2:47 p.m. November 22, 1963
Colonel Swindal lifts Air Force One into the sky. Davis, watching from the tarmac, is shocked by the steepness of the ascent – “almost vertical,” he says. It’s as though Swindal wants to leave not only Dallas but also the earth.
President Johnson has never been on Air Force One – which is code-named Angel by the Secret Service – at least not in flight. Whenever he and Kennedy were flying to the same city, he would ask for permission to come aboard, to be allowed to share a little of Kennedy’s spotlight, to wave from the top of the same ramp. Those requests were always refused – Kennedy always citing security concerns, Johnson always believing his exile was for more personal reasons. The Kennedy people dismissively called him Rufus Cornpone, the sort of man capable of ruining a good suit just by wearing it. Evelyn Lincoln says later that Johnson’s repeated demotion to Air Force Two “bothered the vice-president more than anything else.” Now here he is, flying on the first plane, leaving the second in its wake – not due to the favor of a more powerful man but because he is the most powerful man. He looks around the stateroom. Jackie Kennedy has helped decorate it. Soon he will have much of it torn out.
– THE FLIGHT FROM DALLAS, by Chris Jones, Esquire Magazine, October 2013
The assassination of U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas, Texas in the early afternoon of November 22, 1963, was a sensational and catastrophic event half a century ago, and as I think about it now, I realize how different Belize was back then, and it occurs to me how naïve and uninformed we were here in British Honduras.
In Belize at the time, we had absolutely no idea that there were powerful, dangerous people in the United States who wanted to do serious harm to Kennedy. These included the Cuban exiles in Miami whom Kennedy had left without air cover during the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Castro’s Cuba; three major Italian Mafia godfathers – Sam Giancana (Chicago), Carlos Marcello (New Orleans), and Santos Trafficante (Tampa); the boss of the Teamsters union, Jimmy Hoffa; several leading Texas oilmen; and high ranking officers and officials in the American military and intelligence services.
It is interesting that Kennedy was killed in the Texas home state of his Vice-President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, whom Kennedy had defeated in the Democratic Party primaries to choose the party’s 1960 presidential candidate, and who intensely disliked both JFK and his younger brother, Bobby, the Attorney General. That intense dislike was reciprocated by the Kennedys.
John Kennedy was elected president of the United States at the height of the so-called Cold War between the Soviet Union (Russia) and the United States. Russia and America came out of World War II (1939-45) as the two dominant nations on planet earth. Russia was communist, and America was capitalist. Their philosophies were diametrically opposed, and they were fighting for world leadership.
The two American presidents before Kennedy were basically hawkish, and viewed as such. These were Harry Truman, who succeeded Franklin Delano Roosevelt and gave the orders for atomic bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, an army general who was a hero of World War II and served two terms as U.S. President, from 1952 to 1960.
Kennedy, upon becoming president in January of 1961, not only inherited the plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion from the Eisenhower administration, but he also inherited a situation in South Vietnam where the U.S. was being sucked into a war in Southeast Asia which featured communist Vietnamese forces being supported by communist China.
John Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic ever elected to the American presidency. He was therefore a favorite of Roman Catholics in Belize. Not only that, the Kennedy propaganda machine had made it seem as if Kennedy was supporting Martin Luther King, Jr. and the black civil rights movement in America. JFK was therefore a favorite of Belizeans of color.
John Kennedy came out of an Irish immigrant family from Boston, Massachusetts, a state in the northeastern part of the United States, a region which has historically been the intellectual capital of America. In the days of the 1960s, when we thought of Texas, we thought of cowboys and cattle and oil. When we thought of California, we thought of Hollywood and surfers. When we thought of the Midwestern states, we thought of corn and wheat and food production. And when we thought of America’s northeast, we thought of the two financial giants – New York City and Boston, and we thought of all their prestigious universities, led by the Ivy League and the Seven Sisters.
Although John Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy, Sr., had mingled with gangsters and made money bootlegging during Prohibition (1919-1933), he had been the American ambassador to London during World War II, and he was highly placed in American society. His boy children went to Harvard, America’s most prestigious university. John Kennedy’s presidency, then, featured all these “bright boys” from the intellectual northeast, and so Kennedy’s presidency was not a militaristic presidency.
But America was a militaristic nation. Apart from that, the same propaganda which made many blacks feel that the Kennedy presidency was friendly to them, made the Southern Confederate states conceive of John Kennedy as a slick Boston lawyer who was encouraging the “niggers.”
On top of all this, since his death, it has been revealed that John Kennedy was a compulsive womanizer, that he had been sickly from childhood, and that he was taking all kinds of powerful medications for various conditions, including a chronic back problem which was the result of a World War II injury. (John Kennedy had served as a PT boat captain in the U.S. Navy during that war.)
All, then, was not as it seemed for us in Belize that afternoon of November 22, 1963. We saw a picture of Camelot which had been painted for us from over there in America.
As far as I remember, it was going for 3:30 p.m. Belize time that afternoon and I was riding down North Front Street towards the Post Office to see my dad when a St. John’s College classmate named George “Cul” Aguilar broke the Kennedy news to me. 3:30 p.m. Belize time would have been at least 4:30 p.m. Dallas time, and perhaps even 5:30 p.m. John Kennedy was shot around 12:30 p.m. Dallas time.
If such an event as the Kennedy assassination happened today, in Belize we would know about it in minutes. You remember that in September of 2011 we Belizeans here were actually watching the World Trade Center attacks on live American television. Things have surely, surely changed. Such is life.