No More Silence: An Oral History of the Assassination of President Kennedyby Larry A. Sneed
No More Silence is the first oral history of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, from eyewitness accounts through the police reactions, investigations, and aftermath. Based on in-depth interviews conducted in Dallas, it features narratives of forty-nine key eyewitnesses, police officers, deputy sheriffs, and government officials. Herein/i>
No More Silence is the first oral history of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, from eyewitness accounts through the police reactions, investigations, and aftermath. Based on in-depth interviews conducted in Dallas, it features narratives of forty-nine key eyewitnesses, police officers, deputy sheriffs, and government officials. Herein many cases for the first timeparticipants are allowed to speak for themselves without interpretation, editing, or rewording to fit some preconceived speculation. Unlike the testimony given in the Warren Commission volumes, the contributors openly state their opinions regarding conspiracy and cover-ups.
Of particular interest are the fascinating stories from the Dallas Police Departmentfew of the policemen have come forward with their stories until now. No More Silence humanizes those involved in the events in Dallas in 1963 and includes photographs of the participants around the time of the assassination and as they appear today.
Was there a conspiracy in the assassination of President Kennedy? No More Silence gives readers the best perspective yet on the subject, allowing them to sift through the evidence and draw their own conclusions.
- University of North Texas Press
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- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)
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No More Silence
An Oral History of the Assassination of President Kennedy
By Larry A. Sneed
University of North Texas PressCopyright © 1998 Larry A. Sneed
All rights reserved.
"If any one of us had gotten in to where we could break 'the story of the century,' and that was the conspiracy behind the assassination of Kennedy, no lap dog reporter would have been sitting out there waiting for the story to break ..."
After delivering his hometown newspaper as a boy in West Texas, Jim Ewell became interested in a career in journalism. After attending Hardin-Simmons College, Ewell began as a cub reporter for the Abilene Reporter News. Specializing in crime reporting and interested in police work, he became a part time crime beat reporter for the Dallas Times Herald in 1953, and by 1963 had become a full-time day side crime beat reporter for The Dallas Morning News. In that capacity, Ewell observed the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald at the Texas Theater and wrote extensively about the events of that tragic week end.
The Dallas Morning News was a Republican newspaper in a sea of Democrats across the Southwest, and though Dallas was a conservative city, it was probably an exaggeration that Dallas was that ultra-conservative. I never felt that we were so far politically to the right that it would intoxicate our thinking as sane people. I don't think that was the case. If nothing else, there were some incidents that played into the mind-set that Dallas was this ultra-right stronghold such as the little incident involving Adlai Stevenson when he came to Dallas and was bumped on the head with a small sign. The police were never convinced that that was an actual attempt by that woman to strike Mr. Stevenson. The story we heard was that she was bumped from behind as she was trying to get up in his face with the picket which resulted in his being conked on the forehead. Well, the press made quite a bit of that. They thought it was an insult. Then there was the spitting incident involving Lyndon Baines Johnson when he was Vice-President as he and Lady Bird were crossing the street between two main hotels.
But on the morning of the Kennedys' arrival, The Dallas Morning News printed the "Welcome Mr. Kennedy" full page statement. It created a great deal of controversy because the ad alleged that Kennedy was a traitor. I think this all fell back on his betrayal, to their thinking, of the pull back of American forces from the Bay of Pigs actions in Cuba that might have toppled Fidel Castro. There was also the idea that he was leaning toward the communists since the ad alleged that he was a communist sympathizer.
Kennedy was in Texas to try to shore up factions between the party leaders of the Texas Democrats. The News, as I recall, assigned about nine reporters to different areas of Kennedy's appearance in the city. I was assigned to watch his arrival at Dallas Love Field.
That morning, when I arrived at the airport, there was a large turnout of school kids and rank and file people. There had been a light rain, and as we waited for Air Force One to arrive coming over from Fort Worth, it seemed that when he was spotted the crowd stirred when Air Force One approached Love Field, the clouds parted, the light rain quit, and the sun broke out, making it a gorgeous morning. I thought it was most fitting that all this occurred for the arrival of Kennedy.
