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The Rushmore Report: Just Released – New Eyewitness Account of JFK Assassination

On Wednesday, the Secret Service agent who jumped onto the back of John Kennedy’s car seconds after he was shot published his personal notes describing his eyewitness account. As the man with the closest view of the actual events, Clint Hill’s record is astonishing and raw. Following are some of the notes he wrote within moments of the assassination of America’s 36th president.

On that fateful day 54 years ago, Hill was standing on the lip of the vehicle driving behind President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Hill heard Lee Harvey Oswald’s first gunshot, and immediately saw the president “grab at his throat.” Without thinking, he bolted toward the president’s car from behind, but was unable to reach the president before the fatal shot was fired. He then used his body to shield the First Lady as the car sped toward Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

This is the exact account of Kennedy’s assassination in the words of the closest eyewitness.

November 21 (4:00 pm)

“Couldn’t transport Secret Service cars from San Antonio to Houston in time, so we had leased cars on 11/21/63. Rather uncomfortable, and not ideal for protection, to ride straddling the door in follow-up car.”

November 21 (4:09 pm)

“We saw a few protestors in Houston on 11/21/63. But nothing violent. No specific threats.”

November 22 (10:12 am)

“President and Mrs. Kennedy held hands at Carswell Air Force as we prepared to depart Fort Worth for Dallas. They were thrilled with the reception they’d received thus far in Texas.”

November 22 (10:58 am)

“Seemed ridiculous to fly Ft. Worth to Dallas, but political staff wanted arrival of Air Force One in Dallas. An exuberant crowd greeted President and Mrs. Kennedy at Love Field.”

November 22 (11:29 am)

“They were supposed to get directly into the car, but President Kennedy went to the fence line to shake hands. Mrs. Kennedy followed. The press went crazy.”

November 22 (12:19 pm)

“As we proceeded down Main St. in Dallas, the crowds grew larger. 15-20 people deep on each side of the street. People hanging out of windows, on fire escapes, anywhere they could get to have a view of President and Mrs. Kennedy.”

November 22 (12:27 pm)

“There were 2 motorcycle cops immediately to my left. The noise of the engines very loud, mixed with the screams and cheers. As we came to end of Main St., turned onto Houston, the crowds suddenly dropped off.”

November 22 (12:30 pm)

“The cars had to slow way down as we made the sharp turn from Houston onto Elm. Suddenly, I heard an explosive noise over my right shoulder, from the rear. I turned toward the noise. Notice the other agents are turning back toward the noise, too.”

November 22 (12:32 pm)

“As I turned my head toward the noise, I stopped when I saw JFK’s reaction. He grabbed at his throat and lurched to the left. I realized it was a gunshot. I jumped off the running board and ran toward the presidential limo.”

November 22 (12:35 pm)

“As I was running, two more shots were fired. Unfortunately, I was not faster than the bullets.”

November 22 (2:55 pm)

“The other agents and I carried the casket up the stairs to Air Force One as Mrs. K watched. We got to the door, and it was too wide to fit through the door … we had to rip the handles off to make it fit.”

November 23 (6:41 am)

“After the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital, we returned to the White House around 4:30 am 11/23/63 with President John F. Kennedy in a new flag-draped casket. Mrs. Kennedy & me still in our blood-stained clothes.”

November 23 (8:35 am)

“The casket was placed on a catafalque in East Room & surrounded by Honor Guard. I went home @ 6:30 am. Shaved, showered, returned to White House. No time off. All other agents were w/LBJ. Only Paul Landis & me w/Mrs. Kennedy. There was no one to replace us.”

The Great Portuguese Discovery – 497 Days Ago Today

Okay, let’s take a shot at a history question. For whom did they name the Strait of Magellan? I’ll give you a hint. We have his picture here. Was it . . .

A. Columbus

B. Magellan

C. George Strait

I’ll go ahead and remove the suspense. The correct answer is Magellan.

Born to a wealthy Portuguese family in 1480, Magellan became a skilled sailor and naval officer. He would eventually be picked by King Charles I of Spain to lead a search for a westward route to the Spice Islands. Commanding a fleet of five vessels, he headed south through the Atlantic Ocean to Patagonia, passing through what would become known as the Strait of Magellan.

