JFK Assassination: 50 Years Later - WSPA.com

JFK Assassination: 50 Years Later

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Spartanburg attorney Fletcher Thompson at his law office. Spartanburg attorney Fletcher Thompson at his law office.
SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C. -

It changed our nation and our world.

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

This day, many of you are remembering where and how you learned the terrible news (I was in the fourth grade at Cameron Park Elementary School in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and learned from a classmate that the president had been shot).

Former Upstate radio personality Jack Pyles was 14 years old, a ninth grader at Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School in Dallas, when JFK was shot. "I couldn't believe it happened in my hometown."

"I think I was going to a class down at the gymnasium, and the speakers came on," remembers Pyles. "And they told everyone to return to their classrooms and didn't say why. Once we got into the classrooms, then they made the announcement over the speakers that the president had been shot and had been taken to Parkland Hospital."

Connie Cedervall was in the sixth grade in Virginia. She remembers her class was watching JFK's Dallas motorcade on television. "The announcement came that the president had been shot, and we were all just stunned. (My teacher) was just wide-eyed and just went over and turned off the television."

Former WSPA-TV news anchor Dave Handy heard on a radio newscast what had happened in Dallas. "My wife was bringing me to the station, and the radio news was on, and they were talking about the trip to Dallas. Suddenly they interrupted it and said shots had been fired. We went around the block to get to the front of the station," remembers Handy. "I ripped off a piece of (teletype) and went towards the announce booth. I got in there and asked the people in the control room if the (CBS) network had said anything, and they said no, and I said, 'Well, let's do one.' I was ready to say something, and the network came in. We came to a halt because it wasn't too long before the network just went live with (Walter) Cronkite all the time and then some other correspondents plus anything they could get out of Dallas, which was not as easy as it is today."

"Everybody swarmed to the tv set in the lobby and watched."

President Kennedy's assassination is still saddening, captivating and mysterious fifty years later. "It's an ongoing mystery as to whether it was a conspiracy, whether there was a lone gunman," says Dr. Andrew Myers, American history professor at USC Upstate. "It's a turning point in American history. In many regards, this is where things begin going downhill for the United States in terms of foreign policy, in terms of the economy."

Dr. Gerald Ginocchio, a sociology professor at Wofford College, has studied the evidence and findings of the Warren Commission for decades, and he takes issue with the commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK. "My view of it is that there was a presumption of Oswald's guilt, especially after he had been killed," says Dr. Ginocchio. "I think they just kind of closed ranks and gathered information that fit that presumption."

"(Oswald) didn't fire a shot that day."

"Unquestionably, it was the product of more than one shooter," believes Dr. Ginocchio.

Fletcher Thompson says the question of whether Oswald killed JFK was answered fifty years ago. "There's no question in my mind but he was the sole assassin."

For Thompson, the assassination marked the beginning of the biggest assignment of his professional life.

Thompson, 92, is a Spartanburg attorney. In 1963, he was an FBI agent, supervising major investigations at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Two days after President Kennedy was killed, Thompson and another FBI agent were sent to Dallas to prepare the first official FBI report on the assassination. "Agents, local police and others were bringing in memos, teletypes and all that, and we were just trying to go through it and make sense of it and prepare the report. That's what I did from Sunday night (two days after JFK's death) until Tuesday morning." Tuesday morning was the deadline Thompson was given by his supervisor to have the report ready.

"I knew it was a sad time, but I had a job to do, and I tried to do it," recalls Thompson.

Thompson says the report was ready by the Tuesday deadline. He recalls the report was more than 20 pages long. He took it to Washington, D.C., and turned it over to an FBI assistant director. Thompson says the assistant director told him plans had changed, and that the Warren Commission would be investigating the assassination.

Thompson says the evidence pointed to Oswald. "I think we established that in an early investigation, that it was his rifle, he fired the rifle, the bullets came from his rifle, and they were the only bullets that were found, and his fingerprints were on the weapon. There were hair fibers on the weapon."

Was Oswald part of a larger conspiracy? Thompson says he has an open mind on that. "I think the most that will ever come out is that (Oswald) had others backing him, might have given him money, might have given him encouragement, and so forth. But as for firing the shots and committing the assassination, I don't... there won't be anybody else that was directly involved in it."

"I'm sure when 100 years go by instead of fifty, there will still be questions, still be books on whether there are others involved," speculates Thompson. "And I hope if that's true, that it will be resolved. But I haven't seen anything so far."

After 33 years, Thompson retired from the FBI in 1975 as an assistant director, then began a new career. For 33 years (and counting), he has been an attorney and currently practices adoption law.

NOTE: Posted on this website are 7 On Your Side's complete interview with Fletcher Thompson, as well as the complete interview with Dr. Gerald Ginocchio of Wofford College. You'll also find our interview with Richard Hughes of Boiling Springs, S.C., whose late father Brent Hughes was an FBI artist and helped build a key display used by the Warren Commission.

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