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Monday 18 December 2017

Like everyone over 60, I know where I was when Kennedy was murdered

Conspiracy theories remain about the assassination that fascinates the world to this day, writes Hugh O'Flaherty

Hugh O'Flaherty

I do, and I was among the first in the world to hear the terrible news of the shooting. I was in the newsroom of the old 'Irish Press' at Burgh Quay. Adjacent to the newsroom was the wire room. To explain to the internet generation: international news was transmitted through various wire services, Reuters and Associated Press being the best known.

Through the day there would be a steady flow of copy from the teleprinter. The wire-room operators would alert the editorial people if there was some out-of-the-ordinary news by rapping on the hatch through which the copy was fed.

Coming up to 7pm on that fateful day there was frantic rapping on the hatch. This was news of the most devastating dimension. It spoke of shots having been fired on the US president's motorcade in Dallas, followed by confirmation of the president's death in Parkland Memorial Hospital.

The president had been advised not to go to Dallas. It was a dangerous place. Adlai Stevenson, the US ambassador to the UN, had been assaulted and spat on there some weeks before. The 'Dallas Morning News' that day had an advertisement that accused the president of being responsible for the entire population of Cuba living in slavery. This prompted Kennedy to say to his wife, Jacqueline: "You know we're heading into nut country today."

But JFK felt he had to go to Texas. He wanted to win his re-election bid in 1964. He flew first to Houston where he spoke about the space programme and quoted from Frank O'Connor's autobiography, 'An Only Child'.

O'Connor recalled: "When as kids we came to an orchard wall that seemed too high to climb, we took off our caps and tossed them over, and then we had no choice but to follow them." So with the US in its quest to get a man on the moon. The country had thrown its caps over the wall!

All went well here, as well as in Fort Worth and Dallas Airport. The motorcade then set off for downtown Dallas. There were cheering crowds all along the route. Governor Connolly of Texas and Mrs Connolly were in the car. Mrs Connolly remarked to the president how the people loved him as they passed the Texas Book depository. It was then that three, or maybe four, shots rang out. One missed. Two hit the president; the last one fatally wounding him.

Lee Harvey Oswald owned an Italian bolt-action rifle of World War II vintage, which was found on the sixth floor of the book depository as well as three spent cartridges. There was a further cartridge in the rifle ready for firing. Oswald left the depository, where he had been employed, went to his lodgings, changed clothes, armed himself with a pistol and then shortly afterwards had an encounter with a policeman, JD Tippit, whom he shot dead. He then made his way to a nearby movie theatre where he was arrested.

Oswald spent two days in custody where he steadfastly denied any involvement in both killings, saying to waiting newsmen on one occasion that he was a "patsy". In other words, that he was a fall guy.

As Oswald was being transferred from the police station to the county jail, a nightclub owner, Jack Ruby, stepped out of the crowd and shot him dead.

Kennedy's assassination has proved of perennial interest. This year alone, 190 Kennedy-related books will be published.

Anthony Summers, the author and broadcaster, spoke at this year's Parnell Summer School and gave a foretaste of a book he was updating about the assassination. He says it stays with us because of a perception by millions around the world that the full truth remains unknown.

Many wild conspiracy theories flourished. Congress passed a law in 1992 ordering the release of all relevant evidence. So five million pages of documents were handed over to the US National Archives. But the CIA continues to withhold 50,000 pages of records. It is thought that they do not hide anything explosive but rather prove that the CIA had been keeping tabs on Oswald prior to the assassination and failed to intercept him. But if the security services were negligent, why should there be a need to conceal that 50 years later?

The big mystery is how Oswald, not known to be a proficient shot, could fire three shots from a bolt action – as opposed to an automatic weapon – in under 20 seconds. That he had one or more accomplices is more probable than not. Summers has done meticulous research over 30 years. The 2013 edition of his book 'Not in Your Lifetime: the Assassination of JFK' is well worth a read. This was not a man of a particular ideology but a jackal-like figure.

Perhaps when the entire documents are released, more will be known.

Hugh O'Flaherty is a former judge of the Supreme Court and former chairman of the National Archives Advisory Council

Irish Independent

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