On this day in 1963, children across America were overwhelmed with fear as their parents mourned and the nation’s servicemen prepared a funeral to be watched by millions of people.
Fifty years later, Nov. 22 is not just a day of remembrance for some, but a reminder of the continued pursuit to know the truth: Who killed the president?
On that Friday afternoon, while riding through Dealey Plaza in Dallas in an uncovered limousine, President John F. Kennedy was shot twice and died at a local hospital 30 minutes later.
The impact of those two shots, on history and on the personal lives of millions of Americans, continues to this day. Here are the stories of three local men and what the historic event means to them, 50 years later.
The reporter’s son
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Stephen Schuster, 62, vividly remembers the days surrounding the tragedy, partially because of his mother’s stories as a reporter at the time for the Marietta Daily Journal.
Ruth Schuster was in the newsroom that day, in earshot of the teletype machine that would ring out before dictating national news on long rolls of paper.
Two rings meant it was important, and she had not heard more than three rings for any event since the end of World War II, Schuster said.
That day, 10 bells rang to alert the press that a national disaster had occurred, Schuster said.
Stephen Schuster, who was a 12-year-old seventh-grader, remembers being in school when the students were told about the assassination attempt and later the pronouncement of death.
A year before, a 13-day confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, called the Cuban Missile Crisis, had fathers in the area building bomb shelters in their backyards filled with tins of biscuits and water, Schuster said.
“As a child of that era, I distinctly remember fallout shelters, duck and cover drills and the occasional school evacuation to the country in case of nuclear attack,” Shuster said.
After hearing the news about Kennedy, Schuster said he was petrified of what would happen next and believed the Russians were responsible.
Schuster said it was a shock losing the young “dashing” president, who was 46 years old when he was gunned down while seated next to his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy.
The end of the Camelot fairy tale was the loss of innocence for most children in America, Schuster said, but for older generations, who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, the assassination “dragged you back into the nasty world we live in.”
Schuster said the whole city of Atlanta came to a halt, and everyone tuned into the radio for the latest information.
Even four days later, Schuster said he remembers going with his father, Ed, downtown to Rich’s Department Store, headquartered in Atlanta, to stand in front of the window display of televisions, where they could see the simultaneous news programs by the only three broadcast channels at the time.
The ceremonial officer
The day Ruth Schuster’s report, “Marietta Sad, Hushed City; Downtown Area Almost Empty,” ran in the Marietta Daily Journal, the official day of mourning, Nov. 25, 1963, was taking place across the country, as the state funeral for Kennedy commenced in the nation’s capital.
Col. Don Stretch, 77, had just graduated from Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, and joined the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment as a lieutenant.
Also known as the “The Old Guard,” the unit oversees ceremonies like state funerals.
Stretch was part of the Kennedy funeral detail that paraded the horse-drawn caisson to the Capitol building, with 300,000 people lining the streets.
People waited for 10 hours in lines wrapping around city blocks to pay their respects, Stretch said.
Stretch said he saw the young Kennedy family mourning, including John Kennedy Jr., whose third birthday fell on the day of his father’s funeral.
For days and weeks after the funeral, Stretch escorted dignitaries from around the world and elected officials from around the United States to the gravesite.
Jackie Kennedy requested the Eternal Flame, which still draws people to Kennedy’s grave. Stretch said he remembers the temporary eternal flame being constructed of a 3-foot-wide ball of wire with tubing leading to propane gas.
Stretch, who moved to Cobb County with his family in 1982 and has a master’s degree in educational administration, said there was more of an awareness in the late 1960s of the role government played and the benefits of a democratic country.
“I don’t believe our educational system today gives our students enough of our history and the importance of it,” Stretch said.
He added the younger generations are unaware of who their representatives are.
The conspiracy theorist
No matter the somberness of Kennedy’s death and the emotions it still stirs, researchers interested in cold, hard facts are more apt to characterize the assassination as one of the greatest modern-day cover-ups by the United States government.
On Nov. 22, 1963, a lone assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, fired two shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
Stretch said the suspicions surrounding Kennedy’s death increased when Oswald was killed by nightclub-owner Jack Ruby on live television while being transferred to the Dallas County Jail n.
That footage was not the only shocking image to support the questioning of Oswald’s role in the murder.
An 8mm camera held by Abraham Zapruder captured the moving images, shown for generations, of Kennedy in the motorcade before a bullet pierced through his head, prompting Jackie Kennedy to scramble out onto the trunk.
Skeptics say the film shows the shot that killed Kennedy caused his head to be pushed backward, meaning the bullet must have been fired from “the grassy knoll” ahead of the motorcade instead of the book depository behind them.
The Marietta Daily Journal on the evening of Nov. 22, 1963, printed a report from the United Press International newswire that stated, “President Kennedy was shot in the right temple.”
Michael Opitz, a civil mediator who served in the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, hosts a five-part series on his website, decidingthevote.com, that discusses issues like the “botched autopsy” of Kennedy and the arrests of three men on the railroad track near the parade route.
The men pictured with Dallas police officers have an uncanny resemblance to high-ranking CIA operatives, including E. Howard Hunt, who were involved with the anti-Castro movement and were later tied to Watergate, Opitz said.
After all of his research, Opitz said he is inclined to think Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who represented Texas as both a U.S. senator and U.S. representative, had a hand in orchestrating the event.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Johnson was in the same motorcade traveling behind the president and was immediately surrounded by Secret Service men, according to reports from that day.
Johnson was in jeopardy of being indicted on criminal charges and investigated by the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Opitz said.
If Kennedy had not been killed, there is a great chance that the United States would not have become heavily engaged in the Vietnam War, Optiz said. He added Kennedy was planning to move the country away from the Federal Reserve System, which manages the nation’s money supply.
Opitz was 17 and a senior in an Alabama high school when Kennedy was killed, but only became interested in the conspiracy later in life.
Although the assassination was 50 years ago, new books and documentaries are releasing information from sources silenced for decades coming forward with whispers of truth from their death beds.
Optiz said the American people have never accepted the official story from the Warren Commission, but the word conspiracy often causes eyes to roll.
“When people want to shut you up, they call you a conspiracy nut,” Opitz said.
In reality, conspiracy theorists have a way of looking for patterns and linking events. He added no successful major political assassination, since Julius Cesar, ever involved just one person.
For a day by day look at news coverage following the assassination, check out Damon Poirier's Time Capsule column here.