Athens Review, Athens, Texas

November 22, 2013

We remember JFK

50 years later, the memories remain

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — History is measured in years, memories  in moments.

Nov. 22 marks 50 years since John F. Kennedy died in Dallas. Today, the assassination still stirs images and sounds experienced on that Friday, half-a-century ago.  

Former Athens Review Publisher Dick Dwelle was in attendance to see the president at his scheduled stop at the Trade Mart. Dwelle remembers the crowd finishing their salads as they anticipated the arrival of Kennedy, who was running noticeably late. Word of the president’s real status drifted through the crowd from table to table.

“There was no radio in that whole place, and of course no one had cell phones,” Dwelle said. “We were just waiting and waiting.”

Dean Storey, the president of SMU law school, was seated to Dwelle’s left, and appeared to hear something disturbing from one of the other dinner companions. Dwelle asked him what he had heard.

“The president has been shot twice, and has been taken to Parkland Hospital,” Storey replied.

A few minutes later, Dwelle called the Review office to convey what he’d experienced at the Trade Mart. The newspaper staff was well aware of the big picture. The AP newswire was by now spitting out information at a frantic pace.

“With radio and the newswire, they knew a lot more than we did,” Dwelle said.

Dallas and the state of Texas would bear the stigma of the assassination for many years to come. Dwelle recalls the words of a man at the Trade Mart that day that was the perception of many around the country.

“He turned to me and said to me loud enough for those at our table to hear it, ‘Those conservative Dallas people, they’ve killed the president.’” Dwelle said.

There was only a short time to get any Kennedy stories on the Review page that day.  There wasn’t time to change the whole front page. Not far from the jarring headline is a picture of Jacqueline Kennedy, smiling to the crowd as she and her husband board Air Force 1 in Washington to make the Texas flight. Below the picture, the cutline states that the Kennedys will be spending Friday night at L.B.J. Ranch. The Review’s Nov. 22 issue displayed the banner headline “ President is Dead.”

U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough, a Chandler native, was seen wiping tears outside Parkland Hospital, shortly after learning Kennedy’s fate. He had been riding in the presidential motorcade, a couple of cars behind the President’s with Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. Yarborough later described the well-wishers who lined the streets as the most enthusiastic of any on Kennedy’s Texas stops. But in the upper stories of the Downtown Dallas buildings, the faces told a different story.

“I never saw a single smile in any of the windows I looked at,” Yarborough said.

The first hours after the shooting left Americans wondering how to react to the tragedy. Network television ditched its regularly-scheduled fare for programming related to Kennedy. College football games were canceled. NFL games on Sunday went on as scheduled, but without television. Those waiting to hear the broadcast of the Dallas Cowboys-Cleveland Browns clash on Sunday instead heard extended coverage of Jack Ruby gunning down the suspected assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Athens Hornets season finale that night went on as scheduled in Cleburne. A subdued crowd of about 2,500 watched the Hornets wrap up a second-place district finish. Taps followed the Star Spangled Banner in honor of the slain president.

The days that followed the tragic events were covered from all angles.  Dallas radio station KLIF’s coverage of the events following the assassination was preserved on tape and an LP of the main events was made available to the pubic. Former KLIF general manager Ed Routt brought a copy with him when he founded KCKL FM in Malakoff 20 years later.

Podiatrist Dr. Dwight Bales of Athens was 18-years-old on Nov. 22, 1963. The president’s death didn’t have the affect on him that day, that it would in later years. He was particularly moved by a book, “We Were There,” containing the personal recollections of the doctors at Parkland Hospital who attended to the President and Gov. John Connally, who was seriously-wounded in the burst of gunfire from the Texas Schoolbook Depository.  He has a copy signed by William Osborne, MD, who operated on Connally’s wounded wrist, injured by a bullet that came to rest in the governor’s thigh.

“I was moved by the words. They convey more than a video could,” Bales said. “A video couldn’t describe the extent of the damage like the doctor’s terminology.  It can’t describe the smell.”

Bales is impressed by the professionalism of the doctors who turned off their emotions enough to allow their training and professionalism to take over.  No amount of effort could save Kennedy, but Connally survived and served several more years in Austin.

“They were suddenly thrust into this gruesome medical situation, and their first thought was, do your job,” Bates said. “There wasn’t time to be human.”

Dwelle said he’s not surprised that the Kennedy assassination story continues to intrigue the nation 50 years after the day, given the president’s youthful appearance and charismatic personality.

“I don’t think it’s surprising that it’s being commemorated after 50 years,” Dwelle said. “What is a little more surprising is that people do it year after year.”