11.22.2020 01:59 AM

The death of our king

It was January 1967, just after New Year’s, and my Dad came home from Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where he worked as a doctor. He was preoccupied.

Jack Ruby, the man who had killed Lee Harvey Oswald – and Oswald being the man who had killed John F. Kennedy – was dying of cancer at the hospital, my Dad told us. The Warren Commission would later conclude that Ruby was a nobody. But, for a man considered so unremarkable by the powers-that-be, he had attracted a remarkable amount of attention from the powerful.

“There are FBI agents all over the hospital,” my father told us, a bit bewildered. “Dozens of them. None of us can get anywhere near the floor where he is. They don’t want anyone talking to him, or interacting with him.”

To us – Irish Catholic Canadians living in Dallas – Ruby’s fate was of more than passing interest. To us, Kennedy had been our hope, our liberator, our Obama before there was Obama. He was the first Irish Catholic to become President, and – from the perspective of my Irish Catholic family, then and now – he was murdered on November 22, 1963 principally because of that.

My maternal grandmother was succinct about it all, as she was about everything. “We are Irish and Catholic, and we were lower than dirt, to them,” she said. “They killed him because they couldn’t get over the fact an Irish Catholic had become president.”

“They,” of course, were the white, Protestant compact that had ruled the United States of America since its beginnings. And, if you ever doubted the extent of their power, you should have lived with our family in Dallas, Texas in the Sixties. Back then, Dallas was the epicenter of racism and injustice on the continent. It was a furnace of hate.

We didn’t have much money, because my Dad was starting out, and my Mom was at home raising my two brothers and me. We lived next door to a Mexican-American family, and their son David was one of my best friends. But David did not attend David G. Burnet Elementary School with me, where I learned (and still know) the Pledge of Allegiance. I didn’t understand why David didn’t go to the same school as me. But my parents knew.

One day, my Mom spoke to her closest Texas friend, Mrs. Stevenson, and said to her that – one day – David would be permitted to go to school with me. Mrs. Stevenson, who is one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, said this: “Well, on that day, I will go down to the school with my gun.” Sweet as pie. Just like that.

Dallas, Texas – where JFK was shot down in the street, like a stray dog – was like that. On the surface, it was big and friendly and warm. Underneath, the place was seething cauldron of resentments and prejudice. Guns and violence and casual expressions of bigotry were everywhere. Even as a kid, I remembered I was still a Canadian, and therefore a stranger in a strange land.

As the world again reflects on the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, there has been much written about his unfulfilled legacy. There has been much written about Dallas, too, and about its efforts to rehabilitate itself. Perhaps it has done so; I can’t remember the last time I was there.

I do remember, however, our family returning to Canada. As our station wagon edged towards the border, my Dad – who was not ever given to melodrama – said he wanted to get out and kiss Canadian soil.

All of us understood, and none of us looked in the rearview mirror at the departing United States – or Dallas, where our King was murdered, on November 22, 1963.

26 Comments


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    Hammer Dom says:

    Winkie, powerful shit dude.
    Wow.
    I was in Dallas on my drive to live 2 years on the beach in Mexico and become the next D.H. Lawrence, back in 2000. Stayed a month in Dallas. One of the first things the girls I was saying with did….was take me to the spot. I remember thinking….you murdered your own president and now it’s a fucking tourist attraction? Very strange. Great city, weird vibe. Texas. What ya gonna do. Life was never the same after JFK the world over.


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    WDM says:

    Really neat piece, Warren. A unique personal perspective. Well done.


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    Cameron Prymak says:

    I hope you can listen to Mike Rawlings speech yesterday at the memorial service in Dallas.


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    smelter rat says:

    The recent CNN piece on JFK is excellent, as is the CBC’s The Passionate Eye, aired earlier this year.


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    Mike Prastmenn says:

    That was a very personal piece … thank you for sharing.

