John F. Kennedy

John Aielli stands in front of a wall of CDs at the KUT studio in the Belo Center for New Media. According to Aielli, this wall is a small sample of the music available to him at both KUT and his personal music collection.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

KUT radio host John Aielli owes his lengthy 50-year radio career to a stroke of luck — and to a desperate job search he conducted as a teenager. 

In 1963, Aielli had just been accepted into the UT, but the price of room and board proved a roadblock to his enrollment. Aielli deferred his acceptance in order to save up for school and embarked on a job search, finding employment at a local radio station. 

Three years later, Aielli was finally enrolled in UT, and he had started work at KUT 90.5 FM. His periodic fill-ins for different hosts turned into a full-time job after graduation. He continued to work his way up the KUT ranks, and he began hosting his own show, Eklektikos, in 1985. In the 30 years he has hosted the show, Aielli has followed the same formula for his show — which is to say, no formula at all.

From 6–9 a.m., Aielli plays a wide variety of songs, accompanied by strange commentary that is more often than not unrelated to the songs he is playing. His strange ramblings inspired the tribute twitter account “Shit John Aielli Says.”

“The show is just something that I love doing,” Aielli said. “Largely, what I do is inform the public about what’s going on in the community. It’s about finding connections and just about being an idiot and provoke people to have a good time.”  

After 50 years in radio, Aielli said he’s witnessed a number of changes in the music industry. When he first started Djing. Aielli said classical music often dominated the station, but, one record at a time, different types of music began to gain more airtime. 

“Back then, we played a lot of classical, and then it completely changed,” Aielli said. “I remember it was 1963 or ’64, and this guy comes in, hands me this record and tells me to play it right now. It was ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ and I thought it was the most raucous thing I ever heard in my life. Right after that, [The Beatles] became huge.”

Aielli’s radio career gave him the chance to witness global changes beyond the music industry. When Aielli wasn’t DJing, he occasionally reported on current events, including President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the Vietnam War. Aielli said he remembers the newsroom atmosphere when Kennedy
was assassinated. 

“When I started working, John Kennedy was president, and I was on the air when he died,” Aielli said. “We had a newsroom next to us, and it had an AP wire machine, and the bells were going crazy. I’ll never forget that. It was one of the first times I realized just how messed up the world could be.”

His co-workers and listeners know Aielli for his quirky personality. Co-worker Jay Trachtenberg, another UT alumnus, calls Aielli’s eccentricities both lovable and frustrating. Whether noting Aielli’s ritual habit of doing headstands when arriving at the office or observing his aversion to wearing headphones during his show — which at times has resulted in a few minutes of dead air — Trachtenberg said there’s no denying that Aielli is one of a kind.

“Everybody here has John Aielli stories,” Trachtenberg said. “We came from this generation where radio was more of a free-form thing, and John never left that behind. I think at the end of the day, love him or hate him, when he hangs up his spurs, you won’t hear anything like that on the radio again.”

Aielli said even after 50 years of work, he continues to look forward to each new day. 

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Aielli said. “I lucked out. I wound up by default doing something that I really, really love. I get to be in the world of music playing records and talking to musicians. I can’t be happier than that.”

“Government is a tool fashioned when the people join together to win an objective for the greatest good of the greatest number, and which they could not achieve except through united action…” 

—Lyndon B Johnson. April 13, 1946

 

Lyndon Baines Johnson took the oath of office as the 36th President of the United States at 2:39 p.m. Friday in the outer compartment of the airplane bearing the body of his predecessor.

He was sworn in by district judge Sarah T. Hughes, as his wife and Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy stood by his side. Only a few hours before, he had been riding behind the presidential car in the Dallas motorcade that fatefully ended just before reaching a vast highway interchange.

Johnson was surrounded by Secret Service men immediately after shots burst over the applause. He was rushed to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where John F. Kennedy died of a bullet wound in the head.

With that, Texas gained its first president — in one of the state’s blackest moments.

According to the 22nd amendment, Johnson could hold office longer than any president except Roosevelt. The amendment permits him to finish this term and makes him eligible for two more four-year terms after that.

