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On Wednesday, the eve of CNN's Original “The Assassination of President Kennedy,” Piers Morgan devoted his entire primetime hour to remembering the life and legacy of America's 35th president.
Among the program's esteemed guests was Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist and author Hugh Aynesworth, who had a front row seat to the events surrounding the death of JFK, and the subsequent arrest and death of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Then 32-year-old reporter for the Dallas Morning News, Aynesworth was not on assignment that day, but went down to see the presidential motorcade nonetheless, in the process ending up with quite a story.
After hearing three shots ring out, he ran directly to the scene of the action.
“I don't know how fast I reacted because it was such an instantaneous bedlam there. People were crying already, they were screaming, they were bumping into each other, and I don't know how I reacted or how fast, but I knew somewhere in that first minutes my journalistic background kicked in," recalled Wednesday's guest. "But it was just, 'wow,' because we didn't know who was shooting, we didn't know how many were shooting, we didn't know where they were shooting from."
Upon learning via police radio that an officer had been shot, Aynesworth ran to where authorities were pursuing a suspect, a man who was revealed to be Oswald:
“We looked around for him in a couple of places and I heard another radio in an FBI man's car, said, there's a suspect in the Texas Theater. So, I was seven or eight block away, but I knew I had to get there, so, ran like mad," said Aynesworth. "So, they came up, they stopped a couple other people and then they grabbed him.”
Aynesworth was also in the basement of the Dallas Police Department headquarters at that dramatic moment when Jack Ruby ended Oswald’s life:
“When I got up the next morning and found out they hadn't transported [Oswald] in the middle of the night, I said to my wife, ‘Come on, we're going.’ I didn't shave, I didn't eat, I just threw on some clothes, ran down in the City Hall basement, and I got in there about 10 minutes beforehand and saw what happened there," he told Morgan. "I could not see Ruby because I was ... milling in a crowd and some of the cameraman, you know, they wear this big 80 pound cameras at that time. It was a little tough to get in there but pretty soon we knew it was Jack Ruby, and they pounced on him –several of them. It was fast.”
Aynesworth is the only man to have witnessed and written about seeing all three of these historic events, a fact he details in his latest book “Witness to History.”
Where does President Kennedy rank among the pantheon of American presidents? This was precisely the question Piers Morgan put to three notable historians – Robert Dallek, Douglas Brinkley, and James Swanson – as part of Wednesday evening's special report on the death of JFK.
Dallek, who authored the book “Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House,” suggested that JFK suffered from not having had an extended period of time in office:
“He was not a great president, he was there for only a thousand days ... [but] I think he's certainly a significant president," he noted. "I think one could see a direct line from him to Barack Obama, and when we get a woman as president, I think you can see a direct line to that as well. He put across that nuclear test ban treaty which was a major, major advance.”
Swanson meanwhile, who wrote “End of Days, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy,” shared his perspective of Kennedy as a political leader:
“John Kennedy was an American patriot who believed in American exceptionalism ... he believed that America had a special role in the world ... The core of his greatness is that he could inspire people to do great things," said Swanson. "The space program was a classic example ... That's the core of his greatness, his ability to inspire people.”
A professor and presidential historian, Brinkley took a more philosophical approach:
“John F. Kennedy is always the handsome statesman, president gunned down in his prime. So, the cult of Kennedy is going to be with us forever. The whole world is watching this 50th Anniversary right now because he's somebody they cared about," he said. "There’s only a few presidents that people get that emotive about in America.”
As part of the program's special coverage on the eve of the CNN Original “The Assassination of President Kennedy,” Wednesday evening saw "Piers Morgan Live" welcome author, activist, and niece of JFK Kerry Kennedy to share her unique insights and perspective.
As the daughter of the late Robert Kennedy, she lost both her father and her uncle to gun violence, a subject on which Piers Morgan’s strong views are well known.
After thanking Morgan for his ongoing advocacy, Kennedy offered her recommendations on curbing firearm violence:
"I think that the only way we're going to make this happen is that Americans who don't agree with Wayne LaPierre ... are going to have to stand up and band together and start saying, 'we demand change,' she insisted. "We demand change of our politicians and we demand change of our leadership, and we're not going to accept that guns run rampant anymore.”
Kennedy, who has also spoken publicly on stricter gun control, added a powerful closing thought:
"Our children are dying in the streets, our children are dying in our homes. We've got to stop it.”