What he found on the other side, he called the “Peaceful Sea.” We call it the Pacific Ocean. Despite a series of storms and mutinies, the expedition reached the Spice Islands a year later, and returned home via the Indian Ocean. This completed the first trip around the earth.

Unfortunately for Magellan, he did not complete the voyage himself, as he was killed during the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines in early 1521.

It was on this day in history – November 28, 1520 – that three of Magellan’s ships passed South America into the Pacific Ocean. Was this by design? Of course not. Magellan had little idea what lay ahead when he set out across the Atlantic Ocean. But his was an exercise in vision and perseverance.

Magellan did what no one had done before. For that he has a strait named after him. Not many of us can say that. But it came at a high price. Magellan would not live long enough to see his name on an elementary school globe. Nor would he live long enough to make it back home.

Life is a lot like that. As with the great Portuguese explorer, we often don’t live to see the fruits of our labor. But if we pay the price of vision and perseverance, results will come.

We aren’t called to know what lays ahead. But we are called to set sail. You may never discover an oceanic passageway. You may not even have a strait named after you. But you will go places you never imagined.

It’s time to set sail.

He Died Today

On this day in 1963, we lost a president to an assassin’s bullet. But we lost another great man that same day. His name was Clive Staples.

Clive was the most brilliant man of his day. He published nine best-selling books. In his honor stands a statue in the Church of England. He was a published poet, knew ancient Greek, and was a student of Irish mythology. He cherished his faith, along with his brother, who died young.

For those of you over 60, you probably remember where you were the day Clive died, because John Kennedy died the same day. It may have been Clive who had the greatest impact on his world, not Kennedy. The great theologian, philosopher, and writer still lives through his books, which are required reading in colleges and seminaries to this day.

Is it even necessary to give his full name? Surely you are familiar with Clive Staples. If not, I’ll throw in his last name – Lewis. C. S. Lewis – one of God’s giants.

Moby Dick Published This Day in 1851

Moby Dick, or The Whale, is a novel by Herman Melville, considered an outstanding work of Romanticism and the American Renaissance. Ishmael narrates the monomaniacal quest of Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, a white whale which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab’s ship and severed his leg at the knee.

Although the novel was a commercial failure and out of print at the time of the author’s death in 1891, its reputation as a Great American Novel grew during the 20th century. William Falkner confessed he wished he had written it himself, and D. H. Lawrence called it “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world,” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written.” “Call me Ishmael” is one of world literature’s most famous opening sentences.

So when it was written, no one thought much of Moby Dick. But today it remains one of the most acclaimed works of literature ever penned by man.

That’s a lot like life. What we see as insignificant today becomes huge tomorrow. The lesson? Don’t forget the little stuff. Just because something doesn’t look like much right now does not mean it will not be a factor in your ultimate destiny.

Commit to God the little stuff. Then step back and watch what he can do.

The Story of Al Capone

On this date in history, 1931, Al Capone was convicted of income tax evasion. But it didn’t come easily or quickly. This is his story.

Al Capone was born in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City to Italian immigrants. Capone was a Five Points Gang member who became a bouncer in organized crime premises such as brothels. In his early 20s, he moved to Chicago and became bodyguard and trusted factotum for Johnny Torrio, head of a criminal syndicate that illegally supplied alcohol and that was politically protected through the Unione Siciliana. A conflict with the North Side Gang was instrumental in Capone’s rise and fall. Torrio went into retirement after North Side gunmen almost killed him, thereby bringing about Capone’s succession. Capone expanded the bootlegging business through increasingly violent means, but his mutually profitable relationships with mayor William Hale Thompson and the city’s police meant Capone seemed safe from law enforcement. Apparently reveling in the attention, such as cheers when he appeared at ball games, Capone made donations to various charities and was viewed by many to be a “modern day Robin Hood.” However, the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of gang rivals from the North Side Gang damaged Chicago’s image, leading influential citizens to demand governmental action.