For Johnson, it was a sorrowful means to an end he had spent a good portion of his 55 years to achieve.

When the president was carried into the emergency room, Mrs. Kennedy walked behind — parts of her clothing drenched with blood. 

Shortly after Kennedy’s death — “We never had any hope of saving his life,” said one doctor — Johnson was driven to Dallas’ Love Field where he boarded the presidential jet transport Air Force I.

The plane with Kennedy’s body aboard, arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., at 6:03 p.m.

The body will lie in state at the White House Saturday.

The funeral will be held Monday at St. Matthews Roman Catholic Cathedral, the White House announced Friday night.

The body of the slain president will lie in repose at the White House on Saturday and will lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol on Sunday and Monday.

All who saw or sensed what was happening were stunned almost beyond belief — perhaps none so much as Lyndon B. Johnson, the native Texan who had sought the presidency in vain in 1960 and

was no in line to have it thrust upon him through tragedy.

Sent off to Washington as a 29-year-old congressman in 1937, Johnson stepped boldly into the New Deal-ism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was considered a liberal then, but oddly enough, a conservative tag almost kept him from a national ticket spot in 1960.

One of the first Solons to go into the Armed Forces in World War II, Johnson won a Silver Star for his Navy deeds.

It was then that he went back to the House of Representatives and mourned that the lesson of conflict was “too little, too late…”

His actions still carried the Roosevelt stamp until 1945, the man he was to follow 18 years later died. 

“The liberty-loving people of the world have lost their greatest leader. They have had to say farewell to their greatest friend,” Johnson said.

“President Roosevelt knew his people. He loved people and spent his life working with and for people everywhere. And all of those people — particularly those of us who knew and loved the president — have suffered a shock from which we will not soon recover…”

Johnson became President when a hidden gunman assassinated President Kennedy with a high powered rifle Friday.

THREE SHOTS

Three shots reverberated. Blood sprang from the president’s face. He fell face downward in the back seat of his car. His wife clutched his head and tried to lift it, crying, “No! No!”

Half an hour later, John F. Kennedy was dead and the United States had a new president, Lyndon B. Johnson.

The assassination occurred just as the president’s motorcade was leaving downtown Dallas at the end of a triumphal tour through the city’s streets.

His special car — with the protective bubble down — was moving down an incline into an underpass that leads to a freeway route to the Dallas Trade Mart, where he was to speak.

Witnesses heard three shots. Two hit the President, one in the head and one in the neck.

The third shot wounded Gov. John B. Connally of Texas in the side, but his condition was reported not critical.

“MY GOD!”

As the gunfire rang in the street, a reporter in the caravan screamed, “MY GOD! They’re shooting at the president!”

The motorcade slowed and then sped forward at breakneck speed to Parkland Hospital near the Trade Mart.

Onlookers, terrified at the sight and sound of the assassination, dived face forward for protection onto a grassy park at the entrance of the underpass, fearing more shots. Police swarmed into the scene.

Secret Service men helped Mrs. Kennedy away from the car. Hospital attendants aided Connally and his wife.

The shots were fired at 12:30 p.m. and the president died at 1 p.m. He was 46 and the youngest man ever elected president.

Bob Jackson, a Dallas Times Herald photographer, said he looked around as he heard the shots and saw the rifle barrel disappearing into the upper floor window. He did not see the gunman.

Johnson’s political ambitions carried him to a senatorial flight with Coke Stevenson, which has gained the president more slams than votes. LBJ won by 87 votes, and, to this day, Stevenson supporters tell the story of Duval County, of people coming back from the grave to vote — and of the political machine that led Friday to the White House.

That was in 1948 — and not too many years later, Johnson was welding the Senate together as majority leader.

He followed closely the moves of his great friend, Sam Rayburn, speaker of the house.

Politically, Johnson has sometimes been a mystery, because of his middle-of-the-road policy. You might say he rode the government like a horse – with a leg on either side and sitting tall in the saddle.

A FREE MAN

“I am a free man, an American, a United States senator and a Democrat, in that order,” Johnson once said of himself.

