President John F. Kennedy's Assassination

Shot by Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963

A picture of the casket of John F. Kennedy.

Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

On November 22, 1963, the youth and idealism of America in the 1960s faltered as its young President, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while riding in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Two days later, Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby during a prisoner transfer.

After researching all the available evidence about Kennedy’s assassination, the Warren Commission officially ruled in 1964 that Oswald acted alone; a point still greatly contested by conspiracy theorists worldwide.

Plans for the Texas Tour

John F. Kennedy was elected to the presidency in 1960. A member of an illustrious political family from Massachusetts, the World War II naval veteran Kennedy and his young wife, Jacqueline (“Jackie”), charmed their way into the hearts of America.

The couple and their beautiful young children, Caroline and John Jr., quickly became favorites of every media outlet across the United States.

Despite a somewhat turbulent three years in office, by 1963 Kennedy was still popular and thinking about running for a second term. Although he had not officially announced his decision to run again, Kennedy planned a tour that resembled the beginnings of another campaign.

Since Kennedy and his advisers were aware that Texas was a state where a win would provide crucial electoral votes, plans were made for Kennedy and Jackie to visit the state that fall, with stops planned for San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Austin.

It would be Jackie’s first major appearance back into public life after the loss of her infant son, Patrick, in August.

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy emerge from a Fort Worth, Texas, theater
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy emerge from a Fort Worth, Texas, theater, into a waiting car on the day of Kennedy's assassination, November 22, 1963. Historical / Getty Images

Arrival in Texas

The Kennedy’s left Washington, D.C. on November 21, 1963. Their first stop that day was in San Antonio, where they were met by a welcoming committee led by Vice President and Texan Lyndon B. Johnson.

After attending the dedication of a new aerospace medical center at the Brooks Air Force Base, the President and his wife continued on to Houston where he delivered an address to a Latin American organization and attended a dinner for Congressman Albert Thomas. That night, they stayed in Fort Worth.

The Fateful Day in Dallas Begins

The following morning, after addressing the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, President Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy boarded a plane for a brief flight to Dallas.

Their stay in Fort Worth was not without incident; several of Kennedys' Secret Service entourage were spotted drinking in two establishments during his stay there. No immediate action was taken against the offenders but the issue would arise later in the Warren Commission investigation of Kennedy’s stay in Texas.

The Kennedys arrived in Dallas just before noon on November 22 with approximately 30 members of the Secret Service accompanying them. The plane landed at Love Field, which would later serve as the site of Johnson’s swearing-in ceremony.

Kennedys Riding in Dallas Motorcade
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

They were met there by a convertible 1961 Lincoln Continental limousine that was to take them on a ten-mile parade route within the city of Dallas, ending at the Trade Mart, where Kennedy was scheduled to deliver a luncheon address.

The car was driven by Secret Service agent William Greer. Texas Governor John Connally and his wife also accompanied the Kennedys in the vehicle.

The Assassination

Thousands of people lined the parade route hoping for a glance at President Kennedy and his beautiful wife. Just before 12:30 p.m., the presidential motorcade turned right from Main Street onto Houston Street and entered Dealey Plaza.

The presidential limousine then turned left onto Elm Street. After passing the Texas School Book Depository, which was situated at the corner of Houston and Elm, shots suddenly rang out.

One shot hit President Kennedy’s throat and he reached up with both hands toward the injury. Then another shot struck President Kennedy’s head, blowing off a part of his skull.

Jackie Kennedy leapt from her seat and started scrambling for the back of the car. Governor Connally was also struck in the back and chest (he would survive his wounds).

As the assassination scene was unfolding, Secret Service agent Clint Hill jumped from the car following the presidential limousine and ran up to the Kennedys’ car. He then jumped onto the back of the Lincoln Continental in an attempt to shield the Kennedys from the would-be assassin. He arrived too late.

Hill, however, was able to help Jackie Kennedy. Hill pushed Jackie back into her seat and stayed with her the rest of the day.

Jackie then cradled Kennedy’s head in her lap all the way to the hospital.

Secret Service Man Climbing onto President Kennedy's Car
(Original Caption) 11/23/1963-Dallas, TX: Assassination of President Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy leans over dying President as a Secret Service man climbs on back of car. Bettmann / Getty Images

The President Is Dead

As the driver of the limousine realized what had occurred, he immediately left the parade route and sped toward Parkland Memorial Hospital. They arrived at the hospital within five minutes of the shooting.

