I was all of five months, 21 days and a handful of hours old on that dark day in November of 1963 when a man was murdered in broad daylight on the streets of Dallas, Texas... and history was changed irrevocably.
Our lifetimes intersected for a period, but I remember nothing about him. Or of that period in the early 1960s Kennedy’s name still evokes in the hearts and minds of so many who do remember him – a time of hope and optimism in America, when we were first looking towards the moon and all things still seemed possible.
“A bright and shining moment,” author and historian William Manchester once called it. A moment in time which, for me, is as much a part of history as the American Revolution.
Perhaps that’s why Kennedy has always intrigued me so. Because I just missed being a part of that shining moment. I grew up in the Shadow of the Aftermath, when that sense of optimism was replaced by a growing tide of cynicism that, in spite of what many of us would like to believe, still afflicts our great nation today.
As a result of his short life and violent death, Kennedy sidestepped the status of “legend” and assumed the mantle of mythic figure almost immediately. The best of men are but men at best, and with time even his most ardent admirers have had to admit that so much of the JFK Myth is exactly that – a myth. A glorification born of a nation’s collective desire to heal, to be able to smile again, to retain a sense of all that was good about that time taken from us.
What would have become of us if he had lived, if those shots had not been fired in the first place or if the bullets had failed to find their mark? Entire books have been dedicated to the consideration of such imagined alternate histories. Historians and fiction writers alike have pondered the question, in essays and research papers, in novels and even in science fiction films and television programs.
I can tell you from personal experience as a writer that such pondering is an interesting exercise – but ultimately a pointless and painful one.
Because those shots were fired. Those bullets did find their mark...
The question of what really happened that day still resonates in our collective consciousness as well. But a new poll released not long ago shows that while the majority of Americans still believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone, the percentage of those who feel the truth has not yet been told has dropped in recent years.
I’ll admit that seemed a little odd to me when I heard it, given that every single event we hear about in the news these days – no matter its current importance in the grand scheme of things or its potential eventual historical impact – seems to come with a ready-made conspiracy theory of its own.
I heard someone suggest the other day that the nation has grown weary of searching for the truth. I can’t bring myself to believe that... and yet I can’t help fearing sometimes that it might be so. Which may be why I became so discouraged – even angry – last Saturday when CBS aired its 50th anniversary retrospective on the assassination.
At one point a computer expert shared admittedly compelling evidence showing that a single bullet could have wounded both Kennedy and Gov. John Connolly, just as the Warren Commission stated. That demonstration prompted anchorman Bob Schieffer – a journalist whose work I have generally admired over the years – to pronounce that Oswald was the lone assassin after all.
But nowhere - NOWHERE - in that discussion was the subject of the fatal wound to Kennedy’s head even mentioned, let alone examined. It is that head wound – so graphically depicted in Abraham Zapruder’s 8-millimeter home movie of the grim event – that still leads so many to question the validity of the Warren Commission’s findings. But it was not discussed. In fact, that portion of the Zapruder film wasn't even shown during this segment of the program.
A young person watching that program and learning about the assassination for the first time might have come away believing that the fatal head shot didn’t even occur, and that Kennedy died from the single shot to his neck. And I now find that my respect for Bob Schieffer's integrity as a journalist has dropped several notches...
Almost 20 years ago now I assisted a pair of researchers, Glen Sample and Mark Collom, who were looking for information to back up claims made by a former Tishomingo resident – the late Loy Factor – that he had played a role in the assassination. Collom told me at the time that Factor had confided in him when they shared a hospital room some years earlier. Later I was asked to write the Preface to a book Sample and Collom wrote about their investigation, entitled The Men On The Sixth Floor.
Factor had gained notoriety here in Johnston County, Oklahoma, during the late 1960s when he became the target of a manhunt after being accused of the strangulation death of his wife. Juanita Factor's body was found buried in a shallow grave near the couple's home in Fillmore on Oct. 2, 1968. Although diabetic and handicapped by an artificial leg, Factor and his 4-year-old son eluded searchers for 12 days before finally being captured only about 100 yards from the gravesite.
He was eventually convicted of first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years, but was later paroled in the late 1970s. Throughout three trials and his prison stay Factor maintained his innocence; but it wasn't until that chance hospital room encounter with Mark Collom that Factor alleged that his teenaged stepdaughter and her boyfriend were the real murderers. He claimed they were looking for money he had hidden on his property, and that he had never told the police because (he claimed) the money had been paid to him for his involvement in the JFK assassination.
(It is not my intent to discuss Factor's story at length here. Those interested in knowing more can order Glen and Mark's book here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Sixth-Floor-Glen-Sample-ebook/dp/B004DI7OHC.)
In my Preface to The Men Of The Sixth Floor, I stated that, even with all the information Glen and Mark had come across and were sharing in their book, I still wasn’t entirely certain of the validity of their story. “It is entirely possible,” I wrote, “that those of us who worked so long and hard on this project have been the victims of an incredible hoax.” For the record, there is a part of me that believes this might still be the case.
But I also stated that, because there are still so many questions surrounding the assassination, I believed that it was a story worth investigating. I still believe this, as well.
Will those questions ever be answered? Perhaps, one day. But I’ve come to believe that it won’t happen during my lifetime. And I can’t help thinking that this may well be as great a tragedy as the assassination itself.
(Column copyright © 2013, by John A. Small)
In : History
Tags: john f. kennedy