“I am also a liberal, a conservative, a Texan, a taxpayer, a rancher, a businessman, a consumer, a parent, a voter and not as young as I used to be, nor as old as I expect to be — and I am all those things in no fixed order.”

And now he is President of these United States.

Texas Democrats stood in stunned silence Friday afternoon, their happy plans for a gala welcome party for President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy turned into a horrible mockery by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas.

The party was to have been at the Municipal Auditorium, a Texas welcome for the Kennedys and the Johnsons.

OFFICIAL CALLS OFF

At 2:20 p.m. an official announcement of cancellation came.

“Let’s go ahead and have it and make it a prayer meeting for Dallas,” one party worker muttered in shock, reflecting the feeling of sorry and consternation that state Democratic Party leaders voiced.

Austin police were already out removing the no-parking signs which had been set up as barriers — part of the precautions for the Commodore Perry Hotel.

A sprawling pressroom, set up in the hotel basement to be a news command post for the presidential visit, was only partly filled with a scattering of early arriving reporters and a delegation of the Texas Democratic executive staff.

There were tears and prayers as Austin waited during the tense minutes before news of the death of President Kennedy.

While the news was centered on President Kennedy, Austin was filled with particular concern for Gov. John Connally. State democratic executive committee officials gathered in the pressroom were frantically seeking news on Connally, a personal friend of most of them.

Frank Erwin, secretary of the committee and member of the University Board of Regents, announced the cancellation of the dinner and all Austin activities and flew immediately to the bedside of his close personal friend Governor Connally.

Meanwhile, in the lobby of the hotel, a prominent Dallas Democratic party official remarked, “All I can say is that I’m ashamed to say that I’m from Dallas.”

HERE?

While the nation and the world were deep in shock and dismay, Texans had a special reason to feel shame and sorrow. An unidentified Austin businessman echoed feelings and sentiments of Texans all over:

“Why here? Why did a tragedy like this happen in our state?”

And paradoxically, the state that was the scene of the Presidential murder is the birthplace and the home of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States.

In a solemn ceremony lasting only 25 minutes, the Legislature of the State of Texas met in joint session Friday night to pray.

MOST CHAOTIC DAY

It was as if the state seal had been affixed to end the blackest, most chaotic day in the nation’s recent history.

The galleries of the House of Representatives chamber in the capitol building could have seated very few more people. Many students and teenagers were included in the audience. Most of the House desks were occupied — a representative, his wife and his two small children were gathered around one.

Senators and other special guests sat in folding chars which had been arranged on the House floor and to the right of the speaker’s stand.

CAME FOR A BANQUET

Many of those attending had planned to come to Austin Friday for a far different purpose — the scheduled flamboyant banquet honoring the President and Mrs. Kennedy in Municipal Auditorium.

Bryon Tunnell, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, called the special session to order “to salute the memory of the martyred president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, dead of an assassin’s bullet, and to pray for the recovery of our governor, John Connally.”

Of the late President Kennedy and new President Johnson, Tunnel said, “We morn the sudden and violent death of the one, and we ask the Lord’s blessings on the other.”

Lieutenant Governor Preston Smith of Lubbock then introduced the chaplain of the Senate, the Rev. W. H. Townsend of Austin.

Except for the cameras flashing and whirring from the galleries, the atmosphere was church-like. The gray-haired Rev. Townsend prayed into the microphone without notes, clasping a Bible in both hands, eyes closed.

“We stand amazed,” he declared. “Like pilgrims wandering in the wilderness without a guide, we will come before Your presence this moment … Bless our own native Texan as the mantle of leadership falls on his shoulders. Give him courage and strength commensurate with every task.” 

By the time one television cameraman had his equipment set up, the service was over. In spontaneous, solemn session, the people had assured themselves that it was true, and that the nation must go on.

Nov. 22 marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which served to solidify him as an icon in American history and to protect him from the criticisms that other presidents often face, according to experts on campus.

Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 22, 1963 during a Dallas parade.

