Wright: ‘He was truly a beloved president’

On Nov. 22, 1963, former Weatherford mayor and Speaker of the House Jim Wright was this area’s congressman and spent much of that fateful day with and talking to JFK. Though now 90 years old, and 50 years later, his memories have not faded
By SALLY SEXTON ssexton@weatherforddemocrat.com he name Jim Wright is known in wide political circles, from the Metroplex all the way to Washington D.C. The Weatherford College alumni and former Weatherford mayor, who was a member of the House of Representatives, as well as Speaker of the House from 1967-1969, served under eight presidents in total. But it was while serving under John F. Kennedy in 1963 that one incident forever changed his world — the assassination of JFK. “It was a marvelous day in Fort Worth,” Wright, now 90, said of the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, when he greeted Kennedy in Fort Worth, one of his many stops in Texas as he prepared for his next presidential campaign. “It was an emotional high seeing our president, hearing him and his speech at the [Fort Worth] Chamber of Commerce breakfast. There was optimism and upbeat hope.” According to Wright, Kennedy expressed his appreciation of the contributions from Fort Worth and Dallas in support of its safety and security, touching on the history of Fort Worth itself. “He followed the history of Fort Worth during World War I and II, and the production of the first around-theworld planes, like the B-24s and the B-26s,” Wright said. “The General Dynamics plan had recently won a competition [against Boeing] to be the company to build some of our planes, so everybody was in a really high mood. In those days, this was a big boost for our economy.” Following the breakfast, Wright, Kennedy, Texas Gov. John Connally and others hopped aboard Air Force One to head on to Dallas for the 13-minute flight from Carswell Air Force Base to Love Field. “While on board, the president asked Gov. Connally and myself to come and sit with him in his private quarters,” Wright said. “He asked us to explain for him the pushes that led to the development of Fort Worth and Dallas and why the two towns were are different as they were. “We were doing our best to tell him what we knew and what we could put together on that subject. Shortly after when the plane landed, the president looked at us and said, ‘We must consider this conversation this afternoon on the way to Austin.’” Unbeknownst to both parties, it would be the last conversation Wright and Kennedy would have. “That day was an emotional roller coaster,” Wright recalled. “Before it was over, it had us all down in the lowest level of despondency.” Traveling in the sixth car in the presidential motorcade

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A four-page special section of the Weatherford Democrat

YEARS LATER
The Killing of JFK Remembered

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President John F. Kennedy, left, and then-U.S. Congressman Jim Wright are shown the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, in Fort Worth outside the Hotel Texas, where Kennedy delivered a breakfast speech to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce before flying to Dallas.
FORT WORTH STARTELEGRAM COLLECTION, sPECIAL COLLECTIONs, THE UNIVERsITY Of TEXAs-ARLINGTON LIBRARY

headed through downtown Dallas, Wright followed the others down the 10-mile route through downtown Dallas, heading to the Trade Mart, where the president was to speak at a luncheon. “I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout of all the people on the streets,” Wright said. “It was a great welcome from a multitude of people through the streets of Dallas.” Wright saw the president’s car turn off onto Elm Street and, just a few minutes later, heard the first gunshot. “My first instinct was that it was the backfire of a car,” he said. “And then I heard the second one and I said, “Doggone it, some goofy guy is trying to fire a 21-gun salute!’ But when I heard the third shot, I realized that the cadence was just off so I knew it wasn’t that.” At the time, Wright’s car had passed beneath the window of which Lee Harvey Oswald was said to be standing with his gun. “I didn’t see him, but there were several others in the motorcade who claimed he was leaning out with the rifle in his hands,” Wright said. As Wright’s car headed toward the freeway and to the scene of the shooting, he saw a secret serviceman running beside the president’s car, which was carrying JFK, wife Jackie and Connally, and dive inside to push the president down. “Then the car shot forward, and I saw Ms. Kennedy leaning against the backseat looking out of the back of

the car,” Wright said. “The secret serviceman was pulling her back into the seat and we followed the car to [Parkland Hospital.] “When we got there, I saw people helping carry the president inside and also helping Connally, who had been shot also.” A few minutes later, someone came out to announce that Kennedy had passed. “That was a shock to my nervous system,” Wright said. “It was really a terrible thing, knowing that the president was dead. Very, very depressing.” Recalling the conversation he, Connally and Kennedy had less than 30 minutes before stunned Wright even more. “A man came up to me with a microphone and wanted me to make a comment, but I just couldn’t express myself,” he said. “I’ve been in war, been overseas, been in combat missions, and that was bad, but something about this was just devastating. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like that.” Three days later, a Requiem Mass was held for Kennedy at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., of which Wright attended. “He was so vivacious and full of life and upbeat. He truly was a beloved president,” Wright said. “I truly believe that Kennedy may have been the most inspirational of all of our presidents. “It’s very hard to believe that it has been 50 years.”