    I’m sure you know all Catholics who are not Irish revere Kennedy.
    Maybe hard to believe, but there are Irish who are not Catholic who so revere him too – (McNamara was of Scots-Irish roots for one). Kennedy’s great genius was getting folks out of themselves (ask not!). As we look at the Quebec Charter etc., still some road to travel in this regard. In the context of your story, it makes me recall the 17-year old Mexican-American Juan Romero who pressed his rosary into the hand of a dying Bobby Kennedy. I agree that the tragedy of the Kennedy’s was because they were Catholic; and as such, the arch enemies of World Communism. Remember, Lee Harvey Oswald went to the Soviet Union, not Waspland.

    Have a peaceful Sunday.

    http://framework.latimes.com/2010/11/22/busboy-in-kennedy-assissination-photo-asks-for-forgiveness/#/0


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    PeggyW says:

    THe Kennedy brothers were movers and shakers in the White House, and poised to do so much more. The list of groups who had reason to want them out of there is fairly long, but I don’t think we’ll ever know now whether there was some kind of conspiracy, or if the truth is just the simple fact that Oswald and Ruby were two lone actors that converged at a point in history. Kennedy’s death was such a blow that I don’t think people want to believe that. It reminds me of the line from Elton John’s Empty Garden, about the murder of John Lennon- “Ain’t it funny how one insect can damage so much grain.”


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    J.W. says:

    Kinsella, you are getting very good at this writing stuff.


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    dave says:

    Sometimes what crosses my mind is what a huge deal we make of the protection of leaders of a democratic society.
    In your piece you use the word ‘king.’ Perhaps in our history we have had centuries of kings and assorted similar one all powerful leaders, usually male. We have not had that much history working with democracy, egalitarian and open democracy. (Here in Canada, we seem to have, both provincially and federally, the legislative and executive parts of government all in one office, under one person.)
    In USA, in their constitution, they have laid out the regulations of a succession should something happen to the top man. You would expect that in an egalitarian democracy; but they seem to put so much into defending that one person, as if he were a god-king. Both White House and Camp David seem to use up a lot of resources on security.
    Here in Canada, were something to happen to our one powerful one, a new PM would emerge from our legislature, in practice, probably from the cabinet. But we have this elaborate ‘de facto’ security system to ensure that the one person stays in power, with immunity.

    I find the emphasis on one person, or king, at odds with egalitarian democracy.

    (Reminds me of a cartoon circa 1970: caricature of Nixon on a platform in front of microphone saying, “My fellow Americans…” In front of the platform facing same direction as Nixon are ranks of cops in helmets with visors.)


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      !o! says:

      the way we deify leaders in N.A. is certainly interesting. More so in the US, but it happens here as well…

      North Korea certainly does not have the monopoly on personality cults.


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        dave says:

        I really did not like Kennedy much.
        I remember that I was in a rush making schooling money by day, and playing something called intermediate football evenings. I’d get to a tv about 11 each night to see the news, and catch tough guy Kennedy talking about standing up to Kruschev and Communism, and I felt sickened thinking that this Kennedy is willing to radiate us all to keep USSR from doing in Cuba what USA has been doing all the time in Turkey. I despised those guys for that.

        But, I suppose any other pres would have been doing the same in that situation.


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          !o! says:

          yup. The terror operations that the US initiated against Cuba during his term are disgusting as well.

          Also, Kennedy bears as much of the blame for the atrocities in Vietnam as his predecessor, he talked about pulling out, but he didn’t actually pull out, and, more importantly I think he only started talking about it prior to the 1964 election.

          I sometimes think that the ‘aura’ that people associate with the man is at least partially the result of his use of tv as a campaign (propaganda?) tool. He was the first, so his impact was the greatest. (of course the subsequent deification in media helps as well)


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            Ronald O'Dowd says:

            Warren,

            To be human is to be inevitably flawed, King or otherwise. But that is beside the point. What we admired was the achievement and what it represented for those being discriminated against. We had finally come a long way baby from no dogs or Irish allowed.

            Jack and Bobby weren’t Jesus Christ. But they did their best for people — and more importantly, insured that sanity prevailed when measuring one’s attributes around the table was the likely order of the day. Both men went from air strike to naval blocade when reality quickly set in.


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    Darren says:

    Like you, I was only 3 when he was assassinated. I don’t remember anything. I do remember when Bobby was killed, and MLK too.

