Witness to a murder

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This is the first of two excerpts from “JFK: Breaking the News” (International Focus Press) by Hugh Aynesworth, Dallas bureau chief of The Washington Times. Mr. Aynesworth, as a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, witnessed the assassination of JFK, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and the killing of Oswald by Jack Ruby.

A damp, gray, autumn sky hung over Dallas — weather to match my mood.

Friday, November 22, 1963.

President John F. Kennedy was coming to town. There’d be a motorcade, and then JFK would address a luncheon at the Dallas Trade Mart.

The president’s visit was the local news story of the week, or even the year for that matter, and my paper, the Dallas Morning News, was deploying every available hand to cover the event — everyone except me.

Science and aviation was my beat, not government or politics. All my buddies at the paper had been talking about the Kennedy visit for days. Now they would all be part of a story big enough to tell their children about.

“Where you gonna be?” photographer Joe Laird asked, juggling several cameras.

“Oh, Hugh’s off today,” columnist Larry Grove answered for me. “He lucked out.”

Grove was my best buddy on the paper. We had just returned from our first coffee break in the cafeteria, where I had told him I felt like everybody except me and the copy boys were going to be with the president at Love Field or at the Trade Mart luncheon.

“You may be the lucky one,” Grove said with a grin. “I guess I’ll get a good column out of it, but … ”

I guess I was somewhat spoiled. I was 32. Not only had I been covering all the U.S. manned spaceflight launches, the nation’s underground nuclear-testing program and various military stories, I’d been to Cuba just days before the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. I was used to action.

I drifted back down to the cafeteria, got another cup of coffee and picked up the day’s paper. I had at least three hours before I was scheduled to interview an aerospace scientist at Southern Methodist University.

The Metro section carried an interview with former Vice President Richard Nixon, in town under his lawyer’s hat for meetings with Pepsi-Cola bottlers.

Nixon was scheduled to fly out of Love Field two hours before the man who barely edged him for the presidency in 1960 would land aboard Air Force One. At a Baker Hotel press conference, Nixon predicted his old rival might drop Vice President Lyndon Johnson from the ticket in his 1964 re-election campaign if the Texan proved to be a political liability.

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