Fifty years later, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is being relived by those old enough to remember. The emotions of the country were thrown into a whirlwind of grief and disbelief on that November day in 1963.
Veteran CBS Newsman Bob Schieffer was a young reporter for the Fort Worth Star Telegram at the time. On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, he was in bed asleep after having worked the all-night shift. “When it came over the radio that this trouble had erupted, my brother ran in and woke me up and said, ‘You’d better get up. Apparently the President has been shot!'”
Schieffer recalls, “I got to the city room. It was in total chaos. They had sent most every reporter that worked there to Dallas where the shooting had taken place. I was upset that I hadn’t been one of those assigned to cover him when he came to Fort Worth. As a reporter, there’s nothing like being where a big story is happening and you’re not a part of it.”
But what happened next placed Schieffer on a unique page in history. Schieffer says, “The phone rings. I pick it up and a woman says, ‘Is there anybody there who can give me a ride to Dallas?’ And I said, ‘Well ma’am, you know we don’t run a taxi service here. And besides, the President’s been shot.’ And she said, ‘Yes, I just heard it on the radio. I think my son is the one they’ve arrested.’ And it was Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother.”
Schieffer told her not to answer any more phone calls. He would be right there to pick her up. “Sure enough at the address that this woman had given us, there stood this little gray-haired woman in a white practical nurse’s uniform carrying a little blue travel bag. And she got in the back seat with me, and we drove her to Dallas.”
Schieffer says what she talked about on the way was strange. “The President had been dead only a few hours and she was already speculating about would people give his wife money, her son’s wife money…and that no one would remember her and she’d probably starve to death because she’d never get another job. It was the most bizarre conversation I’ve ever had with anyone.”
According to Schieffer, Marguerite Oswald never told him whether she thought her son killed President Kennedy.
When they arrived at the Dallas Police Department, Schieffer continues, “We were ushered into this holding room off the jail and standing there I’m thinking, my heavens, if I don’t get to interview this guy, I’m going to hear what he talks to his mother about. I mean, this was the biggest story I’d been involved in.”
But his near rendezvous with Lee Harvey Oswald never materialized. “A guy standing over in the corner said, ‘Who are you?’ And I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Are you a reporter?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ And he said, ‘Son, you get out of here because if I ever see you again I’m going to kill you.’ He was so mad I think he might have,” Schieffer said with a big grin.
Schieffer’s story about his encounter with Mrs. Oswald was part of the Star Telegram’s early coverage of the assassination. His story appeared on page A-2.
Schieffer says he and his CBS colleague Walter Cronkite talked about the Kennedy assassination many, many times. Schieffer recalls, “The way Walter handled that, I mean, that’s what Walter was so good at. He almost lost it there at one point. But there was nothing sensational. Walker worked through that story just like you would work through any story. The way he handled that with this dignity, I think those were the qualities that made Walter, Walter.”
The Warren Commission found that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President Kennedy. When I asked him what he thought, Schieffer said, “As far as I’m concerned the Warren Commission got it right, but I still have an open mind about that. Maybe some day we’ll find the evidence that convinces us that somebody else was involved. At this point I haven’t seen that.”
I asked Schieffer if he ever pondered what would be different about America had Kennedy not been assassinated that day. He responded, “You know, that’s a very interesting question. I’m not sure that Jack Kennedy could have passed the civil rights legislation that Lyndon Johnson did. Kennedy was glamorous. I think he inspired a lot of young people to go into government and public service. But his legislative record was not all that great, and he was not very good at getting the Congress to move. Johnson knew which buttons you pushed. He compiled a remarkable civil rights record. I mean those things would have eventually happened I suppose, but probably not as quickly as they did.”