Area Woman Recalls Seeing Dreams Of Millions Crushed
Knickerbocker News, Albany, NY, Nov. 22, 1983, pp. 1 & 10)
by Mary Woodward Pillsworth
(Special to The Knickerbocker News)
Note by Peter Whitmey: Through Mark Zaid, now a lawyer in Washington D.C. but in 1992 a law student in Albany, New York, I learned that he had been able to meet with Mary Woodward, who has lived in that city for many years. He kindly showed my article to Mary, although I wasn’t able to learn her reaction to it. However, back on Nov. 22, 1983, Mary had written an article about her experience in Dallas twenty years earlier, and Mark kindly sent me a copy of it. Here it is in its entirety:
For one who stood on the sidewalk in front of the Texas School Book
Depository that fateful Friday afternoon, the 20th anniversary of the
assassination of John F. Kennedy rekindles a host of memories, reflections and
One of the most striking realizations regards the conflicting nature of time—a phenomenon which seems able to move in opposite directions while standing still.
How can something which seems more vivid in memory than yesterday’s dinner have happened 20 years ago? Or can it really have been only 20 years ago? Often it seems at least two lifetimes ago.
Certainly the country today bears little resemblance to the one over which John F. Kennedy presided, and to the young people coming of age in the ‘80s, the Kennedy years are, indeed, “the olden days”.
Twenty years ago, I, too, was just coming of age and, having inadvertently been place at the scene of one of the most momentous events of the 20th century, my life, I am sure, was changed forever. Changed not in any dramatic way, but on that subtle level of consciousness which shapes one’s perception of both self and the world around.
On that Friday afternoon I was a young reporter and copy editor on the staff of THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS. I also was one of the Kennedy kids, the name coined by the press for the horde of under-30s who had worked energetically and enthusiastically for his election only three years before.
We were a political force relatively new in American politics, a group of dedicated people totally caught up in the charisma of one man—a man who made us truly believe everything was possible. We could be anything, do anything. We sensed we had the power not only to control our own destinies, but by virtue of commitment, sacrifice and a spirit of unity, we could change the world for the better. We did not just feel that way; deep in our souls we truly believed we were the vanguard destined to lead mankind down the road to Utopia.
As I stood on the curb wildly cheering our White Knight and his Lady Fair, three shots rang out, and the magic spell was broken forever.
Something larger than a single man, more important even than the president of the United States, died in Trauma Room I at Parkland Memorial Hospital. The hopes and dreams of millions of people around the world were as crushed as that pathetic bouquet of bloodstained roses which lay on the floor of the Lincoln Continental. For many of us, it seemed as though we had been suddenly, viciously robbed of two irreplaceable possessions—our youth and our innocence.
In the time span of three shots from a mail-order Italian carbine, a good part of a generation metamorphosed from the idealism of youth to the cynicism of middle age. Many of us would spend the ensuing 20 years trying to adjust and become comfortable with our sudden maturity.
The torch had been passed, but, ironically, it seemed to skip a generation. We had placed our faith too firmly in the hands of one man, and without a leader, we retreated from activism to withdrawal. Having grown up in the 1950s and come of age in the early ‘60s, we would ever afterward be labeled “The Silent Generation.”
The days immediately following the assassination were filled with the high drama of national tragedy. Surely nowhere was the tragedy felt more keenly than in Dallas, which was forced to carry the additional burden of blame which the entire world in its desperate frustration seemed anxious to heap upon the beleaguered city.
Time has not dimmed the sense of discomfort I felt two years later while living in Brazil and someone would inquire where I was from. President Kennedy had already been elevated to popular sainthood, and people would audibly gasp when I hesitatingly responded “Dallas.” They seemed genuinely amazed I did not have horns and cloven feet. Guilt by association became a cross reluctantly borne by anyone remotely connected to the city.
Probably the most frequently asked question of any eyewitness to such a catastrophic event is, “Are you sorry you were there?” The answer is the same and without qualification. No, I am not sorry. I am sorry for what happened, but it was beyond my control. It remains the most emotionally draining experience of my life, and I have spent countless hours pondering the “what ifs.” But, as a journalist, as well as a person with a passion for history, I cannot regret being even on the fringe of an event of such historical significance.
