Dallas Morning News journalist Hugh Aynesworth, with no assignment to cover the visit of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, decided to take a break and go watch the motorcade through downtown Dallas. He watched a smiling Kennedy pass him by. Then he heard shots ring out, and much of Aynesworth’s life would be changed by the actions he took shortly after. “It was chaos. People were running into each other. … One woman regurgitated right behind me. There were screams,” Ansysworth recalled during a “Fort Worth Remembers JFK” program held at the Texas Christian University campus on Sept. 11.
The event gathered journalists who covered the assassination, along with Fort Worth-born actor Bill Paxton, who as an 8-year-old attended Kennedy’s speech in Fort Worth earlier in the day. Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Bob Schieffer was sitting at his desk, miffed that he was left in Fort Worth while other reporters were covering the assassination aftermath in Dallas when he took a phone call that changed his career.
Schieffer – the longtime CBS News correspondent TCU’s Schieffer School of Journalism is named after – led the program. Panelists included former local radio personalities Gary DeLaune and Bob Huffaker, Aynesworth and Mike Cochran, a former Associated Press correspondent, Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter and occasional contributor to the Fort Worth Business Press. I’m no Kennedy assassination expert. I, like Paxton, was 8 years old when the assassination went down and I thought I more than understood the aftermath. This year, 50 years after Kennedy’s death, will probably be the last time many of those who were actively involved in the events will be around to give firsthand testimony. As a result, we may tire a bit of hearing the same stories repeated again and again, but I was surprised at how much I learned at the TCU event.
Cochran, for instance, has almost always been introduced as a reporter who “was one of the pallbearers at Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral.” But he almost wasn’t. He and other reporters were pallbearers because there were no mourners. He said most of the people there were police officers, federal agents and journalists, along with a few family members, but no mourners. “It was just spooky,” said Cochran. Cochran fessed up that he first turned down the pallbearer duty, feeling that as a reporter he shouldn’t be involved. But when a UPI reporter agreed to be a pallbearer, Cochran reconsidered, seeing as how his competition would have the scoop. “I could just see him writing the story the next day,” Cochran said. So he approached Cato Hightower, then Fort Worth Police chief, to indicate he’d changed his mind.
Schieffer also had a story to tell. Schieffer has recounted sitting at his desk and receiving a phone call from Oswald’s mother, Marguerite. Marguerite requested a ride to Dallas and Schieffer at first refused, telling the caller he was a reporter not a taxi service. But when she said she was the mother of the man suspected of being the assassin, Schieffer hustled her to Dallas. What I didn’t know is that Schieffer stayed with Marguerite at the Dallas police station, awaiting a promised meeting between mother and son. How did he get to keep vigil with the mother of Oswald? Schieffer had a trick, you see. He revealed that he often dressed like a police detective, “with a nice snap brim hat,” to complete the effect. That way, he explained, potential witnesses might be more likely to speak with him and cops would feel more comfortable with him. The Dallas police, of course, didn’t know him from Adam, so they let the polite man with the snap brim hat hang around with Marguerite Oswald.
Dallas detectives were about to bring Oswald in to meet with his mother, and Schieffer, when, as Schieffer tells it, the potential scoop of a lifetime slipped from his grasp: “We were herded into this holding room off the jail. Finally this detective got me into the corner and said ‘Who are you?’ I said ‘I’m a reporter.’ He looked at me. ‘Son,’ he said, ‘Pay attention to what I’m telling you because I want you to get out of here and if I ever see you again I’m going to kill you.’ He was so angry I was convinced he would. That was the end of the biggest story, the biggest exclusive I nearly had.” So I hope you, like me, will listen and learn as we mark these tragic events. For now, I’m going to put on my snap brim hat and go home.
In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.