Then a voice from the semicircle of witnesses asked,
"What about a Bible?"
The Scriptures had always been part of the ritual.
There was a pause in which everyone looked at everyone else...
Then Joe Ayres reassured them.
President Kennedy always carried his personal Bible
under the lid of the table between the two beds in his private cabin,
and Ayres went to fetch it.
LBJ SWORE ON JFK'S BIBLE
It was private property, and at this writing it remains untraced.
President Kennedy's family would give a lot to have it back...
The last item of Kennedy memorabilia to be left in Dallas,
his most cherished personal possession, was his Bible.
It's said that truth is stranger than fiction and in the details surrounding the assassination of JFK there are many strange truths. The story about the disappearance of JFK's Bible, after LBJ used it to swear the Presidential oath, is a very strange story indeed.
Above is the famous photo of LBJ taking the oath of presidential office aboard Air Force One while JFK lay in a coffin at the rear of the plane.
For purposes of this story please draw your attention to LBJ's left hand. Notice it is laying on a Bible* which is being held by a woman in a polka dot** top. She is Judge Sarah Hughes from Dallas, a personal friend of LBJ. The Bible under LBJ's hand belonged to JFK and had been taken from his bedside table just moments before.
To set the stage: LBJ had arrived in Dallas aboard the Vice-President's plane, Air Force Two, but when he returned to the airport after leaving Parkland Hospital (where JFK's body was waiting for a coffin) he and all his people moved to the President's plane, Air Force One, aka 26000. He was actually sitting in JFK's & Jackie's bedroom when Jackie returned to her room after JFK's coffin had been loaded into the galley at the rear of the plane. Until that moment she was unaware that LBJ and his entourage had taken over Air Force One and that LBJ was refusing to let the pilot take off until after he'd been sworn in as President. Phone calls had been made to Bobby Kennedy, the Attorney General, asking for the correct wording of the oath. At the point where the story begins everyone is waiting for the Judge, who will administer the oath, to arrive.
Use the following diagram of Air Force One to help visualize the story as you read along. Click to enlarge.
The story about JFK's Bible begins on page 320 of William Manchester's 1967 book THE DEATH OF A PRESIDENT:
...President Johnson crossed the aisle, settled into the yellow upholstery of the Presidential chair, and ordered more vegetable soup from Joe Ayres. Kilduff was in and out, briefing him. He had been unable to find a Signal Corps technician who would record the oath, but the Dictaphone on the desk by the soup bowl would probably serve. He himself could hold its microphone near Johnson and the judge during the ceremony. Afterward the Dictabelt, transferred to quarter-inch tape, could be distributed to the networks. Cecil Stoughton had prepared two cameras, one a 35-millimeter Alpa Reflex, which did not require a flash, and his Hasselblad, which did. The Hasselblad was equipped with a wide-angle lens, nearly 90 degrees; with it, Stoughton could photograph the whole stateroom. The fluorescent light overhead was bad, but he had loaded his reels with extremely fast film---Tri-X, ASA 400. Development should present no problems.
The soup craze had been succeeded by an ice water craze. Every throat was parched. The stifling air seemed thick enough to congeal. If they waited another five minutes, Johnson would have to change his shirt again.
...Vernon Oneal was standing by Gate 28, waiting to reclaim his Cadillac. By coincidence the undertaker's parents had once rented a duplex from Sarah Hughes, and he, not chief Curry, became the first person to note her arrival at the airport. Oneal had overheard the chief and Jack Ready discussing her. He saw her gay sports car swerve around the "Spirit of Flight" statue and shouted, "There she is!"
Curry greeted her and took her arm. "Barefoot Sanders wants you to call him about the oath," he told her. "There's a phone on the plane."
She nodded absently and hurried after him to the ramp. Jim Swindal took over there. He escorted her up the steps and introduced her to Ted Clifton. She said, "I have to use your telephone. The U.S. Attorney has the oath of office."
"Here it is," said a voice, and a hand thrust Marie Fehmer's 3 x 5 card at her. Pocketing it, Sarah followed Clifton through the staff cabin, into the stateroom. She embraced the President, Mrs. Johnson, and her fellow Texans, and Johnson said, "We'll get as many people in here as possible." He dispatched men to round up witnesses. Valenti, Youngblood, Roberts, and Lem Johns were sent into the staff area to extend a general invitation, and then he himself went in.
Gesticulating broadly, he announced, "If anybody wants to join in in the swearing-in ceremony, I would be happy and proud to have you."