The federal authorities became intent on jailing Capone and prosecuted him for tax evasion in 1931. The case was highly politicized and both prosecutors and judge later received preferment. During prior and ultimately abortive negotiations to pay the government any back taxes he owed, Capone had made admissions of his income; the judge deemed these statements usable as evidence at the trial, and also refused to let Capone plead guilty for a lighter sentence. The effect of such decisions by the judge was added to by the incompetence of Capone’s defense attorneys. Capone was convicted and sentenced to a then record breaking 11 years in federal prison. Replacing his old defense team with experts in tax law, his grounds for appeal were strengthened by a Supreme Court ruling, but Capone again found that his status as a symbol of criminality meant that judges decided against him. Already showing signs of syphilitic dementia by early in his sentence, he became increasingly debilitated before being released after eight years. On January 25, 1947, Capone died of cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke. Capone’s conviction had negligible effect on the prevalence of organized crime in Chicago.

First Manned Apollo Mission Launches

On October 11, 1968, NASA launched its first successful manned Apollo mission, with astronauts Wally Schirra, Donn R. Eisele, and Walter Cunningham aboard.

Apollo 7 was a human spacecraft mission carried out by the United States. In addition to being the first such mission to carry man to space, it was the first U.S. spaceflight to carry astronauts since the flight of Gemini XII in November, 1966.

The mission was an 11-day Earth-orbital test flight to check out the redesigned Block II Apollo Command/Service Module with a crew on board. It was the first launch of a Saturn IB vehicle to put a crew into space, the first three-person American space mission, and the first live TV broadcast from an American spacecraft. It was successfully launched from what was then known as Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Florida. Despite tension between the crew and ground controllers, the mission was a complete technical success, giving NASA the confidence to launch Apollo 8 around the Moon two months later. However, the flight would prove to be the last NASA space flight for all of its three crew members when it splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on October 22, 1968. It was also the final manned launch from Cape Kennedy Air Force Station.

The Rushmore Report: Which Presidents Were the Most Religious?

Consistency is something of an American tradition – at least as far as our presidents are concerned. Forty-four individuals have served as Commander-in-Chief. (Grover Cleveland held two non-consecutive terms.) They came from 18 states, have all been male, and almost all claimed to be Christians. Only three were religiously unaffiliated: Jefferson, Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson. But who have been our most religious presidents?

Six stand out.

Jimmy Carter

Famous for being a Baptist Sunday School teacher, Carter is recognized as the first “born again” president. Prior to serving, Carter took a missionary journey in which he knocked on strangers’ doors and said, “I’m Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer, and I’m here to talk to you about Jesus Christ.” Carter read the Bible and prayed daily throughout his time in office, yet he would ultimately be rejected by the emerging evangelical right.

George W. Bush

This second-generation president was one of the most comfortable when it came to talking about his faith, as he courted religious leaders, and used overtly religious language to justify policy decisions. Bush once famously remarked,”I believe God wants me to be president.” So intense was his spiritual fervor that Steven Mansfield concluded, “Whatever else the presidency of George W. Bush imprints on American history, it will at least have granted the nation an opportunity to rethink the role of religion in public life.”

William McKinley

A proud Methodist, McKinley avoided drinking, swearing, and smoking. He was a regular church attender while in office and according to eyewitnesses was quite an enthusiastic hymn singer. He also believed that the government had a duty to spread both democracy and the Christian religion abroad. McKinley’s last words before death were reportedly, “Goodbye, goodbye all. It’s God’s way. His will, not ours, be done. Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee.”

James Madison

President Madison was a faithful Episcopalian who signed a federal bill to appropriate funds for Bible distribution. Madison served on the Congressional committee that established and selected Congressional chaplains and he encouraged all public officials to openly declare their faith. Later in life, Madison retracted many of his beliefs – arguing that government-paid chaplains and president-led prayers were unconstitutional. But he is still one of America’s most religious heads of state.

Abraham Lincoln

Though he often struggled with faith and even doubted the divinity of Jesus Christ, Lincoln often utilized religious language and quoted the Bible in public speeches. Many of Lincoln’s friends attested to his personal conversion, but Lincoln never explicitly declared it. He was not a formal member of any church, but only about a quarter of Americans were in 1860. Even still, Lincoln’s faith has been intensely felt among Americans since the time of his presidency, perhaps due to the conditions under which he served.

James Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the only clergyman to serve as Commander-in-Chief. He was lauded for his skill as a preacher, and he learned Greek in order to better understand the New Testament.

About the Author

Jonathan Merritt writes and blogs on issues pertaining to faith and culture.

Little Rock’s High School Integration – 60 Years Ago Today

On this day in history, 1957, under escort by the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, nine black students entered all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Three weeks earlier, Governor Orval Faubus had surrounded the school with state National Guard troops to prevent execution of a federal court order – that the school achieve racial integration. Blocked at the door, the students endured intense verbal abuse from a white mob.

At one point, Elizabeth Eckford was surrounded and threatened with lynching. After a tense standoff, President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and also sent in the paratroopers to enforce the court order. After Eisenhower’s action, the Little Rock Nine entered the school, where some white students made additional verbal and physical assaults on the newcomers. Melba Pattillo had acid thrown in her eyes, and Eckford was pushed down a flight of stairs. The male students in the group were subjected to more conventional beatings.

Change never comes easily. As a son of the South, I am embarrassed for segregation – and the reluctance to integrate. When I was a child growing up in Houston, we still had “colored drinking fountains” at the Houston Zoo. My junior high school had just eight blacks. And fights were a common affair.

In today’s culture, it is easy to see how far we still have to go. But when we look back a bit, we can rejoice to see how far we have already come.

Benedict Arnold

On this day in history, 1780, Benedict Arnold gave the British the plans to West Point. Arnold was a general during the American Revolutionary War who originally fought for the American Continental Army but defected to the British Army. While a general on the American side, he obtained command of the fortifications at West Point, New York. When his plans to give information to the enemy became known, he defected to the British side.

In July 1780, Arnold was offered American command of West Point. When his plot to betray his men was discovered, he fled down the Hudson River to the British area known as Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.

Throughout history, there have been stories of traitors. Judas was one. He betrayed Jesus for a few coins. Peter was one. He denied Christ three times in one night. And I am one. I rejected his claim on my life for years.

Whose side are you fighting on? I love the words of Joshua. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

 

The Rushmore Report: The Death of a President

The death of a president – it happened this week in history, 1881. James A. Garfield died of wounds suffered in a shooting two and a half months earlier. Much has been made of the assassinations of presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. But the death of Garfield was interesting in many ways. For example, Lincoln’s son was an eye witness. And despite the shooting, President Garfield didn’t have to die. This is his story.

Garfield was scheduled to leave Washington on July 2, 1881, for his summer vacation. On that day, Charles J. Guiteau lay in wait for the president at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, on the southwest corner of present-day Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.

President Garfield came to the Sixth Street Station on his way to his alma mater, Williams College, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech. He was accompanied by two of his sons, James and Harry, and Secretary of State James Blaine. Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (Abe Lincoln’s son) waited at the station to see the president off. Garfield had no bodyguard or security detail; with the exception of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, early U.S. presidents did not employ guards.

As President Garfield entered the waiting room of the station, Guiteau stepped forward and pulled the trigger from behind at point-blank range. “My God, what is that?” Garfield cried out, flinging up his arms. Guiteau fired again and Garfield collapsed. One bullet grazed Garfield’s shoulder; the other hit him in the back, passing the first lumbar vertebra but missing the spinal cord before coming to rest behind his pancreas.

Most historians and medical experts now believe that Garfield probably would have survived his wounds had the doctors attending him been more capable. Unfortunately for Garfield, most American doctors of the day did not believe in anti-sepsis measures or the need for cleanliness to prevent infection. Several inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, and one doctor punctured Garfield’s liver in doing so.

Also, self-appointed chief physician D. Willard Bliss had supplanted Garfield’s usual physician, Jedediah Hyde Baxter. Bliss and other doctors who attended Garfield had guessed wrong about the path of the bullet in Garfield’s body. They had erroneously probed rightward into Garfield’s back instead of leftward, missing the location of the bullet but creating a new channel which filled with pus. The autopsy not only discovered this error but revealed pneumonia in both lungs and a body that was filled with pus due to uncontrolled septicemia.

We have had four presidential assassinations in American history. But only this one was the result, in part, of poor medical care. The death of a president – it happened 136 years ago this week.