed more than one person was involved in the President's murder.

As a young fifth-grader at an Evansville, Ind., grade school, this reporter shared the moment with classmates during a music class. Mrs. Wilson, our teacher, was at the piano when she was approached by a school administrator. The music suddenly stopped. Tears flowed. After gaining some composure, Mrs. Wilson broke the news: the president had not only been shot, but he was dead. Needless to say, the rest of the day was a wash. Students were shocked, in disbelief, and had many questions that couldn't be answered.

Similar stories are shared by Jefferson County residents, like Rogene Fitts.

"I was in the eighth grade at Summersville. I was walking down the hallway to decorate for a pep assembly with two other girls when the janitor Doc Haulk told us. We said, 'Oh, you're kidding,' but he said, 'No, it happened.' I was in disbelief. It was hard to finish out the day," she said. Fitts added when the president was buried a couple of days later, her father Earl Rose (now deceased) made her watch the funeral procession on a small black and white television.

"I wanted to go down the street and play basketball but he said, 'You need to sit here and watch this because this is history,' " she added.

Rolland Mays, a well-known local music teacher, was also an eighth-grader at Casey Jr. High.

"I was in Vernie Render's choir class. Someone had come in and announced the president had been assassinated. The reaction was silence at first, and then many of the students began to cry," Mays recalls. "The rest of the day was solemn. The teachers were good in that they allowed us to express ourselves."

Mays added for him personally, it was a tragic loss. "He was probably the first president that I ever followed. It was a great loss for me."

Jefferson County historian John Howard admits events such as an assassination are never forgotten.

"I was working at Security Bank on North Ninth Street. The first inkling I had of it was when Dale Hunt came into the bank and said the president had been shot. A couple of us went over and looked at a television for a few minutes. It was quite a shock to hear the president had been shot and killed," Howard said. "As the weekend went on, I was at First Baptist Church when I heard Oswald was shot. It was replayed over and over again on television that weekend."

Kenny Kisner, a county employee, was an infant when the assassination occurred, but he is one of those buying into the conspiracy theory after watching "JFK: The Smoking Gun" on a television program earlier this week.

"It definitely shows there were two weapons and two different caliber rifles and it shows the trajectory of the bullet that killed the president was from street level, an apparent accidental discharge," Kisner said. "If Oswald would've hit him, it would've been a high entry wound. The entry was low and came out on top of his (Kennedy's) head. The government didn't want people to know he was shot by the Secret Service and it was covered up. I believe the facts of the show. They (the Warren Commission) were protecting the Secret Service, and it was accidental, but they still covered it up."

In contrast to the conclusions of the Warren Commission, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1978 that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The HSCA concluded there was a "high probability that two gunmen fire at the President."