There was no stampede. Johnson's friends and allies excepted--and since he had just acquired possession of the aircraft, they were a minority--26000's regular passengers hung back. Their aloofness can only be understood in the context of 2:35 p.m. Though the assassin had been caught, forty minutes would pass before the networks even announced that "a suspect" had been arrested. In the absence of information there was a general revulsion, not only toward Dallas, but toward the entire State of Texas. Lyndon Johnson, the most famous of Texans, was the innocent victim of that visceral reaction, and Cecil Stoughton's subsequent negatives are stark evidence of what Larry O'Brien called "the tension on the plane." The spectators who were to be framed in Stoughton's lens were a lopsided group. Despite the width of the Hasselblad lens, the photographer did not record the presence of a single major Kennedy aide. Dr. Burkley stood behind someone else. There were two agents, there were Kilduff and his two pool reporters. There was Underwood, and there were three Kennedy secretaries--Evelyn, Mary, and Pam--each of whom was led in by Jack Valenti and Lem Johns. The new Chief Executive thanked them effusively, kissed Evelyn's hand and Pam's and called Pam "little lady."
Godfrey McHugh was beside John Kennedy's coffin, standing rigidly at attention. Ken O'Donnell withdrew to the corridor. O'Brien participated in setting up the ritual which Lyndon Johnson had said Bob Kennedy wanted; then he retreated behind Sarah Hughes. The feeling extended to members of the permanent Presidential staff. Stoughton himself wished he were elsewhere. In his prints two tiny points of light identify the spectacles of Ira Gearhart, but the bagman and his football had to be there; the thermonuclear threat was no respecter of tragedy. Gearhart was alone. The crewmen had quietly retired. Boots Miller of the baggage detail was in the staff cabin with his face averted, cradling in his arms a paper bag containing Jacqueline Kennedy's ruined pillbox hat, and Jim Swindal recoiled down the aisle to Clint Hill's side and pressed his face against Roy Kellerman's broad back. As 26000's pilot the Colonel should have been present. Nobody had known that he took politics seriously. But beneath his Milton Caniff air the dapper Alabaman had idolized John Kennedy. He had not known he could suffer so. He felt as though he had a stone in his chest. It would have taken every Johnson agent to drag him into the stateroom. As he explained afterward, "I just didn't want to be in the picture, I didn't belong to the Lyndon Johnson team. My President was in that box."...
The public, poring over the print which Stoughton was to relay within an hour over an AP drum at the Dallas News, saw a hazy human frieze in the background and the Johnsons in the foreground, but the focus of attention was the classic, pain-torn profile of Mrs. John F. Kennedy. It was her presence that the man about to be sworn in had coveted most. He wanted her beside him and he said so to everyone within earshot. In the end she appeared, but the decision was hers. Three years in the White House had given her an abiding respect for her husband's office. She understood the symbols of authority, the need for some semblance of national majesty after the disaster, and so she came.
They were waiting for her. O'Donnell and O'Brien, prowling the corridor, exchanged solicitous looks. First one and then the other gently opened the bedroom door and peered inside. No sign of her; she must be in the powder room. They couldn't venture there, and Ken went for Mary and Evelyn. Neither man contemplated a role in the ceremony for her. O'Donnell, in fact, was vehemently opposed to it. But they were afraid she might have collapsed. At the same time, Johnson was concentrating on the stateroom tableau which Stoughton would record. "How do you want us" Can you get us all in?" he asked him. "I'll put the judge so I'm looking over her shoulder, Mr. President," the photographer replied. The President told Sarah, "We'll wait for Mrs. Kennedy. I want her here." Stoughton suggested that she stand on one side of him and Lady Bird on the other. Johnson nodded. He was becoming impatient, though. Looking at his wife, he asked that someone summon her. He glanced at the bedroom door, glanced again, and said decisively, "Just a minute. I'm going to get her." At that instant the door opened and the widowed First Lady stepped out.
During this sequence of episodes--Johnson's talk with Ken and Larry, the arrival of Sarah Hughes, and the posing in the stateroom--Jacqueline Kennedy had been out of touch with events elsewhere in the plane. This was possible, just as Johnson's earlier camouflage from Godfrey had been possible, because the President's personal quarters had been devised to provide him with a maximum of privacy. All Mrs. Kennedy had known was that she was supposed to wait an hour. She had no intention of spending any part of it changing into her Austin dress. Out of curiosity she sent for George Thomas, but her husband's valet hadn't laid it out; he left hurriedly, explaining that he was "too tumbled up" to talk. Really it didn't matter. With a foresight which eluded all those who had urged (and would continue to urge) her to shed the violated pink suit, she sensed how utterly wrong that would be. To stand beside her husband's coffin that clean white frock would have been incongruous, a profanity.
