Historian Swanson: JFK, Jackie Were Like 'Film Stars'

Tuesday, 12 Nov 2013 06:47 PM

By Cynthia Fagen and John Bachman

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The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is 10 days away. Noted historian James Swanson, author of the highly acclaimed book "End of Days," about the Kennedy killing, speaks with Newsmax TV about why the murder still receives so much attention.

"John and Jackie Kennedy were the first movie-star first family," Swanson said Tuesday. "People treated them like they were celebrities, not just politicians. He was the youngest man ever elected to the presidency. When he was assassinated, he was only 46, Jackie was 34. They had beautiful young children.

Story continues below video.

"Magazines put them on their covers like they were film stars, and his sudden and tragic death at age 46 only magnified that. We never saw John Kennedy get old. He haunts us still to this day."

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Swanson said another reason for the public's fascination is the Zapruder film, a silent color movie taken by an onlooker at Dealey Plaza in Dallas that captured President Kennedy fatally shot and a blood-spattered Jackie Kennedy trying to save him.

"It is probably the most famous piece of film in the history of the world, and we can't get it out of our minds," he said.

In it, Swanson explained, "Oswald's first shot missed the car. Then Oswald fired a second shot, and that's the shot that went through JFK's upper back and lower neck and that caused his arms to jerk off involuntarily in a neuromuscular reaction. You can see it looks like he's clutching his throat. Jackie sees that.

"She turns to him and she takes a hand and tries to push down his elbow, but his arms won't move. Then she looks at [Texas] Gov. Connelly [riding in the jump seat in front of President Kennedy] for a moment because he's been hit too, and he's screaming and shouting, 'They're going to kill us all!' Then in puzzlement she looks back at her husband's face. She's inches from his face, she's actually leaning in front of him, it's like she's going to look forward in his eyes and say, 'Jack? What's wrong?' He had such a startled expression on his face.

"The president knew that he had just been shot. At that point, agent Clint Hill in the Secret Service trail car starts to react. He starts running for the limousine. At that moment, the third shot is fired and President Kennedy's head explodes and blood and brains are all over Jackie. She's horrified, she screams out, 'Oh, no!' She's kneeling on the rear seat.

"Some people say she's climbing out, but if you look carefully at the film, she's stretching to reach forward for something. She's trying to reach for a piece of the president's skull and some brain matter that had landed on that trunk of the car.

"She thinks in her confusion and her terror that she needs that, that the doctors will need it at the hospital when they treat the president. So she wasn't trying to flee the scene, she wasn't trying to escape the car; she was reaching for a piece of the president's skull that had flown up in the air and had landed on the trunk of the car."

Swanson, who also has written about the Lincoln assassination, said the third reason the JFK assassination remains so vivid for Americans is that it remains a mystery.

"Many people don't believe that [the assassin] was [Lee Harvey] Oswald. Many people believe there are wild conspiracy theories behind the Kennedy assassination, and people think it's an ongoing mystery that still needs to be solved. We're haunted by the Kennedy assassination. It's as fascinating to us today as it was 50 years ago," he said.

Swanson said two of the most shocking things he learned from his research on Oswald, whom the Warren Commission said was the lone gunman, is that seven months before he murdered the president, Oswald tried to assassinate a U.S. Army general in Dallas "using the same rifle he'd later use against the president."

"So, Oswald didn't come from out of the blue. He was already a would-be murderer long before he killed the president. He was a violent wife-beater. He told [his wife Marina] he wanted to hijack a plane to Cuba; he wanted to kill Richard Nixon. He wanted to become a pro-Castro revolutionary in Cuba. He was a lifelong loser with delusions of grandeur and frustration. He always wanted to be somebody. He wanted to be part of history.

"Also, it didn't have to happen this way. Kennedy could've lived. Something could've happened differently that day," Swanson said.

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"I found dozens of things that if just one of them had turned in a different way, JFK might have lived. The night before, if Marina Oswald had agreed to get back together with Lee and live together again in Dallas, he would've never left his house the next day with that rifle to kill the president."

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