Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 1963

Today usually sneaks up on me.

Nov. 22, 1963 was the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a lone gunman in Dallas.

I was the newest, greenest cub reporter working in Dallas at the time. A 24-year-old skinny kid from Lubbock who was just damned glad to be here, I barely knew how to find my way to work, much less operate a movie camera. I had been on the job only six weeks.

Somehow, I survived the trial by fire and managed to help capture history on film. During those terrible events, I filmed the Kennedy arrival at Love Field, the beginning of the motorcade, chaos at Parkland Hospital, the perp walk on the Third Floor…

When Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, Ruby was standing right next to me as he lurched out to kill the man who had murdered our president. I got it on film.

I was working numb. We all were.

Nearly 50 years later, four of us who worked at KRLD Radio/TV wrote a book about our experiences as reporters covering those dark days. (Click on the book to the left and it takes you direct to Amazon, if you are interested.) The book was Bob Huffaker‘s idea and he was lead author with able assists from Bill Mercer, Wes Wise, and me.

In writing the book, we were surprised to discover something we had in common. To do our job, we had to stuff our emotions. It was days later when we allowed ourselves to cry in private.

To this day, I get choked up describing the Kennedys getting off the plane in Dallas. They were beautiful and this was Camelot.

I guess I’m still a little numb.

Addendum from Huffaker, Mercer and me

Posted 15 January 2007 - 01:22 PM
William Kelly, on Jan 15 2007, 06:11 AM, said:


Yesterday, in Sunday morning's Austin American-Statesman, I read a book review of When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963, a memoir by four Dallas journalists-George Phenix, Bob Huffaker, Bill Mercer, and Wes Wise-who covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It sounds like an interesting book. During the course of that memorable weekend in 1963, one of the men spoke with Ruby in Dealey Plaza the day after the killing, another interviewed Oswald's mother, another was present when Ruby killed Oswald, and so on. And yet, if you are looking for substantive information about the assassination, you are not likely to find it in this book. The review states: "From the get-go, the authors declare themselves 'weary of conspiracy theories.'"

It is not surprising that they should be so averse to conspiracy "theories," for had they embraced such "theories" in their coverage of the assassination they might have ended up like Jim Koethe and Bill Hunter. Koethe was a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald; Hunter for the Long Beach Press Telegram. On the night of November 24, 1963, the two ventured to Jack Ruby's apartment where they interviewed Ruby's roommate George Senator and Ruby's attorney Tom Howard. Less than a year later, Howard, Koethe, and Hunter were all dead. Howard died of an apparent heart attack. Hunter was shot in the head by a Long Beach police officer who, after repeatedly changing his story about the killing, was eventually convicted of manslaughter and given a probated sentence. Koethe was killed a few months later in his Dallas apartment when he emerged from the shower to be karate-chopped in the neck by an unknown assailant.

Koethe and Hunter's deaths no doubt served as an example to other journalists, and may have been a factor in the large number of Dallas journalists who left Dallas and found other professions in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.

Phenix, Hufaker, Mercer, and Wise, however, were not part of this exodus. Their coverage of the assassination turned out to be a boon to their careers, rather than an impediment. Not only did they remain in the profession, they prospered. Phenix went on to co-found the Texas Weekly; Huffaker became an editor at Texas Monthly; Mercer became a prominent sportscaster; and Wise served as Mayor of Dallas in the 1970s.

These men, then, owe much to the assassination-it got them where they are today. But they sure wouldn't have gotten there if they had embraced those wearisome conspiracy "theories."

Huffaker was an army reservist based at Fort Hood. That, coupled with his career in the media may indicate he was working military intelligence. His name was appears on a DPD list of people believed to hold information on a Ruby-Oswald connection. Others on the list included Pixie Lynn and George Butler. You can find what PL and GB had in that regard (PL supposedly told a barman that Ruby ad Oswald were attending gay parties - GB claimed he had info indicating Oswald was Ruby's bastard son) but all you'll ffind when looking for what Huffaker had to say is a report saying THAT report was already filed.

To Tony: great work.

It's even worse that this idiocy's theme is that we made our careers by keeping our mouths shut about "the conspiracy." And made ourselves rich. What a colossal joke.

There were two or three people who wrote this little exchange of silliness, which I copied and pasted from the Mack White blog. The one who assumes that I was a clandestine intelligence officer is addressing someone named Bill (probably the William Kelly). It appears that the Mack White fellow wrote the initial post. I don't know who the Tony is who is congratulated upon his "good work."


Here's a thing I wrote in our old blog:

Confessions of a Conspirator

By Bob Huffaker

OK, I'm part of the JFK assassination cover-up. I admit it.