Journalism professor Bill Minutaglio co-authored “Dallas 1963,” which documents the political unrest during Kennedy’s administration. Minutaglio said in the years and months leading up to Kennedy’s assassination, a few small but powerful groups of people held extremist anti-Kennedy views, but many people today want to deny that there was such a high level of anger in the public discourse.

Minutaglio said the majority of people did not hold these extremist views.

“People want to paint Dallas in black and white terms,” Minutaglio said. “There were a lot of people who liked the president and there were a lot of people who disagreed vehemently, but they respected the office.”

Government professor Bruce Buchanan said Dallas still deals with the aftermath of the presidential assassination.

“Dallas is still consumed by [the Kennedy assassination],” Buchanan said. “I’m not sure that it’s fair for [Dallas] to be the city that killed Kennedy.”

Buchanan said like many young people, he liked Kennedy in part because he portrayed the government in a positive way. When Kennedy was assassinated, Buchanan was a college freshman.

“One of the things that it brought to a young person like me is the impermanence of things,” Buchanan said. “Life is fragile.”

History senior lecturer Penne Restad said traumatic events like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Kennedy’s assassination are secured in people’s minds by families’ stories and images by the media.

“The effects persist and are burnished over time, deeply embedded in our national identity,” Restad said. “I think unless you were watching television or in some ways aware of the day as it happened, it is difficult to understand the profound trauma of Kennedy’s assassination,” Restad said. “We understand it now only as it is reflected in the media. We don’t and cannot experience it as the nation did at the time.”

Buchanan said Kennedy’s multifaceted public image was one reason why the exalted idea of Kennedy has persisted. 

“You have this young, handsome president being witty and self-deprecating and charming at press conferences, but then giving speeches that we had better get in bomb shelters because it could be all over,” Buchanan said. “The yin and yang of that psychologically — the emotional roller coaster of that kind of experience — can imprint a president in one’s psyche, especially if that president later goes on to be assassinated.”

According to Buchanan, Kennedy often ranks near Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but he does not think Kennedy’s merits justify such a high status. 

“It indicates the extent to which this experience canonized Kennedy,” Buchanan said. “Most experts would grade Kennedy as a B- or C+ president,”

Buchanan said had Kennedy lived, he probably would have been subject to the disrespect and low approval ratings that second-term presidents often suffer. Kennedy’s assassination turned him into a permanent icon, Buchanan said. 

According to Buchanan, Kennedy was president during a time when the U.S. faced some of the most serious dangers the nation has ever faced. He said Kennedy successfully managed the nation’s relationship with the Soviets through peace-seeking efforts while fighting off his own military high command who expected to have a war with them.

“It is striking how high Kennedy still stands in the esteem of Americans who were alive at that time,” Buchanan said.

The Daily Texan issue printed the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination focuses on the impact the events had on the state, the University and the student body.

Security at Lyndon Johnson’s ranch was tightened as a result of the assassination, according to an article written by L. Erick Kanter and Juan Vasquez. From a nearby ranch house, Secret Service men gave orders to Texas Highway Patrolmen who were guarding the entrances, usually accessible to the public. 

“It looked as sleepy as normal Friday afternoon. The only visible sign of the tragedy was a United States flag flying at half mast at the small post office.”

Johnson’s daughter Lynda was a student at the University when Kennedy was assassinated.

“Lynda Bird Johnson, University sophomore and daughter of the President, early Friday afternoon was taken from Kinsolving Dormitory where she lives by Secret Service men before the late President John F. Kennedy’s death was announced,” said an article published Nov. 23, 1963.

Other students stayed on campus, shocked and frightened, according to an article written by Caleb Pirtle and Hank Ezell which listed quotes from students:

“Tom Whitaker, freshman, spoke for the majority when he said, ‘This is the biggest shock the country has had since the war. I don’t know about the others, but it scared the hell out of me.’”

“It’s awful. If the same thing happened in France, it would be less a surprise. But they’re prepared for accidents. There was no reason. It must have been a crazy man,” said Michael Dassonville, assistant professor of romance languages.

“When I heard about the president’s death, I just went on to my room. I felt kind of sick. I don’t understand. It just doesn’t make sense,” freshman Betty Klingman said.

One student had a seizure after hearing the news that Kennedy had died.

