Our friend George Phenix has an interesting post today, commemorating the 46th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy. He says:

I was a green 24-year-old cub reporter for KRLD-TV and barely knew how to operate a camera when history happened.
Even after 46 years have drifted by, I still have a little difficulty discussing the Kennedy assassination. Part of me wants to pump our book “When the News Went Live” while part of me recalls the numbness of those terrible days back in November of 1963.
I am always surprised at book signings when I choke up while describing the President and Mrs. Kennedy landing in Dallas. It is still emotional to remember. But we must.


George also says “a handful of new JFK documentaries will air tonight and tomorrow. Three of my buddies and co-authors will be featured. I couldn’t make the trip to Dallas at the time of the productions.”

For a list of special programs on JFK tonight and this week, go to http://www.blogofages.net/

Our six-part series on the day JFK was shot starts below. Please share your own thoughts by clicking on Comments on any of the posts. No need to leave email addresses.

 
 
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January 20, 1961
Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning—signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

  The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

  We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

  Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

  This much we pledge—and more.

To continue, click "Read More," below right.

 
 
Birds reader and fellow blogger George Phenix was 25 and barely a month into a job as cameraman for (then) CBS-affiliate KRLD-TV on November 22, 1963, when he was assigned to cover President Kennedy’s Dallas visit. As the President's motorcade wound its way into the heart of the city, Phenix planted himself along the parade route and waited.

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George Phenix, Minnesota
Retired journalist
Blog of Ages


My news director, Eddie Barker, divided us into teams of reporters to cover the JFK trip to Dallas. I helped George Sanderson film Air Force One landing at Love Field. Bob Huffaker picked up coverage as the procession rolled past welcoming crowds lining the curb along Main Street -- toward the triple underpass at Dealey Plaza. In the motorcade, we had Jim Underwood riding in one of the press cars.

When the shooting started, I was outside the Trade Mart awaiting the President’s arrival for his noon speech.

Suddenly, sirens wailed from the freeway overpass. Lots of sirens. In the crowd, a woman started crying, “He’s been hit. He’s been hit.” With what? Rock? Bottle? Brick? I never thought rifle fire.

And in that instant, the world changed. The whole damned world.

KRLD served as the home base for the CBS coverage of the assassination, led by Dan Rather. Eddie Barker was first to announce Kennedy’s death, from Parkland Hospital. Two days later, Phenix was sent to the city jail to film the transfer of Lee Harvey Oswald to the county jail. The pictures you have in your mind of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald came from George’s film, now part of our historical memory.

Here is a portion of the deposition George gave in 1964 to federal officials, used as testimony for the Warren Commission inquiry into the assassination.

TESTIMONY OF GEORGE R. PHENIX beginning at 13H123...

The testimony of George R. Phenix was taken at 3:40 p.m., on April 16, 1964, in the office of the U.S. attorney, 301 Post Office Building, Bryan and Ervay Streets Dallas, Tex., by Mr. Leon D. Hubert, Jr., assistant counsel of the President's Commission.
Mr. PHENIX.  …I had to have my eyes stuck against the eyepiece in order to see through it. So, from then on, all I saw was Oswald coming down the hallway there, and I didn't actually--I wasn't aware of seeing Ruby step out of the crowd--I knew something had happened and the shot--at the shot somebody came roaring in from my left and almost knocked me down. The unipod was braced on the curb and it slipped down to the main level of the ramp and almost fell, and looking through the eyepiece and over the eyepiece, too, just shooting out of habit really, the camera was running all the time--I followed the action of the policeman wrestling with Ruby--it just happened that they moved to my right.
Mr. HUBERT. Your film, as a matter of fact, is that famous film that catches Ruby moving forward and the wrestling?
Mr. PHENIX. Right; I just saw it once and we were so busy, but I think it was the one where Ruby's hat was in the corner of the opening frame and he steps out.
Mr. HUBERT. You have seen it since, haven't you?
Mr. PHENIX. Oh, yes.
Mr. HUBERT. Did you know Ruby?
Mr. PHENIX. No.
Mr. HUBERT. Had you observed him in the crowd prior to these events?
Mr. PHENIX. I can't remember it. I heard someone say in the crowd after they took Ruby and after Oswald left in the ambulance that it was Jack Ruby, and the name didn't mean a thing to me.
Mr. HUBERT. Did you hear anybody running down the ramp just before the shooting, running down or possibly walking down?
Mr. PHENIX. No, I think if he had been running I would have heard him because the sound just echoes in that basement.
I saw some film, and I'm sure you've seen it too, some of the film that showed Ruby positioned down there, and he looks back where you catch almost a full shot of his face before Oswald comes down, and that anyway--it just looks like he was there for a while.
Mr. HUBERT. Did you hear Ruby say anything?
Mr. PHENIX. No; maybe in the excitement I heard him, but I don't remember hearing this famous quotation about "Jack, you S. O. B."
Mr. HUBERT. You didn't hear anybody; hear anything, including Ruby--anything distinguishable that you now remember?
Mr. PHENIX. The only one I can remember is Bob Huffaker, who is the mike man for our live camera, saying over and over that "He's been shot," and he was calling him "Lee Harold Oswald." I don't know why--and then just in general--a few words.
Mr. HUBERT. You heard him saying, "He's been shot, he's been shot, he's been shot," a number of times? Mr. PHENIX. Yes, and the policemen telling everybody to stand back.


