'Everything in me ached'
The day Kennedy flew into Dallas, my assignment was to wrap up the security angle. If any trouble developed, I reasoned, it would be on the President's arrival at Dallas Love Field. I drove to the airport and joined Grove, Harris and Biffle on the field. Among the first I spotted was Police Chief Curry. No evidence of concern on his face, I thought. In fact, Curry was in a jovial mood. All around, security preparations were in order, and Curry sensed this.
I know the reporters joked about some nut taking a pot shot at Kennedy and I remarked, "If something like that happens I'm, leaving town."
As Kennedy and party were whisked away for the motorcade parade, I walked back to my car and spent the next 30-40 minutes working my way out of traffic.
Now on Stemmons southbound, I noticed people getting out of cars on both shoulders of the expressway as I neared the Trade Mart. People were running across the freeway, and my thoughts turned to the possibility of someone getting mowed down by the cars in their desire to catch a glimpse of the motorcade turning into the Trade Mart.
Beyond the Trade Mart, the crowds on the sides of the freeway were thicker, so I pulled off and stopped. I'd catch another sight of Kennedy. I remember seeing the Kennedy car top an overpass. The car flashed past me. I could see a man sprawled on the trunk and hanging on for dear life.
I sensed something out of order. The press busses strung out and pressing to catch up.
I kept wondering why that man was lying across the back of the President's car.
As I passed through the Triple Underpass, on Commerce, I saw the crowd to my left. My first thought: some pederstrian in his zeal to get a close up of the President had stepped into the motorcade.
I saw Grove run out of the crowd and flag a Volkeswagen panel truck on Elm. I heard someone yell, "Larry."
I switched on KLIF as a bulletin came on: "Three shots have been fired at President Kennedy's motorcade."
I kept saying, "Oh hell, oh hell." I cursed myself for being in traffic and unable to get to a phone to call the desk.
I know the thought kept occuring to me that the right had flipped their lids.
Turning into the police basement the radio had some gal in the police dispatcher's office reporting that the injured were being taken to Parkland Hospital.
I met Police Sgt. Jerry Hill as I ran up to the basement jail office.
"What the hell's happening?"
"Kennedy's been shot."
I couldn't believe his words. Hill ordered a police car and I jumped in with him.
The driver, a patrolman, drove us a breakneck speed to the book depository.
The place was filled with cops, every kind. Cops were standing side by side either aiming shotguns or rifles at the building or cradling their weapons.
Aynesworth came up. I don't remember for sure, but I think I asked him if the city desk had been alerted.
Sgt. Hill came out of the building and told us about finding the sniper's nest on the sixth floor, about the remnants of fried chicken, etc.
Sheriff Decker showed up. He was very grim faced. He had ridden in the lead car with Chief Curry and Secret Service agent-in-charge Forrest Sorrells.
Decker perhaps knew then that Kennedy had been fatally wounded, but all he'd say was "it looks bad."
One couldn't help hearing the blare over the police car radios around me. I heard Sgt. Gerald Henslee, the chief dispatcher, dispatching cars to Oak Cliff on a report a cop had been shot.
Aynesworth ran up to me and asked if one of us shouldn't go to Oak Cliff.
"Take off, I''ll stay here," I told Aynesworth. I saw him run toward a carload of cops.
Police Capt. W.R. Westbrook and a Sgt. Stringer headed for a car and asked if I wanted to come along. I piled in and rode with them across the Houston Street Viaduct. I kept wondering if my decision to leave the book depository had been a mistake, but I wanted to know what cop had been shot.
The police radio talked of a suspect running south from the 400 block of East 10th Street, and squads were converging on this area.
I left the squad car at a 7-11 store on East Jefferson and called the city desk, getting Bogen on the line. I told him I needed a photographer, that the cops were running all over the place for someone who had shot an officer.
When I rejoined cops I knew they were searching a ancient 2-story apartment house on East Jefferson. I saw Asst. DA Bill Alexander cross the balcony porch with pistol drawn.
I remember thinking, "Well, Bill is getting to use his gun." Bill has long carried a pistol which had made him the butt of many jokes among newsmen.
I saw Sgt. Hill and asked him what cop had been shot.
"J.D. Tippit," he answered.
I didn't recognize the name.
Hill said Tippit was probably DOA.
It was in my mind and I think it was in the minds of most cops that Tippit's shooting had some connection with the assassination.
Ewell was at the Texas Theatre (shown the night of Nov. 22) when Oswald was arrested there.
