Today, Phenix, who publishes Blog of Ages, lives in North Carolina.
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.
Christopher Cory, of New York, was working for Time magazine in 1963. He retired recently from many years as a university communications director. Here is his memory of that day:
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 [last] 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 [was] director of most relations with the media. He handles his own, masterfully.