George Phenix and two colleagues recently wrote a book about their experience on November 22, 1963. The Day the News Went Live is available at Amazon. Click here for a fascinating interview with George that aired on Austin’s News 8, in 2003, which includes portions of his famous video. 

These days, George splits his time between Texas and Minnesota, but finds time to blog about the news and just about everything else at Blog of Ages. I get a kick out of his humor and pithy insights on the passing parade. Also, there's always something worth reading in his link-list pointing to news of special interest to seniors.

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Christopher Cory, New York
University Communications Director

I was pretty far from the scene and more touched by it later. I’d been living in Washington, DC, learning my trade as a reporter just out of college in the bureau of Time magazine. When the news broke I was in my parents’ living room in Englewood, NJ en route to the Harvard-Yale game in New Haven. Well-drilled in journalism by then, I “called my desk” – the nearest one being in New York City – and was deployed to get reactions in Harlem. That didn’t take too long, since ... most of the news the magazine needed that night was coming from elsewhere.

The next week I was deployed to watch the funeral cortege from the front of the White House but senior correspondents were doing the close ups and the moment passed without stirring huge feelings in me.


The experience did, however, turn out to make me preternaturally alert ever after for scraps of news about any Kennedy family members.  Your question makes me realize that they have provided an obbligato of inspiration to the melody of my life. In my present job I even once got to introduce myself to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a professor and vibrant environmental advocate at the law school at Pace, the university where I’m the director of most relations with the media. He handles his own, masterfully. 


 
 

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Karen Holmgren, California
Fiber artist

I was at work in an insurance company office [in Wayne NJ] when the announcement came over the PA that the President had been shot but was alive. Everything came to a halt as people looked at each other in shock. Slowly we all resumed our tasks, only to be interrupted a short time later with the news that Kennedy had died and we were given leave to go home. The shock was too big to absorb, but there were tears in many eyes as we made our way out of the building. Our family spent the weekend glued to the television. I was watching when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.  It was all so unreal. The funeral procession and services were terribly moving and sad. 

I remember all those grainy black and white images of Jackie and the children, Johnson, limousines, crowds, the frequent replay of the shooting event. Black and white - the appropriate way to convey this horrible event. Stark, somber, emotional.


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Darlene in Arizona
Retired realtor
Darlene’s Hodgepodge

All I can add to the JFK story is that I was taking movies of my daughter when my husband phoned me with the news.  He was a radio station manager and the news had just come down the wire.  No one will ever forget where they were or what they were doing when they heard that dreadful news.


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Kathleen Scott, Texas
Retired banker, novelist
Hill Country Mysteries

I was eleven years old in 1963.  My father was a pilot in the Air Force, in charge of a squadron of small fighter bombers.  His mission, in event of threat/attack, was to fly from the Air Force Base at Lakenheath, England, where we lived, and defend freedom. 

Mom junked the TV when we moved to Europe. News came from BBC radio and the Stars and Stripes newspaper, an American publication which delivered U. S. news 'for the military community' a day or two late, or barely mentioned, if the event didn't mesh with military outlook.  We didn't know much about the May riots in Alabama or the August march in Washington. 

My world was far more local.  I knew the Mods and Rockers were on the rise in Britain.  And the Rolling Stones, a loud unknown band, performed at our local fair, free admission.  BBC news was taken with British tumults of the times.  A major scandal broke in June; Minister of Defense Profumo was sleeping with a call girl who simultaneously 'had relations' with a Russian Embassy attaché. Perfect for blanket coverage--sex, infidelity, lies and spies.  Then the Great Train Robbery took place in August and the British Isles were captivated by twelve men and loot equivalent to $7,500,000US.

