9 People Who Witnessed JFK's Assassination

A doctor lost his "hero" firsthand that day, as a reporter found his confidence.

ByABC News
November 20, 2013, 11:55 AM
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.
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.

Nov. 20, 2013— -- intro: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, while riding in an open car in a motorcade in Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

Shown here are Texas Gov. John Connally, who was wounded, adjusting his tie, and the president with the first lady in pink, Jackie Kennedy, seated in the back. They were leaving Love Field en route to greet crowds in the city.

Not an hour later, shots rang out. Despite the Warren Commission Report that the gunman acted alone, conspiracy theories abound on how many bullets and shooters were involved.

The president fell into the first lady's lap, and Secret Service agents rushed him to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Numerous eyewitnesses to history are still alive today and say the traumatic event will remain forever etched in their memories. Here are nine of them:

Watch Full Televised Coverage of the National Tragedy From Nov. 22, 1963

quicklist: 1title: Jencye Gush: Within Reach of JFK's 'Bushy Eyebrows'

text: Jenyce Gush was only 14 when she and her girlfriend skipped school to catch a glimpse of President Kennedy and the first lady as their limousine headed down Lemon Street.

"It was such an impulsive thing," Gush, now 65, told ABCNews.com. "We both had pink rollers the size of orange juice cans in our hair. We had no makeup and were right there on the curb as the motorcade came by."

The Dallas woman was close enough to notice the president's "bushy eyebrows," and that Jackie Kennedy's lipstick matched her pink outfit and pill-box hat. She was in awe of the handsome pair. "We could have reached out and touched them if we wanted to," she said.

Family Tree: 50 Years Later, Kennedys Still Loom Large

Afterward, the teens headed back to Skillern's, a local drug store, and saw a woman who was obviously distraught. "She was in her car pounding on her steering wheel and hysterically crying," remembered Gush, who went to the window and asked what was wrong.

"Oh, dear, not in Dallas," the woman screamed. "They shot him. The president has been shot."

The teens walked back into the drug store to see Walter Cronkite on television, wiping away his own tears at the news.

"It was like a moment frozen in time," she said. "It was so quiet and I looked at the store manager and she had tears running down her face. I remember putting my hands on my face and felt the tears. How could that have happened? I was heartsick."

For years Gush, now a manager of a suicide crisis hotline, said she felt ashamed to be from Dallas. "It became a dark and dirty place," she said.

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quicklist: 2title: James Tague: The 3rd Shooting Victimtext:

James T. Tague was an unintended victim in the Kennedy assassination, hit by a stray bullet while stuck in traffic on the way to pick up a luncheon date. "I was standing on the triple underpass at the time and was wounded by a fragment that bounced off the pavement," Tague, now 77, told ABC News.

When he heard the first shot, Tague thought it was a firecracker. "It certainly didn't sound like a rifle shot. It was a loud cannon-type sound and it stung me on my right cheek."

"I wondered what had just happened and a man in a suit who turned out to be a deputy sheriff in plain clothes ran up and asked what had happened."Across the street people were sobbing, 'His head exploded.' The policeman said 'Whose head?' It was the president's. Then he looked at me and said, 'You have blood on your face.'"

FULL COVERAGE: JFK Remembered, 50 Years Later

Tague went down to the police station where he gave a statement to homicide detectives. At the same time, they were bringing in a man in handcuffs who would be charged with the shooting death of Officer J.D. Tippet, Lee Harvey Oswald.

"That night I went home and wrote down everything I remembered from that day," said Tague, who later worked in auto management testified before the Warren Commission. "Fifty years later, it's still hard to accept."

Tague is the author of a new conspiracy theory book, "LBJ and The Kennedy Killing." He debunks the "lone shooter" theory and asserts it was a "professional" assassination that was two years in the planning at the highest levels of government, motivated by the vice president's "ego and greed" and covered up by J. Edgar Hoover.

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quicklist: 3title: Hugh Aynesworth: 'It Was Chaos'text: Hugh Aynesworth, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, was annoyed that he had not been assigned to cover President Kennedy's motorcade. But at the last minute, he decided to walk for blocks from his office over to Dealey Plaza.

"Because it's not every day you don't see a president," the now 82-year-old told his former newspaper. "I heard what I thought was a motorcycle backfiring, but it wasn't. It was a shot and then two other shots. It was chaos."

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quicklist: 4title: Gary DeLaune Breaks News to the Worldtext: Radio anchor Gary DeLaune had "never covered anything" close to the national event that broke Nov. 22, 1963. His assignment at KLIF that day was to wait until the motorcade cleared and head to the Trademark, an assembly hall, where the president would speak.

"I had finished my morning runs on the news side and did the sports and was in the studio," he told ABC News. "At about 12:36, I received an anonymous phone call: What did I know about shots fired and Kennedy and Connally hit?"

Typically, he taped hotline tips, but "for some reason I did not say, 'Who is this? Or the tape wasn't rolling."