The search moved west on East Jefferson toward the main district of Oak Cliff. I was standing beside a squad car with Sgt. Stringer, who was examining a waist length cotton jacket the cop killer had abandoned, when the radio reported that the suspect had been seen entering the Texas Theater. I saw Sgt. Hill running toward a squad car and I ran after it too. The driver didn't notice me hanging onto the read door handle as he sped off. I barely made it, and he floor boarded it.
It was like being swept up in a tidal wave as we raced into the theater. I found myself on the balcony landing. The cops up there were cursing the manager for not turning on the house lights.
"Tell that goddamned manager to get these lights on," one cop shouted.
The cops on the balcony were jerking schoolboys out of their seats. I heard someone yell, "He's down on the lower floor." And everyone upstairs stormed downstairs. I was still on the balcony landing as the herd swept by. The cops were followed by a gang of schoolboys and all I saw was white socks and loafers. One boy banged his head on the low ceiling beam and fell to the floor at my feet. He was trampled.
I thought, "You poor son of a bitch."
When I reached the lower floor, still wondering about that kid on the floor upstairs, the cops swarmed past me with Oswald. I raced out after them.
They carried him past a small crowd. I watched them stuff him into the back seat of a police car, and the crowd was plenty noisy. I heard yells like "Kill the bastard. Kill the son of a bitch." I looked purposely to see who was cursing. One blond haired girl, a typical high school student, was shouting at the top of her lungs.
"Kill the son of a bitch."
I caught a ride back downtown with a stranger. There was a kid in the front seat holding a transistor radio to his ear. Until then I had not heard that Kennedy was dead; my thoughts had been on the capture of this guy in the theater. The kid with the radio told me that Kennedy was dead.
Stunned? I was so damned stunned that I don't remember getting out of this stranger's car. But when I collected myself I was in the middle of Young, in front of The News.
I heard someone call me and turned to see Lewis Harris in his car.
"Lewis, get me to the police station," I shouted.
Harris and I sped to the police station and arrived only a few minutes behind the car with Oswald.
We went directly to homicide on the third floor. Harris and I both grabbed telephones to summon photographers.
I remember Sgt. Hill coming out of a small room where homicide interrogates suspects.
"His name is Lee H. Oswald, a white male 24," Hill said to everyone and no one in particular.
When Oswald was hustled into homicide, the crown jewel of detectives, J. Will Fritz, was not present. They said when he arrived ("like gang busters," this cop told me) he ordered some of his detectives to get to an address on North Beckley and bring in a guy named Oswald.
One guy asked Fritz why, and Fritz explained Oswald worked the place where the sniper had shot the President.
"We already got him, cap," said the cop.
Fritz, the cop said, went through the ceiling.
By early evening, the hallway on the third floor of the police station was crammed with all sorts of newsmen. It was so crowded I once jammed my own pencil up my nose while trying to grab a few quotes and was shoved.
Along about 8:30, I saw Police Chief Curry enter from the elevator. His face was red and the blood veins stuck out on his temples. He carried a Stetson in one hand. He hung his hat on a coat rack in his office and I heard someone say it was Governor Connally's hat. There were a few specks of blood on it. Curry sat down at his desk and I tried to talk to him.
I remember him saying, "We did everything possible."
Curry told of picking up two red buds that had fallen from Jackie Kennedy's bouquet at the airport. He wanted them for souvenirs for his 9-year-old daughter, Kathy.
A stranger walked up and asked for one of the roses, and Curry gave him one when he explained he had a daughter who would cherish it.
"I have a daughter, too," Curry told the man.
The rose bud for Kathy that night was still in Curry's car. It was the first thing she asked for the next morning when she saw her daddy.
Detective Capt. Pat Gannaway, a real tough cop, entered Curry's office. I could tell he was concerned by the way Curry looked.
"How much can a man take?" Gannaway asked me.
I dreaded this day on the police run. The mob of newsmen would still be in the hallway at headquarters, I knew. Routine was out. The difficult thing about it was being blocked off from normal contacts; you couldn't get to them nor could they take the time to talk.
It was well apparent too that the front office was putting on the gag. For the first time I realized I could stand without being conscious of it. We spent endless hours, it seemed, doing nothing but bumping shoulders. Outside newsmen swarmed the local reporters anytime they sensed activity. Newsmen interviewed newsmen up and down the hallway.
Fritz was the main object of reporters. The outside newsmen called him everything from captain to chief to sheriff.
There was one New York reporter who barked out, "Sheriff, I demand a statement." I think to this day if Fritz had had swinging room he would have pasted that guy.
