As you have probably heard, today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, TX. There has been no shortage of material commemorating the event, perhaps most notably the film “Killing Kennedy” which appeared on the National Geographic Channel and was based on the book by Bill O’Reilly (and Martin Dugard, who likely is responsible for more than 50% of the end product, but inevitably gets 5% of the credit). I watched the program, and it made me wonder, whatever happened to some of those people?
Obviously, we all know what happened to President Kennedy. (The clue is in the title.) Lee Harvey Oswald also failed to make it out of that week alive, thanks to Jack Ruby. The rest of the characters in this story went on living their lives, some fading into anonymity and others becoming high-ranking officials. Here now is a review of what happened to a few of the people caught up in the JFK assassination.
Jacqueline Kennedy – First Lady, Wife of President Kennedy
Then: Mrs. Kennedy was famously by her husband’s side in the car when he was struck by the bullets. Later that day, she was also aboard Air Force One at the Vice President’s side when he took the presidential oath of office. She was left to care for her two children alone – Caroline and John Jr.
Later: Jackie Kennedy was a fashion star during her time as First Lady, and her iconic status as queen of all things stylish continued throughout her life. She moved the family to the Upper East Side of New York City after it became clear that they would have limited privacy in Washington, D.C.
In 1968, she married the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, leading to her nickname “Jackie O”. After his death in 1975, she spent the rest of her life in book editing, working for multiple different companies. Jackie also supported a number of different social causes, such as the preservation of historic buildings. She died on May 19, 1994 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Lyndon B. Johnson – Vice President
Then: A native of Texas, Johnson was with the President on his visit to Dallas, riding in the car immediately behind him in the motorcade. When the shots were fired, he was thrown down and protected by the Secret Service. Later that day, he was sworn in as president on board Air Force One just before it departed from the airport.
Later: President Johnson remained in office for over five years, serving out the rest of Kennedy’s term and being elected to one of his own. Perhaps his greatest legislative accomplishment during his time in the White House was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which originated during Kennedy’s presidency. In a speech to Congress just days after becoming president, Johnson proclaimed, “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.” Some creative legislative maneuvering helped the bill to pass.
Democratic victories in the 1964 elections helped to allow Johnson to pass a series of programs known as the “Great Society”, which expanded federal aid through a number of social programs, including the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid. Johnson also greatly increased U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, for which he ended up being heavily criticized, especially as the war dragged on and American casualties mounted.
The soundtrack for the last few years of his presidency was, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Johnson eventually decided not to run for another term as president in 1968, telling the American people that, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” Johnson retired to his Texas ranch and died on January 22, 1973 of a heart attack.
Robert F. Kennedy – Attorney General, Brother of President Kennedy
Then: Robert “Bobby” Kennedy was the U.S. Attorney General during his older brother’s administration and was a close adviser to the president on a number of issues. Robert Kennedy opposed corruption in organized labor, campaigned for civil rights, and was very much against Communism, even having a fondness for Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy. He was not in Texas at the time of the JFK’s death, but stood alongside his relatives at the funeral held in Washington, D.C.
Later: Robert Kennedy remained in his position as Attorney General under President Johnson, but the two men did not get along well. This was presumably part of the reason that Bobby decided to leave the administration and run for a U.S. Senate seat in New York in 1964. He won the election and served in the Senate for about 3 ½ years.
He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 and gained some serious momentum with his victory in the California primary election. However, on the night of his victory speech at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles – June 5, 1968 – he was shot and killed by Sirhan Sirhan, a young Palestinian who objected to Kennedy’s support for Israel during the Six-Day War the previous year.
John F. Kennedy Jr. – Son of President Kennedy
Then: Often known in his younger days as “John-John”, the son of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy was born 17 days after his father became president and spent the first three years of his life growing up in the White House. As his father’s casket was carried out of St. Matthew’s Cathedral (where the funeral service was held), John Jr. spontaneously saluted his father. The image has become an iconic moment in American history.
Later: JFK Jr. was involved in journalism and publishing as well as being a lawyer. He was a famous celebrity and his love life was the subject of tabloid gossip. He married Carolyn Bessette in 1996. On July 16, 1999, he was flying his personal plane with his wife and her sister on board. The plane crashed and all three of them were killed, leaving his sister Caroline as the sole surviving member of the immediate Kennedy family.
Caroline Kennedy – Daughter of President Kennedy
Then: The older sister of John Jr., Caroline Kennedy is the only child of the president still living today. She joined her brother in the White House, where she famously had a pony named Macaroni. (Neil Diamond said back in 2007 that the image of her riding the pony was what inspired him to write the song “Sweet Caroline”.) She was also present along with the rest of her family at her father’s funeral.
Now: After her father’s death, Caroline spent the rest of her growing up years in New York City, eventually graduating from Harvard College (part of Harvard University) and getting her J.D. from Columbia Law School. While working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, she met Edwin Schlossberg, an exhibit designer whom she went on to marry in 1986.
Following the deaths of her mother and brother, Caroline was left to represent the family’s legacy and has been an active figure in the Democratic Party, though she has never held an elected office. In 2008, she joined with other members of her family in endorsing Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. She eventually became a co-chair of Obama’s Vice Presidential Search Committee.
After Obama’s election, Caroline ended up withdrawing her name from consideration to fill the vacant New York Senate seat that was vacated by Hillary Clinton, a position in which she had initially expressed interest. She went on to serve as a national co-chair for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and just this year Obama nominated her to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Japan. She was approved by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as ambassador on November 12.
