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Art Callaham: O'Reilly's book on Kennedy a good read

May 12, 2013|By ART CALLAHAM

I was never a “Kennedyphile” — lifelong southern conservative Republicans usually are not. Sure, I was a starry-eyed 15-year-old who understood “Camelot,” liked the pictures of bikini clad Jackie-O (as she was later to be called), and can recall to this day where I was at 2 p.m. EST on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, when news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination was broadcast over the public address system at Hinton (W.Va.) High School.

I had just left fourth period and was heading to fifth period Solid Geometry (boy, I hated that class). The principal, Weldon Boone, canceled school and sent us all home with an early dismissal. Mom was a history teacher at the high school and drove me home that afternoon. The car ride discussion was all about previous presidential assassinations and ones that had been attempted. No real fear in Mom’s voice, although later in life she confided that she feared the worst might occur — riots and possibly even some open national rebellion. I felt an air of sadness for the loss of the president; however, life in the Callaham family resumed a normal cadence soon after the president was laid to rest the following Tuesday.

But wow! Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot” sure struck a nerve when I read the book recently. Not only does O’Reilly capture the moments directly surrounding the actual assassination, he leads readers through the ups and downs of Kennedy’s tumultuous two years and 10 months as president — and tumultuous might be an understatement.

Sexual infidelity, international and national political intrigue, racial injustice, civil rights, party politics, domestic tranquility interspersed with violence and arguments, gun rights, mental health and states’ rights — it’s all in the book. The backdrop for O’Reilly’s fact-based book includes World War II, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, Marilyn Monroe’s death, the Mafia, Hollywood, Texas, Washington, D.C. and more.

Along with rumors, the facts bear out that many people might have wanted John Fitzgerald Kennedy dead. Go no further than Kennedy’s vice president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson was noted as the chief political power broker in Washington prior to his acceptance of the nomination to be vice president on the Kennedy/Johnson ticket for the 1960 national election. Once elected, in part by carrying Texas (the reason Johnson was on the ticket) by a mere 46,000 votes, JFK and his younger brother, Robert Kennedy, did everything they could to erode Johnson’s power.

Most, including Johnson, felt that JFK would dump Johnson from the Democrat ticket in the 1964 campaign — some even thought JFK would choose Robert Kennedy as his next running mate. My, my, how far the mighty fell.

Internationally, Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev would be likely suspects if there was a plot to kill Kennedy. Castro clearly knew of Kennedy’s direct involvement in the botched attempt to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Khrushchev, on the other hand, lost credibility when he withdrew offensive nuclear missiles in the face of an American Naval blockade during the resultant Cuban Missile Crisis.

You want an angry Central Intelligence Agency along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the assassination story, how about the Secret Service; it’s all there in fact.  Each of those vaunted agencies could easily bear some guilt either through omission or commission.

A mafia connection to the CIA, spurned Hollywood lovers, bruised star egos, all of that factor into the account — not as fictional characters, but as real people in real situations all documented. Away from the glitter of “Tinseltown” and the beautiful people, there are plenty of “good old boys” who might have played a part.

I’ve read excerpts from the Warren Commission’s Report concerning the Kennedy assassination. I’ve seen and read the “stuff” put out for public consumption by numerous conspiracy theorists. I’ve also read plenty of supposed expert documentation for both sides of the issue: lone gunman versus conspiracy plots linking various culprits’ involvement. And truly, until I read “Killing Kennedy,” I have always leaned toward some sort of conspiracy, including covert government involvement.

Now, after reading O’Reilly’s book, a book that ties up a lot of loose ends into a singular, fascinating, hard-to-put-down read, I’m convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and fired three shots at John Fitzgerald Kennedy, two of those shots killing the 34th president of the United States. History might prove me wrong, but the book is a great read.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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