She paced between the beds, passing and repassing the hated Austin clothes, and then entered the powder room. There was an overhead light, a mirror tilted upward for the convenience of the beholder, a vanity shelf furnished with accessories, and a switch controlling the light, and, facing it all, a low stool upholstered in saffron leather. After washing her face and combing her hair with the precision of a robot she laid the powder room comb aside and gazed blankly at the result. She saw nothing; her thoughts were elsewhere.
She was thinking about time. It was such a long time. If she were to follow Johnson's suggestion and change, an hour might be appropriate, but inasmuch as she had no intention of removing this suit, it seemed interminable. Suddenly solitude was unbearable. She decided to spend the rest of the hiatus with someone who had been close to him: Ken, perhaps, or Larry. Probably they were nearby. She stepped into the corridor, looked toward the stateroom, and saw everyone waiting. Their expressions were expectant and then, when they saw her, relieved. It was unbelievable; they had been waiting for her. She hurried toward them, wondering, Why did he tell me the judge wouldn't be here for an hour? I could have just stayed in there!
Albert Thomas embraced her. "You're a brave little lady," he whispered. Jesse Curry told her the Dallas Police Department had done everything it could. Johnson pressed her hand and said, "This is the saddest moment in my life." He leaned down, introducing her to Sarah Hughes, and then drew her to his left side. "Is this the way you want us?" he inquired of Stoughton. The little photographer, drenched with perspiration, was crouched on the seat directly across the aisle from the Presidential chair. He called out instructions, asking witnesses to move left, right, up, down. All the time his mind was racing. Doubtless this would be the most important picture he would ever take. He was naturally a worrier, and he had some cause for concern. He had failed with the Hasselblad before. In addition he was apprehensive about Ken O'Donnell. With the ambivalence of everyone aboard, he called Johnson "Mr. President" while looking to President Kennedy's chief lieutenant as the man he must please. One sure way to displease Ken would be to photograph Mrs. Kennedy's stains. Bloodwise I'd better be O.K., Stoughton thought anxiously.
He was ready. The Chief Executive and the two First Ladies were ready. The first woman to preside over a Presidential oath was as ready as she would ever be--Sarah was shaking all over, but she felt certain she could make it--and Kilduff was holding the Dictaphone mike by her mouth, his thumb tensed to depress the control button. Then a voice from the semicircle of witnesses asked, "What about a Bible?" The Scriptures had always been part of the ritual. There was a pause in which everyone looked at everyone else, hoping that Lem Johns's manifest included someone of exceptional piety. Then Joe Ayres reassured them. President Kennedy always carried his personal Bible under the lid of the table between the two beds in his private cabin, and Ayres went to fetch it.
It was an unusual copy, and very personal; even Larry O'Brien, to whom Ayres handed it, had never seen it before. The cover was of tooled leather, the edges were hand-sewn; on the front there was a gold cross and, on the inside cover, the tiny sewn black-on-black initials, "JFK". On flights alone the President had read it evenings before snapping off the night light. Larry carried the white box in which the President had kept it down the corridor, and as he re-entered the stateroom and stepped behind Sarah Hughes she nervously began the oath. Her voice quavered, "I do solemnly swear that I will--"
"Just a minute , Judge," Larry said, slipping the Bible from the box and handing it to her.
She regarded it dubiously. Kennedy, she remembered, had quoted the Bible a lot. This must be his--after all, this was his plane--and that meant it was probably Catholic. She hesitated and decided it would be all right.
"I do solemnly swear . . ." she began again.
The oath lasted twenty-eight seconds, the judge leading and the new President responding, his left hand aloft and his big right hand resting lightly over President Kennedy's black initials. His spruced hair, cut only the day before, his tie and his breast-pocket handkerchief were all correct, yet nothing could efface his rough bulk; he was clearly the tallest man in the cabin. Lady Bird looked birdlike and Jacqueline Kennedy on the other side, was a silhouette from another world. Stoughton held his camera high. The stains did not show. Stunned, defeated, she fixed her sightless expression upon the Dictaphone mike.
". . .that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States. . ."
