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Motorcycle ride lands teen in history's cross hairs

Jack McNairy shares his recollection of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated with the audience at Germanna Community College on Tuesday. / Photo by Autumn Parry

WHEN Jack McNairy rode his motorcycle into the crowded city of Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, it quickly became clear to the 18-year-old high school student that going all the way into downtown wasn’t going to work.

There were just too many people.

His mother may have gone there that morning to catch a glimpse of John and Jackie Kennedy, but young McNairy quickly changed gears and decided to park just off the Stemmons Freeway not far from Dealey Plaza to catch a peek.

When he saw the presidential motorcade come flying by moments later, seemingly doing 60 with an agent holding on in the back with a gun in his hand, the young man’s initial reaction was, “How rude. They aren’t waving or anything.”

The reality of that day, when the country’s young president was shot and killed 50 years ago this month, would become real to McNairy all too quickly.

He knew something was up when a law enforcement officer jumped on the back of his motorcycle shortly after the motorcade passed, stuck some credentials in his face and asked for a ride to the hospital where Kennedy had been whisked, Parkland Memorial.

McNairy granted the request, taking a back path down by the railroad tracks, avoiding other traffic to get quickly to the hospital.

There, the youth found himself standing by a presidential limousine stained with blood and splattered with matter that his hunting experience made him sorry he could identify.

“That car, with its plush leather seats, had blood everywhere,” he said, “with red rose petals kind of floating in it all.”

In the days, weeks and years that followed, the young man tried to forget the experience.

But the emotionally harrowing moments before he was pushed away from the bloody vehicle made him realize how fleeting life can be—driving home the point that what can happen in an instant can change “everything in life as you know it.”

McNairy told that story for a special “Standing Next to History” panel discussion Tuesday at Germanna Community College’s Fredericksburg Area Campus in Spotsylvania, held in part to mark the upcoming anniversary.

Although GCC history instructor and moderator Dan Carter said at the outset of the discussion that its purpose wasn’t to reach any conclusions about the killing of Kennedy, McNairy did share some thoughts about that from what he witnessed.

The Plano, Texas, resident, now a counselor for a Christian ministry, said the location of blood and other matter he saw in the limo—cleaned soon after he saw it—led him to believe the fatal shot came from behind, largely because the material “all came forward” of where Kennedy was sitting.

That would seem to jibe with other investigations and “lone gunman” arguments made by many following the assassination, including the Discovery Channel’s 2008 investigative program, “Inside the Target Car,” which based some of its conclusions on McNairy’s observations.

To set the stage for comments by McNairy and Jim Martin, a Washington correspondent who covered the assassination aftermath in the capital, GCC instructor Stuart Smith gave some background to understand the tense political climate in Dallas.

He said not only did Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife get attacked by a group called “the mink coat mob” in Dallas, but an ad calling Kennedy a traitor appeared in the Dallas newspaper on the fateful day of his visit there.

MORE KENNEDY

TV viewers who love history and are interested in the life and untimely end of John F. Kennedy can tune in Sunday night at 8 to the new movie “Killing Kennedy” on The National Geographic Channel.

It’s based on the best-selling book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, and focuses on major turning points for both the future president and his assassin.

Jim Nevins, who lives in the Lee’s Hill section of Spotsylvania County, is one of several local people who were either extras or had small roles in the film shot in Richmond.

Nevins said he plays a reporter in several different scenes, including a dream sequence where Lee Harvey Oswald sees himself talking to reporters.

The businessman said he got the acting gig from a casting director he knows, who also helped him get a part in a project being shot for the History Channel.

The fledgling actor said the heat was tough for filming in late June, but he enjoyed the opportunity and thinks it and other movies are great for the state’s economy.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

rhedelt@freelancestar.com

 

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