Jackie, dressed in her pink suit and hat, which we all remember, was given a large bouquet of red roses. The crowd was absolutely charmed by the President and the First Lady. He was so taken aback, I think, by the reception he got that that's when he broke away from the Secret Service and went to the fence line and went down the row. I was watching all of that, having a pass to be inside the gate as a member of the press. Once the arrival and the greetings were over, the motorcade got started on the appointed route that would take them to downtown Dallas. Now that was the end of my assignment because all I could tell the rewrite people was what I've already described here. I thought it was a very, very warm reception! They had to be impressed.
So I routinely got back in my vehicle and, instead of trying to follow the route of the motorcade down Lemmon Avenue and approaching the east side of downtown, I took the route back on the Stemmons Expressway. My intention was to go back to the pressroom at police headquarters since that was the quickest way for me to get around.
Had everything gone routinely I would have simply called in my notes to a rewrite unless they would have wanted a separate story about what I had seen at the airport. That wasn't likely because there were bigger and better things to come ahead in the Kennedys' visit in Dallas. But the setting was absolutely very cordial. In fact, I think the Kennedys were still swept up in this warmth in the motorcade through downtown Dallas. Now that's the real irony of it! At the west end of downtown Dallas was the sniper waiting for the Kennedy motorcade. They were just a jump from getting back on Stemmons. That's where I met the Kennedy motorcade.
After the shooting, I ran into the motorcade, but it was stretched out, speeding, and I knew immediately that something was wrong, although I had no radio communications at the time to tell me what had taken place. I could see the Secret Service agent hanging on the turtleback. My first thought was that a pedestrian crossing Stemmons had been hit by one of the cars in the motorcade because that was five lanes each way, and pedestrians were crossing that ten lane freeway to get on the side closest to the motorcade. I could not believe that people were risking their lives to cross the freeway in front of my traffic and the northbound traffic. That was the only thing that I could think of that had happened.
When I first saw the motorcade, it must have been halfway between the Triple Underpass and the Trade Mart, somewhere beyond Continental. The speed was what attracted me. First I saw the lead car with Police Chief Jess Curry, then I saw the Kennedys, the Presidential limousine, and then I remember there were three buses carrying the White House Press Corps. All of this was strung out! As I came under the Triple Underpass, coming off Stemmons up Commerce, there was an explosion of ant hills, so to speak, with people still running in every direction. This was within minutes of the assassination. There was a swarm of people mainly over on the Elm Street side going down toward the Triple Underpass.
I turned on my car radio, and I remember that KLIF, the lead spot-news radio station in those days, owned by Gordon McLendon, had a female telephone clerk in the Dallas Police Dispatching Office saying that shots had been fired at the Kennedy motorcade. So I just went up Commerce Street and then went down into the basement of police headquarters where two days later Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby. As I got out of my car, parking it there in the press lot, Sergeant Jerry Hill, who at one time was a former Dallas Times Herald crime beat reporter, came running out, and I said, "Jerry, what the hell's going on?"
And his exact words were, "Some son of a bitch just shot Kennedy!" He then ran around and jumped into a black and white squad car; there was a uniform officer behind the wheel already, so I just ran over there and got in the back seat. This officer drove us back from east to west through downtown on the most circuitous route I can recall, and we were back there at the School Book Depository probably in less than two minutes.
When we arrived the police had their squad cars across the intersection in kind of a circular position. There were officers still standing behind and in front of the squad cars training their shotguns up to the windows of the School Book Depository. We found ourselves standing right out in the middle of the intersection of Houston and Elm. I'm going to say this was probably inside of fifteen minutes from the time that I had seen the swarm of people near the Triple Underpass and heard on the radio that shots had been fired. It happened that quickly!
