Features: The Warren Commission, The Truth, and Arlen Specter: Part 1

THE DETAILS BEGIN on November 22nd, 1963, about 12:30 p.m., Central Standard Time, on a complex of streets near what is known as Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. The Presidential motorcade had just passed through downtown Dallas where a large crowd lined the streets and waved an enthusiastic greeting to Kennedy, his wife, Governor Connally and his wife, all of whom were riding in the third car of the motorcade, a specially-built open topped Lincoln. At the end of Main Street, the principal east-west artery through downtown Dallas, the motorcade turned right onto Houston Street, traveled north for one block, then made a sharp left turn to the southwest onto Elm Street.

Elm Street is a slightly curving, downward sloping street which, after it goes under a railroad overpass, provides access to the Stemmons Freeway. On the northwest corner of the intersection of Elm and Houston is the Texas School Book Depository, a seven-story, orange brick warehouse and office building. On the north side of Elm Street between the Depository and the railroad overpass, is, rising grass slope, or knoll, atop of which is a semicircular colonnade affair with low latticed white stone walls in front of it and steps leading down to Elm Street. The ridge of the knoll, from the colonnade to the railroad overpass, is heavy with trees and bushes. In back of the colonnade, between the Depository and the railroad tracks is an unpaved parking area for railroad employees. On the south side of Elm Street, separating it from Main and Commerce Streets, is an open grassy plaza.

According to the Warren Commission Report, the President’s car, traveling about 11 miles per hour, had just turned onto Elm Street:

Seconds later shots resounded in rapid succession. The President’s hands moved to his neck. He appeared to stiffen momentarily and lurch slightly forward in his seat. A bullet had entered the base of the back of his neck slightly to the right of the spine. It traveled downward and exited from the front of the neck, causing a nick in the left lower portion of the knot in the President’s necktie. Before the shooting started, Governor Connally had been facing toward the crowd on the right. He started to turn toward the left and suddenly felt a blow on his back. The Governor had been hit by a bullet which entered at the extreme right side of his back at a point below his right armpit. The bullet traveled through his chest in a downward and forward direction, exited below his right nipple, passed through his right wrist which had been in his lap, and then caused a wound to his left thigh. The force of the bullet’s impact appeared to spin the Governor to his right, and Mrs. Connally pulled him down into her lap. Another bullet then struck President Kennedy in the rear portion of his head, causing a massive and fatal wound.

The President and Governor Connally were rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital where a team of doctors made a desperate but futile effort to save Kennedy’s life. He was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. The body was flown back to Washington and at 8 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, a three-hour autopsy was performed by Commander James J. Humes, senior pathologist, and a team of doctors at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Less than two hours after the first shot was tired on Dealey Plaza, a 24-year-old ex-marine and employee of the Texas School Depository was arrested for the murder of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit. According to the Report, Tippit had probably stopped Lee Harvey Oswald for questioning on the basis of a police radio message broadcast at 12:45 describing the suspected assassin. The description was obtained from a 45-year-old steamfitter named Howard L. Brennan who was sitting on a wall on the southwest corner of Houston and Elm watching the motorcade go by when, he testified, he noticed a man in the sixth-floor window of the Depository take aim and fire a rifle in the direction of the President.

For two days and through more than 12 hours or questioning, Lee Harvey Oswald maintained that he was completely innocent. Then, on the morning of November 24th, he was shot to death by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner.

On November 29th, President Johnson created tile Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy "to evaluate all the facts and circumstances." He asked Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren to be its chairman. According to The New York Times, Warren initially refused, but after an emotion-filled conference with Johnson, consented to serve.

Johnson then completed the Commission with two senior Senators, Democrat Richard Russell of Georgia and Republican John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky; two senior Representatives, Democrat Hale Boggs of Louisiana and Republican Gerald Ford of Michigan; former CIA director Allen Dulles; and former World Bank president John J. McCloy.