Guest column: Building a career from a tragedy

Gregory Clay

The conspiracy theories are endless. They seem to multiply like locusts.

A classic whodunit: Was it the Mafia? How about Fidel Castro and Cuba? Maybe LBJ himself was the mastermind? What about the CIA? J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI? Could it have been the Soviet Union?

Just who REALLY was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy?

Could the assailant really have been a pathetic, underachieving Lee Harvey Oswald all by himself?

“Nobody wants to believe that these two losers could impact the world the way they did,” suggested Hugh Aynesworth, a former Dallas Morning News writer and author of the recently released book “November 22, 1963: Witness to History.”

Aynesworth, now 82, was referring to Oswald and Jack Ruby, the man who shot Oswald. To paraphrase pop artist Andy Warhol, both wanted their 15 minutes of fame, Aynesworth believes.

He’s right. Many observers expect a more complicated plot in the Kennedy assassination. Surely, two grandstanding clowns can’t be all there is. Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opened a Pandora’s box, recently telling NBC’s Tom Brokaw, “To this day, I have serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.”

Aynesworth subscribes to the theory that Oswald, indeed, was alone. ”I have seen absolutely no evidence to the contrary,” Aynesworth maintained during a telephone conversation.

Aynesworth’s claim to fame is that he witnessed the JFK assassination, the subsequent capture of Oswald and the Ruby shooting incident. It was an unfathomable time when Aynesworth originally was supposed to have been enjoying a day off that Friday, Nov. 22.

“Oswald wanted to be somebody,” Aynesworth explained. “He wanted to be above the fold. He wanted to show he was bigger and better than everyone else.”

Aynesworth knew Ruby in those days. Ruby often would frequent the Morning News to buy ad space to promote his seedy strip club. All in the name of trying to make a name for himself. “He was a loudmouth show-off,” Aynesworth blurted.

He believes the impetuous Ruby just wanted to be known as the guy who killed the Most Hated Person in America that fateful November day. A great “American hero.”

Except many Americans were angry with Ruby. “Because they wanted Oswald to live to answer the question — why?” Aynesworth said.

Aynesworth, then the Morning News’ aviation and aerospace reporter, had his Nov. 22 all planned that eventful day. A little early lunch, then watch the Kennedy motorcade in the afternoon before heading to Southern Methodist University to take in a lecture by a space scientist.

However, shots were fired at the president and Aynesworth’s day changed … the rest is history.

“Every place that I have worked,” Aynesworth said, “they have asked me to check out this conspiracy theory, that conspiracy theory — when I was at the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Times Herald and Newsweek.”

Bob Schieffer, anchor and moderator of CBS’ “Face the Nation,” once said, “Hugh Aynesworth knows more about this tragic story and the reporters who reported it than anyone I know.”

Kennedy believed Florida and Texas were crucial for re-election in 1964. That’s why he embarked on a five-city swing through Texas: San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Austin scheduled to be the final stop. Dallas was viewed as hostile territory by some because of its right-wing, anti-communist extremism. “Adlai Stevenson (then-United Nations ambassador), John Connally (then-Texas governor), Sen. William Fulbright (from Arkansas) and Stanley Marcus (of Neiman-Marcus corporate fame) all warned Kennedy not to go to Dallas,” Aynesworth said.

Now, Aynesworth is a man in demand. A panel discussion about the Kennedy assassination one day. A special reunion dinner for the media members who covered Nov. 22, 1963, on another day. So, it’s on and on in 2013.

Says Aynesworth, with a touch of wistfulness: “I’m getting too old for this.”

But he admits the excitement is unforgettable.

Gregory Clay is the assistant sports editor for McClatchy-Tribune News Service, 700 12th Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20005; email: [email protected].