Wednesday, July 20, 2011

From Love Field: Our Final Hours with President John F. Kennedy

I find many forgotten reading-worthy books as I inventory and weed the library's collections. A couple of weeks ago I came across From Love Field: Our Final Hours with President John F. Kennedy by Nellie Connally and Mickey Herskowitz. Connally was wife of Texas governor John Connally and in the car in the seat in front of Jacqueline Kennedy when President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. In her quick reading book she described the political mood of the times and events of the day that the U.S. was stunned by the gunshots left its president dead and the Texas governor severely injured.

Remembering the day myself and having been to the museum in the old Texas Schoolbook Depository overlooking Dealey Plaza, reading Connally's account reminds me of what a different time the early 1960s were. The Secret Service was not happy with the motorcade through Dallas, but the troubles that had been expected were loud-but-harmless demonstrations by right-wing Texas Democrats who objected to taxes and the national debt. On that sunny autumn day, however, the detractors seemed to have stayed away and the people of Dallas lined up along the street cheered as the two young couples past in the open car. The shots rang out just seconds before the cars would have sped away to a luncheon. Like many Americans of the time, Connally allowed herself to wonder "what if" the timing, weather, and arrangements had been just slightly different.

My favorite chapter is the one Connally drew from her three children, who were public school students in Austin at the time. They would have met the President that evening at a banquet in the state capital. Each tells how he or she learned of the events and their concerns for their father who spent weeks in a Dallas hospital recovering from bullet that passed through one lung and into an arm. Seventeen-year-old John Connally III disobeyed his mother and talked a Texas official to fly him to Dallas to be with his parents. His mother then sent him to Washington, D.C. to represent the family at the presidential funeral. He stayed with President and Lady Bird Johnson and walked with them in the funeral procession. Some pictures of the day misidentify him as an unknown Secret Service agent. Just days after attending classes at school, he stood among the nation's and world's leaders. His story should be rewritten as a book for teens.

For people interested in how memoirs are written, Connally reproduced the "notes" she wrote in 1963 at the back of the book. She also included the texts of the two speeches that President Kennedy did not get to make the day he died. While optimistic, they refer to Cold War concerns and tough economic decisions.

With the 50th anniversary of the assassination fast approaching, we are keeping From Love Field in the collection. In the meantime, I'm going to put it on the staff favorites display.

Connally, Nellie and Mickey Herskowitz. From Love Field: Our Final Hours with President John F. Kennedy. Rugged Land, 2003. ISBN 1590710142

No comments: