Missing School To See an Historic Event
November 22, 1963
by Jane Johnson
May 23, 2024
There are not many of us left.  We are now in our late 60s to mid-70s.  The few feet of film footage shows there were infants held by parents and some small children, but they were too young to remember the airplane landing, the motorcade of black cars, Jackie's gorgeous ensemble, and the subsequent assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.  
My parents never told their children about their political leanings, so my mother suggesting we get out of school to see a president was a novel idea!  Usually, I had to be close to dead to get permission to miss school.  No...really...dead.  I still have certificates from elementary school teachers congratulating me on perfect attendance.  But then school and parents were different in the 1950s and 1960s.  
So, I knew to get out of school, even for a few hours, was a really big event.  My younger sister also got some freedom from the classroom that Friday in November.  Our school was close to Dallas Love Field, the only airport in the area at the time.  Enormous DFW was yet to be built.  Many in Dallas did not want it, and Ft. Worth had much to gain by it.  Arlington and Irving were changed forever, when DFW was constructed.  Had the presidential visit come just over a decade later, Kennedy and his entourage would have landed miles away from Dallas and had a different route.  But this is just one of the many ironies of this famous day in history.
My mother arrived at our school and, as promised, got us out for a short time.  We drove to the airport and parked.  We walked on grass to what is now the rental car area, just to the right, as you enter Dallas Love Field.  We stood among mostly older adults, some of the women wearing hats or scarves on their heads, once a style and also a protection for highly coiffed hairdos.  Men were in business suits, dress shirts and ties.  Blue jeans and t-shirts were not appropriate attire at the time.  These outfits were to make their mark later in the 1960s and 1970s to become the "costume" of most of the free world.  
Not long after our arrival, the presidential plane flew past us and landed southeast to northwest.  Southwest Airlines still lands planes in the same pattern.  Bachman Lake is at the end of the runway.  When I was young, going to Bachman Lake gave families and young lovers an opportunity to see planes land and take off up close.  
November 22nd, 1963, was not my first visit to Love Field.  One of my earlier classes had a field trip to see the first jets land there.  Large, propeller planes were becoming a thing of the past.  It was quite noisy and exciting!  Although this long strip of concrete and lake were small pieces of property compared to all the places the president had been personally and professionally, they were the last large body of water and runway he would ever see.  
After Air Force One and Air Force Two landed, here was a little lull in the excitement, as the crowd waited for the dignitaries and their staff to deplane.  Suddenly, the river of black cars flowed past us.  My glimpse of the president was quick, but my stare and memories of Jackie's dress and color against the dark limousines were burned in my brain.  Hot pink does not sufficiently describe her outfit.  It appeared to be like sherbet, and her dress style looked like something that would be sold at Neiman-Marcus, a local high end store that is now a national chain.  
Once the motorcade drove past, the crowd dispersed.  The excitement was over, and it was time to return to school.  Since I was the only one in my class, who went to see the president, my teacher asked me to stand in front of my fellow students to tell them what I saw.  At that time, we called it "Show and Tell."  I did not expect her to ask me to do this, but I was happy to share with everyone what I had just witnessed.  
When I finished and sat down, class got back on track.  However after what seemed like no time at all, our principal got on our public address system and said that the president had been shot.  His voice sounded strained.  Class went on before we were interrupted again.  The principal announced on the public address system that the president had died.  
We did not know what to do, but as I remember, class went on, as if nothing had happened.  The principal did not request that school end early, so carry on we did.  We were the era of students who had grown up practicing "duck and cover" drills under our desk, then later lining up in hallways against lockers as a safety drill, in case a nuclear blast blew the windows out of our school.  We were children of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I used to pray at night that the Cubans would not send missiles to Dallas Love Field.  If they did, our family and all of our neighbors would die, due to our close location.  Our little band of students were stoic and quiet with this important announcement, much like children of other conflicts.  But we knew we could all be in danger due to our school's location.  The most powerful man in the world had just been shot to death not too many miles away.
My older sister had also seen the motorcade with her best friend and her mother, who had gotten them out of a different school.  The motorcade went through one of the nicest parts of Dallas before heading downtown.  It was probably a Republic stronghold, so I have since wondered why this route was selected.  The John Birch Society was very anti-Kennedy.  One of its members lived nearby, and his name is mentioned in the Warren Commission Report. Did anybody think that having a drive-by in this part of North Dallas would change anybody's mind or political leanings?  Or was the drive past beautiful homes meant to impress the Kennedys with how lovely Dallas was in this area?  
