'A Thousand Well-Wishers' – And One Assassin

'Suddenly, over the noise of the throng, I heard shots,' recounts a U.S. News reporter in the Dec. 2, 1963 issue of the magazine.

The view from President Kennedy's motorcade through Dallas, Tex., Nov. 22, 1963.
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A member of the staff of "U.S. News & World Report" with the presidential party marked the moment that turned a tour of Texas into international Tragedy. This is staff member Wilmot W. Hercher's dispatch from the scene.

DALLAS -- This had really been a triumphal tour for the Kennedys -- the president and the first lady.

The crowds at San Antonio when the President arrived on November 21 were tremendous. They were just as enthusiastic at Houston and Fort Worth.

And the same mood was in the air when we reached the Dallas airport the next day. Mrs. Kennedy was the first off the plane here, and she must have shaken the hands of a thousand well-wishers as she walked along the pathway from the plane to the motorcade.

[READ MORE: JFK: 50 Years Later]

That atmosphere carried over into the noon hour as we rode in the motorcade through the Dallas suburbs toward the Trade Mart, where Mr. Kennedy was to deliver a speech.

I was in a press bus with about 20 other reporters. Suddenly, over the noise of the throng, I heard shots. I felt in my bones that tragedy had struck, even before I knew what had happened. The front end of the motorcade just sort of disintegrated. Some of the limousines sped away at breakneck speed.

I saw a helmeted motorcycle policeman running toward a building that overlooked the parade route -- unslinging his gun as he went. People were lying on the grassy slope, as though to get out of the line of fire.

It was several minutes before we could reconstruct what had happened.

Fatal first shot? With the first shot, the President slumped forward. Mrs. Kennedy cried, "Oh, no!" and reached out to cradle his head as he fell.

The same volley of shots that hit the President struck Governor John Connally of Texas, who was riding beside Mr. Kennedy.

Ahead, a Secret Service man in a communications car grabbed a telephone and said: "Get to the nearest hospital immediately." The cars sped off.

Just minutes before, the Kennedys and the Connallys had been chatting happily as they acknowledged the greeting Dallas was giving the First Family. At one point, as the motorcade moved along, Mrs. Connally turned to the President and said: "You can't say Dallas wasn't friendly to you."

But now the first lady was on the floor of the limousine, kneeling over her dying husband as he was sped to Parkland Hospital's emergency ward. Mrs. Kennedy helped lift the president onto a stretcher. Her pink wool suit was spattered with blood.

At the hospital, all was confusion for the first few moments. When we reached the hospital we couldn't find out whether the president was dead or alive. After a while a Catholic priest emerged from the hospital and said: "He's dead."

It was 1 p.m., Central Standard Time.

Up to the moment when those shots rang out, it had been an eventful and pleasant day for both the Kennedys.

It started early, in Fort Worth. There, at 8:45 a.m., the president walked bare headed and without a topcoat to a parking lot across the street from his hotel. He spoke briefly to a throng of cheering Democrats who had been unable to see him at a breakfast appearance. He apologized because Mrs. Kennedy wasn't with him, explaining that she was "organizing herself -- it takes longer."

Fifteen minutes after that, both of the Kennedys attended a breakfast sponsored by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Bother were presented with Texas boots. There was a typical Texas hat for the president.

Later, Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy departed for the brief flight to Dallas, where they arrived shortly before noon, Dallas time. As Mrs. Kennedy emerged from the plane, she carried a bouquet of roses. Young men in the airport crowd shouted, "Hey, Jackie!" Several young girls were screaming in delight as the president appeared.

There was no sign of anti-Kennedy sentiment, although the crowds in Dallas seemed smaller to me than they had at other stops on the Texas tour -- San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth.

The Dallas motorcade was approaching a triple underpass which feeds into Stemmons Expressway, en route to the Trade Mart, when those shots rang out.