I had been a newspaper reporter for about fifteen years, and I thought that I was a seasoned professional. But now that the weight of this was coming down on me, I was beginning to get woozy. I felt light headed. But I do remember standing there with the police not knowing if they still had somebody trapped upstairs, or if there was going to be an outbreak of gunfire if they exposed somebody. And again, we didn't know how badly hurt Kennedy was, at least I didn't. Meanwhile Jerry Hill worked his way up to the sixth floor, leaned out an open window, and he had what was thought to be Oswald's little fried chicken lunch. It was in a little pop box. Jerry was holding that box and holding up one of the chicken bones exclaiming to everybody that listened to him down on the street that the fried chicken was what he had been eating. About that time there was a commotion around one of the squad cars, and we could hear a radio saying that an officer had been shot in Oak Cliff.
Looking back on it, and this is more amazing to me right now, all this time I had never made contact with my city desk. I did not have a walkie-talkie like they do today. They didn't know where in the hell I was! They probably didn't know where the hell a lot of the Dallas News reporters were because events were moving so quickly that you had to stay up with it, and you had no time to stop and let them know what you were doing and what they could do to help you.
But, nonetheless, I left the scene of where an attack, a shooting attack, had been staged against the President of the United States to go to investigate, as a reporter, the reported shooting of a Dallas police officer. Now keep in mind, in 1963, you DID NOT shoot policemen! You DID NOT strike policemen! Only in very rare cases did you strike a police officer. Look at what's changed since then! And yet, I left the location at the School Book Depository and jumped into a car driven by Captain Westbrook with Sergeant Stringer. I rode in the back seat as we sped across into Oak Cliff by taking the Houston Street Viaduct right beside the Dallas News.
When we arrived in Oak Cliff, I got a chance to go into a convenience store, McCandles' Minute Market it was called in those days, just down from the Marsailles Public Library, and I did get to make a phone call to the city desk asking them to send me a photographer. They didn't know what I was doing in Oak Cliff. This particular editor was too overpowered by what was going on downtown to pay any attention to what I was trying to tell him, and I know I came out saying, "You know I've got to have a photographer out here!"
As I stepped out of this convenience store, next door to it was a two story boarding house, and there I saw Bill Alexander with an automatic pistol stalking across the balcony very carefully. Alexander always impressed me because, being an assistant district attorney, he was one of those guys from the prosecutor's office that you saw with the cops. He was a squad car prosecutor. You very seldom saw the district attorney outside of his office.
From there we proceeded to a side street down from where they said J.D. Tippit had been shot not far from East Jefferson. There was another police car there as they were examining a jacket next to the curb which had apparently been located by one of the policemen after Oswald had thrown it down as he ran toward Jefferson. I had a jacket just like it. I remember it as being a light tan windbreaker. I was with Westbrook as we all went over to examine the jacket because it was the only tangible thing we had at the moment that belonged to the killer. In fact, I held the jacket in my hands. I remember that they were talking about a water mark on it that was obviously made by a dry cleaning shop.
They were discussing it when the report came in that the person they thought might be the police officer's assailant had gone into the Texas Theater. Now we were on East Jefferson, so I'm thinking that we were about five blocks from that location. Immediately, Captain Westbrook and Sergeant Stringer ran back to their car, which was across the street, and I ran to jump in the backseat. By that time, they were already turning out and accelerating. When I got in the backseat with the door still hanging open, I came out of the car hanging onto the door. They slowed down long enough for me to get back in, as I could have been flung out across the gravel into a curb if I hadn't held on.
Anyway, when we arrived at the Texas Theater, we parked right in front and everybody jumped out and went into the lobby. There were other police cars getting there, too. I was very familiar with the Texas Theater, having lived close by back when we were a younger married couple. At that time, they had some kind of stairway up to the balcony, and I remember somebody kept shouting, "Turn on the house lights! Will somebody please turn on the house lights?"
