Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 seemed like any other school day at Bryan Adams High. The first sign of an unusual day was when the principal told us teachers as we signed in, “Some kids will be skipping school, without permission, to attend JFK’s arrival and motorcade. Make a list of all absentees!”
I had actually forgotten that Kennedy was coming to Dallas. I was excited about my upcoming marriage, just 30 days away, not the arrival of the president.
Sure enough, many students were absent. I had reminded my history and government classes earlier in the week that if they were planning to see the president’s arrival at Love Field or his motorcade downtown, that they could get “extra credit” by writing a brief “on the scene” report of what they observed. The principal might not have liked that, but it was my way of turning a “punishable offense” into an “educational moment.”
The early afternoon startling announcement of JFK being shot and soon thereafter being declared “dead” seemed to subdue most kids. They mumbled among themselves, trying like the rest of us, to sort things out.
Thankfully, school let out early. As I headed out to the parking lot, I wondered if it were the Russians or the Cubans who were responsible for our nation’s terrible loss. Maybe I would find out later that evening when I was scheduled to report for my weekly duty as a Dallas Police Reservist at police headquarters.
After Oswald was captured, police reservists were asked to be on duty Saturday and Sunday. It was shocking to see how the world’s press corps had actually taken over almost every desk and phone normally manned by police personnel.
It was bedlam as they moved Oswald through the hall. You’ve seen the scene, replayed each November, Oswald’s blackened eye, the smirk on his face, being led into an office as an officer followed, holding the rifle aloft for all to see. Detectives wore white Stetsons. My eyes were glued on Oswald so I missed spotting Jack Ruby, standing nearby, whose gray hat I later recognized on television.
Everyone on duty that weekend was soon questioned by the FBI. I was no exception. Arranging to meet me at Bryan Adams during my planning period were two agents. One asked the questions while the other took notes.
It was quite sobering at first when one agent asked, “Is the information you’re about to give, truthful? You will be liable if you have not told the truth.” This meant that lying to the FBI is a punishable offense, so I was very, very, very careful of what I said.
“I didn’t personally know Jack Ruby but I once visited his Carousel Club office in downtown Dallas with the officer I was riding with. It was a cold night and we had stopped for a free cup of hot coffee.”
“More recently, about three weeks before the assassination, while riding with two officers, one of the officers said, “Hey, there’s Jack! Let’s stop!” We were on Industrial Boulevard. Coming out of a nightclub was “Jack” with two fur-draped women, one under each of his arms.”
“Both officers got out of the car to speak with “Jack.” I was told to stay in the car to listen for any radio calls. After a few minutes, a call did come in. We quickly left and I soon forgot about “Jack.” I later recognized him in the newspapers as Jack Ruby.
“The Sunday morning Oswald was to be transferred to the Dallas County Jail, I had been placed on duty across the street from the police garage tunnel exit. I had been told to prevent anyone from crossing the street to the police building. There were around 40 or so spectators waiting for Oswald’s transfer.”
“The ‘boom’ of the shot echoed out of the tunnel and the armored truck soon pulled out, allowing the police ambulance to leave, rushing Oswald to Parkland Hospital. I noticed the armored truck’s right-side door was swinging open, about to possibly hit someone standing at the curb edge of the sidewalk. Running up to it, I closed it shut before it could hurt anyone.”
My complete story and others can be found on the Sixth Floor Museum’s interview collection, “Living History, Jerry Kasten” on YouTube.
Chances are that there are childhood memories and historic events which you remember. Why not share those memories with your children and grandchildren by writing them down in a notebook, including comments, photos?
The Dallas Jewish Historical Society located at the Dallas JCC, has a wonderful oral history project, which involves videotaping interviews with senior citizens. These professionally done conversations can then be accessed online by friends, family members and anyone wishing to learn events of the past from those who actually experienced them.
We are all part of history. What’s your story?