National News

Anniversary of JFK death evokes memories, conspiracy theories

Posted November 21, 2013 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated November 21, 2013 6:51 p.m. EST

— Fifty years ago Friday, shots were fired into President John F. Kennedy's motorcade as it made its way down a Dallas street. When the dust cleared, America had lost a president and, some would argue, an entire generation lost its innocence.

A half-century later, Kennedy's assassination still resonates across the U.S. Most of those who were alive on Nov. 22, 1963, remember where they were and what they were doing when they learned of his death. Many continue to believe the crime remains unsolved.

CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer was a young police reporter for the Fort Worth Star newspaper at the time and remembers a phone call cutting through the chaos in the newsroom in the wake of Kennedy's shooting.

"A woman said, 'Is there anybody there who can give me a ride to Dallas?' I said, 'Lady, we don't run a taxi, and besides, the president has been shot,'" Schieffer recalled recently. "She said, 'Yes, I heard it on the radio. I think my son is the one they've arrested.' It was Lee Harvey Oswald's mother."

After obtaining a car from the paper's automotive editor, he picked up Oswald's mother in Fort Worth and interviewed her as they drove to Dallas.

"She was totally self-centered," he said. "I really couldn't get her to talk much about him, other than to say he's been misunderstood and all that."

Schieffer said he walked her into the Dallas police station, where no one questioned the presence of a man in a fedora and jacket, and sat down with her in a squad room, where he was able to use a phone to call in updates to his editors.

A short time later, Oswald's mother said she wanted to see her son, and he relayed the message to a police captain.

"I suddenly found myself being herded into this holding room off the jail with his mother – and by this time his wife had shown up. I said to myself, 'My God, I'm going to interview this man. If I don't get to interview him, at least I'll hear what he says to his mother," Schieffer said. "A guy standing over in the corner said, 'Who are you?' – the question that somebody should have asked."

When he informed the police he was a reporter, he was told to leave immediately.

"I always say it was the biggest interview I almost got and didn't, but what an adventure in the midst of that tragedy," he said. "Sometimes I think about that, and I think, 'Did that really happen?'"

Raleigh actor Ira David Wood III said he can't believe what happened in the months after the assassination, when the Warren Commission determined that Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy.

"I believe it was a conspiracy. I think it was, in many respects, a coup d'etat," Wood said recently.

He said he became interested in the assassination while researching material for a play he was writing about a group of people whose job it was to watch Dealey Plaza, the site where Kennedy was shot. He has written more than 1,000 pages on the assassination and is convinced the government continues a cover-up.

"The president of the United States was murdered on a public street at high noon in front of hundreds of people, and 50 years later, we still don't have all the facts and the truth about what happened on that Dallas street," he said. "Any time the government tries so hard to keep things from us or to deny people access to records, you have to look at why they're doing that."

Wood said it goes far beyond secret records. He maintains the CIA and military leaders were involved and that Oswald never fired a shot. He notes that Oswald called a phone number in Raleigh after his arrest, and Wood believes he was trying to contact his CIA handler.

"If you can prove to me that man did it," he said of Oswald, "I'll walk away happy. I'll put it to rest, but so far, I can't. They call us conspiracy theorists, but I've got to say the government has presented their conspiracy theory because that's not a fact either."