Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 — 50 years ago today — started out like many other days that Pine Bluff native James M. Moore had experienced in his job as a medical aid at a U.S. Navy recruiting station in Dallas.
But by early afternoon, Moore’s life was forever altered as he witnessed one of the most memorable events in American history — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The 23-year-old Moore and several of his co-workers stepped away from their regular duties so they could observe a nearby visit by the popular president and his wife, Jackie Kennedy. The group had a mostly unobstructed view of the presidential motorcade as it passed the Texas School Book Depository on Elm Street, near the Dealey Plaza park area. Moore and his group were watching the procession from some seventh-floor windows in the eight-story Wholesale Merchants Building two blocks south on Commerce Street.
“I can’t say I heard the shots,” Moore, now 73 and a White Hall resident, said of the split seconds when two bullets pierced the president’s neck and head from a rifle fired at 12:30 p.m. by Lee Harvey Oswald. The assassin had been perched at a sixth-floor window in the seven-story book depository.
“There was too much commotion for me to hear anything clearly,” Moore continued. “But I remember seeing motion around and movement within the president’s car, and I saw Mrs. Kennedy climb over to the back of the car and a Secret Service agent jump up and push her back. We watched the car speed away, and I just had a feeling that something terrible had happened, although I didn’t realize at that time that the president had been shot.”
Moore, who in a Naval and Marine Corps career of 12-plus years would serve 14 months as a medical corpsman in the Vietnam War from 1966-67, said he and his fellow spectators learned some details on the shooting about 30 minutes later from Dallas radio station KBOX. After another half-hour or so, they heard a report that Kennedy had died at Parkland Hospital.
Moore, who would return to Pine Bluff in 1968 and work for the U.S. Postal Service for 27 years before retiring in 1995, learned afterward that Mrs. Kennedy had crawled onto the trunk of the presidential limousine in an effort to retrieve a portion of the president’s head that had been torn away by a bullet.
About 45 minutes after Kennedy’s death was announced, Moore — wearing his Navy uniform — ventured onto the street below.
“People were walking around in a daze,” he recollected this week. “Nobody was saying anything. And I remember that the telephone lines were jammed for at least an hour.”
A couple of hours later, Moore drove away to pick up his wife — the former Mary Liska of White Hall, now a retired White Hall School District library aide — from her nearby job.
“By that time, Dallas was dead quiet — no traffic, no noise, nothing,” said Moore. “We had never seen anything like it.”
Two days later — Sunday, Nov. 24 — Oswald was shot and killed on live television at the Dallas Police Department.
“I was working on our car and I had crawled up underneath it,” Moore said. “My wife hurried out of the house and told me that Oswald had been shot. I went inside with her to watch the TV reports, and when they showed it, I saw who had shot him and said, ‘That’s Jack Ruby!’ She didn’t know that I would recognize him. I knew him distantly because he was such a character there, but I knew it was him when I saw his face on TV.”
Ruby, who had Mafia connections and owned a Dallas nightclub, was convicted of Oswald’s murder and sentenced to death. He won an appeal for a new trial, but died of cancer in 1967 while in jail awaiting the new trial.
In the intervening five decades since the assassination and its immediate aftermath, Moore has developed his own theories on “what really happened that day in Dallas.”
“I’ve done a lot of reading, a lot of research,” said Moore, who will be addressing a social studies class Friday morning at Watson Chapel High School. “I believe there may well have been a shooter in the grassy knoll area. I’ve looked at films over and over and I believe the president was shot in the throat and the bullet exited his head. I think Oswald was a patsy.
“I believe that it was a conspiracy by some within the federal government,” he continued. “I’m convinced that President Kennedy was going to expose some corruption within the Federal Reserve, which in my opinion is an illegal entity running this country, and it was decided that he had to be silenced.
“But that’s just my opinion,” he concluded. “We’ll probably never know the whole truth. Whatever happened is anybody’s guess. The only thing that I think everyone can agree on is that that was a terrible, terrible day in Dallas.”