Something a little different this week.
For 50 years, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been the fodder for conspiracy theories, books, and several movies and documentaries. Saturday, Oct. 21, President Donald J. Trump promised he would release the final batch of documents concerning President John F. Kennedy’s assassination today, according to the provisions of the 1992 JFK Records Act.
It was in 1992, a year after the Oliver Stone movie “JFK” was released, that Congress enacted the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, or the JFK Records Act. According to Wikipedia, it directed the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish a collection of records to be known as the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection. It stated that the collection shall consist of copies of all U.S. government records relating to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and that they are to be housed in the NARA Archives II building in College Park, Maryland. The Act requires that each assassination record be publicly disclosed in full and be made available in the collection no later than the date that is 25 years after the date of enactment of the Act. That date is today.
“An assassination record includes, but is not limited to, all records, public and private, regardless of how labeled or identified, that document, describe, report on, analyze, or interpret activities, persons, or events reasonably related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and investigations of or inquiries into the assassination.”
Today, provided Trump is not at the eleventh hour convinced that it is in the best interest of national security to keep them locked up, researchers the world over will begin scanning through these documents, searching for answers. Perhaps mysteries will be solved, and perhaps new ones will present themselves.
In the Nov. 21, 2013 installment of Out of the Morgue, we looked back 50 years to what happened in Great Bend in the aftermath of the assassination. In addition to including clips from that feature, we also looked back at 1992, the week the JFK Records Act became law.
Stop the presses
The Great Bend Tribune received word shortly before deadline on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated shortly after noon. The paper at that time was an evening paper, and would need to go to print early that afternoon in order for carriers arriving after school to get it to the doorsteps of readers around 5 p.m. A quick look at the layout and content of the front page that day, it’s easy to see a local story was pulled in order to make way for the UPI story out of Dallas, Tex.
“President Kennedy has been assassinated. He was killed today by a bullet in the head while riding in an open car through the streets of Dallas. His wife was in the same car, but was not hit. She cradled the President in her arms as he was carried to a hospital where he died. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was in the same motorcade and was immediately surrounded by Secret Service men until he could take the oath of office as President.
“It was impossible under the tension at the hospital to assemble a clear cut story of the incident because the burst of gunfire took only seconds. Some Secret Service Agents thought the gunfire was from an automatic weapon fired to the right rear of the chief executive’s car, probably from the grassy knoll to which motorcycle policemen directed their attention as they raced up the slope.”
Day of mourning
In 1963, like today, The Tribune did not print a Saturday paper. By Sunday, Nov. 24, more wire stories about the assassination filled the paper. But it would be the next day the news of his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination at the hands of Jack Ruby. President Johnson declared Monday, Nov. 25, a Day of Mourning for the nation.
“The assassination of President Kennedy hit the city of Great Bend like a shock wave Friday afternoon leaving the people here, as in the rest of the nation, stunned.
“Most stores and schools will be closed here Monday, Nov. 25, during the Kennedy funeral. When first word reached the area, it brought expressions of disbelief, but with the slow realization that the President was dead, the chief comment was, “Why?” The answer will come in time.”
Stores and restaurants closed from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the broadcast of the President’s funeral. Dan Swartz, Superintendent of Schools, announced that Great Bend junior and senior high schools would be closed until 12:45.
Schools in the neighboring towns would observe the funeral also. Ellinwood schools would hold afternoon sessions, Hoisington at 1 p.m., and Claflin closed schools for the full day. Stores in these neighboring towns would be closed similarly from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Schools in Pawnee Rock, too would remain closed until 1 p.m. All radio stations around the state observed a minute of silence from 11:59 to noon for the President. Radio Station KVGB in Great Bend played instrumental religious music from 10:45 a.m. until noon.
Many may not remember, but it was reported that celebrity soothsayer Jean Dixon had predicted the President’s assassination in 1956. A UPI story recalled an interview she’d had in Parade magazine. She’d said of the 1960 election, “It will be dominated by labor and won by a Democrat. But he will be assassinated or die in office.”
Offering a port in the storm
Mrs. Abraham Scheck, a Great Bend lady, reached out to the widowed Marina Oswald, and offered to provide her a place to live and raise her two children.
In the Sunday, Dec. 2 Tribune’s story, Mrs. L. Oswald Faces An Uncertain Future, she learned of Mrs. Oswald’s plight.
“Mrs. Marina Nikolaevna Oswald faced the future today with two tiny children, no money, a stigma on her name and one certain wish. She does not want to go back to her native Russia.”
The story went on to tell of the cemetery funeral, and the pity many others around the country felt for her.
In the Tribune story, Local Woman Places Call to Dallas, it was reported Scheck was moving forward on her invitation because a majority of opinions backed her plan.
“Mrs. Scheck mother of five who has two small granddaughters told the Daily Tribune this morning that she had received 16 favorable telephone calls from people who had applauded her Christian generosity in offering a haven and home for the widow and children of Lee Oswald who was murdered last Sunday after having been arrested and accused of assassinating President John Kennedy in Dallas.”
Mrs. Oswald never took Scheck up on the offer. According to a Nov. 22, 1996 interview with Oprah Winfrey, in 1965 Marina married Kenneth Jess Porter, with whom she has two sons. She used to live in Dallas, Texas, and has appeared in numerous documentaries on the Kennedy assassination. In 1989, Marina became a naturalized United States citizen. She has lived in Rockwall, Texas since the mid-1970s.
The passage of the JFK Records Act today in 1992 wasn’t reported in the Tribune. Instead, national coverage focused on the presidential three-way race between the Bush-Quayle Republican ticket, the Clinton-Gore Democrat ticket, and the Perot-Stockdale Independent ticket. Clinton won two weeks later, ushering in the Clinton era of national politics.
In the report, “Local firefighter completes prestigious Smoke Diver school,” editor Chuck Smith told the story of Great Bend firefighter Rick Diebert who recently completed the Mississippi State Fire Academy Smoke Diver course, something only 1 percent of American firefighters had attended. The program was so difficult, the majority of participants either failed or quit. Diebert finally passed after his third attempt. He described it as hour after hour of grueling physical and mental exercise in hellish conditions, surrounded by smoke, fire and heat. One of the evolutions of the final exam required him to rappel into an elevator shaft filled with smoke and heat as would be experienced in a real fire, retrieve a dummy, and exit the way he entered.
Diebert went on to serve as an instructor with the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute, and in 2005 he was mentioned in an article in the Colby Free Press. He and another trainer from Marysville had brought a training trailer to Sheridan County for a training session with firefighters there.
According to his facebook page, Diebert is currently working with the Shawnee Heights Fire District.