"It was such a shock, I didn't think about it -- I just reacted," said DeLaune, who is now 80 and continues a long career in sportscasting.

Police sources confirmed the news and DeLaune broke the bulletin that Friday, which kept repeating around the world.

"KLIF was not the most powerful but it was the most listened to station," he said. "When Dallas coughed, they turned on KLIF."

DeLaune returned to Dallas police headquarters Saturday and learned that Lee Harvey Oswald was being moved to a more secure jail the next day.

"Sundays they don't do routine transfers," he said. "So I woke up my wife and said, 'I have a feeling about this.'"

When DeLaune arrived at the station basement, a crowd of press and television cameras were there.

"It was sheer chaos," he said. "I had been up two and half days straight."

DeLaune was just to the left of the old pool camera, about 12 feet from where Oswald would be shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who was an annoying presence at the police station.

"There were a cluster of newsmen on my right," he said. "First I heard three honks of a horn, then a shot, then a grunt. It was so vivid. The shot echoed as you can imagine in a dark basement on a cold November day -- it reverberates and I was knocked back."

As for Ruby, all DeLaune saw with all the strobe lights was a "figure with a gun."

Police Sgt. Patrick Dean, who took Ruby up in the elevator to arrest him for the murder, reportedly exclaimed, "I want to kill the son of a bitch and avenge Jackie Kennedy."

DeLaune went back to the newsroom and reported the story. "It gave me one thing," he said of the event. "It made me a newsman and gave me the confidence to cover any story."

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quicklist: 5title: Dr. Robert N. McClelland Tried to Revive JFKtext: President Kennedy was en route to Parkland Memorial Hospital when Dr. Robert McClelland, then just a 33-year-old surgeon, was called to the emergency room to help.

Taking the elevator two floors down, he and his colleagues "tried to cheer each other up," hoping "it was not as bad as they said it would be." The open area outside the ER was "jammed full with men in business suits, shoulder to shoulder," McCelland told ABC News. "I had never seen anything like it."

Jackie Kennedy was sitting on a folding chair outside the trauma room. "I had to literally force myself to walk toward her to the door," he said. "When I came into the trauma room, I was immediately confronted with a horrid sight -- the president lying on his back on the gurney with a light shining down on his bloody head. That was the first thing I saw."

The president was still alive, according to McClelland, now 83 and a professor emeritus at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. "The electrocardiograph monitor showed excellent cardiac activity and he was making an attempt at breathing. He wasn't dead, but he was going to die."

As Dr. Malcolm Perry explored a small injury in the president's lower neck near the windpipe, McClelland stood just 18 inches above the president's head. "I immediately saw a huge injury and my God, half of his head was gone," he said. "As I stood there, his right half cerebellum fell out through a large wound in the back of his head onto the gurney. It was immediately apparent it was a fatal injury."

When Kennedy flat-lined, a crowd began to gather as the trauma door opened and McClelland was pushed up against a wall. He looked and saw an "unobtrusive" man with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. "I overheard someone say, 'Oh, look, here is the bag man who carries the nuclear codes."

Although Texas law required a post-mortem in criminal deaths, Secret Service men strong-armed Kennedy's body away and an autopsy was done in Bethesda, Md., according to McClelland. He disagrees with some of his colleagues and said he believes after seeing the famous Zapruder film that there were "at least two shooters."

In came the Rev. Oscar L. Huber, the Roman Catholic priest who was to administer last rites. "I was frozen against the wall, inappropriately to the right of the president's head," he said. "He anointed the president's head with oil."

Jackie Kennedy, who'd come in and out of the trauma room, went to the side of her mortally wounded husband. "She didn't say anything. She just stood there a moment and exchanged rings from her finger to the president's finger.

McClelland, who just saw Tom Hanks historical drama "Parkland," compared the film's portrayal of the post-assassination events to the reality. "That was a travesty," he said of the 2013 film. "She never threw her body against the president's body. She was totally self-contained, but obviously concerned. She walked slowly down the gurney he was lying on and stood by his bare foot for a moment, then kissed his foot and walked out."

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quicklist: 6title: Dr. Kenneth Salyer Lost His Herotext: Dr. Kenneth Salyer, famous in 2009 for separating conjoined twins center, Mohamed Ibrahim, left, and Ahmed Ibrahim, was in the operating room at Parkland Memorial Hospital's emergency room Nov. 22, 1963.

"Finally, we pronounced him dead and everyone left the room," he told the Dallas Morning News. "And I was standing there totally in a daze and numb and believing, with difficulty, that I was taking care of my hero."

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quicklist: 7title: Pat Hall Remembers Oswald: 'Quiet' and 'Kind'

text: Pat Hall grew up just blocks from the boarding house where, five days a week, Lee Harvey Oswald lived: Her grandmother Gladys Johnson was the landlord at 1026 N. Beckley Ave. But she knew him only as, "OH Lee," a quiet man who was "neat and clean and kind to children."