President Johnson's audience was not rapt. The years edit memory, omitting awkward recollections, but the witnesses to this historic occasion are surprisingly unanimous. Their thoughts, they agree, were wandering. Most of them didn't hear a word. The photographer, hunched on the seat behind Sarah, had good reason. Stoughton was almost drowning in his own sweat--his sport coat and slacks clung to him limply--because he had discovered that his misgivings were justified; the Hasselblad was defective. His first frame was a dud; nothing snapped. Recovering rapidly from the sickening silence, he guessed that a small pin inside had failed to make proper contact. He twisted the film advance lever forward and back, jiggled the works, and heard a click. Dancing on the seat like a dervish he took sixteen pictures, three of them with the Alpa Reflex. As he crouched for a closeup of Johnson, he could hear the leathery thump of his two camera cases; the other spectators, he realized, weren't making a sound...
Everyone was suffering from physical discomfort. Although the ceremony lasted less than a half-minute, it seemed much longer. The pressure of dank bodies, the soaring temperature, and the stuffiness of the cabin gave it the oppressive atmosphere of a sudatorium. Under their shirts and slips they felt beads form and trickle. Lady Bird alone was unconscious of the humidity. Her reflections were elsewhere, and were fanciful. She was thinking, This is a moment which is altogether dreamlike, because the thing is so unreal; we're just like characters in a play this is the beginning of something for us that's dreadful and heavy, and you don't know what it holds. We're stepping into a strange new world. It has the quality of a dream, she thought again, and yet it isn't a dream at all.
". . . and defend the Constitution of the United States," her husband repeated after the judge, his voice almost unaudible.
Those were the last words on the card, because that was all the Constitution required. Sarah felt something was missing. Impulsively she added, "So help me God."
"So help me God," Johnson repeated slowly, his lidded eyes searching hers.
The words were almost lost in a jet scream. Jim Swindal had vaulted through the commuications shack, affixed his seat belt, and revved up No.3 again.
The President embraced his wife and Jacqueline Kennedy. Lady Bird, her eyes brimming, stepped over and squeezed Mrs. Kennedy's hand. "Now sit down here, honey," Johnson said to the widowed First Lady, steering her toward the seat Stoughton had just vacated. Sarah Hughes put her arms around him and stammered, "We're all behind you." Her congratulations had to be quick, because it was obvious that departure was a matter of seconds. Swindal's engines were shrieking, and Johnson, sinking into the Presidential chair, said to Lem Johns, "Let 'er roll." Three passengers fled down the front ramp as it was wheeled away: Sarah, Chief Curry, and Cecil Stoughton. Mac Kilduff had flipped out the pink Dictabelt and slipped it over the extended left fingers of Stoughton's left hand. In his right hand the captain was gripping the odds and ends of photographic equipment. Audio and video, he thought, tottering down the steps with his two cameras swinging from his neck; he was the sole repository of the records of the ceremony.
It was 2:47 in Dallas when Jim Swindal lifted 26000's hundred tons from Love's yellow-striped concrete and braced himself for an initial six-hundred-feet-a-minute climb over the hooded blue and yellow airstrip lights. Swindal's head was splitting; it was as though a gigantic sledge-hammer was pounding his skull. He marked the time in his log, Dave Powers jotted it down, and on the ground Emory Roberts, holding the line to Behn, told him the plane was up....
The plane was picking up momentum. The shaded cabins deprived the passengers of a view, but from the nose Swindal looked down on hangars, a parked cluster of privately owned Netstars, a complex of rust-red gantries, and, in the distance, the phallic skyline of downtown Dallas. Though the sky was of the palest blue, the jumbled landscape below took not hint of gentleness from it. Under Swindal's right wing three distinctive buildings loomed. The first read "Ramada Inn," the second "Executive Inn." The third bore no sign; though vastly larger than the others, it was colorless from this height and as shapeless as a Rorschach blot. The Colonel, who hadn't been there, couldn't identify it as Parkland Memorial Hospital.
In the stateroom Johnson said with satisfaction, "Now we're going." He rang for Joe Ayres and ordered a bowl of bouillon. Lady Bird had crackers.
Mrs. Kennedy rose. She said politely, "Excuse me."
She didn't want to offend the Johnsons, but a refrain kept running through her mind: I'm not going to be in here, I'm going back there. Scurrying down the corridor, she saw Ken, Larry, Dave, and Godfrey standing around the coffin; she sat in one of the two seats opposite, and Ken joined her on the other. Their eyes met, and unexpectedly she bagan to cry. It was the first time she had wept; the tears came in a flood, and for a long time she couldn't speak. When she straightened out her voice she said, as though this were 12:30 and the blow had just fallen, "Oh, it's happened."