The phone rang in our home in the evening on November 22nd.  My mother was distressed, my father grim-faced.  I didn't really know what the death of the President meant.  I knew it was bad but it was a remote bad, like a scary Halloween movie.  We didn't see footage of the motorcade or the following days of nonstop news coverage. 

It didn't seem real.  I knew more about Winston Churchill than I did about JFK.  Everything about America was remote--the weather, the culture, the President.  I didn't know that Kennedy was a man who brought hope.  Or that the gunshots which ended his life would reverberate many years hence. 




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June McNamara, Delaware

 

I was in a political science class at college, and the prof, very emotional, broke the news to us and then dismissed class (as were all of the campus classes).  I drove home slowly, in a bit of a fog, watching the other drivers move in that manner as well.  When the news was announced that Kennedy had died, many drivers pulled over to the side of the road and just wept.  When I got home, the TV was on, and remained on continuously for the next several days as we all followed the world-changing events.  Later, watching Lee  Harvey Oswald's assassination was surreal.

 


 
 
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Antoinette Almaguer, Virginia
Former Peace Corps volunteer and desk officer

I remember sitting in the SUB, the Student Union Building, at the University of New Mexico, where I'd met my sister for lunch. I was a freshman. The television was on and then the news interrupted whatever was on.  I felt emptiness in the pit of my stomach and people were shuffling around to get a better look at Walter Cronkite.  Tears welled up and I tried hard not to sob.  Everyone seemed to be in shock.  One of Mary Ann's friends walked up to me, smiled and handed me an ice cream bar.  I really didn't know what to do with it.  Did I eat it?  Could I have done something as ordinary as eat ice cream at that tumultuous moment in history?   Five years later Bobby was assassinated and then Martin Luther King.  I joined the Peace Corps that summer.  It was about altruism.  It was a Kennedy thing.  Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You .....

In Belize, when invited to someone's home, it was common to see two portraits in their living room: one of Christ, showing palms extended and exposed heart, and the other was the official presidential photo of John Kennedy.  We shared respect for a charismatic figure.  He inspired many of us to achieve goals which we might not have pursued otherwise.  And I can't say I much cared for ice cream bars since then.


Ann Sentilles, Texas
Editor,writer
www.thethirdthird.com

I was a junior in high school in Ohio in November 1963 and
Presidential Assassinations were the stuff of history books, not my
life and times. Or so I thought. I was glued to the TV the entire
weekend, not really believing what I was seeing. I remember in
particular coming home from church that Sunday to learn that Oswald
himself had been shot in the basement of the Dallas Police Department
and beginning to wonder, in the midst of the added chaos, about the
stability and certainty of everything in my life that I had once
believed with all my heart was stable and certain. And that, I think,
is the feeling that endured -- in many ways, a loss of childhood
innocence and an introduction to tragedy on an epic scale even here
and, as it turns out, especially here, in the USA. I had a chance to
put the Kennedy Assassination into clearer perspective when I taught
my children about it in the context of all that went on in the 60's.
In the truly wonderful Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, they could see
what hopes and dreams had been dashed by Kennedy's killing (and those
of his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King), and what new hopes and
dreams were born in the aftermath and in the activism and rebellion
which colored our college years.

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Kathy, Massachusetts

I, like so many people, mark the anniversary of the JFK assassination by remembering the exact spot I first heard the news -- crossing a college campus while people around me were sharing/shouting the news. Members of my class marched in Selma, protested the Vietnam War and conspired to enable male students to become ineligible for the draft. 

The college I went to did not allow women students to wear "slacks" to class, and we had single-sex dorms (most of the time.) I went on to teach school under the Johnson era "Great Society."  In the 60s I was certain that the country could eliminate poverty and racism.  When I started teaching, remnants of institutional racism were still evident in some schools in rural VA. However, both black and white children lived in poverty.  And class seemed to be a common factor in predicting school success.  


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Larry Burch, Iowa
Retired attorney

I was an electronics instructor at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado, and in the break room when one of the technical sergeants entered and stated that the president had been shot in Dallas.  We soon learned that the wound was fatal.  Everyone I knew was shocked at the news.  I was dismayed for a few hours, and then became quite angered that such a thing could happen in the United States in that day and age.  It certainly brought an end to the naïveté of my youth.