 

The Texan also published a short article by news editor Charmayne Marsh about Kennedy’s wife’s reaction in Dallas.

“Jacqueline Kennedy took the plain gold band from her finger and placed it on the hand of her dead husband, John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States,” Marsh wrote. 

Vernon O’Neal, director of the O’Neal Funeral Home in Dallas, said in the article that he gave Jacqueline some grease to ensure the ring would stay on her husband’s finger.

“The way she placed it on there, it wouldn’t stay, because her fingers were so small,” O’Neal said.

The article detailed Jacqueline Kennedy’s appearance at the funeral home. Both her hands and her light colored wool suit were covered in blood.

“Her hands looked as if she had on red gloves,” O’Neal said in the article. “The blood dried on them.”

“Mrs. Kennedy fell on top of her husband after he was shot and never left his side. She watched them lower him in the rosy-beige velvet interior of the $5,000 bronze casket.”

Former Gov. John Connally was in the car along with Kennedy when the shooting occurred, Leon Graham wrote in an article.

“Dr. G. T. Shires, chief of surgery at Parkland Hospital, said Connally’s heart would have been pierced had he not moved immediately after President John F. Kennedy was fatally wounded by the assassin’s first bullet.” 

The bullet hit Connally in the back, fracturing several ribs and then emerging through his chest to damage both his leg and wrist, Shires said in the article.

“Connally sustained two tears in one lung, which collapsed. Surgeons, however, were able to repair the damage during the two-hour operation.”

Lee Harvey Oswald was a member of “Fair Play to Cuba Committee,” a program founded by C. Wright Mills, a University alumnus who graduated in 1939.

“Dr. Karl Schmidt, assistant professor of government, said, ‘I have heard that the organization may have had some Communist sympathizers in it, but I don’t know if it was Communist-organized as such.’”

Sociology professor Carl Rosenquist said in the article that Mills was one of the school’s best students.

Photo Credit: Ploy Buraparate | Daily Texan Staff

Fifty years ago, Lee Harvey Oswald, a 24-year-old high school dropout, brought a high-powered rifle up to the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository and with three shots, changed the course of history — at least according to the official story, which only about 30 percent of the population accepts. As we accumulate more evidence and technology to analyze this evidence, the picture zeros in on the unavoidable conclusion that there was no conspiracy, but just one man with a gun.

About 88 percent of the earwitnesses claim to have heard exactly three shots, which would match the findings of the Warren Commission, the group in charge of investigating the President John F. Kennedy’s death. Many of those espousing a conspiracy theory insist that there had to have been more, based on where the victims were shot and in how many places they were shot. Since testimonial evidence is often shaky, investigators looked elsewhere to find something more substantial to support the claim that there were only three shots.

An audio recording of the event would have helped, but the only one we know of was accidentally — some may say conveniently — erased. Additionally, while the famous 8 mm footage taken by Abraham Zapruder features many of the iconic images from the day and provided a wealth of information for the investigation, it doesn’t feature any sound.

We can see exactly when the assassination occurred, but determining the number of shots is still hard. The Warren Report assumed that the first shot fired was the first one that hit and assumed that the shooter missed his second, since witnesses unanimously agreed that the head shot coincided with the final bullet.

This gives a time frame of no more than 5.6 seconds for Oswald to fire three shots with his 6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38 bolt-action, which many conspiracy theorists claim is impossible. It’s not, but it’s irrelevant because the Warren Commission made a mistake in assuming Oswald landed his first shot.

It is difficult to keep a camera steady, particularly when it has a zoom lens, and if the operator is startled while holding it by something like a gunshot, a hand jerk can affect the image. By analyzing these movements in the Zapruder film, we learned that the first shot did not coincide with any human impact and that there was actually a time difference of eight seconds or so between the first and final shots, leaving more than enough time for Oswald to fire all three.

Could there have been more than three shots? If they came at nearly the same time, absolutely — at least based on this single piece of analysis. But we also have forensic evidence in the form of bullet fragments recovered from the bodies of President Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally.

