When Lee shot Jack that day in Dallas …

Published 9:55 am Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Column: My Point of View, by Jerrold Dettle

The time was late November 1963, and as a senior I transferred from the University of Oklahoma to the University of Dallas to play baseball.

Out of money and promised a scholarship to finish a college education, I joined my former roommate in Big “D.” “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and “When the Cotton Fields Get Rockin’” stirred my emotions when the student body gathered around the Student Union to laugh and sing that beautiful Halloween evening in the fall of 1963.

Jerrold Dettle

Jerrold Dettle

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The metro economy was booming with leading-edge technology. Unemployment was below 1 percent. Military missiles, space exploration and the new American Airlines stewardess school seemed to attract hundreds from around the nation. The newly elected conservative governor, John Connally, seemed to be the president’s choice to lock the former Republic of Texas into the Democratic Party permanently.

However, there was a culture of discontent that caused this young student to have a mysterious feeling of uneasiness and concern. I heard many remarks about Jack Kennedy that were derogatory.

Interestingly, the elderly oil tycoon H.L. Hunt and the venerable Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker were respected and closely followed by most of the college students in the area. District Attorney Henry Wade, who later prosecuted Jack Ruby and is the Wade of Roe v. Wade, and W.A. Criswell, the pastor of the nation’s largest Southern Baptist congregation in downtown Dallas, were revered leaders of a growing community.

In this city on the Trinity River there seemed to be a deep divide with the current Kennedy administration driven by political resentment and animosity. Although Texas was a state won by President Kennedy in 1960, the divide between New England Democrats and the Texas Democrats was sharp and full of mistrust.

The “downtown barbershops” were the style setters of the time. Meticulous pampering of the male clientele was a reasonable investment for a struggling college student. Upon leaving a shop on Elm Street about a week before the assassination, I was startled to see dozens of handbills with Kennedy’s photo flying around on the sidewalk.

The headline was “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Upon returning to my dormitory room, I sat down to write my parents for my weekly update letter as promised to my father. Recalling emotionally charged comments overheard that condemned the papist, the wealthy and the mythical president with the weird accent. I wrote to my father predicting an assassination of Jack Kennedy if he would follow through with an upcoming fundraising trip to the metro area.

Shortly before noon on the 22nd of November the pay phone at the end of the hall on the second floor of my dormitory rang.

It was a freshman from San Antonio, who had run out of gas on the southbound lane of the Stemmons Freeway several hundreds of yards north of the Elm Street underpass. After purchasing the fuel can and gasoline, I was able to assist in restoring his car. Returning to the freeway, I saw limousines pass so I turned on the radio to hear that President Kennedy had been shot and was being taken to Parkland Hospital. Returning to the dorm, I could hear loud cheering in the recreational room.

The immediate thought that the president had survived was quickly reversed when I recognized the voice of a student from Chicago when he shouted, “They got the S.O.B.”!

Feeling uncomfortable, I seized the moment and gathered some clothing to deliver to my cleaners on Irving Boulevard. When arriving, I found approximately five patrons who were jubilant, excited and listening to reports on the radio with the store owner.

The following week, an elementary school principal I knew well related to me that after hearing the news, he went to the first-grade classroom and announced the president’s death to the children. He ceased announcing after the fourth grade because the students in each classroom had cheered.

In contrast, the emotions of the city and the campus had gone through a complete change by Saturday afternoon. The understanding of the terrible tragedy and widespread remorsefulness had set in across the metro area. The big dance planned for that night in the Student Union was canceled.

This is the lesson I learned in Dallas, and I have strenuously attempted to follow since those fateful times:

The actual act of assassination had not been performed by any of the locals or by anyone of like political ideology. However, a great wrong had been committed by those who had created the atmosphere in their habitat for a great crime to be committed. It was a murder planned and enacted by an individual with a completely different ideology. Lee Harvey Oswald had a totally different political ideology from the citizens of Dallas or that of Kennedy.

Here are questions for you. Would the assassination have occurred elsewhere if the citizens of Dallas had voiced their political grievances with less emotion and more logic? Are you currently debating the ideology of your political opponent with logic or with emotion?

The real question now arises. Do emotional political charges, not based on verified facts, significantly harm the minds of our children?

In conclusion, I hope that the tragic loss of life by Lee and Jack in late November 1963 was a lesson learned and not wasted.


Albert Lea resident Jerrold Dettle is a member of the Freeborn County Republican Party.