I returned to The News earlier that day, about 8 p.m. As I drove out of the police basement into Commerce, a small crowd was waiting around the entrance. They had to be drawn to the scene by the reports that Oswald would be transferred soon to the county jail. And the television cameras and trucks parked outside attracted attention.
The crowd looked harmless. It was orderly. But it did cross my mind as I pulled out through the spectators whether the cops would have some trouble with them once Oswald did come into view.
Later on, I took a call from Jack Krueger calling from home. Jack, I believe, wanted to know something about the crowd on Commerce. I told him I had seen the people, and Jack said this fact ought to be mentioned in the morning wrapup.
The thought that Oswald's life was in danger never really bothered me. I took it for granted he would live to tell the world.
With Oswald in city jail's maximum security, the tempo around headquarters was decidely grinding down. I had earlier discussed with Bob Miller about my coming back Sunday, a day off. Miller said I should. But now Saturday night, it seemed so slow I had a change of heart about coming down Sunday morning. I went home with my mind made up: I'd spend Sunday at home.
Before I left, Griff Singer asked me to call Joe Laird at home and instruct him to be at city jail Sunday morning when Oswald's transfer would be made. It was about 11 p.m. when I get Joe, and Joe reminded us that Mrs. Connally had scheduled a press conference at Parkland and he was already assigned to it. Griff looked at the photographers' list and put in a call to Jack Beers, who took the assignment of covering the transfer.
That last-minute call put Jack in the right spot the next day for the immortal picture of Jack Ruby plugging the life out of Oswald.
Sunday morning I cancelled the idea of getting ready for church. My wife liked the idea of just staying home. For some reason I dressed anyway.
About 11:30, I walked into the living room at the precise moment my 2-year-old son Paul switched on the television. There was a church service on at the time. It was interrupted and the next scene I saw was the city hall basement. The reporter with the mike was describing the scene.
I didn't see the actual shooting then. But I heard the shot and the reporter with the mike said, "There's been a shot fired. Yes, someone has been hit. He's down on the floor."
The reporter was trying to say for sure whether it was Oswald. He kept screaming into the mike, "It looks like Oswald. Yes, yes, I'm sure it is."
I called the city desk and Bob Miller answered.
"Bob, have you heard? Oswald's just been shot."
Miller: "You must be kidding."
"No. No I'm not. it's on television right now."
Miller thought I was calling from the police station. I told him I was at home.
"Get your a-- down there," were Miller's last words.
Already dressed, I made it to the police station in 30 minutes.
I hadn't forgot my press card. It was a lucky thing, too. Officers on the main floor ran up to me and I showed my card. They were reserve cops I didn't know. I remember hearing someone say, "He's okay. He's one of the Dallas reporters." I looked to see who was giving the green light and it was Detective W.E. Douglas.
Out of the elevator on the third floor, I ran smack into the mob of reporters again. I spotted Aynesworth almost immediately and ran to him.
Hugh said he had witnessed the slaying, and my heart jumped. We had someone from the paper for an eyewitness. This was most important for the moment, I thought.
Miller told us (Aynesworth and me) to call in everything in note form. Once we relayed notes to Shirley, Bob's wife. Later, one of John King's sons took notes. I could picture the scramble going on in the newsroom.
Aynesworth had said Beers got shots of the shooting. Later I asked Miller about what Beers got.
"It's great. You should see it," said Miller, who went on to describe it.
When the first edition hit the police station, the outside newsmen were jabbering about the picture. It was a proud moment for Dallas News people at the police station.
For the first time since he became chief, Curry put himself off-limits to reporters, friend and stranger.
The entrance to his office was blocked off by three cops standing side by side. I kept wonder what must be going on through the chief's mind. The assassination. Now Oswald's death.
Jack Ruby's name did not register on my mind. I had never heard of him; if I had I hadn't attached it to my memory.
Just to see who he was I rode the elevator up to the identification bureau, where I was shown a mug shot of Ruby. The face meant nothing to me.
Not knowing the killer's identity as I drove to the police station, my first reaction had me thinking it was a cop gone berserk to revenge the President and Tippit. Later on, one of the cops stationed in the basement at the time told me he thought the same thing.
" I had my back turned when the shot was fired. I just knew when I turned around I'd see them wrestling down on our guys with a gun in his hand...one of the radio patrol boys."
By nightfall Sunday, sheer exhaustion was my biggest problem. In that mob, you sometimes wrestled for a spot just to bend your knees. Everything in me ached.
I had been up that hallway a million times in 10 years. But in three days I matched that record, I suppose.
Seeing Johnny Rutledge reporting in at the station made me feel like a convict about to receive a reprieve.
Going home that Sunday was a double treat.