By bombarding these fragments with neutrons, forensic scientists can create radioactive particles which produce a signal that gives a clear indication of the concentrations of certain elements in the fragments, which can be used as a kind of bullet fingerprint. Since the type of bullets used in the assassination have almost no uniformity from one to another, even among those made in the same production line, these tests confidently determined that there were only two different bullets that struck Kennedy and Connally.

But did they both come from the window of the depository?

The most shocking piece of the Zapruder film, and what most believe is the most compelling evidence that there had to be a second gunman, comes around frame 313. This is when the third bullet struck the president in the skull and Kennedy’s head moves back towards the direction the shot came from. It looks like the only way to induce that kind of movement would be for there to be a second gunman in the grassy knoll facing the front of the automobile.

But gunshots don’t work the same way in real life as they do in the movies. To simulate what a high-powered rifle does to a human head, Nobel Prize winning physicist Luis Alvarez bought a melon, wrapped it in tape and shot it. 

This caused the insides of the fruit to explode and leave the melon by way of the hole the bullet made when it left the fruit. With all that mass leaving in the direction of the bullet, the rest of the melon reacts by falling in the opposite direction. This “Jet Effect” is completely counterintuitive, but it follows from high school-level physics.

We all react differently to tragedies and many are still trying to make sense of the events of Nov. 22, 1963. It’s also natural and patriotic to question the government. The more extreme the claim, though, the better the evidence required. There’s not nearly enough to support the idea that anyone other than Oswald was involved in the death of the 35th president.

Sid Davis, Julian Reed, Ben Barnes and Larry Temple participate in a panel discussing the John F. Kennedy assassination at the LBJ Library on Tuesday evening. 

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Several figures who either witnessed or were involved in planning President John F. Kennedy’s Dallas tour in 1963 dismissed several Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories on campus Tuesday.

The Lyndon B. Johnson Library hosted the discussion in light of the upcoming 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, which occurred Nov. 22, 1963.

Larry Temple, then an aide to then-Texas Governor John Connally, said he wanted to debunk several conspiracy theories that have developed over the past 50 years. 

According to Temple, Kennedy was not in Dallas to settle divisions within the Democratic party, despite myths which say otherwise. 

“The trip was political, there’s no doubt about that,” Temple said. “One, for fundraising, and two, to get around the state so the president could use it as a base for the 1964 election campaign.”

Ben Barnes, a state representative at the time, said pundits mistakenly asserted Kennedy considered taking Johnson off the vice presidential ballot. But without Johnson, Kennedy could not win Texas, a key state to winning the next election. 

Barnes also said Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who shot Kennedy and Connally, obtained a job at a book depository several weeks before the parade, and the parade route was changed to pass near Oswald’s workplace. The reason this change was made only days before the event was to give Jackie Kennedy more time to arrive at another reception.

The speakers noted Texans were supportive and excited to see the Kennedys during the 1963 tour.

“The crowd was cheerful,” said Sid Davis, a reporter at the parade. “There was no sign that there was going to be any problems.”

Julian Read, who was the press secretary to Connally, said mobs lined the streets and school children were on their parents’ backs during the Dallas parade. 

After Kennedy’s assassination, many Texans felt long-standing bitterness toward Texas, according to Temple.

“There was a feeling of shame from a lot of people that this had happened in their own backyard,” Temple said. 

Reed said there was also a lot of bitterness felt by other Americans toward Texans. 

“[One] woman had to change [her] address from Dallas to Fort Worth because she lost so much business from people,” Read said.

Davis was one of the three pool reporters on board Air Force One when Johnson was sworn into presidential office following Kennedy’s death. 

Davis said when he covered Johnson’s swearing-in, Johnson’s solemnity and First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s courage stood out to him. Davis said Johnson sent word to the back of the airplane to ask Jackie Kennedy if she would like to stand next to Johnson as he was sworn into office. Although John F. Kennedy’s aids were sobbing, Jackie Kennedy — with blood congealed on both legs and brain matter on her skirt and blouse — walked to the front of the plane without crying. 

After the ceremony, Davis said Johnson did not want the day to turn into a celebration.

“[Johnson] fended off any effort to congratulate him,” Davis said.

