For those of us old farts who can remember that day it will always be burned in our memories when and where we first heard the tragic news. For myself, I was 12 years old and in line coming back into the school from recess in the playground. I saw a female teacher quickly running down the stairs towards us crying and speaking in a loud voice to one of her compatriots monitoring our progress coming back into the school… “President Kennedy’s been shot!”. It wasn’t long after that we heard that he had died. I was older than many of the kids in that line so I understood a little better the context of the news, but certainly it was very disconcerting seeing adults, my authority figures at the time, exhibiting such mournful emotion. Most were female teachers and tended to wear their emotions outward a bit more than our male principle, Mr. Burke, who I saw in the hallway sometimes hugging a passing staff member. I seemed to recall my classroom teacher (oddly, I don’t recall her name) rolling a TV into the room and we all watched the live coverage for a while (using the TV rabbit ear antenna). I also recall that we were allowed to have a short school day and we went home early for the weekend.
A couple days later, Sunday, as I walked into the door at home after having gone to church, my mother said that the guy who shot President Kennedy had just been shot and killed, himself, right on live TV! At that moment this one of two times in my life where I actually wondered what was happening to the world and that everything was out of control (the next and last time was 1968/1969 when Tet showed us the futility of the Vietnam War, King and Bobby Kennedy were shot, race riots in all the big cities, the Democratic convention in Chicago running amok, and anti-war protests everywhere).
Well, both personally and as a country we all pulled through it somehow and JFK’s death changed things forever, as such events always do. But then the mystery of his death became the thing legends are made of and all kinds of theories and suppositions have evolved to fill in the blanks regarding his death. I am not generally a conspiracy buff so I don’t put much credence into all those types of theories, in spite of so-called “facts” regarding bullet trajectories and audio forensics. I tend to believe in the human aspect of it all and my own version of common sense. Here’s my list of why I think Lee Harvey worked alone.
- Regarding the rifle used. This was 1963. We have to think way out of context to what we might think a sniper would use today versus back then. Mass watching of TV was barely ten years old. Gun control, for the most part, was non-existent as it related to the sale of military weapons or their import from other countries. TV programming content and Hollywood had little fare on the subject of public snipers to inspire copycats, or even plots involving “deranged” war vets running amok in society (WW2 & Korea vets at the time). The high power weapons of the day were military surplus from WW2 and Korea being sold by mail order (also permitted in those days). Also keep in mind that the military weapons of the day were nothing like today’s assault rifles. Yes, there was the military’s M14 assault rifle but that was not available to the general public in the day and that was actually a heavy weapon to tote around when fully loaded and makes a bad sniper rifle if you did manage to acquire one on the stolen black market. The Soviet AK-47 was in common use by the Soviet Bloc countries and not available in the least for export outside of their own military. The familiar U.S. M16/AR15 was just being introduced to a reluctant military and way too new for public acceptance. There just was not the civilian interest in weaponry in those days to offer the average nutcase a selection to pick from. According to a recent PBS Nova, Oswald selected his weapon from a mail order catalog largely from price alone… it was about $29.95, with a cheap scope. Also an important item… the rifle itself was a relatively uncommon Italian bolt action (not semi-auto) military weapon manufactured only in 1940, known outside Italy as a Mannlicher-Carcano, with an equally unfamiliar shaped 6.5 x 52mm Carcano bullet. Not even the FBI at the time had a record of such a bullet, much less being aware of the gun itself. This Carcano rifle was in no way, even back then, a first choice weapon for sniper work, either for the military, the Mafia, the Soviets, Castro, or a serious lone wolf looking to get the job done and actually get away with it. Even the U.S. military was using modified WW1 vintage bolt action 30-06 caliber Springfield rifles for their sniper teams in those days. Oswald was an impulsive and behaviorally dysfunctional individual who wanted his five minutes of fame and glory, and simply picked a cheap gun to fit his budget rather than his mission. Also, he had a poor escape plan, if a plan at all. He was more a nutcase than a man with a mission to kill the President for deep political reasons, and he certainly was not part of any grand conspiracy. If some secret group or agency wanted JFK killed why have a military washout nut job with a substandard weapon do the job? Yeah, the rifle ended up being adequate for the job, to be sure, but when you are planning a mission as a group you give yourself all the edge you can because this will likely be your one chance to do it. This would include not only a stable guy to pull the trigger at the right time but also a proper weapon and bullet caliber to minimize the potential for a miss. In the sniper world you want to use only one bullet, one shot, to minimize being tracked by the sound. Oswald used three, missing the first. He’s just cocking and firing (pointing the gun out the window, by the way, rather than firing from inside), sending bullets down range until the car went out of range and until he lost his target because the President slumped over. Likely Oswald had his own martyrdom death wish going on, thinking he’d go down in history (which he did).
- This assassination was surely a time for the nut jobs to shine. Jack Ruby killing Oswald was simply as we saw it on live TV… another emotionally unstable lone wolf. Again, if you were part of some secret organization or agency could you have planned such a crazy set of unpredictable events involving these unstable guys to try and hide the tracks back to you? I find it a wonderment of sorts that Ruby never went for a head shot. That shot to the abdomen very easily might not have proved fatal to Oswald in today’s world. Even the mob knows that given they have a history of assassination. It’s one thing to use recognized nutcases to do your dirty work to avoid suspicion and throw off investigators, but you want the nutcases stable, smart, and trained or experienced enough to succeed (put the bullet in the right place) because that’s the whole point of it all. Now, it’s quite possible perhaps that Oswald and a beer-drinking buddy sat around and formulated this assassination, thus qualifying for a “conspiracy” (conspiracies are not always done by smart people who know what they are doing), even if there was some link of Ruby and Oswald having met to plan all this (a kind of dumb and dumber scenario). But it seems there’s no evidence of any beer-drinking buddy conspiracy either.
- Finally… I don’t care if your conspiracy theory is the Mafia, the Soviets, the CIA, Castro, or a secret government group hell bent on controlling world events for their own gain… people just can’t keep a secret. We see this in Washington every day. In keeping secrets D.C. is leaky as hell. People naturally want to tell others how important they are, or were. People tell secrets for money, fame, and just plain bragging rights. To presume that some secret bunch of guys sitting around a table managed to do better than Congress and actually agree on an agenda, created a plan involving many people, and carried out the killing of a president for some unknown profit or influence.. is way unbelievable and grossly impractical. Also, to presume there’s a presidential book of secrets is creative and imaginative and makes for good Hollywood but hardly practical given most secrets are not in the influential historical event category but are rather fleeting moments that sooner or later loose importance over time. Also, what president in his right mind would even want to compile a book of secrets anyway.. and what president would want to add to it? It’s rather like having the proverbial smoking gun laying around waiting to be found.
But, having said all that, there is a JFK mystique in general that in part helps to keep alive that moment in time when time seemed to just freeze in our minds. Like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, the Kennedy assassination is a reference point in our lives; when things were never going to be the same afterwards. Yet time marches on and we move on… fifty years later.