"Anytime he was in the house, he always came out and played ball with my brothers and me in the front yard," Hall, 61, told ABC News. "We all knew him as a regular guy. It's been hard for us to say he was the lone shooter. We do acknowledge he was involved in some way, to what extent we have no idea. So the family kind of leans toward thinking it was probably a conspiracy."

As an 11-year-old, she remembers the day the president was assassinated. "I was at my desk in the classroom and I could see the teachers were congregating in the halls. I had a feeling that something was wrong."

School was closed and Hall and her two brothers stayed at home, but her mother forbid them to watch television. "Mama was upset about the president, and because her photography studio was directly across the street from the Texas Theater, she saw them arrest Oswald [for the shooting death of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit when he entered, failing to pay for a ticket]. She recognized he was a roomer in her mother's house."

But the television went back on Sunday and Hall and her siblings witnessed Oswald's death. "My brothers started calling out, 'That's Mr. Lee, that's Mr. Lee.'"

Hall said the family suffered repercussions for their association with Oswald. "Unfortunately, my grandmother received a lot of hate mail and death threats," she said.

But, she said, her mother, Fay Puckett, "absolutely loved" Kennedy and was heartbroken at his death. "I remember her doing a lot of crying," she said.

"My grandmother did meet Oswald's mother," Hall said. "She came to thank her for not vilifying her son than he had already been vilified, and they sat and talked."

Puckett took over the infamous house on Beckley Avenue and then Hall continued renting rooms until just last year. The house is for sale today, but Hall has opened a small museum where she gives tours of Oswald's room, which looks exactly as it did in 1963.

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quicklist: 8title: James R. Leavelle: Handcuffed to Oswald

text: Homicide detective James Leavelle was the first to interrogate Lee Harvey Oswald after his arrest. He was handcuffed to the assassin, taking him to a waiting police car to transfer Oswald to the Dallas County jail when nightclub owner Jack Ruby lunged at Oswald and shot him dead.

The photograph of that moment with Leavelle in a cowboy hat won a Pulitzer Prize and is one of the most reprinted in history.

The 93-year-old, who testified three times before the Warren Commission, is convinced Oswald was the only assassin. "The American people as whole don't like anything cut and dried," he told ABCNews.com. "It's more interesting to make a mystery out of this."

When the iconic photo of Leavelle in his big cowboy hat went worldwide, he said he became famous overnight.

"On the street people would stop me and want to ask questions," he said. "One thing led to another and I traveled from Alaska to Florida and even Hawaii to make speeches.

"I get requests from all over the country for autographs," Leavelle said. "I have signed a dozen baseballs and bats over the years. You name it, I've signed it. I average three a week, 300 in a year."

His granddaughter, Kate Griendling, made a documentary, "Capturing Oswald," about Leavelle and his police colleagues.

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quicklist: 9title: Ruth Hyde Paine: 'Caused Considerable Grief for Me'

text: Young mother and divorcee Ruth Hyde Paine was one of the last people to see Lee Harvey Oswald alive. His immigrant wife, Marina, and their two children lived with Paine, and she hosted the couple at a dinner in her home in Irving, Texas, the night before the assassination.

"I didn't get to know him well," she said of Oswald. "It was an economic separation. They were still in the marriage but didn't have money. He would come out on the weekends."

Paine, who had learned Russian in college, met Marina at a party and offered her a place to stay for two months after Oswald lost his job and traveled looking for work. When he found a job at the Book Depository, Oswald visited Marina on weekends. But he showed up Thursday, Nov. 21, without warning, and then went into a black duffle bag in Paine's cluttered garage the next day and grabbed the rifle that would kill the president.

"I am Quaker and I don't believe in firearms," the former school psychologist, now 81, told ABC News. "I wouldn't have wanted it there. I didn't' know until after the assassination."

Marina was watching television with Paine when the president was shot.

After the news reported shots from the Bookstore Depository, Marina seemed alarmed. "She went in the garage to look for [the rifle] and saw the black bag and thought it was there," Paine said.

When police came and questioned her about a gun, Marina led them to the garage and found the empty bag. By then, her husband was in custody in connection to the killing of Officer J.D. Tippet.

"She left the next morning with two babies and her mother-in-law," Paine said. "She had been at the police station when we arrived and hinted broadly that she wanted to sleep in the sofa. It was back at that evening that I learned she had invited Life magazine to my house."

Marina was hoping to see her husband in jail and finally left. Paine never saw her again until March 1964, after she had testified for the Warren Commission. They saw each other once more the following year.

"We didn't have anything to say to each other, we were so stricken by what had happened," she said. "It's still very painful."

Paine now lives in Santa Rosa, Calif., and the house on West Fifth Street in Irving is soon to be a museum.

She has a hard time believing 50 years have passed. "It's very strange," Paine said. "I try not to think about it but the matter has caused considerable grief for me."

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