THE DEATH OF A PRESIDENT:
NOVEMBER 20—NOVEMBER 25, 1963
AUTHOR: WILLIAM MANCHESTER
"FOR ALL IN WHOSE HEARTS HE STILL LIVES--
A WATCHMAN OF HONOR WHO NEVER SLEEPS."
-- Dedication; "The Death Of A President"
- Published by: Harper & Row
- Year Published: 1967
- 710 Pages (plus Foreword and Glossary)
- 10 Chapters (plus Epilogue)
- 6-Day "Chronology" of events (November 20-25, 1963)
- 8 Pages of Maps/Charts
- 19 Pages of Sources
- 22-Page Index
The Death Of A President (1967 First Edition)(Hardcover)
The Death Of A President (1996 Re-Issue)(Hardcover)
Anyone interested in the intricate (and factual) details surrounding the November 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy needs to read William Manchester's 1967 book, "The Death Of A President".
This book, which caused quite a bit of controversy prior to being published, takes the reader on a painstaking (and often gut-wrenching) journey, encompassing six days in the autumn of 1963 (November 20-25), with an incredible amount of facts and rarely-revealed tidbits of information concerning the shocking murder of JFK popping up on nearly every page.
Manchester's seemingly-inexhaustible pipeline to even the tiniest particles of information connected with President Kennedy's last living days and his shocking murder is very impressive, to say the least.
In what other book could you possibly find such trivial facts as the telephone numbers for three Dallas court officials, all of whom received emergency calls from Air Force One (which was parked at Dallas' Love Field airport), in a frantic effort by the new President, Lyndon Johnson, to summon some eligible person (ANY eligible person) to the President's aircraft in order to swear him in as the 36th U.S. President?
One of those phone numbers (RIverside 8-2251) belonged to the law office of Judge Sarah T. Hughes, who ultimately was the person who swore in LBJ on Air Force One on 11/22/63, becoming the first woman in U.S. history to ever issue a Presidential oath.
The photo below is the famous picture snapped by White House photographer Cecil Stoughton as LBJ was being sworn in by Judge Hughes aboard Air Force One in Dallas. This is the uncropped version of Stoughton's photo, which is actually one of eight photographs taken by Stoughton during the swearing-in ceremony:
The hardcover First Edition of "The Death Of A President" was published in 1967 and spans 710 pages, each one filled to the brim with a portion of one of the most fascinating and sad stories of the 20th century.
On the debit side (but only slightly), the text throughout the entire book suffers from a curious lack of needed commas at the end of sentence-opening prepositional phrases.
But after becoming familiar with this somewhat annoying quirk within the book's sentence structure, I was able to sidestep the problem for the most part by mentally inserting the proper commas and literary pauses into the book's text.
But that minor complaint about the punctuation certainly doesn't detract one bit from this volume's compelling content. Mr. Manchester has succeeded in very effectively transporting the reader back in time to November 1963. The "You Are There" effect can be felt on just about every page of "The Death Of A President".
This book is very similar to Jim Bishop's 1968 book, "The Day Kennedy Was Shot". Manchester's publication, however, covers several more days surrounding JFK's death than does Bishop's.
Each one of those books paints an almost minute-by-minute word picture of Friday, November 22, 1963, the day America lost its 35th President when assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's well-aimed third bullet (fired from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas) found the back of President Kennedy's head, ending his life.
John F. Kennedy was only 46-and-a-half years old when 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald decided to murder him with a 1940 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle that Oswald purchased by mail-order for a grand total of $21.45.
I'll let Mr. Manchester's exquisite and stirring book speak for itself for the remainder of this review, via several verbatim passages culled from the gripping pages of "The Death Of A President". Page numbers refer to the "First Edition" hardcover version, published by Harper & Row in 1967. Clicking on the pictures might be a good idea too. I've buried some easter eggs in there. .....
"12:30 [November 22, 1963]. Houston and Elm. .... The motorcade now resembled the figure Z. [Dallas Police Chief Jesse] Curry, at the top, was approaching the overpass. Three drivers--Greer, Kinney, Jacks--trailed him on Elm. The Book Depository was situated at the point of the sharp angle. The second section of the procession was proceeding toward it on Houston. The third section--a station wagon, the VIP bus, and the Signals car--was still on Main. ....
"Greer, recovering from the difficult turn, started to relax. The strain was over. Then he, too, noticed the workmen [on top of the Triple Underpass bridge just ahead of the Presidential limousine which William Greer was driving]. Puzzled, he studied the unfamiliar street to see whether he could veer at the last minute if necessary and take the President beneath a deserted part of the span.