My mother never said anything about our excursion, but I feel sure she was watching us carefully for several weeks... to see if we had any adverse emotional impact from seeing someone, then learning about their violent death.  Our Texas governor, John Connally, was also shot.  Two real acts of violence.  Would Connally die as well?  Up to that time, I had only seen shootings on television westerns, like Gunsmoke and Bonanza.  
As with most American families, we watched television all weekend.  When my father saw Lee Harvey Oswald on the screen, he said he had seen him after he was arrested at the movie theater in Oak Cliff.  My father worked downtown and had professional friends at the Dallas Morning News and WFAA, an ABC affiliate.  When he heard about the shooting of President Kennedy, he walked from his office to the newspaper to see if he could learn more.  The streets of Dallas were buzzing with lots of people and rumors.  On his return from the newspaper office, he stopped at a red light and looked over to see a man, with a roughed up face, sitting in the back of a Dallas police car.  He remembered him due to his unsightly appearance.  The light changed, and he walked back to the office, never realizing at the time that he was one of the few, who saw a man who would die less than 48 hours later. Oswald would be assumed by some, but not tried, as one of the most famous assassins in the world.  
We learned as the rest of the weekend unfolded about two more deaths-the murder of a WW II veteran, father, husband, and Dallas Police Officer, J. D. Tippit, and the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald.  Jack Ruby went from obscurity to become a household name within 24 hours.  Dallas was unfairly getting blamed by the media for all of this chaos.  
Years later, long after my mother died, I realized I still did not know why she chose to take us out of school.  Was she a Democrat, who wanted to see a president?  I do not think so.  She was a childhood friend of Lady Bird Johnson.  Both were from small places in east Texas, and Lady Bird had been a visitor in her family home.  I think she wanted to see Claudia (her real first name) after all these years. Lady Bird was friends with my aunt, who was invited to Johnson's inauguration.  My aunt chose not to go, but why?  Was it a difference in politics or just not her interest?  She had a photo of Claudia in her childhood scrapbook.
At a high school reunion decades later, I had a conversation with a friend, whose father was a Dallas lawyer and represented Jack Ruby.  She, like me, at the time did not understand the magnitude of that weekend and its impact around the world.  She just reported her family phone was "ringing off the hook."  Entire households usually only had one line at the time, and phones were plastic, sometimes in colors, and plugged into a wall.  They all seem so primitive now. They just made and received calls...no photos, calculator, flashlight or search features.  I will never be able to discuss any more of this subject of Ruby and her father, since she, like her father, are now deceased. 
My father later had one of Kennedy's doctors at Parkland Hospital as his physician.  My father told me so after the doctor died, so I checked his obituary, which indeed stated that the doctor treated President Kennedy.  I wish I had known that when I took my father to one of his appointments.  It would have been a treasure to discuss it with someone who had their own take on that Friday afternoon.  The doctors all had their own interesting stories of what happened and the parts they played.  Some can be watched online in interviews about that day.
I have since taken a class on the Warren Commission Report vs. independent researchers.  There are lots of problems with the Warren Report.  Was it a rush to judgment?  Was there a cover up?  We will never know, but my fellow students and I doubted Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin.  What happened to the witnesses in the School Book Depository, who said Oswald could not have left the breakroom and gone upstairs in time to shoot anyone?  How did Oswald learn Russian, a very difficult language?  How could this former Marine be such a good shot at a distant and moving target and not be part of an elite military squad instead of being assigned to a unit that did not shot at anything?  What was his motive?  How could he defect to Russia and then come to Dallas with a Russian wife without any problems getting a job or the FBI interfering and returning him to Russia?  What young man with a wife and child in the 1960s would have depended on rides and not owned a car?  Why was he briefly living apart from his wife and daughter?  Why did he leave the School Book Depository rather than go back to work, as if nothing happened?  Did he or someone acting for him buy a rifle from a company in Chicago and have it mailed, when Texas has plenty of pawn shops where he could have cheaply purchased one within an hour?  Did he buy a curtain rod and no curtain while renting a room...or was he hiding a rifle? What about the shadow problems in a photo where he is holding a rifle and newspaper? Why would he pose with such odd items?  There are so many questions that will never be answered.
If you fly into Dallas Love Field, you will be on the same route where Kennedy took his last flight alive.  When you leave, you will be near the area where Lyndon Baines Johnson became president, and Kennedy was in a casket starting his last flight.  You will have Bachman Lake behind you, and the Dallas skyline ahead.
Most all of the major and minor players in the events of that weekend are deceased.  But there are a few of us left, who witnessed history in Dallas, and we are still curious.
For a look back in Dallas history, use these links.
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