Kennedy was placed on a stretcher and wheeled into trauma room 1. It is believed that Kennedy was still alive when he arrived at the hospital, but barely. Connally was taken to trauma room 2.

Doctors made every attempt to save Kennedy but it was quickly determined that his wounds were too severe. Catholic priest Father Oscar L. Huber administered last rites and then chief neurologist Dr. William Kemp Clark pronounced Kennedy dead at 1 p.m.

An announcement was made at 1:30 p.m. that President Kennedy had died from his wounds. The entire nation came to a standstill. Parishioners flocked to churches where they prayed and school children were sent home to mourn with their families.

Even 50 years later, nearly every American who was alive that day can remember where they were when they heard the announcement that Kennedy was dead.

The President’s body was transported to Love Field via a 1964 Cadillac hearse supplied by Dallas’ O’Neill funeral home. The funeral home also supplied the casket that was used to transport Kennedy’s body.

When the casket arrived at the airport, the President was loaded onto Air Force One for transport back to Washington, D.C.

Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath of office
Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath of office as President of the United States, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy November 22, 1963.  National Archive / Getty Images

Johnson’s Swearing In

At 2:30 p.m., just prior to Air Force One leaving for Washington, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office in the conference room of the plane. Jackie Kennedy, still wearing her blood-splattered pink dress, stood at his side as U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Hughes administered the oath. During this ceremony, Johnson officially became the 36th President of the United States.

This inauguration would be historical for many reasons, including the fact that it was the first time the oath of office was administered by a woman and the only time it occurred on an airplane. It was also notable for the fact that there was not a Bible readily available for Johnson to utilize during the swearing in, so instead a Roman Catholic missal was utilized. (Kennedy had kept the missal on Air Force One.)

Lee Harvey Oswald

Although the Dallas police closed down the Texas School Book Depository within minutes of the shooting, a suspect was not immediately located. Approximately 45 minutes later, at 1:15 p.m., a report was received that a Dallas patrolman, J.D. Tippit, had been shot.

Police were suspicious that the shooter might be the same in both incidents and quickly closed in on the reported suspect who had taken refuge in the Texas Theater. At 1:50 p.m., police surrounded Lee Harvey Oswald; Oswald pulled a gun on them, but the police successfully arrested him.

Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald (1939 - 1963) (C) is taken into custody by police after allegedly shooting President John F Kennedy, Dallas, Texas. Archive Photos/Stringer/Archive Photos

Oswald was a former Marine who was identified as having ties to both communist Russia and Cuba. At one point, Oswald traveled to Russia with hopes of establishing himself there; however, the Russian government believed him to be unstable and sent him back.

Oswald had then attempted to go to Cuba but failed to get a visa through the Mexican government. In October 1963, he returned to Dallas and procured a job at the Texas School Book Depository through a friend of his wife, Marina.

With his job at the book depository, Oswald had access to the eastern-most sixth floor window where he is believed to have created his sniper’s nest. After shooting Kennedy, he hid the Italian-made rifle that was identified as the murder weapon in a stack of boxes where it was later discovered by police.

Oswald was then seen in the depository’s second-floor lunchroom approximately a minute and a half after the shooting. By the time police sealed off the building shortly after the assassination, Oswald had already exited the building.

Oswald was captured in the theater, arrested, and charged with the murders of President John F. Kennedy and patrolman J.D. Tippit.

Jack Ruby

On Sunday morning, November 24, 1963 (just two days after JFK’s assassination), Oswald was in the process of being moved from the Dallas Police Headquarters to the county jail. At 11:21 a.m., as Oswald was being led through the basement of police headquarters for the transfer, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald in front of live television news cameras.

Jack Ruby Maneuvering Law Enforcement to Shoot Lee Harvey Oswald
Oswald turns toward the waiting vehicle as burly form (Jack Ruby) plunges forward, arm outstretched. Bettmann / Getty Images

Ruby’s initial reasons for shooting Oswald were because he was distraught over Kennedy’s death and he wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy the difficulty of enduring Oswald’s trial.

Ruby was convicted of killing Oswald in March 1964 and given the death sentence; however, he died of lung cancer in 1967 before an upcoming re-trial could occur.

Kennedy’s Arrival in Washington D.C.

After Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington D.C. on the evening of November 22, 1963, Kennedy’s body was taken via automobile to the Bethesda Naval Hospital for an autopsy. The autopsy found two wounds to the head and one to the neck. In 1978, the published findings of the congressional House Select Committee on Assassinations revealed that JFK’s brain had gone missing at some point during the autopsy.

After the autopsy was completed, Kennedy’s body, still at the Bethesda Hospital, was prepared for burial by a local funeral home, which also replaced the original casket that had been damaged during transfer.

Kennedy’s body was then transported to the East Room of the White House, where it remained until the following day. At Jackie’s request, Kennedy’s body was accompanied by two Catholic priests during this time. An honor guard was also stationed with the late President.

On Sunday afternoon, November 24, 1963, Kennedy’s flag-draped casket was loaded onto a caisson, or gun wagon, for transfer to the Capitol rotunda. The caisson was pulled by six grey horses and had previously been used to carry the body of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

It was followed by a riderless black horse with reversed boots placed into the stirrups to symbolize the fallen President.

The Funeral

The first Democrat to lie in state at the Capitol, Kennedy’s body remained there for 21 hours. Nearly 250,000 mourners came to pay their final respects; some waited up to ten hours in line to do so, despite the cold temperatures in Washington that November.

Funeral Procession Of President John F. Kennedy Crosses Over Memorial Bridge
Arlington, VIrginia 11-25-1963 Led by members of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC) the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, and the US Marine Corps band the funeral procession of slain President John F. Kennedy approaches the entance to Arlington National Cemetery after passing the Lincoln Memorial and crossing over the Potomac River on Memorial Bridge. Mark Reinstein / Getty Images

The viewing was supposed to end at 9 p.m.; however, a decision was made to leave the Capitol open overnight to accommodate the throngs of people who arrived at the Capitol.

On Monday, November 25, Kennedy’s coffin was taken from the Capitol to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where dignitaries from over 100 countries attended Kennedy’s state funeral. Millions of Americans stopped their daily routines to watch the funeral on television.

After the service concluded, the coffin began its final procession from the church to Arlington Cemetery. Black Jack, a riderless horse with polished boots turned backward in its stirrups, followed the caisson. The horse represented a warrior fallen in battle or a leader who would lead his people no longer.

Jackie had her two little children with her and as they exited the church, three-year-old John Jr. stopped for a moment and raised his hand to his forehead in a childish salute. It was one of the most heart-wrenching images of the day.

John F. Kennedy Jr. Saluting His Father at Funeral
John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father at funeral on November 25, 1963. Bettmann / Getty Images

Kennedy’s remains were then buried at Arlington Cemetery, after which Jackie and the President’s brothers, Robert and Edward, lit an eternal flame.

The Warren Commission

With Lee Harvey Oswald dead, there remained many unanswered questions about the reasons for and the circumstances surrounding John F. Kennedy’s assassination. To answer these questions, President Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order No. 11130, which established an investigatory commission that was officially called the “President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy.”

The commission was led by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren; as a result, it is commonly referred to as the Warren Commission.

For the remainder of 1963 and most of 1964, the Warren Commission intensively researched all that had been discovered about JFK’s assassination and Oswald’s assassination.

They carefully examined every aspect of the case, visited Dallas to examine the scene, requested further investigations if facts seemed uncertain, and poured over the transcripts of literally thousands of interviews. Plus, the Commission conducted a series of hearings where they heard testimony themselves.

Texas School Book Depository After Assassination
On a photograph used as evidence by the Warren Commission, labels mark the locations of finger and palm prints on boxes inside the Texas School Book Depository after the assassination of President John Kennedy. Bettmann / Getty Images

After nearly a year of investigating, the Commission notified President Johnson of their findings on September 24, 1964. The Commission issued these findings in a report that ran 888 pages.

The Warren Commission found:

  • Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin and conspirator in the death of President John F. Kennedy.
  • A single bullet caused non-fatal wounds to both Kennedy and Connelly. A second bullet caused Kennedy’s fatal head wound.
  • Jack Ruby acted alone in his assassination of Oswald and did not conspire with anyone to commit this act.

The final report was highly controversial and has been questioned by conspiracy theorists through the years. It was briefly revisited by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1976, which ultimately upheld the major findings of the Warren Commission.

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Goss, Jennifer L. "President John F. Kennedy's Assassination." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Goss, Jennifer L. (2020, August 28). President John F. Kennedy's Assassination. Retrieved from Goss, Jennifer L. "President John F. Kennedy's Assassination." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).