"The Lincoln was now passing the pine oak, which momentarily screened John Kennedy from the muzzle in the sixth-floor corner window. Abe Zapruder, hunched over his Zoomar lens, was photographing SS 100 X [the President's 1961 Lincoln convertible] as it approached him. ....
"There was a sudden, sharp, shattering sound. .... The President was wounded, but not fatally. A 6.5 millimeter bullet had entered the back of his neck, bruised his right lung, ripped his windpipe, and exited at his throat, nicking the knot of his tie. Continuing its flight, it had passed through Governor Connally's back, chest, right wrist, and left thigh. ....
"Nellie Connally twisted in her seat and looked sharply at Kennedy. His hands were at his throat, but he wasn't grimacing. He had slumped a little. ....
"Greer turned back to the wheel. Kellerman [seated next to Greer in the front seat], hesitant, glanced over his shoulder again. Neither had yet reacted to the crisis. And now it was too late.
"Howard Brennan, open-mouthed, saw Oswald take deliberate aim for his final shot. .... Crooking his arm, Oswald drew a fresh bead with his Italian rifle. .... His target, startlingly clear in the cross hairs of his telescopic sight, was eighty-eight yards away. He squeezed the trigger." -- Pages 153-158
"By 1 P.M. Dallas time [just 30 minutes after JFK was shot], according to a University of Chicago study conducted the following winter, 68 percent of all adults in the United States--over 75 million people--knew of the shooting. ....
"It was clear from the outset that the crime on Elm Street was the most spectacular single American disaster since Pearl Harbor. .... Before the end of the afternoon, when 99.8 percent had learned that the elected President had been murdered, the country was in the grip of an extraordinary emotional upheaval.
"Over half the population wept. Four out of five, in the words of the report, felt "the loss of someone very close and dear," and subsequently nine out of ten suffered "physical discomfort"." -- Page 189
"The words were framed. They would not be eloquent, but they would do the job. At 1:33 he [Assistant Presidential Press Secretary Malcolm Kildiff] moistened his lips. ....
"President John F. Kennedy died at approximately one o'clock Central Standard Time today here in Dallas." ....
"At 1:35 UPI bells chimed on teletype machines around the world: 'FLASH---PRESIDENT KENNEDY DEAD---JT135PCS'." -- Page 221
"Lee Oswald has been repeatedly identified here [in this book] as the President's slayer. He is never "alleged" or "suspected" or "supposed" or "surmised"; he is the culprit. Some, intimidated by the fiction that only judges may don the black cap and condemn, may disapprove. ....
"But enough is enough. The evidence pointing to his guilt is far more incriminating than that against [Abraham Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes] Booth. .... He is the right man; there is nothing provisional about it. ....
"From the instant he dropped his mail-order rifle on the top floor [actually the next-to-top floor] and fled down the enclosed stair well--leaving a tuft of fibers from his shirt wedged in the butt plate and a profusion of finger and palm prints on the weapon, on the paper bag which he had used to conceal the gun during the drive from Irving with Wesley Frazier, and on one of the cartons he had stacked as a gun rest--there could be no doubt of his ultimate conviction. ....
"Because of Oswald's epic stupidity--and his panic; it is highly likely that he lost his head when Officer Tippit beckoned to him--the assassin's movements after the murder can be reconstructed with precision." -- Pages 278-279
"Vernon B. Oneal is an interesting figure in the story of John Kennedy. .... A hustling businessman, Oneal had seven radio-equipped ambulance-hearses and his own dispatcher. .... Oneal handled tragedies east of the Trinity River, and Dudley M. Hughes, his chief competitor, worked the west bank. ....
""You're kidding!" Oneal had gasped when the dispatcher told him that 601 was reporting a Code 3. ....
""This is Clint Hill of the Secret Service. I want you to bring a casket out here to Parkland. I want you immediately." ....
"Running into his selection room, [Oneal] chose his most expensive coffin, the Elgin Casket Company's "Britannia" model, eight hundred pounds of double-walled, hermetically sealed solid bronze.
"He couldn't carry it alone. Hurrying out to his driveway, he stood vigil there until he had collected three returning employees. The four of them eased the massive coffin into the pride of his vehicular fleet--a snow-white, air-conditioned 1964 Cadillac which he had bought at the October convention of the National Funeral Directors in Dallas. It was less than a month old, had exactly nine hundred miles registered on the dashboard indicator, and was furnished with light-green window curtains." -- Pages 291-292
"Roy Kellerman had been the first agent to scent trouble. Shortly before the coffin arrived, Roy had been standing with Dr. Burkley in the nurse's station...when a pale, freckled, walleyed man in shirt sleeves entered, reached for another phone, and flipped the receiver off snappily, like a gunman in a Western. "This is Earl Rose," he said. "There has been a homicide here. They won't be able to leave until there has been an autopsy." ....
