East on St James

by Rick Beck

Chapter 12

Silent Night

As Dury began speaking, Gary and Keith grew quiet, sensing what they wanted to hear about was on the way.

"I was at an age when I questioned things. Because there were so many things going on, I searched for something that wasn't the official story. Even before the story took place I'm about to tell you, the government line seldom matched up with the facts, as they became clear."

"This sounds like the same thing we were talking about," Gary said.

"Cool down. We've been here three hours."

"Four," Gary corrected.

"Time flies when you're having fun," Dury said. "I'm setting the stage so I put the story in context. It'll make more sense that way."

"OK," Gary said.

"My friends and I wanted to go to where this orator was. It was late before we knew where he'd be. It was a hastily organized event. To even get out of the house that time of night took an act of congress, but my parents hardly argued. All four of us were out of the house and we didn't even need to lie about it.

"This was a big deal and our parents thought it was important for us to remember him. By the time we left the house it was after eight.

"This would have been three months after we heard King speak. My buddies and I were on our way. He was the only man as eloquent as King once Winston Churchill was out of the game. I never heard Churchill give a speech but he was one of the great orators."

"Why do you say that?" Gary asked.

"I lived in Washington. I got to hear most men I wanted to hear. It wasn't the way it is now. Men spoke outside in plain view of large audience. The great speakers didn't need to remind people to come. People were drawn to them." "Now someone would take a shot at them," Gary said.

"It's customary to not make yourself a target these days. Lots of men with guns out there and you never know when one is gunning for you. My friends and i had heard both of these men speak. They made you feel it when you heard them. It was like they were talking directly to you. My father said that if you felt it in your belly, you could figure out what was true."

"OK, quit stalling, Lane," Gary said. "Is this how you won cases in court? By talking the jury into a submission. A name please. We know you know who he is."

"It's coming. It was November. It was a cold night. It might have been drizzling rain or it seemed like it was.

"When we got to where he was, the line was endless. We walked and walked just to find the end of the line. It went way past Union Station. We got in line and people kept coming and coming. Before long there were people as far as I could see in front of us and behind us."

"He must have been good," Keith said.

"And I'm starting to recognize this story," Gary said. "Go ahead, I won't ruin it for Keith. I know who you're talking abut now."

"We probably got in line just before nine. We ended up being out all night. We'd never been out overnight before. Our parents knew where we were and we knew they might call each other but they wouldn't worry about how late it got."

"This guy must have been good," Keith said.

"Oh, he was very good. It was becoming daylight when we reached the steps of the Capitol. After another half hour, we were narrowed down into two single file line. That's why it took so long. It all moved so fast after that it was surreal. We were going down the steps of the Capitol before we knew it. We'd done what we came to do," Dury said solemnly.

"After all those hours, I walked past the casket of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States. It was sobering. He was so alive, so smart, and so handsome," Dury said, hesitating. "One minute he was telling us we were great people with the ability to do great things. The next minute his voice was forever silenced."

Dury paused as both Keith and Gary sat silent.

"He was our guy," Dury said convincingly. "The first president born in the twentieth century. Like us, he was a good Catholic boy. He was Hollywood handsome with a wife more gorgeous than he was and he had two adorable kids. The country was in love with the Kennedy's. They were as close to royalty as we ever came.

"He was a hero in World War II, saving his PT boat crew, after their boat was sunk by the Japanese. His crew didn't know Jack was seriously injured, but he kept them together and lied about where the closest island was.

"Towing one of his wounded mates by taking the life jacket strap in his teeth, they swim all night. At first light they saw the island and swam ashore. They were rescued a few days later.

"Kennedy wore a back brace because of how seriously he was injured the night his PT boat went down. It was that back brace that kept him upright after he was hit by the first bullet. He couldn't fall forward and out of view of the shooter, and then came the head shot that killed him.

"He wanted to take us to the moon and end the Cold War."

No one had anything else to say.

"JFK's assassination took the government out of the hands of the young men he brought to Washington with him. A few hours later Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president before leaving Dallas. He returned to D.C. with Kennedy's body and his wife, who was no longer first lady of the United States.

"Even people yet to be born would know the story and see the film clips taken that day. The controversy over Kennedy's assassination never ended. The papers and secret files developed at the time weren't available to the people or reporters. No one knows what secrets remain untold for our own good."

For three men revisiting the known facts, it was still disturbing that such a dynamic leader could be so suddenly removed. Drinks for Dury and Gary would help. Keith got out the slices of lamb he'd put aside for sandwiches on pumpernickel bread. He served the sandwiches with potato salad he'd made the day before.

There wasn't much to say about this history. The best anyone could do was to say, 'Thank you,' when Keith delivered the snack. No one was particularly hungry, but the room remained silent as the sandwiches disappeared.

Dury, who was the only one to remember those long ago November events. Nearly fifty years later Kennedy's assassination still left people speechless. It was no longer an appetite killer. There was more to the story.

"The most remarkable part of that night was the silence. Shuffling feet and sobs were the only sounds for hour after hour. I didn't hear one word spoken.

"The country was in shock. It came to a standstill. The hope and inspiration of Kennedy was replaced by the same dour old men who always ran things. They saw America as the greatest empire in the history of the world. America was about politics and the projection of power.

"The hope had been shot away in Dallas. Within nine months Johnson had us in a war in Vietnam. It's what old men did and it men young men would die."

"Did Kennedy's death change the country?" Keith asked.

"We'll never know. A man who had bold ideas lead the country. He was killed. I'd like to see what it would be like if Kennedy had lived. John and Bobby were the most liberal minds of my time. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were eloquent voices for change. Losing one brilliant mind is a tragedy. Losing so many liberal thinkers is earth shattering. They were all gunned down in less than five years. It totally changed the direction of the country. They were young, dynamic, and projecting a new way of thinking. Almost as quickly as their stars rose, they were put out," Dury said.

"No event did more to shape me. I'd seen him at his inauguration. There may have been a million people at the Capitol that day. He stood in the open in a suit and he wore no hat. It was bitterly cold. It had snowed and that made it unusually bright, but a million people stood in the snow to hear him speak."

"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country," Gary said in a southern Massachusetts accent.

"Yes, that's where he said that line. He didn't last three full years."

"JFK went from being bitterly opposed by a segment of the population, to being beloved by all. The American memory doesn't run deep. By the end of the funeral his presidency became known as Camelot. That was a Broadway play Jack and Jackie listened to many nights in the White House. It was a play about triumph and glory.

"Those who wanted Kennedy dead stayed in the shadows, smiling privately," Dury said. "They won and Kennedy was gone. Killed by a lone nut."

"Jesus, you're killing me, Lane," Gary said, wiping his eyes and blowing his nose. "I remember that. I wasn't ten yet. My parents were in a daze. I thought it was the end of the world."

"The day America lost its innocence," Dury said. "I lost mine anyway. There is no democracy when the opposition kills you so the power shifts back to them."

"Who killed Kennedy?" Keith asked. "A guy with a twenty dollar rifle? How could anyone kill the president? It should be impossible."

"The day the world stood still," Gary said. "There are questions about who killed Kennedy. I think I was eight, but I know guns. I've hunted since I was a kid. Hitting a moving target once is an accomplishment. As I grew up the story seemed to change."

"Someone killed him and they aren't sure who? The president?" Keith said.

"The official story fell apart. The American people realized the government lied to them about Kennedy's death," Dury said.

"People couldn't believe the government would lie about the worst event in a hundred years. Then we started to wonder, what else is the government lying about?" Dury said.

"Like the Vietnam War for instance," Gary said.

"They lied about that too?" Dury asked in mock horror. "Someone killed the president. The people wanted the truth. The government decided lying about it would be better. As an attorney, telling the truth is always the best way to go. A lie will come back and bite you on the ass every time."

"Trusting your government, what a novel idea?" Gary said. 'Now big business tells the politicians what they think."

"We have the best government money can buy," Dury said.

"Doesn't sound like any way to run a railroad," Gary said.

"Or a government. The days of government of, by, for the people are long gone. It's government of, by, for corporations. They own our government and they write the laws they want passed. The politicians raise funds and use sound bites to get elected."

"I just want to know who killed Kennedy?" Keith asked. "I read about it in school but it was only a couple of paragraphs. A guy named Lee?"

"Most of us feel the same way, Keith. If someone knows who killed Kennedy, they aren't telling us. They gave us Lee Harvey Oswald. They so botched Kennedy's autopsy, no one can be sure where the shots came from. You can't disprove the findings of the Warren Commission."

"Wasn't there some kind of independent investigation?" Keith asked. "He was a president."

"The doctors in Dallas drew a sketch of Kennedy's head wounds as they began the autopsy. The FBI comes in, stops the autopsy, and they take Kennedy's body. The brain, what's left of it, is out of the body. The FBI waits while it is wrapped and placed beside the body, which is going back to Washington, where they resume the autopsy.

"The first problem is that the pictures taken at Bethesda don't match up with the sketch from Dallas. The wounds had been altered. What had been a gaping hole in the back of Kennedy's skull, now has the scalp pulled over it so the would looks like an entry wound instead of an exit wound. Dallas doctors opened an airway in Kennedy's neck right on top of where the first bullet exited."

"Now you have a man with half his head shot away. What is the point to a tracheotomy?" Gary asked.

"He was the president. They wanted to save him," Keith said. "I'd have done that if there was any chance of saving him."

"The Bethesda doctors didn't know there was a wound in the neck. They thought it was a sloppy attempt at opening an airway. So you have a drawing of the skull showing one thing and pictures showing something entirely different. The evidence has been altered. There's no way to prove where the shots came from."

"So your saying, Oswald may not have been the shooter," Gary said.

"We'll never know. Oswald isn't talking," Dury said. "They needed Oswald to be the lone assassin. The evidence has been ruined. Oswald is dead. Who benefits. If you buy the Warren Commissions findings, Oswald was the lone assassin. No evidence points any where else. No Oswald, no trial. No questions."

"Who shot him if Oswald didn't?" Keith asked again.

"Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter, according to the Warren Commission," Dury said. "That was the final word. Well, not quite as final as they'd have liked. In the late 1970s the Congress of the US found that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was likely a conspiracy, but they had no proof."

"More than one shooter," Gary said. "Doesn't conspiracy mean that?"

"A conspiracy would indicate other people were involved in some capacity, but if you have a conspiracy, there's an investigation. Except all the evidence is gone by the late 70s."

"So Oswald didn't do it?" Keith asked.

"They think shots were fired from Oswald's location. It may not have been the only location where shots were fired from. There is no proof of that, just the long odds against anyone using a bolt action rifle getting off three shots, two of which are head shots, in less than seven seconds.

"Oswald had to load and, aim, and fire each time. Doable, but you'd have to be super sniper to do it. Then there is proof there was a fourth shot fired. At least congress said so.

"There is no way Oswald could have fired four shots from that rifle. The shots were recorded over an open microphone on one of the police motorcycles. In 1963 they didn't have the technology to analyze the tape the way that was available in the late 70s. Experts claim there are four distinct shots on the recording from that open mic."

"Oswald couldn't have been the lone assassin?" Gary said.

"Did he tell you that? From first shot to last was 6.7 seconds. The best FBI shooters could pull it off, but they weren't shooting at president. Four shots would are impossible."

"Then it was a conspiracy," Gary said.

"Congress agrees."

"So who killed Kennedy?" Keith asked.

"You read the report?" Gary asked.

"The most notorious murder since Lincoln? Yes, I read it. I read most landmark cases," Dury said. "I wanted the truth. My father said, 'You get a different truth depending on who you talk to."

"Why would anyone want to kill the president?" Keith asked. "The people elected him. He should have served out his term?"

"Lee Harvey Oswald was portrayed as a lone nut assassin. That's where the investigation started and ended. They wanted Oswald to be the killer and that's who they gave us. Pointing a finger and saying, 'He did it' isn't an investigation. It is neat however. The Warren Commission was told to make it neat."

"He could have done it. He had the opportunity. He worked at the School Book Depository," Gary said.

"What was his motive? He didn't say. It always seemed to me that a lone nut assassin would yell his head off about why he needed to kill Kennedy, but not a word. He was caught. Why wouldn't he speak up? There's no evidence to prove he didn't shoot Kennedy, but justice doesn't work that way."

"He's all they had," Gary said.

"Oswald was who they had," Dury said. "A second shooter makes the story more plausible. Oswald was one of several shooters, but then you have a conspiracy. There would be an investigation. That isn't neat."

"The FBI examined the rifle and came up empty. There were no identifiable prints on Saturday. Oswald is shot. He dies. On Monday the FBI examines the rifle a second time. They find Oswald's palm print on it. How'd it get there. More importantly, when did it get there. Once Oswald was dead, the story was neat."

"No one who might indicate someone other than Oswald did it, wasn't called. There were people who heard shots from the 'Grass knoll' and from the building next to the School Book Depository. These witnesses aren't called to testify. The story stays neat."

"You're making this up," Keith said. "CSI would have nailed the evidence down in fifteen minutes."

"It's only an hour show, Keith," Gary said. "They only have fifteen minutes to devote to gathering evidence."

"How did the guy shoot Oswald? If you have him in custody, you have him," Keith said. "He was shot in the cop shop, right? That's wonderfully convenient if you like Oswald. No messy trial or discussion of the evidence."

"The Dallas cops were having trouble keeping high profile folks alive in their city that week," Gary said.

"What did he say about killing Kennedy?" Keith asked.

"'Ouch!' he said." Gary said. "Luckily no notes were written down or recordings were made while they had Oswald in custody. Sloppy if you ask me. We only have the word of the cops for what Oswald said to them."

"Oswald shot. Were these the Keystone Cops?" Keith asked.

"Keith, when they paraded Oswald through the Dallas police station, showing off their trophy, he said, 'I'm a patsy. I didn't shoot anyone. I request someone come forward to represent me.'" Dury said. "He looked like a man who had legal trouble.

"I've seen my share of murderers up close. Oswald was cool as a cucumber. For a guy who just assassinating the most powerful man in the world, he was one cool customer."

"So you don't think he did it," Keith said.

"Most guys who are guilty of murder are looking for the deal. The D.A. wants the deal. The murderer gets to live and the D.A. gets a conviction. Most murderers are nervous as hell, until they get a deal. Then you see them relax and get cocky again. They wear their guilt once in custody."

"But Oswald didn't ask for a deal?" Gary asked.

"I can't say what he said to the Dallas cops. When they wanted everyone to see their catch a few hours after Kennedy was dead, Oswald asked for an attorney in front of reporters. Not a bead of sweat or a slip of the lip. As they finished parading him past, someone yelled, 'Did you kill the president?'

"Oswald stopped moving. No one pushed him along. He said calmly, 'No, no one has said that to me yet.'" Dury said. "In reality he had been charged with killing Kennedy about the time the police were showing him off. This guy is totally cool. If he was a lone nut assassin, why isn't he foaming at the mouth. Why not shout whatever ideology drove him to ice the president?

"Every one in the country is watching. Wouldn't he want his story told, especially if he was a nut?" Dury explained. "It doesn't make sense, but you tell me that Oswald is a hired assassin. I'd buy that. The trouble with that story is...."

"Who hired the hired assassin?" Gary said.

"Exactly! We're back to a conspiracy and a real investigation."

"The Dallas cops let Kennedy get killed on their watch. They catch the president's killer and he's killed. Great police work if you ask me," Keith said.

"Why didn't the FBI come and get Oswald?" Gary asked.

"There was no federal law against killing the president," Dury said. "That law was written as a result of Kennedy's assassination. The Dallas police had jurisdiction in a murder case. The FBI got away with taking Kennedy's body at the hospital. I doubt they pull it off at Dallas police headquarters. if Oswald had lived, he'd have been tried in Dallas."

"Do you really believe that?" Gary asked.

"I don't think much about what didn't happen."

"I doubt it," Gary said. "The new president was from Texas. Johnson would have wanted Oswald tried in D.C. How'd the FBI get the body away from them?"

"The FBI stole the evidence of the murder. They stopped the autopsy, rolled Kennedy's body out into the hall. In the hall the FBI and Dallas police wrestled over Kennedy's body. When Mrs. Kennedy stepped into the hall to see what the commotion was, the Dallas cops let go of the gurney. The FBI dashed down the hall, making a clean getaway," Dury said. "Had Jackie not stepped into the hall, we might be talking about the shootout at Parkland Hospital."

"You're making this up," Keith said.

"That's how newspaper reporters saw it," Dury said.

"The FBI could do what they wanted?" Keith said.

"No doubt Hoover told them to take the body and bring it back to Washington," Dury said. "Little happened with the FBI Hoover wasn't in on."

"Oswald was safely in jail. Who would believe that cops would walk him into a crowd. A rookie cop would know better than that. If you must move him, you move him at two in the morning and without the audience that just might be hiding a gunman," Keith said.

"They were so busy patting themselves on the back, that they didn't bother to protect their prize prisoner," Gary said. "They were the keystone cops."

"Oswald was shot on live television in front of the entire nation, while they watched the coverage of the tributes to Kennedy. Forty-eight hours after Kennedy dies, his alleged assassin dies in the same operating room."

"Might make a good television show," Keith said. "A comedy cop show."

"No one would believe it," Gary said. "The country was already in shock. Then, while watching ceremonies for JFK, they switch to Dallas in time for America to witness the assassin of JFK being assassinated. You take that show to a TV producer and he'd laugh you out of his office."

"What happened that got the country going again?" Keith asked.

"Time. Don't they say, 'Time heals all wounds.' I guess we healed as much as we were ever going to heal."

"Do you remember Dury? You were old enough to go to see his casket," Keith said. "What was it that got things back to normal? Do you remember?"

Dury thought a moment. He grinned. Then he laughed in a pleasant way as he remembered what snapped America out of its depression.

"I do remember. You wouldn't believe me if I told you what saved America from the funk Kennedy's death put us in."

"Come on, Dury. I wasn't there. I don't know," Keith said.

Dury wasn't listening. He was remembering and smiling.

"You can't stop there. Come on," Keith pleaded.

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