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Bradford W. O’Hearn, New York
Retired journalist

I was talking to the Allentown (PA) head of Pennsylvania Bell about for a non-profit I volunteered for when he said, “I’ve got to go. The phones are going wild. The President has been shot.” My next stop was the offices of The Morning Call where I was a reporter. The wire room, comfortable for two or three persons, had about a dozen in it soberly scanning the wires. There was a short hiatus and then five bells sounded; AP’s highest priority. A priest had confirmed the death of the nation’s first Irish Catholic president, and wide open possibilities of Nov. 1960 seemed a lot more constricted to this Irish Catholic.


Linda Huntington, Maryland
Retired health care policy analyst

On the morning of November 22, 1963, the Peace Corps, on the corner of Lafayette Square behind the White House, gave me my first job.   Afterward, I walked across the square and one more block to a fancy department store called Garfinkel's.  I didn't know, at 22, that one would overpay for mattress covers at fancy stores. 

Taking the elevator back to the first floor, I overheard women talking about President Kennedy's having been shot.  I laughed in shock, wanting to believe it was some kind of sick joke.  I soon verified the news, staggered outdoors, and walked around the block to a bar with a TV. 

My sense of security was destroyed.  Assassinated was the head of my country and the senator who, just four years earlier, had exhorted my high school class to public service at our graduation ceremony.


 
 
November 22, 1963 is one of those dates ingrained in our memory, if we were alive and aware of the world around us at the time. 

On Thursday, the 21st, we had a good idea where we were headed, individually and collectively. By that sunny Friday afternoon, we didn’t. The days to follow brought more death, fear, confusion and questions. By the Thanksgiving dinner on the following Thursday, I just remember being thankful to be alive.

Do you remember where you were? Do you recall what you felt that day and throughout the next week? Did the assassination and subsequent events propel you to action or change your mind about your plans for the future? 

Now, 46 years later, what is the legacy of that historic date?

Please share your memories and thoughts with us. Hit Comments in the right corner of this post, and join the conversation. 

 
 
Before I throw out this newspaper, let me pass it along to those of you with teenage children or grandchildren. 

When I was their age, I assumed my friends and I would follow a similar path to a fairly conventional adulthood. We’d do alright, but none of us would likely set the world on fire. I don’t imagine kids today think much differently, do they? 

When I got out of school, there were people I kept up with, and those I didn’t. Those friendships that began in college and are still intact are precious indeed, and include several Birds readers. I just assumed those I left behind  blended into the woodwork that supports all of our daily comings and goings. In many ways, I was exactly right. 

The University of Maryland required freshmen to attend a week-long campus orientation program that began just before the start of school. Orientation was run by the Dean of Students, with help from Student Government Organization members.

Each freshman was paired up with a buddy who might mentor five or six students that week, and was available throughout the year, as needed, whenever a freshman had a problem. Our buddies took us around and showed us the ropes—where to go, what to avoid, how to survive in a complex and competitive environment.

Ours taught us the campus lingo, and encouraged us to get involved in student activities, but also devote plenty of time to what we were there for.  

I was barely 17 and from out of state. My buddy was a short blond senior, a real Marylander, probably 21 or 22. Everyone we walked past on campus seemed to know this gregarious SGO officer and real BMOC. 

That’s him on the right, the guy with the white hair, the big smile and the red tie. I knew him as Steny. Now he’s Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-MD, House Majority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives, a real BMOC. 
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This is why we need newspapers.

It takes a news operation the size of the New York Times to give a reporter like Robert Pear the time he needs to do this kind of reporting:

In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’
The New York Times
November 15, 2009

As many of you know, the Congressional Record publishes transcripts of every floor debate and vote that takes place in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Every morning at 11, you can go online to http://www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord/  to read a transcript of the previous day’s proceedings. It’s free, searchable and downloadable.  

In addition to taped testimony, speakers are permitted to submit written testimony to clarify or add to their argument. Some do this, or rather, let their staffs do it for them. 

I can only guess, but I imagine Pear was looking for evidence that the unprecedented amount of money spent by health care industries to ward off a negative impact to their business, paid off, at least in terms of The Affordable Health Care for America Act [H.R. 3962].

Not that lobbyist don’t feed members with talking points related to every single bill that comes up for a vote, but this one was special. It spells out policies that will affect one-sixth of the nation’s economy, almost 100 percent of the population, and will direct our access to health care for many years to come.

Remarkably, forty-two House members –- 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats ---gave almost the exact same testimony, in support of their opinion, for OR against. Their thoughts –  and the words that expressed them – were provided at great expense by Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche. 

