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Steve Hansen: Remembering the death of President John F. Kennedy

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Posted: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 12:00 am

It’s hard to believe that 50 years have passed since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It’s also difficult to comprehend that the majority of people living today either were not alive on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, or were too young to remember.

Like 9/11, everyone who was around back then knows exactly where they were and what the were doing on that fateful day. I lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and was in my college world history class. It was around 2 p.m. when I entered the hallway and noticed people walking around like zombies. There was no talking but some sounds of sobbing. Students were in a state of shock. A small transistor radio was playing with muffled words about the president being shot in Dallas.

When I climbed into my Volkswagen, I clicked on the radio. News reports were scattered with inaccuracies. Some reports claimed that Vice President Lyndon Johnson may have been wounded as well.

Thirty minutes later, I entered the driveway of our Bethesda home. My mother had not heard the news and couldn’t believe what I was telling her. A click of the dial on the black-and-white TV confirmed that my statements were not hallucinatory.

Ironically, she had been preparing for a dinner party that night, and some of the guests, including the president’s dentist, would be involved in the medical aspects of the investigation. Needless to say, the party was canceled.

As I recall, the weekend and the day of the funeral were quite cold. Thousands decided to brave the elements and stand in line for hours to view the closed casket, which laid in state that Sunday at the Capitol Rotunda. Our family, like most Americans, chose to watch all proceedings on television, despite the fact that we lived only a few miles away.

The body was autopsied at the Bethesda Naval Hospital where my father, Dr. L.S. Hansen, worked. It was less than a mile from our home. Although Dad was not directly involved, the two doctors who performed the procedures, J. Thornton Boswell and James J. Humes, were his professional colleagues.

A year later, I remember asking my father if the Warren Commission, which had examined the evidence of the crime, was correct in its conclusion that the assassin had acted alone. Dad confirmed the two doctors had reported their findings accurately, and that the evidence showed both wounds (one through the neck and the other to the head) had come from behind.

However, conspiracy theories soon blossomed. Many people couldn’t believe that a loser like Lee Harvey Oswald could have pulled off such a daring act by himself. Rumors were that the Russians, the Cubans, the CIA and even the Mafia had been involved. All had their own reasons to despise the president. Multiple gunman theories also took center stage, ranging from two shooters in the school book depository to shots fired from the sewer, the railroad bridge and the nearby “grassy knoll.”

Later in 1969, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison placed on trial a man named Clay Shaw as a conspirator in an alleged assassination plot. However, the results of the proceedings were clear that the whole case amounted to nothing more then the wild imagination of Garrison. The evidence was groundless and the witnesses against Shaw proved to be seriously flawed with no credibility. He was quickly acquitted.

Even the U.S. House of Representatives got involved in 1976 with the House Select Committee on Assassinations. After almost three years, they concluded a “high probability” that two gunman were involved, primarily based on audio evidence from an open microphone on a Dallas police officer’s motorcycle. Despite the fact audio experts testified with “90 percent certainty” that four shots, rather than the official version of three (one missed), had been fired, the evidence was debunked years later. Films of the parade proved that the officer with the open mic was a block away when shots rang out and therefore, could not have been the source of the four-shot supposition.

To add more confusion to the story, in 1991 director Oliver Stone came out with his movie “JFK,” which many believed was a literal portrayal of the actual history surrounding the assassination. In reality, it was primarily fiction, based on unproven facts and conjecture by conspiracy theorists.

At one time, I was almost certain that two gunman were involved based on the House Select Committee’s “scientific” evidence and conclusions. I also found it hard to swallow the “magic bullet” theory that one shot could have done so much damage. But over the years, private researchers, the FBI, and even the television show “Mythbusters” have been able to duplicate Oswald’s circumstances beyond any reasonable doubt.

The final nail in the coffin for conspiracy theories came for me in 1993, when the records of Dr. Pierre Finck were made available to the National Archives. At the time of the tragedy, Finck was considered to be one of the world’s leading experts in ballistic wounds. He was also a friend and colleague of my father’s. His personal notes and summary of the assassination confirmed the Warren Commission’s findings.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, some may still question whether an unknown and unsophisticated individual like Oswald could have acted alone. But most assassinations of famous people are carried out by those with similar profiles. The facts from over a half-century still reveal that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was certainly no exception.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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