    All 3 of their deaths shook the world, and changed it too. I use to think it changed for the better, but sometimes when I read about a school shooting or Americans turning guns on their own people in mass killings, I wonder if Americans will ever learn the lessons they should have learned out of these 3 peoples murders.

    Your Dalas next door neighbour is still the problem. That didn’t change.

    How many more innocent people have to die?


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    Robin says:

    Excellent piece. A fascinating insight into the culture of Dallas and how hatred can conspire silently to create a safe place for evil to act without reprisal.

    Jesse Ventura has written a book titled: “They Killed Our President – 63 reasons to believe there was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK”. It is a bibliography of internet links to sources regarding the Kennedy assassination. After 50 years, some people are grudgingly accepting the official story however there is still too much contradictory evidence to stop demanding answers; and, some answers died with Jack Ruby; no death bed confession allowed. Interesting that it was Gerald Ford from the Warren Commission who interviewed Ruby and determined he had nothing of significance to say. He was later entrusted with handling the fall out of a post-Nixon White House.

    Ventura is a former Navy Seal and Governor of Minnesota. Ventura is an expert marksman and couldn’t repeat Oswald’s alleged marksmanship even without a moving target nor could Carlos Hathcock, greatest marine sniper in history, failed, as well, despite trying 10 times. Oswald wasn’t O300 Infantry, he was sent to radar school. He didn’t handle a weapon, according to Ventura’s research.

    He talks about the bullet hole in the wind shield of the Presidential limousine that was caught in a photo, identified by a nurse outside Parkland Hospital, and a factory worker at Ford Motor Company the day after the assassination where the limousine was delivered to be refurbished immediately, the wind shield destroyed and replaced.

    Jesse Ventura interview on Tom Sullivan Show

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNCuzNobO0M


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      dave says:

      Later 1960’s, and someone asked Woody Allen what his next project would be. Allen answered that he was working on a non fiction version of the Warren Commission Report.


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    Mulletaur says:

    The United States hasn’t changed much since then. Everything possible is being done by that same “white, Protestant compact” to sabotage Obama, just because he’s a black man.


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    patrick says:

    I love conspiracies. I don’t believe them, but I enjoy them. So I always think that the “A great man deserves a great death” is part of the reason it is so hard to believe that a dull, vain man like Oswald
    could be responsible for Kennedy’s death and therefore something else must have been going on.
    The fly in the ointment of Oswald being the lone assassin is Jack Ruby. Nothing about him, that I’ve read, makes his actions have any sense, unless something else was going on.


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      frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

      This documentary, albeit ten years old….put the conspiracy theory to bed for me……….http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvJ4VOagIRY


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        Robin says:

        frmr, I watched the documentary that you posted that is hosted by Peter Jennings and am still not convinced Oswald shot Kennedy and acted alone. Consider this: the alleged photo of Oswald holding a rifle, a newspaper and wearing a pistol in a holster shows him with a very square jaw, if you watch TV images or photos of Oswald, he has a pointed jaw; so, who and why was the photo doctored to make it look like Oswald? I have heard two versions of the Zapruder film which reveals the timing between the first and last shot: originally it was 6.5 seconds and in the Peter Jennings documentary it is longer 8.5 seconds; why is it that Oswald appears to be the only “marksman” who was able to complete three shots in 6.5 or 8.5 seconds and hit the target twice? What about the bullet hole in the wind shied of the limousine and why was the limousine, a crime scene, refurbished immediately rather than examined for evidence of bullet holes beyond the wind shield. Peter Jennings simply presents a compelling case that someone shot from the book depository; remember, Oswald was identified on the second floor of the book depository less than 90 seconds after the third shot and he is calm, not out of breath or sweating. Too many inconsistencies remain. What happened to all the film that was confiscated “as evidence” from people facing the Grassy Knoll by men flashing secret service badges?


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    Rob Hallett says:

    We all miss JFK and lament that horrible day in 1963. By the way the museum in the Texas Book Depository building where Oswald lay in wait is now a top notch museum and one can wonder over the grassy knoll to get perspective about the various conspiracy theories. Also it may be the only assassination site with a gift shop at the end. Gotta love America. My view by the way from peering out of the 5 th floor window is that it was entirely possible for Oswald to make all the shots on his own as the Warren commission decided as an aside.

