• U.S.

Nation: Lady Bird

4 minute read

About a week after the assassination, Lady Bird Johnson dictated her recollections on a tiny tape recorder—”primarily as a form of therapy to help me over the shock and horror of the experience.” A transcript was sent to the Warren Commission.

After the shots, the Johnsons’ car “accelerated terrifically fast—faster and faster. Then suddenly they put on the brakes so hard that I wondered if they were going to make it as we wheeled left and went around the corner. We pulled up to a building. I looked up and saw it said ‘Hospital.’ Only then did I believe that this might be what it was.

“As we ground to a halt—we were still the third car—Secret Service men began to pull, lead, guide, and hustle us out. I cast one last look over my shoulder and saw, in the President’s car, a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying on the back seat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the President’s body.” “God Help Us All.” Later, Lady Bird found Jackie waiting outside Emergency Room One. “You always think of her—or someone like her—as being insulated, protected,” said Mrs. Johnson. “She was quite alone. I don’t think I ever saw anyone so much alone in my life. I went up to her, put my arms around her, and said something to her. I’m sure it was something like ‘God help us all,’ because my feelings for her were too tumultuous to put into words.” Lady Bird spoke next with Nellie Connally. “Then I turned and went back to the small white room where Lyndon was. Mr. Kilduff [Assistant Press Secretary] and Kenny O’Donnell were coming and going. I think it was from Kenny’s face and Kenny’s voice that I first heard the words, The President is dead.’ Mr. Kilduff entered and said to Lyndon, ‘Mr. President.’ ” Lady Bird recalled the tense drive from the hospital to the airport. “Lyndon said to stop the sirens. We drove along as fast as we could. I looked up at a building and there already was a flag at half-mast. I think that is when the enormity of what had happened first struck me.” Of the wait in the cabin of Air Force One before the takeoff for Washington, Lady Bird recalled: “It’s odd at a time like that the little things that come to your mind, and a moment of deep compassion you have for people who are really not at the center of the tragedy. I heard a Secret Service man say in the most desolate voice, and I hurt for him, ‘We never lost a President in the Service,’ and then Police Chief Curry of Dallas came on the plane and said to Mrs. Kennedy, ‘Mrs. Kennedy, believe me, we did everything we possibly could.’ ” I Want Them to See.” Later, Lady Bird talked briefly with Jackie again.

“I looked at her. Mrs. Kennedy’s dress was stained with blood. Her right glove was caked—that immaculate woman—it was caked with blood, her husband’s blood. She always wore gloves like she was used to them. I never could. Somehow that was one of the most poignant sights—exquisitely dressed and caked in blood. I asked her if I couldn’t get someone in to help her change and she said, ‘Oh, no. Perhaps later I’ll ask Mary Gallagher, but not right now.’ ” Before Lady Bird gave the transcript to the Commission, she had done some editing. On the original, at the point where she discussed Jackie’s refusal to change her blood-drenched clothes, Lady Bird had added: “Then with something—if you can say a person that gentle, that dignified, had an element of fierceness—she said, ‘I want them to see what they have done to Jack.’ “

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