The talk aired live on the Texas Longhorn Network. 

Fifty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, four-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Hugh Aynesworth published “November 22, 1963: Witness to History.” As the only reporter to witness JFK’s assassination, Lee Henry Oswald’s arrest and Oswald’s assassination by Jack Ruby, Aynesworth gives a factual recounting of what he has uncovered after a lifetime of reporting. 

The Daily Texan interviewed Aynesworth at the Texas Book Festival this weekend. 

Daily Texan: First, can you describe what you witnessed the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination? 

Hugh Aynesworth: The day it happened, I wasn’t assigned to it, but I just thought I had to go see the president. I just walked over close to the depository building, really because the crowds were a little less over that way. I hadn’t been over there but, oh, probably five minutes when the motorcade passed me with the Kennedys. They were so happy. The crowd was, too. But then I heard what I thought was a motorcycle backfire, but it wasn’t. That was the first shot. And I didn’t know that for three or four seconds, then I heard another shot, then a third in I don’t know how many seconds. I probably would have run if I’d had a place to run, but we didn’t know because we didn’t know who was shooting, how many were shooting, where they were shooting from or why. 

DT: In all of this chaos, what made you instinctively go into reporter’s mode. Can you explain your mindset during both of the assassinations? 

HA: I really can’t. I was puzzled. I didn’t know what to do. I was a little bit scared, not totally, but I just knew that I had to start interviewing people, and it just kicked in. 

DT: I read that you were the only reporter invited to Ruby’s funeral. What do you make of that?

HA: I gave them some information, Ruby’s lawyers. He got the death penalty in March of ’64. He’d been in jail until January of ’67 when he died, had cancer. I helped the Ruby family, I saw them as they came out of the hospital, and they took me with them to help plan the funeral. They didn’t know how to do it. They didn’t know his birth date. They didn’t know about his army record, or that he had certain benefits. So I helped them with that, and so they said, “You’ll go to the funeral with us, won’t you?” and I had just joined Newsweek magazine and I called the editor and he said, “My god, why aren’t you on the plane already?” Conspiracy theories were already being formed and I talked the family into letting three news people in to view the body. I’m real glad I did it because you haven’t heard any conspiracies about it not being Ruby.

DT: Why, 50 years after the event, did you decide to publish a book?

HA: Well, I’ve been working all this time. I’ve been running down conspiracy theories, and I’ve done a lot of editing. I just don’t have time to stop. I’ve been all over the world for various occasions, and I’ve covered a lot of other things. It was just time. 

DT: As the only reporter still having witnessed these events, what responsibilities do you think come with that?

HA: To tell the truth, and that’s first and foremost, and it’s costly because all of these conspiracy people hate me.

DT: What advice would you give to young journalists as they interpret news today?

HA: You know, I can’t answer that because I look at news today and I am distraught. I see so much that is not news but is opinion, and that is, this new technology that has forced this on us, in a 24-hour news cycle … Technology has over taken us and we haven’t learned exactly how to do it.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

“Parkland,” the first film by director Peter Landesman, is not concerned with conspiracies. 

The latest film to focus on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963 ignores the ‘mysteries’ that have spawned in the half century since the national tragedy of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Prior examinations, most notably Oliver Stone’s 1991 thriller “JFK,” tend to involve discussions of multiple shooters and secret autopsies. “Parkland” chooses instead to chronicle the morning of the shooting and the various doctors, lawmen and citizens who were directly affected. This November marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination, and “Parkland” addresses the event not with conjecture but with an emotional tale of shock and grief. 

The film is named for the hospital where Kennedy and, two days later, Lee Harvey Owsald were taken after being shot and it takes place primarily in the trauma room. Zac Efron, Colin Hanks and Marcia Gay Harden play the surgeons and head trauma nurse that tried to save Kennedy’s life when he was brought in. Paul Giamatti plays Abraham Zapruder, the woman’s clothing store owner who captured the footage of the shooting. Finally, James Badge Dale and Jacki Weaver play Robert and Marguerite Oswald, Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother and mother. 