    My main point is about your comments about Dallas. Too bad you have not been back Warren. I say this as a transplanted Canadian living in Houston for 20+ years and it’s hard to defend our snotty pretentious rival to the north but here goes. Yes racism existed in the 60’s and still exists now. I marvel at how some Canadians can be shocked that racism exists while they live in their own cocoon of white only neighborhoods. How many black and Hispanic friends and neighbors do you all have up north? Ok Toronto is somewhat diverse (but not on a percentage basis) but you may be surprised to learn that Houston is the most diverse city on North America with one third each of white, Hispanic and black residents and the largest Asian pop outside of San Fran and every Latin American country has a major expat community here. We even have 38K Canadians like me. Yes there are incidents but with 5 million people we get along nicely and when we protest with our black friends at black lives matter rallies it’s peaceful and no looting. The south is not full of a bunch of racists as you implied and some of the most tolerant and socially aware people I know live here. I am on the board of a not for profit that helps black and underage kids in a poor area get better marks in math and improve reading skills. We raised enough to build an new $5 million dollar building we built for those kids here. So I would challenge my fellow Canadians to stop pretending you are better than southerners and go out and actually help black and Hispanic communities to prosper and overcome their hardships. And yea Dallas is a wonderful place to visit in the wintertime to get away from snow. The food and entertainment are great. Warren maybe it’s time for you to visit again. Happy to take you to a Habs game in Dallas and treat for the e best BBQ or Mexican you have ever had. Rob


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      Warren says:

      Thanks for that. And I will find you brother!


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    Pamela Ingold says:

    Flashback to my childhood in Niagara Falls when JFK was killed in 1963: as a 6-year old, my twin and I were playmates with a pair of black twins from across town, a Catholic girl down the street, and a Jewish girl around the corner. None of us went to the same school and it didn’t matter….


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    the real Sean says:

    There are a few irrefutable facts which prevent me from believing LHO acted alone.

    The fact that the parade route was changed specifically in the area of the shooting and that the change occurred so close to the time of the event that the original route was still printed on posters / leaflets.

    The fact that if LHO was a shooter at all, he would obviously have taken / landed a simpler shot as the motorcade came directly towards his window at a straight angle, rather than the far more complicated, sharp angle shots which actually occurred, requiring perfect timing and unbelievable luck… three times in a row.

    The fact that LHO was a military grade defector who was allowed to return to the U.S…. without constant daily surveillance, particularly on a day the President is visiting the city he lives in.

    Maybe he didn’t know about the whole plan, maybe he was the only *shooter* that day. Possible. But the idea that other persons were not involved in making / allowing it to happen? No way. Not a chance.


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    david says:

    we can all see the haystack
    and sometimes find the needle
    yet we never seem to shove the rats
    through the exits of evil.


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    Ronald O'Dowd says:

    The further I advance in age, the more I become sympathetic to the theory that much of the Texas Democratic Party hated the Kennedys and preferred their front-man at center stage. Do I believe LBJ had advanced knowledge or was in any way directly involved? No. But LBJ’s totally unexpected and dramatic decision not to seek a second term and in advance not accept his party’s nomination speaks volumes. Thst means LBJ’s wider Texas entourage are likely culpable but even if so, you can be damned sure that the Warren Commission snuffed it out entirely with absolutely no trace of any evidence left for future examination and historical debate.


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    Robert White says:

    I’ll never forget my Chartered Accountant father saying to my mother ‘They killed him too, oh my God’ when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. My dad was seriously worried about geopolitics when that happened. By 1971 when Nixon closed the gold window and we were in Ottawa instead of Toronto he was less worried about USA geopolitics, but the fact that both Kennedy brothers were assassinated never restored his faith in the USA political process.

    Growing up with the assassinations of both Kennedy brothers and the Reverend Martin Luther King was just enough to made me jaded for life when it comes to the USA.

    I now get why you became a lawyer, Warren. And I also now get why you write on matters of systemic hate.

    RW

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