On a personal level, my mood shifted relentlessly between despair and exhilaration. The exhilaration sprang from the excitement of the young reporter on her first newspaper job being caught in the eye of the storm. Yesterday’s nobody, the youngest, and most inexperienced member of the staff, was today’s star attraction.
By sheer chance two equally young and inexperienced co-workers and I had been the only members of the press at the scene, and I had been selected to write the only eyewitness account for THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Now, everybody, it seemed, wanted to speak to me, from the plainly curious to other reporters representing newspapers around the world, to the Dallas police, Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
I was pointed out in the Zapruder film, and my picture appeared in several leading national magazines, applauding and cheering him at the exact moment President Kennedy sustained his fatal wound.
Over the years I have read the various conspiracy theories and am always asked for my opinion. The truth, of course, is that I possess no more knowledge than another other innocent bystander. I only know what I saw and what I heard. My testimony before all the investigative bodies recounted three shots fired from the direction of the grassy knoll—one shot, a long pause—followed by two more shots in very rapid succession.
The account is at odds with the official Warren Commission Report (for which my testimony was never requested), and for that I have no explanation. The discrepancies did, however, come to the attention of such conspiracy theorists as Mark Lane and James Garrison, who, at various times, have solicited my cooperation, but which I have always declined.
As the official mourning period came to an end and normalcy began to reassert itself, like most people, I tried in small ways to keep the flame aglow. I served in the Peace Corps, debated the new world order in small groups of friends, voted in every election, tried to keep the memory alive as I marked the passing of each anniversary, bored my children with endless conversations about “the legend,” but never again did I put myself on the front lines. I had done that once, and I could never be that vulnerable again.
Time passes and becomes a leveler; our age has caught up with us. Chronologically, as well as psychologically, we have a middle-age perception of the world. We have been tempered by the times and events through which we have so far lived, and, finally, we are coming to terms. We are, I feel, on the verge of reasserting our role in shaping the future.
We have learned a great deal and have paid an extraordinarily high price for our knowledge. We understand that idealism and blind faith may not solve the problems of the world, but neither, we have found, will cynicism and withdrawal.
Much was lost, but much was gained. As I survey the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, leaderless world in which my children are maturing, I sadly realize that, despite the tragedy, we are privileged to have lived in such an era, to have basked in the reflected aura of a Kennedy’s intelligence, wit and grace, to have lived in a time when we felt such pride in being an American.
Despite revisionist accounts of the administration or the personal shortcomings of the man, there really was for one brief, shining moment a Camelot, and we were part of it.
Such a period may never come again in my lifetime, but at long last I feel the urge to try again. It is our debt to the next generation.
For the first time in 20 years, I am politically active and actually looking forward to participation in the 1984 elections. [Ronald Reagan was re-elected overwhelmingly the Democratic candidate, Walter Mondale of Minnesota, followed by the election of George Bush in 1988, William Jefferson Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000—PW.] I am able to become involved with the complete realization the only reward may be bumps on the head from banging it against a brick wall. That’s OK. The world needs a few dedicated head-bangers. It’s an honorable role.
Note by PW:
The front page included a photo of Mary, a photo of JFK and Jackie on Houston St. and the famous photo of Oswald being shot by Ruby. Page two included the equally famous photo of “John-John” saluting his father’s casket.
The front page also included an insert entitled “Questions and Answers” which stated that the Warren Commission concluded three shots were fired, all from the sixth floor of the TSBD; that the HSCA concluded with 95 per cent probability that four shots were fired, based on the acoustical evidence obtained from a Dallas police radio recording. The fourth shot, the committee said, probably was fired from in front of the motorcade, but it was pointed out that the HSCA’s conclusions were disputed by experts from the FBI and the National Research Council. Finally, it was pointed out that both the WC and the HSCA had concluded that two shots had struck the President [one of which allegedly went through both JFK and Connally].
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