It was 50 years ago this November that the president of the United States was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Most Americans alive today were not even born then, but to those who were, the memories are still vivid. In so many ways, that was the day the earth stood still. This year will see observances commemorating the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest moments in our history.
It was not long after the president’s funeral that many began to question whether the accused gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone. In order to quell the nation’s nerves, President Johnson appointed a blue ribbon commission headed by Chief Justice Warren to determine who killed JFK. That Warren Commission concluded Oswald acted alone.
Many, however, refused to accept the Commissions findings. Decades later even Hollywood got into the act with the “JFK” which focused on the investigation New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison conducted into the case. Garrison’s investigation produced plausible evidence that Oswald did not act alone, and may have been a decoy. Oswald, of course, was never brought to trial because Jack Ruby killed him two days after the assassination in the Dallas Jail. Most other witnesses met with untimely deaths before they could testify.
For 50 years the Kennedy family has remained silent about this tragedy. On that fateful day in Dallas, President Kennedy’s brother Robert was Attorney General--the chief law enforcement official in the country. At the time he publically indicated support for the Warren Commission Report.
However less than five years after President Kennedy’s murder, he was also assassinated in Los Angeles. So we never got to read his memoirs to learn what he really felt—particularly after the passing of FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover.
Two of Robert Kennedy’s children have broken the family silence. Robert Kennedy Jr. and his sister Rory Kennedy spoke about their family Friday night while being interviewed in front of an audience by Charlie Rose at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, at the first event in the year of observance. Jamie Stengel of AP covered the event.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said his father spent a year trying to come to grips with his brother's death, reading the work of Greek philosophers, Catholic scholars, Henry David Thoreau, poets and others "trying to figure out kind of the existential implications of why a just God would allow injustice to happen of the magnitude he was seeing." The Kennedys are a Catholic family, and Robert Kennedy Sr. was religious.
He said his father thought the Warren Commission was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship." He said that he, too, questioned the report, Stengle wrote.
"The evidence at this point I think is very, very convincing that it was not a lone gunman," RFK Jr. said. Neither Kennedy, however, would say they believed may have happened.
Rose asked if Kennedy believed his father, the U.S. attorney general at the time of his brother's death, felt "some sense of guilt because he thought there might have been a link between his very aggressive efforts against organized crime."
Kennedy replied: "I think that's true. He talked about that. He publicly supported the Warren Commission report but privately he was dismissive of it."
He said his father had investigators do research into the assassination and found that phone records of Oswald and nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald two days after the president's assassination, "were like an inventory" of mafia leaders the government had been investigating.
As Attorney General, Robert Kennedy began a war on the Mafia tossing many into prison. He also went after Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa, who had Mafia ties. Hoffa himself was believed to have been murdered.
Kennedy said his father, later elected U.S. senator in New York, was "fairly convinced" that others were involved.
Rory Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker who recently made a film “Ethel” about the life of her mother. She focused on the happier memories of her uncle. She said she and her siblings grew up in a culture where it was important to give back.
"We were kind of lucky because we lost our members of our family when they were involved in a great endeavor," her brother added. "And that endeavor is to make this country live up to her ideals."
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