Democrat staffer recalls seeing ‘grown men cry’
By CHRISTIN COYNE ccoyne@weatherforddemocrat.com As a former employee of the Weatherford Democrat, Richard Biggs said he was one of the first people in Parker County to find out the president had died. “That was a trauma-filled day,” Biggs said. The then-19-year-old had taken a semester off of college to work at the Democrat, where he said he typed up copy from reporters and the Associated Press. During his lunch break at Dairy Queen, Biggs said he was told the president has been shot. He rushed back to the Democrat, where newspaper staff scrapped much of what had been produced for the afternoon paper and started again, working late to get details of the assassination to the community that day. Biggs, who worked in a small, approximately 10-by-10 room separated from the rest of the newsroom, said he and managing brothers Harold and Lyndol Hart received bulletins from the AP several minutes ahead of the television reports they were also watching. “The reporters were crowded around the porthole [where reporters gave their stories to him], trying to hear what was going on,” Biggs said. They saw on television that two priests had been called in to deliver last rites, Biggs said. Things went eerily quiet in the room when the AP bell went nuts, ringing maybe a dozen times. Normally not more than two bells would precede major events such as a plane crash, according to Biggs. As Harold Hart reached down and tore the paper off, Biggs said he looked and saw two words: “Kennedy dead.” Biggs said he remembered the blood rushing out of his head as he took in the news. “To me it was like I lost a parent,” Biggs said. “Our safety and everything violated. It just wasn’t done. People couldn’t believe it. It just broke the sanctity of everything that was right in the world.” Kennedy was young, someone even teenage Biggs could relate to. The president was everything you wanted to be when you grew up, Biggs said. “I saw grown men cry,” Biggs said. Employees stayed late that day and were given assignments delivering copies of the paper to grocery stores and other locations around the city, according to Biggs, who said that at some places, people were waiting out front to get a copy of the newspaper.

EXCERPTS FROM REMARKS OF PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY MADE AT THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE BREAKFAST IN FORT WORTH, TEXAS, ON NOVEMBER 22, 1963
“I am glad to be here in Jim Wright’s city. About 35 years ago, a Congressman from California who had just been elected received a letter from an irate constituent which said: ‘During the campaign you promised to have the Sierra Madre Mountains reforested. You have been in office one month and you haven’t done so.’ Well, no one in Fort Worth has been that unreasonable, but in some ways he has had the Sierra Madre Mountains reforested, and here in Fort Worth he has contributed to its growth. He speaks for Fort Worth and he speaks for the country, and I don’t know any city that is better represented in the Congress of the United States than Fort Worth. And if there are any Democrats here this morning, I am sure you wouldn’t hold that against him. “Three years ago last September I came here, with the Vice President, and spoke at Burke Burnett Park, and I called, in that speech, for a national security policy and a national security system which was second to none – a position which said not first, but, if, when and how, but first. That city responded to that call as it has through its history. And we have been putting that pledge into practice ever since. “And I want to say a word about that pledge here in Fort Worth, which understands national defense and its importance to the security of the United States. During the days of the Indian War, this city was a fort. During the days of World War I, even before the United States got into the war, Royal Canadian Air Force pilots were training here. During the days of World War II, the great Liberator bombers, in which my brother flew with his co-pilot from this city, were produced here. “The first nonstop flight around the world took off and returned here, in a plane built in factories here. The first truly intercontinental bomber, the B-36, was produced here. The B-58, which is the finest weapons system in the world today, which has demonstrated most recently in flying from Tokyo to London, with an average speed of nearly 1,000 miles per hour, is a Fort Worth product. “The Iroquois helicopter from Fort Worth is a mainstay in our fight against the guerrillas in South Viet-Nam. The transportation of crews between our missile sites is done in planes produced here in Fort Worth. So wherever the confrontation may occur, and in the last 3 years it has occurred on at least three occasions, in Laos, Berlin, and Cuba, and it will again – wherever it occurs, the products of Fort Worth

and the men of Fort Worth provide us with a sense of security. “And in the not too distant future a new Fort Worth product – and I am glad that there was a table separating Mr. Hicks and myself – a new Fort Worth product, the TFX Tactical Fighter Experimental – nobody knows what those words mean, but that is what they mean, Tactical Fighter Experimental – will serve the forces of freedom and will be the number one airplane in the world today.” *** “In the past 3 years we have increased the defense budget of the United States by over 20 percent; increased the program of acquisition for Polaris submarines from 24 to 41; increased our Minuteman missile purchase program by more than 75 percent; doubled the number of strategic bombers and missiles on alert; doubled the number of nuclear weapons available in the strategic alert forces; increased the tactical nuclear forces deployed in Western Europe by over 60 percent; added five combat ready divisions to the Army of the United States, and five tactical fighter wings to the Air Force of the United States; increased our strategic airlift capability by 75 percent; and increased our special counter-insurgency forces which are engaged now in South Viet-Nam by 60 percent. I hope those who want a stronger America and place it on some signs will also place those figures next to it.” *** “So this country, which desires only to be free, which desires to be secure, which desired to live at peace for 18 years under three different administrations, has borne more than its share of the burden, stood watch for more than its number of years. I don’t think we are fatigued or tired. We would like to live as we once lived. But history will not permit it. The Communist balance of power is still strong. The balance of power is still on the side of freedom. We are still the keystone in the arch of freedom, and I think we will continue to do as we have done in our past, our duty, and the people of Texas will be in the lead. “So I am glad to come to this State which has played such a significant role in so many, efforts in this century, and to say that here in Fort Worth you people will be playing a major role in the maintenance of the security of the United States for the next 10 years. I am confident, as I look to the future, that our chances for security, our chances for peace, are better than they have been in the past. And the reason is because we are stronger. And with that strength is a determination to not only maintain the peace, but also the vital interests of the United States. To that great cause, Texas and the United States are committed. Thank you.”

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