Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

Down Life's Highway...

60 years have gone by since JFK's assassination

Having lived through that dreadful day and the times then, plus the years down life's highway since, this one day has never left my memory.


From the time I was a child and throughout this long life, there have been many memorable events, from Pearl Harbor, WWII, the atomic bomb, many storms, all the way to 9-11, and the insurrection of the U.S. Capital on Jan. 6, 2021. However, no tragedy or event has lived with me more than the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963. Because I relived it through many columns, it's hard to believe 60 years have gone by.

No tragedy tore to the core of Americans like the killing of the 35th President. The three T.V. networks, broadcasted only in black and white, interpreted their broadcast and it was a few days before they returned to their regular programming and commercials. No other event ever totally took up so much airtime. Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of killing the President but he was never

charged with the crime. He was charged with killing a policeman, Officer Tibbets, and was killed himself before the Kennedy case was made against him.

The reason President Kennedy was in Texas was to mend two democratic factions at odds, Sen. Ralph Yarborough's liberal forces and the Gov. John Connally's conservatives.  The state, which was mostly democratic, was becoming polarized. Vice president Johnson, a friend of Gov. Connally, who most believes fixed the Duvall County 87 vote outcome that gave Johnson the election against Coke Stevenson, tried to mend the democratic split to no avail. Kennedy came to Houston, Fort Worth and was in Dallas when he was shot. He was due to be in Austin that night.  

Some Orange folks were on the way to Austin for that event when they heard on the car radio that the President had been shot. They turned around. JFK had served only 1000 days. Johnson became the 36th President of the United States. It was lunch time on Friday. Four of us guys had planned a special kind of noontime meal. Dist. Attorney Jim Morris had gotten a bushel of oysters and I had made arrangement to use the banquet room at the Marine Room on Second Street, a building I owned. We hired a black gentleman, who knew his trade, to shuck the oysters and furnish his famous red sauce. As Morris, attorneys Louis Dugas and Jerry Zunker and I left the courthouse, the radio said that the presidential parade in Dallas was in progress.

We were eating oysters on the half-shell as fast as they were being shucked when a waitress came into our room and announced that President Kennedy was just shot in Dallas. At first, we didn't believe it, assuming it probably was just a rumor. As we discussed it, we became convinced that this dreadful act was indeed conceivable in Dallas. That put a damper on our special meal.

On our return to the courthouse, the car radio confirmed that the president of  the United States and the governor of Texas had been shot. Zunker had served as a co-campaign chairman with Gene Hoyt for the election of Gov. John Connally. Phyl and I worked in that campaign. Hoyt got a district judgeship out of it. Radio and TV sets were turned on everywhere as everyone gathered to wait for the news on President John F. Kennedy's condition. People openly wept when it was learned that the president was dead. I went to the living quarters in the county jail to watch television. There I found Sheriff Chester Holts in his living room with tears running down his cheeks. He expressed what was on most people's minds. "What kind of damn animal would snuff out the life of this remarkable man? Respect for the law is completely shattered when someone can take it on themselves to murder the president of the United States." "The Dallas police department is one of the finest in the country," he continued, "but they'll have problems protecting the fellow who did this. If they're not extra careful someone will kill him."

The television reported Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president on Air Force I while Jackie Kennedy, the dead president's wife, stood at his side still splattered with blood and brains of her husband on her clothes.

The Warren Commission found that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone when he shot the president from the Texas Book Depository with a mail order rifle. The next day, while being transferred, Sheriff Holt's fears came to past. While the

police were transferring Oswald, Jack Ruby seemed to come out of nowhere, shot and killed him. Ruby had been in the Western Union station next door to the police station to wire some money.

Jack, like most everyone in those days who carried money, also carried a pistol in his pocket. When he left Western Union, he noticed the crowd next door. He went over to see. He was well known by the Dallas police, who frequently visited his Carousel Club.

Jack was later convicted of the murder of Oswald after a much publicized trial. Having known Ruby, I believe he acted on impulse and believing he would be a national hero. After all, most everyone was saying that Oswald needed killing. Jack was a Jewish guy from up north and they loved JFK.

On Nov. 25, President John F. Kennedy was buried after a funeral possession that drew a million people and featured the famous salute by son, "John John," now deceased. In fact, almost all the players of that sad day are gone. Jack Ruby died while being held in jail awaiting a re-trial. Gov. Connally recovered and held several national offices, including Sec. of the U.S. Treasurer. He switched parties after LBJ's death and tried a run for president as a Republican. That didn't take off. President Johnson finished Kennedy's term and was elected to one of his own. He didn't seek reelection after being consumed by the Vietnam conflict. Richard Nixon replaced him, and in his second term, shamefully left office for what became known as the Watergate cover up.

Nov. 22, 1963, is a date that truly changed the course of history. My friends, DA Jim Morris and lawyer Louis Dugas have both died. As far as I know Zunker still lives in Austin. Anytime after that day when we all got together we recalled that dreadful day. We were all young men then lived to see a changing country where respect has so often been replaced by hatred and disrespect of our country and democracy.



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