(Undated) -- A Greenfield native was among those with KMAland ties who witnessed the end of Camelot 50 years ago today.
At 12:30 p.m. central time on November 22nd, 1963, millions of Americans were going about their normal daily routines. Housewives had their TV sets tuned to the CBS soap opera, "As the World Turns." About 10 minutes later, the program--and all life across the entire country, for that matter--was interrupted by the first of many news bulletins. As Walter Cronkite and other news reporters kept the country informed during those dark four days, others were at the scene watching history unfold.
The late Hugh Sidey was a reporter for Time Magazine in 1963, when he followed President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie to Texas for a very important political visit. Sidney was riding in the president's motorcade as it moved through the streets of Dallas. In a 2003 interview with KMA News, Sidey recalled that little, if any, of the hostility that was feared prior to Kennedy's visit was evident as the press bus following behind Kennedy's car made its way into Dealey Plaza.
"All the way downtown, the crowds were great," said Sidey. "Particularly the middle of town. My main interest was to see what the Neiman Marcus store looked like--the only famous thing I could think about with Dallas. We turned the corner, and I remember leaning my head against the glass on the bus. I looked up, and here was this big, ugly building at the corner of the street."
That building was the Texas School Book Depository. As Sidey and other reporters watched Kennedy's vehicle drive past the depository, three shots rang out. Sidey thought nothing of the shots. But another of Sidey's colleagues riding in the bus thought differently. CBS reporter Robert Pierpoint, who was sitting across from Sidey, had covered the Korean War--and knew gunshots when he heard them.
"Bob stood up, and said 'that sounded like gunfire to me,'" Sidey said. "Well, Bob obviously knew more about it than me, and that's when I stood up. The bus edged closer to the turn--and that's when we began to see this was something extraordinary, because the people on the grassy knoll were all lying down, as if a great wind had just knocked them all over."
After driving past what Sidey called "stunned panic," the press bus stopped at the Dallas Trade Mart--where Kennedy was to have spoken. The bus then traveled to Parkland Hospital after reporters learned Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connelly had been taken there. Outside the hospital, Sidey and other reporters saw a series of sad events unfold--all signaling the end of a presidency. Sidey watched as a secret serviceman with a bucket of water washed blood and brain tissue off the presidential limousine. Sidney and Hearst newspaper reporter Marianne Means then encountered two priests leaving the hospital. The priests had just administered the last rights to a slain Kennedy.
"As they prepared to get into the car, Marianne said, 'can't you tell us whether he's dead or alive? We're entitled to know that,'" he said. "One of the priests said, 'he's dead all right.' That's the first official word we got."
Soon, Sidey and other reporters watched as a coffin carrying Kennedy's body left the hospital in a hearse. His wife Jackie, dressed in a blood-stained pink suit, followed alongside. The press bus then transported Sidey and others to Love Field, where they watched Air Force One take off for a journey back to Washington. The plane carried a dead president, and a new president--Lyndon Johnson, who was sworn in on board before it took off.
"That plane took off with a great thunder," Sidey said. "I remember thinking this is one of the most melancholy days in the history of the world. This young president is laying down there, going back to the White House. There would ensue the full (funeral) ceremonies with the same format used for Lincoln. It's one of those things your mind can't get around fully."
Years later, Sidey confessed to KMA News that he never really recovered from that day in Dallas. With Kennedy's assassination, the legendary journalist lost not only a president, but a friend. Moreover, JFK's passing marked the return of the old political guard Kennedy had swept out of Washington in 1960.
"John Kennedy had defeated Lyndon Johnson and the old Democrats," said Sidey. "He'd really run a coup d'etat of the political party. And he'd taken over power, and pushed them aside. Then he'd beaten Nixon. And Nixon had gone out to retire, for all intents and purposes. He ran for governor (of California), but he was defeated there. He was out of it. But suddenly, this thing changed back and they were back."
Hugh Sidey died on November 21st, 2005--almost 42 years to the date of Kennedy's passing.