Thursday, July 8, 2010

JFK's Assassination and The Power of A Word

A Walk on a Hot Summer Evening in Dallas

At one time the words "Pearl Harbor" simply defined a place. The same could be said for other places such as Waterloo, Omaha Beach, and Columbine. These "place" words (just like "Pearl Harbor") have morphed from defining a "place" to an "event".

Last night as I walked in downtown Dallas. I realized that, despite a new light rail, elegant lofts, and lovely new parks, Dallas shares a similar fate. It cannot shake the stigma of being the "place" where a terrible thing happened. And, the inability to heal is characterized by a single word.

Time to digress.

Most of my generation remembers where we were when we heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I was 7 years old and was at recess playing four square. The news stopped our game. When we got home, Walter Cronkite tearfully informed America that JFK had been pronounced dead.

To my generation President Kennedy was special. He embodied how we felt about America. He was smart, brash, and rich. He was young, athletic, cocky and very handsome. He was a war hero. He could disarm the most jaded reporter with humor. His beautiful wife defined style around the world. They made us all feel "cool".

His death quickly brought us down to earth. We suddenly felt vulnerable. We wanted answers. We needed answers.

Who did it? Why? Was it the Russians? The Cuban's? The Mafia? Was this the first step in some kind of attack?

Or, could a scrawny little loser like Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone really defeat our elite secret service and pull off this nightmare?

Remember, we were TV's first generation. We had complete confidence that at the end of every show Perry Mason would neatly wrap up every case.

No neat tidy answers in Dallas.

Then before we could get answers from Oswald, in a blaze of flashbulbs, Jack Ruby, emerged from nowhere and shot Oswald right before our eyes on national television.

The Dallas JFK Memorial

In my Dallas walk the first thing I came upon was the inexplicably, clunky, Phillip Johnson designed JFK memorial. Like much of Johnson's design legacy, as it ages it feels trite, vacuous and cheap. It doesn't measure up to the man. A faded and bent interpretive plaque in front of it tells us that it was  "refurbished". Yet, in such a shimmering city, this monument conveys pure neglect. It leaves the wound open. It should be replaced.

And here is where I first confront the one word that prevents healing.


As I read the plaque I was left with the sentiment "how could they be so careless?"

The biggest investigation in modern history told us, that despite our desire to believe in conspiracies, it was indeed a lone shooter named Oswald who killed our president and derailed history.

The Last View President Kennedy Saw

As I walked past Dealey Plaza I looked up to see what the president last saw. My mind replays the whole scene frame-by-frame from Abe Zapruder's 8M movie. Further ahead is the Texas School Book Depository. To the left is the grassy knoll. Obviously, traffic flow is now reversed from what is was on the day of the motorcade.

I walk up to the book depository where Oswald took his shot from the still ajar sixth floor window.

Oswald's Sixth Floor Perch   

When I get to the Depository building (where the "Sixth Floor" museum has been created), I read its plaque and am confronted by that word again.


To me, these words are offensive. Here's why.

On a previous visit to Dallas I had the honor of listening to retired Dallas Police detective Jim Leavelle. He is one of the only people who had a chance to talk to Oswald before Oswald fell to another assassins bullet.

It was Leavelle who was cuffed to Oswald when Jack Ruby shot him. He was the detective in the tan "ice cream" suit and Stetson hat pulling up wildly on Oswald's cuffs to turn him sideways to minimize Ruby's ability to get a good shot. His image is burned in America's psyche. He is handcuffed to more than Oswald. It is frequently said that Jim is handcuffed to history.

Jim has mentally replayed this thing over and over for almost 50 of his 90 years on this planet.

If Jim is convinced Oswald was the lone shooter (and he is), then I'm good with that.

Detective Leavelle

Why is it that a nation can accept the fact that a trashboy tweaker like Tim McVeigh could blow up a federal building, but we demand a more complex answer to the killing of JFK?

With so many pressing needs confronting the nation, it is time to try to further heal this wound. Simple ways to help do that might be to build a fitting memorial and to remove the words "alleged" and "allegedly" from all text associated with the assassination.

It is time to admit that America's hopes and dreams were dashed by a single creep named Oswald.

Roadboy's Travel © 2010

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