"The men around the coffin decided to adopt Kemp Clark's suggestion; if necessary, they would hold him [Medical Examiner Earl Rose] down. .... Rose was surrounded by muscle. ....
"It looked as though they might have to hold more than one man down, and if the patrolman intervened actively, he would be no pushover; he was wearing a pistol and was fingering it. ....
"[JFK aide Kenneth O'Donnell] uttered a swart oath recommending monogenesis. Thrusting his head forward until their noses nearly grazed, he said, "We're leaving. .... We're getting out of here. We don't give a damn what these laws say. We're not staying here three hours or three minutes"." -- Pages 297 and 303-304
"Jean Kennedy Smith had been looking out a window of the tower suite at Bethesda [Naval Hospital in Maryland, where President Kennedy's body was taken to be autopsied]...when a muted voice said, "She's here." She turned, and Mrs. Kennedy was standing in the center of the drawing room. "There," in Ben Bradlee's words, "was this totally doomed child, with that God-awful skirt, not saying anything, looking burned alive"." -- Page 406
"After the first arraignment [for the murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit] Oswald told correspondents that he had protested to the justice of the peace..."that I was not allowed legal representation during that very short and sweet hearing. I really don't know what the situation is all about." It was a lie. Oswald certainly knew what the situation was about. Circumstantial evidence, the very best kind, convicts him ten times over. He was merely playing the scene for all it was worth." -- Page 426
"The evidence against the assassin had been accumulating through the night. At 4 A.M. CST, executives of Klein's Sporting Goods in Chicago, after poring over their microfilmed records for six hours, found the "American Rifleman" coupon with which Oswald had ordered [a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle with the serial number number] C2766 eight months before. ....
"[During his interrogation by the police, Oswald offered] a pitiful fabric of lies about his past. He insisted that he couldn't afford a rifle on the Book Depository's $1.25 an hour. .... "Of the assassination he remarked, "People will forget that within a few days" because there would be "another President." That, and a passing reference to the Chief Executive's "nice family," was about all he had to say about his victim. ....
"Even when he was allowed to see his wife, mother, and brother, he was singularly uncommunicative about the national tragedy. .... Marina [Lee Oswald's wife] did not ask him whether he had killed Kennedy. Nevertheless it was very much on her mind. Later she said, "I could see by his eyes he was guilty"." -- Pages 456-457
"In both Friday's assassination and Sunday's murder [of Lee Harvey Oswald at the hands of Jack Ruby], two vivid threads are evident: warnings of disaster had come from responsible sources, and peace officers, in weighing them, had miscalculated gravely. ....
"The difficulty was that they [the Dallas Police Department] were attempting to second-guess vigilantism. .... What was NOT contemplated was that a lone individual, with no credentials, might penetrate the security screen before the movement from the jail basement had begun. ....
"Ruby's presence in the basement is utterly confounding. To some it will remain forever mystifying, to others it will always provide positive proof of police collusion in a complex conspiracy. ....
"The basement had been completely cleared. .... Nevertheless, Ruby was there when Oswald emerged from the elevator. How did he manage it? Part of the answer lies in the fact that he was not there during the search. Indeed, as late as 11:17 A.M., three minutes before Oswald stepped down into the garage, Ruby was in the Western Union office on Main Street, 350 feet from the top of the Main Street ramp. ....
"Ruby approached [Oswald] from his left front. Shouldering forward through the straining crowd, the burly gunman passed between a reporter and a plain-clothes man, his .38 in his right hand. .... Then he fired. The bullet passed through Oswald's liver, spleen, and aorta, and in the next instant, the murderer of the murderer lay on the basement floor, being pummeled by officers. .... He wailed, "I'm Jack Ruby, you all know me!" ....
"Two days and seven minutes after the President had been pronounced dead, the sheet was drawn over his killer's face." -- Pages 520-521 and 524
"Jacqueline Kennedy had appeared on the North Portico, a child in either hand. .... The shock of that brief scene was immense. In that one instant she revealed to the great audience the full measure of its loss. ....
"Transfigured beneath the North Portico's hanging lantern, she awaited the procession, her swollen eyes fixed on the caisson and the six matched horses. Her expression of ineffable tragedy was, in that flicker of a moment, indelibly etched upon the national conscience." -- Pages 529-530
"Those who were watching her [Jacqueline Kennedy] thought [Senator Mike] Mansfield was being needlessly cruel to her, but they hadn't been in that car, they hadn't seen the blood, they hadn't known the antiseptic nightmare of Trauma Room No. 1, they were strangers to violent death.