You may recall Joe Wilson, the little-known Congressman from South Carolina who made his debut as a man who unable to keep his thoughts to himself, the night President Obama spelled out his health care reform message, before a special session of Congress. It seems that Joe sometimes allows others to do his thinking for him:

From the Times:

In separate statements using language suggested by the lobbyists, Representatives Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri and
Joe Wilson of South Carolina, both Republicans, said: “One of the reasons I have long supported the U.S. biotechnology industry is that it is a homegrown success story that has been an engine of job creation in this country. Unfortunately, many of the largest companies that would seek to enter the biosimilar market have made their money by outsourcing their research to foreign countries like India.”


 
You’re not going to find a story like this on CNN or even CBS. It’s about words, and has no visual appeal. Furthermore, only a word person would spend the time hunting for similarities in text, and checking them against the text sent out by the lobbyists. And, only a newspaper would publish it, because print journalists understand the value and the power of the written word. 

 
 
So many knowledgeable people have weighed in this week on the legacy of the Berlin Wall, that I really had not planned to offer anything other than what I saw and what I read. I put this package together for those who missed it the first time, and there were plenty of people out there who did, including Germans. 

Two things struck me, however, as I was researching this project: 

1.    The power of propaganda.

As television viewers, we all know how easy it is to sway large groups of people, but still, it’s stunning how easily East German authorities convinced people that walls and borders were there to protect them from the immoral and dangerous influences of the West.

Judging by the number who escaped or tried to, not all were fooled. But, if you listen carefully to the dialogue between guards and East Germans in the Mauerfall videos, you'll find evidence that many East Berliners still believed they were walled off for their own good.

I went to Berlin and Leipzig not long after reunification. It was still a mess.

You couldn’t place a phone call from east to west. You still had to carry a passport, or a visa provided by a hotel, which took your passport when you checked in. That practice made me very nervous since I had no way to call the US embassy in what-was-once the West, if that passport went missing.

Living conditions in East Germany were much worse than I expected. I had never before seen so many obviously disabled people in one place at the same time. Since my mother was crippled, I was very tuned into noticing such things. One day, I counted 40 physically disabled people on the streets of Leipzig. Many begged on street corners, at entrances to office buildings or in front of restaurants. These were young people -- many blind or with badly deformed limbs -- so these weren’t war wounds they were dealing with.  

Coal was the home heating fuel of choice so the air stunk and, some days, it polluted the air so much you could barely see across the street.

Fences and gates marked many intersections. There were video cameras and loudspeakers at every turn. Recorded voices told you to stop, start, to not spit, smoke, run, or misbehave in any way. They may have told you more than that, but those were the only words I understood. I could hear loudspeakers barking all night all over the city, since I had to leave the windows open in my hotel room to keep cool.
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Leipzig 1991
Outside the cities, empty gun towers still watched over cornfields, maybe a half-mile apart. We were told not to step off paved roads in rural areas because all the landmines had not been removed.

Small towns were gated at every exit with concrete stanchions spaced just far apart to let a Trabant through,  which meant there was no way anyone could simply drive from town to town without dealing with a guard. All movement within the country was watched and recorded.

Highway border crossings looked like American interstate toll plazas with gun towers.     We passed an especially large one that had been shot up to smithereens.

I was in Leipzig the week the first green grocer opened. Lines of skinny and wan customers wrapped around the block to buy fresh produce, many for the first time. I went there to buy water every few days – at the advice of the hotel concierge – and stood in the quiet, very orderly line, waiting my turn to shop. They sold food we would never eat: moldy peaches, rusty lettuce, blackened bananas and overripe tomatoes, all at New York prices!

The Leipzigers we met loved their city, and boasted loudly about everything they could that set them apart from the rest of the country. Think New Yorkers. Texans. Californians. After all, this was home to Bach, Mendelssohn and Goethe, among other notables, and today is home to one of the world’s finest orchestras.

A tourguide boasted about the city’s main hospital, in particular. You’ll see it below. Aside from electrification, it didn’t look to me like much had changed since the 15th century, when it was built. Note: It wasn't tilted, I was shooting from a bus.
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Leipzig hospital wing
2.    How easily it all came apart.  

In spite of all the available firepower, attack dogs, machine guns, landmines, barbed wire, Stasi and whatever else they threatened people with, not one single shot was fired on the night of November 9, 1989. 

Not long after der Berliner Mauerfall, citizens of Leipzig, Dresden and other eastern cities tested the waters and got the same response. Guards were either ambivalent about what to do, overwhelmed by the crowds or unwilling to stop them. 

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? 

Think of all the walls that are up today, in places like Israel, China, Korea, the US. Do you think we’ll see them come down in our lifetime? I certainly hope so.