Killing Kennedy, p.1Bill O'Reilly
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This book is dedicated to my ancestors, the Kennedys of Yonkers, New York.
Hardworking, generous, and honest folks.
A Note to Readers
Part I: Cheating Death
Part II: The Curtain Descends
Part III: Evil Wins
About the Authors
A Note to Readers
NOVEMBER 22, 1963
MINEOLA, NEW YORK
APPROXIMATELY 2:00 P.M.
The students in Brother Carmine Diodati’s freshman Religion class were startled. Over the loudspeaker, a radio report crackled into the Chaminade High School classroom. President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas, and taken to the hospital. A short time later we would all learn he was dead. No one knew what to say.
Most Americans born before 1953 remember exactly where they were when they heard the news that JFK had been assassinated. The days following that terrible Friday were filled with sadness and confusion. Why did it happen? Who really killed the president? What kind of country did we live in anyway?
The assassination of JFK was somewhat personal for me. My maternal grandmother was born Winifred Kennedy, and my Irish-Catholic family had deep emotional ties to the young president and his family. It felt as if someone in my own home had died violently. Like most kids on Long Island, I didn’t care much about national politics. But I vividly remember pictures of JFK displayed in the homes of my relatives. To them, he was a saint. To me, he was a distant figure who died in a terrible way, his brain splattered all over the trunk of a car. The vision of his wife, Jacqueline, crawling onto the back of the limo in order to retrieve the president’s shattered skull has stayed with me always.
* * *
Martin Dugard and I were well pleased that millions of people read and enjoyed Killing Lincoln. We want to make history accessible to everyone. We want to tell readers exactly what happened and why, using a style that is entertaining as well as informative. After chronicling the last days of Abraham Lincoln, the progression to John Kennedy was a natural.
It has been widely pointed out that the two men had much in common. In fact, the parallels are amazing:
Lincoln was first elected in 1860, Kennedy in 1960.
Both were assassinated on a Friday, in the presence of their wives.
Their successors were both southerners named Johnson who had served in the Senate.
Andrew Johnson was born in 1808, Lyndon Johnson in 1908.
Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846, while Kennedy was elected to the House in 1946.
Both men suffered the death of children while in office.
The assassin Booth shot inside a theater and fled into a storage facility, while the assassin Oswald shot from a storage facility and fled into a theater.
Back in 1963, few Americans understood how profoundly the assassination of JFK would change the country. These days, history is a difficult thing to impart, especially because of political agendas. In this book, we will try to cut through the fog and bring you the facts. Unfortunately, some of the facts are still not known. In our narrative, Martin Dugard and I go only as far as the evidence takes us. We are not conspiracy guys, although we do raise some questions about what is unknown and inconsistent.
However, before you proceed further, please know that this is a fact-based book and some of what you will read has never before been publicly stated.
The truth about President Kennedy is sometimes gallant, and sometimes disturbing. The truth about how and why he was murdered is simply atrocious. But all Americans should know the story.
It’s all here in this book. It is my special privilege to bring it to you.
Long Island, New York
MAY 29, 1917–NOVEMBER 22, 1963
JANUARY 20, 1961
The man with fewer than three years to live has his left hand on the Bible.
Chief Justice Earl Warren stands before him reciting the Presidential Oath of Office. “Do you, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, do solemnly swear…”
“I, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, do solemnly swear,” the new president repeats in a clipped Boston accent. His gaze is directed at the jurist whose name will one day be synonymous with Kennedy’s own death.
The new president, born into wealth, has a refined manner of speaking that would seem to distance him from the electorate. But he is an enthusiastic and easily likeable man’s man. He joked openly about his father’s vast riches during the campaign, defusing that divisive issue with humor and candor so that average Americans would trust him when he spoke about making America better. “Poor men in West Virginia heard a man from Boston say he needed their help, and they gave it. In the alien corn of Nebraska, with a familiar chopping motion of his right hand, he explained that America can be ‘great-ah,’ and the farmers knew what he meant,” one writer noted of Kennedy’s broad appeal.
But not everyone loves JFK. He won the popular vote over Richard Nixon by a razor-thin margin, garnering just 49 percent of the tally. Those farmers might have known what Kennedy meant, but 62 percent of Nebraskans voted for Nixon.
“That you will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States.”
“That I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States…”
Eighty million Americans are watching the inauguration on television. Twenty thousand more are there in person. Eight inches of thick, wet snow have fallen on Washington, D.C., overnight. The army had to use flamethrowers to clear the roads. The sun now shines on the Capitol Building, but a brutal wind strafes the crowd. Spectators wrap their bodies in sleeping bags, blankets, thick sweaters, and winter coats—anything to stay warm.