"Only Jacqueline Kennedy could judge Mike Mansfield, and she couldn't believe what she was hearing; she didn't know a eulogy could be this magnificent. ....
"He finished, and with his vibrant voice still echoing in the dome above, he came over and handed her the manuscript. She said, "You anticipate me. How did you know I wanted it?" Mansfield bowed his head. "I didn't. I just wanted you to have it"." -- Page 541
"The fourteen-minute ceremony was over, and suddenly Mrs. Kennedy, who had felt faint and was swaying slightly, realized everyone was waiting for her to leave first. "She wasn't quite ready. Facing Robert Kennedy, she asked softly, "Can I say good-bye?" He nodded once, and she took Caroline by the hand. .... Mother and daughter moved forward, the widow gracefully, the child watching carefully to do as she did. Jacqueline Kennedy knelt. Caroline knelt. ....
"Caroline's small gloved hand crept underneath [the flag which was covering her father's casket], to be nearer, and in that single instant an entire nation was brought to its knees." -- Page 542
"The coffin would be wheeled, not borne, up the center aisle [of Washington's St. Matthew's Cathedral on Monday, November 25, 1963]. This was a concession to Lieutenant [Samuel R.] Bird's description of his body bearers' agonizing ascent into the rotunda. ....
"His team still had to bring the coffin back down the Capitol steps. The prospect had them petrified. Ordinarily, six men could lift a casket with ease. Today [November 24, 1963], Bird had added a Marine and a sailor, yet they had barely made it, and the descent was bound to be more difficult than the ascent, for they wouldn't have him [Lt. Bird] bracing them from the rear.
"One young Army specialist had worked himself into a state of semihysteria; he was convinced that they were going to drop their precious burden on the marble and split it open before the eyes of a hundred million Americans. ....
"[Lieutenant Bird] himself, he confessed later, was "near panic." Therefore, he decided upon a drastic measure: they would spend the night rehearsing.
"The ensuing scene was perhaps the most bizarre of all those played out in the small hours of November 24-25. Borrowing a regulation Army casket from Fort Myer's honor guard company, the team drove it to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at midnight, filled it with sandbags, and slowly carried it up and down, up and down the tomb's steps.
"After sundown, the Unknown Soldiers' guard doesn't have to walk back and forth, so Bird ordered him to sit atop the coffin. Up, down, up and down the team trudged with the man straddling the lid.
"Finally, the Lieutenant stopped them, told the guard to make room, and HE got on, too. Lugging a sand-filled casket and two bodies, the eight bearers made the trip again, again, again, again. It was cruel, but absolutely necessary; his men had been demoralized, and now, sweating in the dark, they felt a flicker of hope." -- Page 561
"Lieutenant Sam Bird had drawn the casket team around him in a tight circle. "Bow your heads," he said. He closed his eyes. "Dear God," he prayed, "please give us strength to do this last thing for the President." ....
"To the hymn "O God of Loveliness," casket team and casket came down the thirty-six steps. But today there was no strain. The fantastic weight of yesterday was gone. The coffin seemed incredibly light, and since it seemed that way to each of the eight bearers, who could neither speak to one another nor even exchange glances until it had been lashed to the gun carriage, the power of suggestion must be ruled out.
"Last night's lockstep torture at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers had been a success. It had broken their dreadful spell of fear, and they withdrew in wonder." -- Pages 576-577
"The casket team held the flag. .... The fifty jets shrieked above them. The fighters were a trifle early, but for [Air Force One pilot] Colonel Swindal, the timing was near perfect. The startled crowd [at Arlington Cemetery] glanced up, and in the interval after the last echo of the F-105's, the Presidential aircraft, racing ahead of its own thunder, loomed soundlessly overhead [a mere 500 feet above President Kennedy's gravesite].
"For an astonishing instant, the beautiful plane appeared to hang suspended, so low that one felt one could almost reach up and touch its blue flashes. Then Swindal rocked the swept-back wings 20 degrees to the left, came level directly above the taut flag, rocked right in another deep, three-second dip, and streaked off toward the Key Bridge.
"[Air Force General] Godfrey McHugh thought it the most exquisite maneuver he had ever seen. .... All who knew of the President's love for Air Force One were moved, and as the mighty tail with the bold blue numerals "26000" vanished over the naked trees, into the vapor trails left by the fighters, [Jacqueline Kennedy's sister] Lee Radziwill wept." -- Page 597
David Von Pein