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On 22 November 1963 President John F Kennedy landed at Love Field airport in Dallas, Texas to an ecstatic welcome from the crowd.
With his glamorous style-icon wife by his side, President Kennedy was the darling of the world’s media and a global superstar credited with facing down the West’s Cold War Soviet enemy in Cuba and saving the world from nuclear war.
But barely one hour later, whilst being driven through Dallas city centre, The President was shot and killed.
The Day Kennedy Died, narrated by Kevin Spacey, and directed by Leslie Woodhead, who directed 9/11: The Day The Changed The World and The Hunt for Bin Laden, tells the story of what happened that day through the eyes of the people who were there and whose lives were touched forever by the President’s death.
The documentary features interviews with:
- The doctor who tried to save Kennedy’s life
- The Secret Service agent who still agonises over the fact that he couldn’t save Kennedy
- The man wrongly accused of killing The President
- The woman who unknowingly sheltered the real killer and his wife
- The shopkeeper who helped to catch the assassin
- And the man who witnessed the shooting when he was just six years old
Using rarely-seen footage, including home movies and interview with witnesses who seldom, if ever, speak, the documentary gives a minute by minute account of what happened on the day of President Kennedy’s death.
There is footage of The President leaving his hotel in Dallas Fort Worth that morning and being greeted by thousands of people who had waited outside in the rain to see him.
At the same time, Lee Harvey Oswald and his neighbour and colleague, Buell Frazier were driving to work together to the Texas School Book Depository.
Frazier tells the documentary about the journey and a mysterious parcel that Oswald had placed on the back seat that he claimed contained curtain rods.
He says: “He got the package out of the car and put it under his right arm and began to walk off. He went inside. Where did he go? I don’t know.”
The documentary shows President Kennedy making his last ever speech at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce before he leaves for Dallas.
Kevin Spacey explains how not everyone in Dallas was pleased to see the President that day. The day before his arrival, leaflets were distributed around the city stating that he was wanted for treason for being ‘soft on communism’.
After a 13 minute flight from Fort Worth, footage shows Air Force One landing in Dallas and Kennedy and his wife greeting the waiting crowds.
Jackie Kennedy’s Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, tells the documentary about protecting the First Lady and ensuring that he was only ever an arm’s length away from her. He is seen in the crowds as the President and Mrs Kennedy meet everyone before they set off in the motorcade towards the centre of Dallas.
Clint says: “President Kennedy did not want the top on the car. He wanted the car to be open. Unless it were raining, or if Mrs Kennedy was with him and we were going to be going at sufficient enough speed it would mess up her hair, then he’d permit the protective glass top to be on it. He wanted people to feel that he was accessible. He wanted them to be able to reach out, sometimes, and touch them.”
The President had also stated that he didn’t want the Secret Service alongside his car as he wanted people to be able to see Mrs Kennedy, whom he asked to remove her sunglasses as they approached the city centre.
Footage from the day shows the motorcade travelling through the streets of Dallas. As the crowds pressed right in on them, Clint Hill can be seen getting on the back of the President’s car to be closer to him and his wife. As the crowds died down, he went back to the following car.
The Day Kennedy Died explains that what happened next has been debated for the past 50 years.
Clint describes seeing the President grab his neck and fall to the side. Archive footage shows him running towards the presidential car and jumping on the back of the vehicle. He describes hearing the third shot and seeing it hit the President’s head. At that moment, Jackie Kennedy is seen leaning over the boot of the car to reach something. Clint explains to the documentary that she was trying to retrieve part of her husband’s head.
Eyewitnesses give their accounts of what they saw and Clint describes the rush to the hospital.
He says: “Mrs Kennedy wouldn’t let go of the President’s body. She didn’t want anybody to see the condition the President was in because it was very bad. So I took off my suit coat, I covered up his head and his upper body, then she let go and we rushed him into Trauma Room One and Mrs Kennedy went in with us.”
Nurse Phyllis Hall, who received the President at the hospital, describes the moment she was asked to help save his life.
Surgeon Dr Robert McClelland describes seeing that the back of the President’s head had been completely blown away. He says he saw the priest reading him his last rites and Mrs Kennedy taking her ring off her finger and putting it on the President’s finger, and taking his ring and putting it on hers. She then kissed his bare foot and left the room.
The documentary features footage of the press secretary breaking the news of The President’s death to the media. And Clint Hill describes how his body was taken to the airport; Mrs Kennedy insisting on travelling sitting next to her husband’s casket.
The documentary explains that as The President was in hospital, the police were doing a roll call at the Texas Book Department where they discovered an employee by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald was missing.
As a search got underway, a shopkeeper tells the documentary how he noticed a strange man coming into his shop looking for shoes. The shopkeeper says as sirens were heard nearby, the man fled to a nearby cinema, and the shopkeeper raised the alarm.
Police stormed the cinema and arrested Lee Harvey Oswald and The Day Kennedy died features extraordinary footage from the police station of Oswald being repeatedly led past the waiting media crowds at the station.
The police discovered that Oswald had lived in the Soviet Union and had a Russian wife. The family were living with a Quaker woman, Ruth Paine, who had helped Oswald to get his job at the book depository.
Ruth tells the documentary about how the police arrived at her house and questioned Oswald’s wife, Marina. She becomes emotional as recalls the moment that she realised what he had done.
She says: “It’s a long time ago but still fresh for me and very painful.”
The programme features an audio recording of Vice-President Lyndon Johnson being hastily sworn in as President on Air Force One and shows photos of Mrs Kennedy at the ceremony, her Chanel suit and her stockings still covered in her husband’s blood.
Buell Fraizer tells how he was taken to the police station and accused of being involved in the assassination.
Oswald was led past reporters 15 times before being brought in front of them for a press conference.
He denied shooting the President but, following the conference, he was finally charged with his murder. Just two days later Oswald was shot at the police headquarters by club owner Jack Ruby and died shortly afterwards – in the same hospital as Kennedy and with the same doctor, Dr Robert McClelland, in attendance.
Clint tells the documentary: “I call that the end of The Age of Innocence, and that’s pretty much exactly what it was.”
The Day Kennedy Died is made by Finestripe Productions for ITV. It is directed by Leslie Woodhead, with Lorraine McKechnie as producer and Sue Summers as the executive producer.