But John Kennedy ignores the cold. He has even removed his overcoat. At age forty-three, JFK exudes fearlessness and vigor. His lack of coat, top hat, scarf, or gloves is an intentional ploy to burnish his athletic image. He is trim and just a shade over six feet tall, with greenish-gray eyes, a dazzling smile, and a deep tan, thanks to a recent vacation at his family’s Palm Beach home. But while JFK looks like the picture of health, his medical history has been troubling. Kennedy has already been administered the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church on two separate occasions. His medical woes will continue to trouble him in the years to come.
“And will, to the best of your abili
“And will, to the best of my ability…”
In the sea of dignitaries and friends arrayed all around him, there are three people vital to Kennedy. The first is his younger brother and reluctant choice for attorney general, Bobby. The president values him more for his honesty as an adviser than for his legal ability. He knows Bobby will always tell him the truth, no matter how brutal it may be.
Behind the president is the new vice president, Lyndon Johnson. It can be said, and Johnson himself believes, that Kennedy won the presidency because of this tough, tall Texan. Without Johnson on the ticket, Kennedy might never have won the Lone Star State and its treasure trove of 24 electoral votes. As it was, the Kennedy-Johnson ticket won by the slender margin of 46,000 votes in Texas—a feat that must be replicated if Kennedy is to win a second term.
Finally, the new president spies his young wife just behind Justice Warren’s left shoulder. Jackie Kennedy is radiant in her taupe suit and matching hat. Dark brown hair and a fur collar frame her unlined face. Her amber eyes sparkle with excitement; she is not showing a hint of fatigue despite having stayed up until 4:00 A.M. The booze flowed freely at preinaugural celebrations thrown by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Leonard Bernstein. Jackie returned to their house in Georgetown long before the parties wound down, but her husband did not accompany her. When Jack finally showed up, just before 4:00 A.M., he found his wife wide awake, too excited to sleep. As the snow continued to fall on the stranded motorists and the impromptu bonfires lining the streets of Washington, the young couple sat together in early-morning conversation. He told her about a late dinner organized by his father, and they talked with excitement about the inauguration ceremony. It would be an extraordinary day, with the promise of many more to come.
John F. Kennedy well understands that the public adores Jackie. Just last night, when crowds on the snowy Washington streets glimpsed the Kennedys driving past in their limousine, the president-elect asked that the inside lights be turned on so that the people might glimpse his wife. Jackie’s glamour, sense of style, and beauty have captivated America. She speaks fluent French and Spanish, secretly chain-smokes filtered cigarettes, and prefers champagne to cocktails. Like her husband, Jackie has a dazzling smile, but she is the introvert to his extrovert. Her trust in outsiders is scant.
Despite her glamorous image, Jackie Kennedy has already known great tragedy during their seven years of marriage. She miscarried their first child, and the second was a stillborn baby girl. But she has also enjoyed the birth of two healthy children, Caroline and John Jr., and the stunning ascension of her dashing young husband from a Massachusetts politician to president of the United States.
The sadness is now behind her. The future looks limitless and bright. The Kennedy presidency seems destined to be, in the words of a new hit play that just opened at Broadway’s Majestic Theater, much like the mythical Camelot, a place where “there’s simply not a more congenial spot, for happily-ever-aftering.”
* * *
“Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States…”
“Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States…”
Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, stands next to Jackie. Behind Kennedy stand Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Harry Truman.
Normally, having just one of these dignitaries at an event means heightened security. Having all of them at the inaugural, sitting so closely together, is a security nightmare.
The Secret Service is on high alert. Its job is to protect the president. The fifty-five-year-old career agent and leader of the service, Chief U. E. Baughman, has been in charge since Truman was president. He believes that Kennedy’s athleticism and fondness for wading into crowds will make guarding him a challenge unlike any other in the Service’s history. The lean Baughman, with his trademark crew cut, almost cleared the inaugural stand three times today out of concern for presidential safety. On one occasion, blue smoke poured from the lectern during the invocation, and there was fear that it was a bomb. Agents rushed to investigate. As it turned out, the smoke came from the motor that raised and lowered the lectern. Stopping the problem was as simple as turning off the motor. Now Baughman’s agents scan the crowd, nervous about the close proximity of the vast audience. One well-trained zealot with a pistol could kill the new president, two former presidents, and a pair of vice presidents with five crisp shots.
