2013-11-15 / Front Page

Assassination memories are vivid

Cape Porpoise resident was a young ABC News employee in Dallas for President Kennedy’s visit
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


Bill Lord, a native of Saco and an ABCNews employee for 32 years, reported on President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas nearly 50 years ago. Lord, 25 at the time, recalled the event being “one of the most memorable events of my life.” Lord is holding a picture of himself from 1961 as he hosted “American Newsstand.” (Alex Acquisto photo) Bill Lord, a native of Saco and an ABCNews employee for 32 years, reported on President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas nearly 50 years ago. Lord, 25 at the time, recalled the event being “one of the most memorable events of my life.” Lord is holding a picture of himself from 1961 as he hosted “American Newsstand.” (Alex Acquisto photo) KENNEBUNKPORT — The approaching 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, one of the most tragic events in American history, has spurred personal recounts of where one man was on that fateful day.

For Bill Lord of Cape Porpoise, a fledgling ABCNews anchor at the time, his recollection involves eyewitness accounts so vivid, one would think it happened yesterday.

Lord, a native of Saco, graduated from Thornton Academy. He sought journalism degrees, first at Boston University and then at the University of Pennsylvania. Lord’s first job out of college in 1961 was in New York City as an anchor on the ABCNews show “American Newsstand.”

Lord, 25 at the time, traveled with former ABCNews’ Washington correspondent, Bob Clark, to Dallas to cover President Kennedy’s visit.

Clark was traveling with the motorcade, packed into a car with several journalists, when it entered Dealey Plaza. Lord was nearby, at an affiliate news station, WFAA, watching recordings from a breakfast attended by Kennedy and the first lady earlier that morning.

No news stations were recording live footage of the motorcade, Lord said. He recalled how, when the shots were fired, the reporters in the car closest to the front wrestled for the car’s portable phone to call their stations to report what had happened.

Clark followed the president’s car to nearby Parkland Memorial Hospital, which was nearby, away from news cameras.

“Suddenly, I was the full-fledged correspondent,” Lord said, recalling how the duties of primary reporter fell on his shoulders.

Recalling the scene once he reached Dealey Plaza, Lord said, “People were crying, people were in shock, people weren’t expecting this and they did not know what to do.”

Lord heard reports from bystanders that there had been a man shooting from the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository building.
ABCNews “American Newsstand” anchor Bill Lord reported in 1963 about his experience in Dallas after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the man accused of killing him, Lee Harvey Oswald, was fatally shot fewer than 48 hours later. Lord, a native of Saco, was 25 in 1963. He has since retired to Cape Porpoise. Footage of his interviews from that week will be available for viewing on Nov. 22 at ABCNews.com. 
(Courtesy photo) ABCNews “American Newsstand” anchor Bill Lord reported in 1963 about his experience in Dallas after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the man accused of killing him, Lee Harvey Oswald, was fatally shot fewer than 48 hours later. Lord, a native of Saco, was 25 in 1963. He has since retired to Cape Porpoise. Footage of his interviews from that week will be available for viewing on Nov. 22 at ABCNews.com. (Courtesy photo)

Forty or so minutes after Kennedy was taken to the hospital, Lord said, he was pronounced dead. He recalled Clark telling him that once he had arrived at the hospital, he had seen the carnage left in the car from the bullets, and that when the car arrived, Jackie Kennedy was cradling her husband in her lap.

“It was a horrendous day,” Lord said.

Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of shooting and killing Kennedy, and then later fatally shooting Dallas Patrolman J.D. Tippit, was apprehended by police in a nearby movie theater.

On Nov. 24, as Oswald was being transferred through the Dallas Police Department’s municipal building, a crowd gathered around Oswald. Lord narrated the scene by phone for ABCNews as Oswald was ushered through the basement garage.

“I saw him get out of the elevator,” Lord said of Oswald. “And then he walked out of my line of sight, and then, suddenly, I heard shots. And then I was asked (by the ABCNews desk anchor “Bill Lord, what do you see?’”

“Immediately (I thought) it was the end of my career,” Lord said, recalling that, even though he was just feet away, he could not actually see what had happened. “I didn’t want to say something that was wrong and, for years after, would be corrected,” Lord said. “One of the worst feelings is reporting live when you don’t know exactly what is happening,” Lord said.

Oswald had been fatally shot in the stomach by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, who was later apprehended and taken to jail.

Handcuffed to Oswald when he was shot, was Dallas detective James Leavelle, made noticeable in film footage of the shooting by his 10-gallon hat.

After Oswald was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital, Lord interviewed Leavelle on his experience.

“Dare I say, had I known he (Ruby) was going to be there, the swiftness for which it happened, I doubt if anyone could have prevented him ... I saw the gun in his hand as he emerged from the crowd,” Leavelle told Lord. “But being such a short distance from me, I had no time to say anything.”

After Oswald was shot and was being led away, Leavelle told Lord that he had tried to talk to Oswald: “I had tried to talk to him, if he could hear me, if he understood me. He never did answer me and his eyes were partially closed.”

Remembering those 48 hours, Lord insists, “Certainly it was the most memorable event of my life.”

“John Kennedy was an extraordinary personality,” Lord said. “He was not your run-of-the mill president. He was affable, personable, relatable. There was a personal relationship between most Americans and Kennedy that most didn’t feel toward, say, Nixon.”

The killings of Kennedy and Oswald spurred networks “as far as refining their technology so they could go live at a moment’s notice,” Lord said.

Lord continued his career in broadcast news for 32 years, eventually becoming executive producer of “Nightline” with Ted Koppel and “World News Tonight” with Peter Jennings and winning five Emmys.

At the end of his news career, Lord taught journalism for 14 years at his alma mater, Boston University, before retiring 10 years ago.

Lord still marvels at his chances of being one of fewer than 10 people to report on one of the most memorable tragedies in American history: “I was just a little boy from Saco, Maine, who happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

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