For some reason, instead of following the police into the main part of the theater, the lower floor, I went up these stairs into the balcony. And there, there must have been about fifteen or twenty high school age boys up there watching. They'd skipped school to watch double feature war movies. One of them was "War Is Hell."
Then there was a commotion. I stepped to the railing where I could look down onto this. Just about that time the house lights came up and Nick McDonald made his move on Oswald. So I'm in a position looking down on where Oswald sat, not knowing who he was. Then I saw the fight that broke out. First, Nick was shouting, and then there was just a swarm of officers that came in. What I'm describing is what appeared to be a football play from above. John Toney remembered that some officer screamed out that they were breaking his arm. Another officer, Paul Bentley, the Chief Polygraph Examiner for the Dallas Police Department, who was well known to us all, came out of there with a broken ankle. What I saw rather astounded me. Someone was trying to hold the barrel of a shotgun, or train the barrel of a shotgun down among the heads of these officers. I thought, "What's he going to do with the shotgun?" I didn't know what was going on, but this person was holding a shotgun; I did see that. And it all happened in a matter of seconds!
When the fight broke out down there, these kids stampeded out of the balcony, then I followed them down. The next thing I recall is that I was out in the street with the car that I arrived in between me and the officers bringing Oswald out of the theater as they kind of separated the crowd and made an aisle for him to come through to get to the car. I'd say that I was about ten to twelve feet away from Oswald at the time. During this sequence of events, I was distracted by the tone of a teenage girl, and we used this in the story because at that time, for teenagers, especially teenage girls to be so profane was just very uncommon. But this girl shouted, "Kill the son of a bitch!" And the Dallas News let us use that. Being a strong family newspaper in 1963, we still used that because it was very pertinent to describe to the readers how supercharged the area was. This was about thirty-five minutes after the shooting of Tippit, so the word apparently had already gotten out around that part of Oak Cliff that they were looking for a cop killer. Evidently this teenage girl got swept up into it to the point that she was that emphatic about what she thought ought to be done to this person later identified as Oswald. There were some other shouts and threats made right there by the crowd which had been brought there by the arrival of all these squad cars with sirens screaming and them screeching up in front and also by the arrival of squad cars in the alley behind the Texas Theater as they came in from the back as well. It was obviously an ugly crowd, but not to the point that they were going to overpower the police officers and try to get the prisoner. Oswald then took my place in the backseat of the same car that I arrived in. So when they left with him, I stood there, stranded. I then hitchhiked a ride with a man in a pickup truck.
By now my mind was just a swirl because things had been moving so fast that I was getting scrambled. It was on the truck radio that we heard that they had pronounced Kennedy dead. That was the first that I realized that he had suffered fatal wounds. The next thing I remember was that I was out in the street. I was actually standing out in the street in front of The Dallas News Building on Houston Street.
I was just barely out of the truck when I saw driving up one of our evening editors, Louis Harris, who was just coming in for the night edition. "Louie, take me to the police station," I said, as I commandeered his car. Louie went into the station with me, and we went up to the third floor. At that time, there still wasn't the congestion that later occurred with all the media coming in. We got into the Homicide and Robbery offices there on the third floor, and in a back room where there was kind of a small squad room sat Oswald.
They had just put him at a table that they used to write their reports on. The room was no larger than eight by twelve at the most with one or two metal tables and some chairs. The detectives normally used it as a squad room. This would have all been just after two o'clock as they drove him straight from the Texas Theater, and it would have taken them no more than fifteen minutes to get him back downtown.
Excerpted from No More Silence by Larry A. Sneed. Copyright © 1998 Larry A. Sneed. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Larry A. Sneed was born and reared in Indiana. He holds a B.S. degree from Indiana State University and two graduate degrees from the University of Georgia. He has been a high school history teacher in the Newton and Gwinnett Public School Systems in Georgia for thirty years. No More Silence is his first published work. He and his wife Barbara live in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
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