Keeping the secret all these years hasn't been easy, what with those constant visits from the mob, Vladimir Putin, that diehard Fidel Castro, and LBJ's ghost. So now the truth is out at last, and I feel marvelous just having gotten it off my chest.

Some bloggists have criticized When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963 for ignoring the obvious horrible truth behind who really shot JFK. One fellow suggests that all four of us reporters somehow saved ourselves from certain death by keeping quiet for all these years about what we knew. He even hints darkly that each of us somehow advanced his career by joining the cover-up: Bill as famous play-by-play announcer, George as publisher of Texas Weekly, Wes as Dallas Mayor, and I as a Texas Monthly editor. That's one of the funniest things we ever heard.

Most conspiracy criticism has come from decent folks who are properly skeptical of an establishment that has damn well earned all the skepticism it gets. Some of them say they enjoyed the book even if they wish that we had dealt with the proliferation of conspiracy theories.

That would have been a different book. We dealt instead with things we know firsthand and those we have investigated.

The physical evidence of the murders of Kennedy, Tippit, and Oswald is incontrovertible, complete with complete and consistent witness accounts of Oswald's and Ruby's movements, ballistics, photographic and autopsy evidence.

Having covered these three murders four decades ago, I went back into Warren Commission testimony, police reports, FBI reports, and other reliable evidence for a year of research while writing the book.

All the best research confirms that Oswald acted alone in the murder of JFK and Tippit, and that Ruby was too flaky and too wired to have kept secrets. The controversy over the physical evidence is a shame, since it detracts from real questions that remain, such as the documented cover-up by the FBI and Oswald's associations with people who might have influenced or encouraged him to kill JFK.

We all agree that Oswald and Ruby both acted alone and independently, but none of us would ever claim that others might not have influenced Oswald, especially given the FBI's concealing their knowledge of the assassin and the CIA's shadowy presence. On CBS-TV the morning after the assassination, my first question to Chief Jesse Curry confirmed FBI surveillance of the suspect.

But Ruby was a police and media groupie, and nobody in his right mind would have chosen him as a conspirator--and certainly not as a hit man. I talked to Ruby enough to know that much myself, and his roommate George Senator had no secrets either. He was just a bartender who shared Ruby's apartment and might or might not have had a physical relationship with him--not that there's anything wrong with that.

I invite all conspiracy-minded folks to read When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963, give us your best shot, and let us know if you enjoyed the book.

This is almost funny if not so absolutely crazy. I interviewed a woman who claimed to have been a stripper at Ruby's club and was pushing a book in which she also claimed that Ruby and Oswald had dinner in Ruby's club the week before the killing. That ancient rumor has long been discredited.

To answer how we made our fortunes: I left KRLD News just before Christmas of '64 without a job! Huffaker quit and earned a Ph.D in English to teach and make a fortune? Wes won the mayor's contest and nearly went bankrupt. George Phenix founded and published Texas Weekly and other publications for two decades and is happily in Minneapolis writing The Blog of Ages. We all are retired with English Bulldogs and yachts? You can see why talking about conspiracies is a mite disgusting.

Bill Mercer

Maybe not you -- but I got rich. After I took the film of Ruby shooting Oswald, KRLD TV paid me a handsome bonus of $8.62.
That is not a typo.

George Phenix


Anonymous said...

sad sad day. forever black and white.

Anonymous said...

I was in tenth grade English class when they made the announcement. One classmate ran out of the room screaming. I still have the scrapbook in which I save every newspaper article from that terrible week. We were never the same after that.

Ken Martin said...

I'm from Dallas but was stationed in California when JFK was assassinated. As a kid growing up in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, I used to go to the Texas theater where Oswald was captured. As a high schooler attending Crozier Tech downtown, I had a part-time job delivering telegrams for Western Union, using a bicycle to get to destinations downtown. As a young Marine I was married in the old red courthouse next to the Texas Textbook Building. I am all too familiar with the terrain that spawned these terrible events. These are terrible memories to bear, but we must not forget.

The South Plainsman said...

It was a day that the world changed....for the worse.

Wish we could change it back.

paula said...

You were everyone's eyes and ears, George, and when you finally felt safe enough to cry, you cried for all of us. In case no one ever said this to you, thanks for doing your job and doing it well. We owe you.

Anonymous said...

"The physical evidence of the murders of Kennedy, Tippit, and Oswald is incontrovertible, complete with complete and consistent witness accounts of Oswald's and Ruby's movements, ballistics, photographic and autopsy evidence."

This has got to be the most idiotic statement ever written by a so-called journalist connected to the Kennedy assassination in any way, shape or form. As a journalist in Los Angeles I have circulated this to all my writer friends and we can't stop laughing. Keep up the good work.The original post was dead on. You hacks were allowed your careers due to your complicity in this heinous matter.

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