As a 14-year-old freshman at Bakersfield High in November 1963, the memories of the Kennedy assassination still remain fixed and vivid; as do the recollections of the anguish of a nation around that event. Add to that the fact that my grandfather was a crime reporter for the Dallas Morning News further cements my memories of that dark day in November.
My grandfather, Harry McCormick, had been in the newspaper business since the 1920s. He had covered a variety of stories. Covering the crime beat afforded him a number of experiences, including setting up his own kidnapping so he could get an exclusive with one of Bonnie and Clyde's henchmen, Raymond Hamilton, a murderer and a felon on the loose in the 1930s. He utilized a young, new reporter to help him back up the kidnapping story -- that reporter went on to a stellar career in television journalism. His name was Walter Cronkite. However, nothing could compare to my grandfather's reporting and experience with the Kennedy assassination.
My grandfather had no assignment in regards to the Kennedy visit -- until the shots were fired. He immediately went to Dealey Plaza, where he encountered Abraham Zapruder. My grandfather noticed that he was weeping and clutching a movie camera. When my grandfather realized that Mr. Zapruder had filmed the assassination and wanted to contact the authorities, he immediately contacted Forrest Sorrels, a local Secret Service agent. They were eventually able to go to the Eastman Kodak lab in Dallas to develop the film, which my grandfather watched.
I remember my grandfather telling me it was one of the most shocking things he had ever seen. Abraham Zapruder's granddaughter, Alexandra Zapruder, is currently writing a book about her grandfather and she references my grandfather. She and I have exchanged emails, which is somewhat extraordinary given the historical chance encounter our grandfathers had 50 years ago.
The following couple of days after the assassination, my grandfather spent a lot of time in the hallways where Lee Harvey Oswald was being held. I remember watching the extensive television coverage and catching glimpses of him working the hallways with the contacts he had.
On the Sunday that Oswald was being transferred, my grandfather was going to get an exclusive with him, but Jack Ruby changed all that. My grandfather then went to Parkland Hospital where Oswald was in surgery. I remember seeing my grandfather on television standing near Dr. Tom Shires, a friend of my grandfather's and the surgeon who operated on Oswald.
In the summer of 1966, my mother and I visited my grandfather in Dallas. He and I visited Dealey Plaza, Parkland Hospital, the Texas Theater (where Oswald was captured), and even went to Oswald's residence. The highlight of that visit was when my grandfather took me to the office of Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, who was a key figure and very involved in the activities of Nov. 22. It was an up-close and personal view of a piece of history.
My grandfather and I talked some about the assassination. He felt that both Oswald and Ruby acted alone and independently of one another. However, he did feel that Oswald may have been receiving compensation from someone for something -- not necessarily the assassination. My grandfather also felt that Oswald was an attention-seeking fanatic.
When Secret Service agent Clint Hill (who was on the Kennedy detail and was the agent that jumped on the back of the president's car and pushed Mrs. Kennedy back into her seat) was in Bakersfield for a book signing, I was able to briefly talk with him about my grandfather. He, too, felt that Oswald was an independent fanatic.
It is hard to believe that it has been 50 years since the Kennedy tragedy of Nov. 22. However, the memories of that event and my grandfather's involvement are as vivid as ever.
-- Jamie Henderson is executive director of First 5 Kern and former superintendent of the Rosedale Union School District.