Surprisingly, the film spends a significant amount of its 93-minute runtime on Oswald’s family. Though there is not a single weak point in the sizable cast, Dale and Weaver stand out for their characters’ differing reactions to the crime. Dale is heartbreaking in his portrayal of Robert, a man trying to accept the fact that, because of Lee’s actions, the Oswalds have become the most hated family in America. Weaver is darkly comical as Marguerite, who spent the rest of her life claiming that Lee was actually a spy for the U.S. government. 

The film, which partially adapted Vincent Bugliosi’s 1,600-page tome “Four Days in November,” brings to light a number of little known facts about that fateful day. Dr. Jim Carrico (Efron), the surgeon who was with the president for more than 15 minutes before the chief of surgery arrived, was only the chief resident of Parkland Memorial Hospital. Secret Service had to brawl with Texas Police to get the body onto Air Force One. 

While the movie should attract plenty of history buffs for its authentic restaging of a major historical moment, the real appeal of “Parkland” is as an emotional drama. By wholeheartedly rejecting everything to do with conspiracy and mystery and focusing just on the short period of time following the shooting, the film is able to frame a portrait of raw horror and shock that captures the stunned reaction of an entire nation.

“Parkland” focuses primarily on the witnesses to the crime, but major players including Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) and Oswald (Jeremy Strong) make brief appearances. Refreshingly, they are played as humans rather than the larger-than-life historical characters they’re known as today. The portrayal of Jackie as nothing more than a woman whose husband just died violently is representative of the film as a whole. 

“Parkland” is not about the politics or the history of that November day. It is a character-driven drama about a horrific crime and the fallout of the immediate aftermath. “Parkland” captures the wounded spirit of a shocked nation, and the result is both a new way to view an already heavily analyzed moment in history and one of the best movies of the year so far.

In this photo provided by Barrett-Jackson, the white hearse used to transport President John F. Kennedy’s body following his assassination in Dallas is shown at auction Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DALLAS — The man who paid $176,000 for the white hearse used to transport President John F. Kennedy’s body following his assassination in Dallas plans to include it in his collection of about 400 cars in Colorado.

Stephen Tebo, a collector and real estate developer from Boulder, bought the hearse Saturday that was being offered by Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. of Scottsdale, Ariz. It sold for a bid of $160,000, plus a $16,000
buyer’s premium.

The 1964 Cadillac hearse carried Kennedy’s body as well as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy from Parkland Memorial Hospital to Air Force One at Dallas’ Love Field for the flight back to Washington on Nov. 22, 1963, according to the auction company.

“It was a solemn duty that it had taking him from the hospital where he was pronounced dead to Air Force One,” said Craig Jackson, CEO and chairman of the auction company. “I think everybody in the world remembers watching the hearse leave the hospital, heading toward Air Force One. It just sort of sunk into everybody that he’s gone.”

The hearse had been on display at a funeral home directors’ convention in Dallas in October 1963, the auction company said. After the convention, O’Neal Funeral Home of Dallas bought the hearse. It was that funeral home that was called upon to transport the president’s body.

In the late 1960s, the hearse was bought by Arrdeen Vaughan, a Texas man who owns funeral homes and a funeral vehicle business. He kept it in a private collection for more than four decades before selling it to the person who eventually put it up for auction.

Tebo said he plans to turn his car collection into a museum, hopefully in five to 10 years. The collection in Longmont, just outside of Boulder, is not currently open to the public, but Tebo does open it up four times a year to different nonprofit groups to help them raise money.

Other cars in his collection include a 1965 Rolls Royce custom made for John Lennon, a taxi used in the TV show “Seinfeld” and a jeep Frank Sinatra used on his ranch.

Tebo said he had expected the hearse would sell for anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, so he wasn’t planning on bidding. But he jumped it when he saw the bids weren’t likely to go that high. As a collector, he said he tries to buy significant vehicles when possible.

Tebo said he wanted the hearse because of its historical significance.

“We remember specifically seeing the hearse leaving the hospital and driving very, very slowing to Air Force One and loading the casket on Air Force One. It was just an incredibly dramatic time in our lives,” Tebo said.