Remembering JFK: The world stood still on November 22, 1963
When shots rang out in Dallas, America changed forever.
BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor
Then it all crashed on November 22, 1963. A thousand days into his storybook presidency, the youngest-ever commander-in-chief was struck down by a sniper’s bullets during a motorcade in Dallas.
Veteran TV journalist Jack Perkins was 29 years old and having lunch with his boss, NBC News legend David Brinkley, co-anchor of the network’s nightly news. Recalling that day for Beliefnet, Perkins remembers vividly, “he and I dashed from lunch back to the studio where for hours I filtered reports to him to put on the air. In my early years in TV news, one thing he taught me was that the more dramatic the story, the less dramatically it should be told.
“Then, when time came — 6:00 p.m. — for the evening’s regular Huntley-Brinkley Report, here’s how, undramatically, he opened. I still have his script.”
Somberly, Brinkley, who had been on the air non-stop all afternoon, began the news program with: “Good evening. The essential facts are these: President Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, Texas. He was shot by a sniper hiding in a building beside his route. He was dead within an hour.”
“Simple declarative sentences,” remembers Perkins, who is now retired and lives with his wife on an island off the coast of Florida, “no ornamentation, his delivery calm, balanced.” Pure David Brinkley.
Across town, “I was working as associate director of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” remembers TV executive Stan Zabka. “We were in camera rehearsal when Nancy, our production assistant, now my wife of almost 50 years, entered the studio visibly upset, uttering the words ‘Dallas’ and ‘the President.’ Soon we learned that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
“All activity in Studio 6B came to a halt. On a television monitor overhead someone had piped in a CBS television feed of Walter Cronkite detailing a running account of the event. No one knew what to say, or if they could believe what they were seeing on the screen. Johnny entered the studio with his brother and our producer and told everyone to go home. The show was cancelled for the day.
“I had met Kennedy at a fundraiser at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York that NBC News assigned me to cover. Watching him pace the floor backstage, I remember something that was captivating, something in his demeanor that made me feel he just might be elected and go on to become a good president.
“Unfortunately, after only a thousand days in office, at age 43, he was gunned down. It defied all logic.”
Longtime newsman Larry Nation was an eighth grader eating lunch at Edison Junior High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma “when the principal’s voice over the intercom told us ‘President Kennedy has been shot during a motorcade in Dallas, Texas and is being treated at a hospital.’"
The lunchroom “was stunned into silence,” remembers Nation. “’He’s young and strong. He’s make it,’ someone said.” The kids were “uncharacteristically quiet and we waited for more word, as the teacher just sat stunned and staring out the window.”