It was politics that drew John F. Kennedy to Texas in November 1963 -- an ideological feud involving the supporters of Lyndon Johnson, his protege Gov. John B. Connally, and Sen. Ralph Yarborough.
George Reedy, a former White House press secretary: "The conservative forces in Texas were definitely on the rise, and all the indications were that the administration was heading into real trouble in that state. It was strongly felt by the Kennedy people that he had to make an appearance in the state in order to recapture lost ground . . . it was a question of popular feeling."
A lot of people thought it was not a good idea for Kennedy to go. Kennedy laughed off the warning signs, and Air Force One landed in San Antonio, the first stop, on Nov. 21. The president and Jackie were greeted warmly. She was especially pleased; it was her first political trip since the primaries in 1960.
Kenneth O'Donnell, Kennedy's political right hand: "We landed in Dallas with everybody on the plane in love with each other. When we were riding through Dallas on our way from the airport to the Trade Mart luncheon, I said Dave Powers, "There's certainly nothing wrong with this crowd.'"
Rufus Youngblood, the Secret Service agent guarding Johnson that day:
"Suddenly, there was an explosive noise -- distinct, sharp, resounding. Nothing that could be mistaken for the incessant backfiring of the motorcycles, but in the instant I heard it I could not be certain if it had been a firecracker, bullet, bomb or some other explosive device. I looked around quickly and saw nothing to indicate its source.
"But the movements in the president's car were not normal. Kennedy seemed to be falling to his left, and there was a sudden movement among the agents in the car directly ahead of us. I turned instinctively in my seat and, with my left hand, I grasped Lyndon Johnson's right shoulder and with all the leverage I could exert from a sitting position I forced him downward. 'Get down! Get down!'"
Over the radio crackled an urgent message. "Halfback [the code name for the presidential follow-up car]. Halfback to Lawson. The president's been hit. Get us to a hospital, fast but safe."
Lyndon: "They just almost shoved us into the hospital, into the first room that they'd come to down the corridor. They pulled all the shades in the room, closed the door, and we sat there and endured the agony and waited for reports that came in from time to time."
Jack Bell of The Associated Press: "We pulled into the ambulance entrance and we all boiled out of the car to see what happened. Governor Connally was helped out of the car. His shirt was red in front with blood. I ran up to the White House limousine. . . . There the president was lying on his face in the back seat, and there was pools of blood -- an inch of blood maybe -- over the floor of the car. There was some twisted roses lying in it. I turned to the Secret Service man who was standing as a sort of sentinel there, and I said, "That is the president, isn't it?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Is he dead?' He said, 'I don't think so, but I don't know.'"
At 1:10 p.m., a Secret Service agent entered the room where Lyndon and Lady Bird were waiting and told the vice president that they should begin planning to return to Washington immediately. Johnson said that that was a decision the Secret Service should make only with the approval of Kenneth O'Donnell.
At 1:20 p.m., the agent, Emory Roberts, returned -- to tell Johnson that Kennedy was gone.
Later, Johnson recalled: "I asked that the announcement be made after we had left the room and were in an unmarked car en route to the presidential plane, so that if it were an international conspiracy and they were out to destroy out form of government that we should minimize the opportunity for doing so.
"I think the first thought I had was that this was a terrifying thing that may have international consequences, that this might be an international conspiracy of some kind. And I knew, of course, that I was on my own. . . ."
As soon as Johnson reached Air Force One, he called Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general, to ask his advice and judgement on where he should take the oath, under what circumstances, and who should administer it.
Lyndon: He gave me his immediate reaction, that the oath should be taken in Dallas at once. I said, 'Well, I don't have the oath.' He said, 'I'll have it given to you right away.' And very businesslike, although I guess he must have been suffering more than almost anyone else except Mrs. Kennedy."
LBJ wrote later that the most unbearable moment of that day was when Jackie Kennedy arrived at the plane with the president's body.
"It was a tragic thing to observe Mrs. Kennedy," he wrote. "Here was this delicate, beautiful lady, always elegant, always fastidious, always the fashionplate. And I remember her getting off the plane in Dallas a few hours before and contrasting that with how she looked when she got back on the plane . . . What that morning was a beautiful pink garment that was the last word in fashion and style was now streaked and caked and soiled throughout with her husband's blood. Mrs. Johnson asked her if she wouldn't come in and let her help change her clothes and she said no."
Sid Davis, then with Westinghouse Broadcasting Co.: "Judge Sara Hughes [Johnson's personal friend, whom he had requested to give the swearing-in] arrived at the plane and was handed the oath. She said we ought to proceed. Johnson said, 'No, let's see if Mrs. Kennedy can stand this.' And so they went back, and she said she'd like to come out and she did."
Sara Hughes: "When Mrs. Kennedy came into the compartment, Vice President Johnson told her to stand on his left and Mrs. Johnson to stand on his right. And I leaned over to Mrs. Kennedy and said, 'I loved your husband very much.'
"Mrs. Johnson turned to her and told her who I was, that I was a district judge who had been appointed by her husband. Then I read the oath of office, and the vice president repeated it after me . . . Then he immediately leaned over and kissed his wife and Mrs. Kennedy."
Charles Roberts, a Newsweek editor, recalled that the trip back to Washington was like traveling in a tunnel: "All the shades were drawn when we got abroad, I suppose for security reasons." The curtains stayed closed all the way back to Washington.
There also was tension between some members of the Johnson faction and the Kennedy staff.
Charles Bartlett, columnist: "I personally think that bitterness that developed from the whole airplane ride was largely due to the real shock of the Kennedy staff who had seen their president destroyed. And they had a hard time adjusting to it. But in all the piecing together I could do, I couldn't really find any real ugliness or insensitivity on Johnson's part."
Charles Roberts recalls: "To me Johnson's conduct in that period -- I think we took two hours 12 minutes -- was perhaps his finest hour. He could not have been more considerate, not only of Jackie but of all the Kennedy people. He was thoughtful. He was thinking ahead. There was nothing unseemly at all about his takeover. It was not grasping for power."
The business of government resumed in a national mood of deepest gloom. On the day after Kennedy's assassination, Johnson called together the Cabinet and the other high-ranking decision-makers and told them he wanted them to stay on.
Clark Clifford, a close presidential adviser: "It was very clear that after the assassination, President Kennedy's popularity grew all the time. He was revered in a manner after his death that perhaps didn't exist before his death. He had become a martyr president and I think President Johnson felt that it was advisable to keep that team."
On the day after JFK was buried, the new president went to his White House office to find a long handwritten note signed by Jacqueline Kennedy: "Dear Mr. President,
"'Thank you for walking yesterday -- behind Jack. You did not have to do that -- I am sure many people forbid you to take such a risk -- but you did it anyway.
"Thank you for your letters to my children. What those letters will mean to them later -- you can imagine. The touching thing is, they have always loved you so much, they were most moved to have a letter from you now.
"And most of all, Mr. President, thank you for the way you have always treated me -- the way you and Lady Bird have always been to me -- before, when Jack was alive, and now as President.
"But more than that, we were friends, all four of us. . . .
"It was so strange -- last night I was wandering through this house --
"There in the Treaty Room is your chandelier, and I had had it framed -- the paper we all signed -- you -- Senator Dirksen and Mike Mansfield -- underneath I had written 'The Day the Vice President brought the East Room chandelier back from the Capitol.'
"Then in the library I showed Bobby the Lincoln Record Book you gave --
"You see all you gave -- and now you are called upon th give so much more. . . ."
The torch had indeed been passed, and Camelot was giving way to a new style and spirit.