JFK Assassination: Dispatches From Dallas on 50th Anniversary

PHOTO: Texas Governor John Connally adjusts his tie (foreground) as President and Mrs. Kennedy, in a pink outfit, settled in rear seats, prepared for motorcade into city from airport, Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas.
Bettmann/Corbis

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, while riding in an open car in a motorcade at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

Despite the Warren Commission Report's conclusion that the gunman acted alone, the event is shrouded in conspiracy theories.

JFK Live Blog: See Tragedy Unfold in Real Time

Either way, the city has endured the notoriety of that event 50 years ago today. ABCNews.com is in Dallas to feature the sentiments throughout the day of residents and those who flocked here to be part of history.

PHOTO: Brian K. traveled 5,000 miles from London to be in Dallas for the 50th anniversary of the assassination.
Courtesy Susan Donaldson James
British Tourist Struggles to Understand Why

Brian K. got up at 4 a.m. in the morning in Wolverhampton, in the English Midlands, to fly nearly 5,000 miles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The 54-year-old, who asked that his last name not be used, has read 70 books on the assassination and embraces many of the doubts about who killed the 35th president. But he doesn't like to call them "conspiracy theories."

He will watch Oliver Stone's 1991 film, "JFK," tonight at the Texas Theater where Oswald was arrested for the murder of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit.

He spent $1,400 -- much of his disability income -- just to place his feet near Dealey Plaza where Kennedy's motorcade passed and Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired the two fatal shots from the Texas School Book Depository.

"I just want to be there," said Brian, a gray-haired former civil service worker with a scar cutting from his right mouth corner down his chin. He wore a tight-fitting chain around his neck that held a dangling cross.

"Why?" he asked. "Because the president of the country was shot in broad daylight in the middle of the city, and the government, for whatever reason, decided one man had done it and looked no further. ? It doesn't make sense."

"It made sense to come this weekend," Brian said. "I am rather hoping to meet one or two people who are witnesses. It seemed like a nice adventure."

Brian said he thinks he remembers the assassination, even though he was only 4 in 1963. "Sad music was playing on the radio and my mum was crying, saying someone important had died," he said.

But now, 50 years later, Brian said he could not stay away from this momentous occasion.

"It's fascinating," he said. "It's the mystery and the fact that it's so brutal. People may watch the Zapruder film [the silent color sequence shot of the actual assassination] like a home movie, but watching a father of two children have his head blown off in public when he sat next to his wife; it's horrible, that someone could do that."

PHOTO: Sean and Hillary Murray of Cooper, Texas commemorate the JFK assassination even though they are not old enough to remember.
ABC News
'We Are Trying to Keep It Low Key'

Sean and Hillary Murray of Cooper, Texas, aren't old enough to remember the JFK assassination but wanted to be part of history as Dallas commemorates this somber day.

They were one of many who went online to get tickets through a lottery to attend the speeches and high-security event at Dealey Plaza this morning. An estimated 5,000 attendees will hear historian David McCullough celebrate Kennedy's short presidency.

"We are just intrigued by the whole JFK story and when we meet people we always say we are from Dallas, even though we live an hour away," Hillary Murray, 34, said as the couple talked over breakfast at the Magnolia Hotel downtown. "It's history close to home."

The desk clerk here at this historic hotel -- the former headquarters of Mobil Oil with its iconic Red Pegasus signage -- says guests staying this weekend have come primarily from other parts of Texas to commemorate the day.

Dallas officials have been accused by some for ignoring the gruesome aspects of this half-century anniversary, with no mention of the motorcade that ended within shooting distance of the Texas Book Depository on the November day in 1963. But Sean Murray, 36, likes it that way.

"We are trying to keep it low key, honoring his legacy rather than relive the assassination," he said.

PHOTO: Robert McHeffey and Paul M. take a smoke break just blocks from Dealey Plaza, where JFK was shot 50 years ago today.
ABC News
LBJ Gets the Blame

Robert McHeffey and Paul M. are grabbing a smoke on Commerce Street in downtown Dallas, just blocks from Dealey Plaza where President John F. Kennedy was shot 50 years ago today. A light drizzle falls on his uncharacteristically cool, 39-degree day.

"I've always believed -- and I'm not one of those conspiracy theory guys -- that LBJ [Lyndon B. Johnson] was behind the assassination," said Paul, who did not want to give his last name. "They hated each other."

Paul, 58, and visiting Dallas from Massachusetts, said he was only 8 when the president was shot, but the event left an indelible memory. "I watched it all on an old Admiral black and white TV in the third-grade in Catholic school," he said.

"My mom liked JFK," he said. "But my dad didn't like his philandering."

McHeffey, 52, is in town to put together a securities deal. He survived the devastation of Superstorm Sandy in his native Rumson, N.J., and the loss of a nephew who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Even as a conservative from a blue state, McHeffey said he holds high regard for the young president who was slain in his prime.

"If Kennedy were alive today, he would be disgusted with the present administration," he said. "[Kennedy] was a tax-cutter, not a proliferate spender. Today, they have hijacked the Democratic Party. I feel bad for my kids."

PHOTO: Pete Benedetto is a concierge at the AT&T headquarters in Dallas.
ABC News
'We Had the TV on for Three Days'

Pete Benedetto stands at the concierge desk at AT&T's corporate headquarters in Dallas, the giant symbol of the company -- the 97-year-old statue of "Golden Boy" -- towering over him.

The 63-year-old will never forget the day the sister superior at his Chicago parochial school made the announcement: "The president was shot in Dallas. He is en route to Parkland Hospital. Pray for him."

"Then an hour later, the mother superior said he had died," said Benedetto, who for the past six years has directed tourists in the historic district around tree-lined AT&T Park, which is decorated this late fall day with Christmas lights.

Benedetto said the mood was somber. "My mother cried," he said. "We had the TV on for three days."

School children like him had been rehearsing for the ominous possibility that the Russians might drop "the bomb," he said, with children hiding beneath their desks in routine air-raid drills.

"There were a lot of concerns about the Russians and whether there would be a nuclear war," he said. "It was a scary time."

PHOTO: A masked Tea Party protestor is seen in Dallas.
ABC News
No Place for Protesters

Just outside Dealey Plaza where the city of Dallas has organized the official tribute ceremony to the life of slain President John F. Kennedy, a small group of protesters carry these signs: "50 Years of Lies," "CIA Killed JFK," alongside the Tea Party flag: "Don't Tread on Me."

Many are huddled around free-speech advocate and Internet radio host Alex Jones, who has rallied about 100 followers outside the Earle Cabell Federal Building.

Some of the protesters are angry that the city shut down JFK anniversary commemorations to the public. "We pay our taxes," said one young man, bundled up as freezing temperatures failed to chill his enthusiasm.

Others blame the CIA for the 1963 assassination. "It's well documented," masked protester Darla Moody told ABCNews.com. "The government lies."

Moody, a Hallsville, Texas, mother, drove two and a half hours to Dallas for a chance to be heard. "I used to be an attorney until I had an emotional breakdown when I learned what they say isn't true," she says. "I found out it was a corrupt legal system when I was representing veterans for the VA [Veterans Administration] who were screwing them out of benefits after they got back."

Protest leader Jones, whose platform advocates for more protection for First Amendment rights, pushes his way to confront this reporter, deriding the "mainstream media," cutting short the interview with Moody.

The crowd cheers.

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