John Connally – Governor of Texas
Then: Connally was Governor of Texas at the time of President Kennedy’s visit and rode with him and the First Lady in the open top car. Connally was also hit during the shooting, but ultimately survived.
Later: Before becoming Texas governor, John Connally had served as Secretary of the Navy. During the administration of President Richard Nixon, he was appointed to the post of Secretary of the Treasury. A member of the Democratic Party, Connally nevertheless supported Nixon and stepped down from his Cabinet post in 1972 to head up the group “Democrats for Nixon”.
His story is a good example of the changing political demographics which occurred in the U.S. around this time: Connally ended up joining the Republican Party the following year. In 1980, he ran for the Republican presidential nomination but lost to Ronald Reagan. His later years were filled with business failures that ultimately led to him declaring bankruptcy in 1986. John Connally died on June 15, 1993 of pulmonary fibrosis.
Edwin Walker – U.S. Army Officer
Then: Walker was a Major General in the U.S. Army who held what might be called “ultra-conservative” political views. He ran against John Connally in the 1962 Texas gubernatorial election and lost. His political stances were undoubtedly repulsive to the socialist Lee Harvey Oswald, whose wife testified before the Warren Commission that Lee considered Walker to be a “fascist”.
On April 10, 1963, it is generally believed that Lee Harvey Oswald shot at Walker through the window of the general’s home, though this did not result in Walker’s death. Evidence linking Oswald to the crime includes a note that he left for his wife in Russian which explained what she should do if he was caught.
Later: Witnesses at the scene reported seeing two men fleeing the scene just after the assassination attempt against Walker. This apparently led Walker to believe that there was an accomplice who was still alive after Oswald’s death, something that has never been proven. In later years, Edwin Walker continued to speak out on political issues, attacking figures such as Adlai Stevenson and Earl Warren and vehemently protesting racial integration.
In 1964, he brought a libel lawsuit against the Associated Press. Although a lower court ruled in Walker’s favor, that decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Edwin Walker died of lung cancer in 1993, but not before being arrested for “public lewdness” twice in the 1970s.
Marina Oswald – Wife of Lee Harvey Oswald
Then: Marina met Lee Harvey Oswald while he was living in the Soviet Union. They married on April 30, 1961 and moved to the United States the following year, settling in Dallas, Texas. Marina was aware of some of her husband’s political activities and violent tendencies, testifying before the Warren Commission that she had taken the photographs which show Lee Harvey Oswald holding a gun and a newspaper in their backyard.
Marital difficulties led Marina to separate from Lee and move with their two daughters into the home of Ruth Paine. After the assassination of President Kennedy, Marina was questioned by the police and showed them where Lee had kept his rifle. She testified before Congress on multiple occasions, consistently stating her belief that her husband was guilty.
Now: After Oswald’s death, Marina married Kenneth Porter. She has been spending her life in relative seclusion in Texas, raising her daughters June and Rachel (both with Oswald) and a son, Mark, whom she had with her second husband. According to recent reports in publications such as Britain’s Daily Mail, the now 72-year-old Marina Oswald Porter apparently has changed her mind and believes her former husband was the victim of a conspiracy and is not guilty of President Kennedy’s murder.
Jack Ruby – Nightclub Owner
Then: A nightclub owner with ties to the mafia and numerous contacts within the Dallas Police Department, Jack Ruby seemed to be a character straight out of a crime novel. Newsreel footage shows Ruby at the Dallas police headquarters in the hours and days following Oswald’s arrest, at times pretending to be a journalist.
On November 24, the police began to escort Lee Harvey Oswald out of the holding area and into a car that would take him to the county jail. In one of the most dramatic moments in television history, Jack Ruby stepped out of the crowd and shot Oswald in the abdomen in front of millions of viewers. The wound proved to be fatal.
Later: A trial was held in Dallas and Jack Ruby was convicted of murdering Lee Harvey Oswald and sentenced to death. Ruby was later granted a retrial, but before it could take place, he died on January 3, 1967, the result of a pulmonary embolism due to lung cancer. The motivations behind Ruby’s actions and the possibility that he did not act alone have been endlessly debated in the past half century, with Ruby’s own conflicting statements only adding to the confusion.
Marie Tippit – Wife of J.D. Tippit
Then: Marie’s husband, J.D. Tippit, was an officer with the Dallas Police Department. Approximately 45 minutes after President Kennedy was assassinated, Tippit came across Lee Harvey Oswald on the street and attempted to question him, according to the Warren Commission Report. When Tippit got out of his police car, Oswald shot and killed him.
When Oswald was eventually arrested later that day, it was for Tippit’s murder rather than Kennedy’s. Marie received expressions of sympathy from Robert Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, among others. Her husband’s funeral occurred the same day as those for both Kennedy and Oswald. She was left to raise three children alone.
Now: In 1967, Marie was married a second time to Dallas police lieutenant Harry Dean Thomas. This marriage ended in divorce. This month, Marie Tippit was interviewed by NBC News’ Tom Brokaw about her experience and revealed that Jacqueline Kennedy wrote a condolence letter to her back in 1963, which she is revealing now for the first time (see video above). “Wasn’t one life enough to take on that day?” Kennedy asked, commiserating with Tippit. “I lit a flame for Jack at Arlington that will burn forever. I consider that it burns for your husband too, and so will everyone who ever sees it.”