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John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy Onassis arriving in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963 shortly before JFK's assassination. (Reuters)
John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy Onassis arriving in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963 shortly before JFK's assassination. (Reuters)

Three surprising details from the JFK assassination – and why they matter Add to ...

Lee Harvey Oswald tried to kill before, Kennedy warned his wife about the possibility of being shot in Dallas, and why the president’s brain wasn’t buried with his body.

1. Oswald’s first attempt at murder

He had been planning the assassination even before he bought the rifle. Lee Harvey Oswald had chosen his victim, scouted the location, written detailed notes in his journal, drawn maps and diagrams, photographed the building, and had even planned his escape. But in the spring of 1963, Mr. Oswald’s target was not the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. He wanted to murder another man, the notorious anti-communist, right-wing American army officer, Major-General Edwin A. Walker. Furious that the general wanted to invade Cuba and kill his new hero, Fidel Castro, Mr. Oswald decided that Maj.-Gen. Walker must die. So on the night of April 10, Mr. Oswald went to Maj.-Gen.Walker’s home in Dallas, Texas. Through his rifle scope, Mr. Oswald spotted the general through a window, aimed at his head, and fired. He missed him by an inch, and then – undetected – ran away into the darkness.

It was a psychological turning point. It was the first time Mr. Oswald had ever tried to kill a man. He had joined the Marine Corps in peacetime and had never fought in a war. Shooting a rifle at a human being had excited him. Yes, he had failed, but he had enjoyed planning and carrying out the sniper attack.

The experience taught him a valuable lesson. In Dallas he could shoot at a man and get away with it. The failure of the police to catch him emboldened him and enhanced his smug attitude of superiority.

He did not know it in April of 1963, but in a little more than seven months, he would select another human target. But next time, Lee Harvey Oswald would not have to spend weeks stalking his victim. The next man who appeared in his rifle sights would come to him, on the brilliant sunny fall afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963.

2. Kennedy foreshadows his own death

On the morning of Nov. 22, President Kennedy was in his hotel room in Fort Worth, Texas. He was reading the Dallas Morning News, in preparation for his flight there in a few hours. He was irate. A full-page ad that carried the headline, WELCOME MR. KENNEDY TO DALLAS, appeared to be a friendly greeting. But the rest of the ad contained 12 questions that accused Mr. Kennedy of being unpatriotic and soft on communism. The charges incensed him. And the previous night in Dallas, someone had printed several thousand leaflets headlined WANTED FOR TREASON. The handbills resembled an Old West-style reward with mug shots of the criminal on the loose – in this case the 35th president of the United States. Was this the kind of welcome he should expect when Air Force One landed in Dallas later this morning?

Mr. Kennedy warned his wife, “We’re heading into nut country today. But Jackie,” he added, “if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?” Mr. Kennedy had often told Dave Powers, one of his top aides, that it would be so easy for someone to shoot him with a rifle from a tall building.

This morning, Mr. Kennedy could not get the subject off his mind. He reminded Jackie of their harried, late night arrival at their Fort Worth hotel the previous night, when hundreds of strangers had surrounded them. “You know,” he told her, “last night would have been a hell of a night to assassinate a president. There was the rain, and the night, and we were all getting jostled. Suppose a man had a pistol in a briefcase and melted away into the crowd.”

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