Baughman is well aware of another chilling fact. Since 1840, every president elected in a twenty-year cycle has died in office: Harrison, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, and Roosevelt. Yet no president has been assassinated for almost sixty years, thanks to the expertise of the Secret Service. Just last month, agents foiled an attempt on Kennedy’s life by a disgruntled former postal worker who planned to blow him up with dynamite. Nonetheless, Baughman is faced with a haunting question: Will the chain of presidential deaths be broken, or will Kennedy be its next link?
JFK laughs off suggestions that he might die in office. Just to prove that he isn’t a believer in omens, the new president has chosen to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom during his first few nights in the White House—the ghost of Abe apparently of no concern.
“So help you God.”
“… So help me God.”
The oath complete, Kennedy shakes Chief Justice Warren’s hand, then those of Johnson and Nixon. Finally, he stands toe to toe with Eisenhower. The two men smile cordially, but there is steel in their eyes. Eisenhower’s condescending nickname for Kennedy is “Little Boy Blue.” He thinks him callow and incapable of governing, and finds it galling that a man who was a mere lieutenant during the Second World War is taking over the presidency from the general who directed the D-Day invasion. For his part, Kennedy sees the old general as a man little interested in righting the wrongs of American society—a top priority for JFK.
Kennedy is the youngest president ever elected. Eisenhower is the oldest. The great divide in their ages also represents two very different generations of Americans—and two very different views of America. In just a moment, Kennedy will deliver an inaugural address that will make those differences clearer than ever.
The thirty-fifth president of the United States lets go of Eisenhower’s hand. He pivots slowly to his left and stands at the podium bearing the presidential seal. Kennedy looks down at his speech, then lifts his eyes and gazes out at the thousands of frozen faces before him, knowing that the crowd is impatient. The ceremony started late, the invocation by Cardinal Richard Cushing was extremely long, and the eighty-six-year-old poet Robert Frost was so blinded by the sun that he was unable to read the special verses he’d written for the occasion. Nothing, it seems, has gone according to plan. What these freezing people long for is something redemptive. Some words that will signal a shift from the stagnant state of Washington politics. Words that will heal a nation divided by McCarthyism, terrified of the cold war, and still struggling with racial segregation and discrimination.
Kennedy is a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, having received the award for his book Profiles in Courage. He knows the value of a great inaugural address. For months he has fussed over the words he is about to recite. Just last night, when the lights were turned on inside the car to make Jackie visible to onlookers, he reread Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural address—and found his own lacking by comparison. This morning, he rose after just four hours of sleep and, pencil in hand, scrutinized his speech again and again and again.
His words resonate like a psalm. “Let the word go forth from this time and place, from 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…”
This is no ordinary inaugural address. This is a promise. America’s best days are still to come, Kennedy is saying, but only if everyone pitches in to do his part. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” he commands, his voice rising to deliver the de
The address will be hailed as an instant classic. In less than 1,400 words, John Fitzgerald Kennedy defines his vision for the nation. He now sets the speech aside, knowing that the time has come to fulfill the great promise he has made to the American people. He must manage the issue with Cuba and its pro-Soviet leader, Fidel Castro. He must tackle problems in a faraway land known as Vietnam, where a small band of U.S. military advisers is struggling to bring stability to a region long rocked by war. And here at home, the power of the Mafia crime syndicates and the divisiveness of the civil rights movement are two crucial situations requiring immediate attention. And on a much more personal level, he must negotiate the animus between Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who despise each other.
JFK surveys the adoring crowd, knowing that he has much work to do.
But not all those invited to the inauguration have turned up. The famous entertainers attending the previous night’s parties were promised prime seats for this pivotal moment in American history, but owing to the cold and a 100-proof celebration that stretched into the wee small hours, singer Frank Sinatra, actor Peter Lawford, and composer Leonard Bernstein—along with a host of others—opted to sleep late and watch the event on television. “I’ll see the president’s second inaugural” is their common refrain.
But there will be no second inaugural. For John Fitzgerald Kennedy is on a collision course with evil.
* * *
Approximately 4,500 miles away, in the Soviet city of Minsk, an American who did not vote for John F. Kennedy is fed up. Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine Corps sharpshooter, has had enough of life in this Communist nation.
Oswald is a defector. In 1959, at age nineteen, the slightly built, somewhat handsome, enigmatic drifter decided to leave the United States of America, convinced that his socialist beliefs would be embraced in the Soviet Union. But things haven’t gone according to plan. Oswald had hoped to attend Moscow University, even though he never graduated from high school. Instead, the Soviet government shipped him more than four hundred miles west, to Minsk, where he has been toiling in an electronics factory.
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