"It's happened," O'Donnell repeated in a dead voice.
"Oh, Kenny," she cried, "what's going to happen . . .?"
"You want to know something, Jackie?" Ken said. "I don't give a damn."
She took a deep breath. "Oh, you're right, you know, you're right. Just nothing matters but what you've lost."
It was a tiny vestibule, the smallest on the plane. Because it was in the tail it was the compartment most affected by sudden shifts in the airstream. On any other trip it would have lacked status, but President Kennedy was here, and Mrs. Kennedy was with him, and everyone aboard knew it. In effect, this was to be the stateroom until they debarked at Andrews. All the Kennedy men and women in the staff cabin wanted to be there. That was impossible--there wasn't room--so a series of individual pilgrimages began, each individual moving slowly back past the Presidential chair now occupied by President Lyndon Johnson.
Dr. Burkley came first, or, more accurately, his was the first attempt; he wanted to see how Jacqueline Kennedy was bearing up, but on this trip he halted a few feet short of her. Whatever her state, he sensed, George Burkley would only make it worse. The change in him had been a sudden thing. He had been composed enough as he set out and passed Johnson. Then, in the corridor, something caught his eye. The bedroom door was ajar. Inside, lying on a newspaper, was her second glove. It was as though she had never removed it, for in two hours the blood had completely dried; the glove was like a cast of her hand. To him it depicted "all the anguish and sorrow and desolation in the world." He began to shiver, as though caught in a frigid draft. Returning to the staff cabin, he beckoned to Mary Gallagher, who became the second pilgrim. In the bedroom he raised an arm, exposing a shirt sleeve--itself bloodstained--and pointed to the stiff gauntlet. "Put it away somewhere," he said. "Don't crush it."
Mary plucked a fistful of Kleenex. As she lifted it from the newspaper she saw the headlines beneath. It was the front page of the Times Herald's first edition: DALLAS GREETS PRESIDENT, Security Boys Play It Cool...
In the staff area Mary handed the shaped glove to Clint Hill, who sheathed it in a manila envelope. Remarkably, almost none of the Kennedys' objects had been mislaid. In spite of the two-hour anarchy virtually every article they had brought to Dallas was leaving with them; the President's clothes, wallet, and watch, and Mrs. Kennedy's gloves, hat and handbag were all safely stowed aboard. There was one exception. Tripping down the ramp steps toward Earle and Dearie Cabell, who were waiting on the field, Sarah Hughes was hailed by a self-assured man -- she remembers him as "rather officious" -- who pointed at the black binding in her hand and asked, "Do you want that?" She shook her head. "How about this?" he inquired, fingering the 3 x 5 card with the text of the oath. Neither belonged to her, and so she surrendered them, assuming that he was some sort of security man.
He wasn't. His identity is a riddle. How a cipher could have penetrated Jesse Curry's cordon is difficult to understand, but he did. The venture required enterprise and luck. The spoils, however, were priceless; he left the airport with a pair of unique souvenirs. The file card is the less valuable of the two. It is an archivist's curiosity of interest only to collectors and museums. The book, however, is something more. It was private property, and at this writing it remains untraced. President Kennedy's family is entitled to it and would give a lot to have it back. By now, however, the anonymous cozener may have disposed of it. Either way, the fact remains that the last item of Kennedy memorabilia to be left in Dallas, his most cherished personal possession, was his Bible. [end quoting, page 328]
*According to Jim Bishop in his 1968 book THE DAY KENNEDY WAS SHOT it wasn't actually a bible, but a missal, which is a book containing prayers and other devotional matter for celebrating Roman Catholic Mass throughout the year.
***In his 1965 book KENNEDY Ted Sorenson said this about JFK and religion: (...He did not believe that all virtue resided in the Catholic Church, nor did he believe that all non-Cathlics would (or should) go to hell. He felt neither self-conscious nor superior about his religion but simply accepted it as part of his life. He resented the attempt of an earlier biographer to label him as "not deeply religious"; he faithfully attended Mass each Sunday, even in the midst of fatiguing out-of-state travels when no voter would know whether he attended services or not. But not once in eleven years--despite all our discussions of church-state affairs--did he ever disclose his personal views on man's relation to God. He did not require or prefer Catholics on his staff and neither knew nor cared about our religous beliefs. Many of his close friends were not Catholics. While he was both a Catholic and a scholar, he could not be called a Catholic scholar. He cared not a whit for theology, sprinkled quotations from the Protestant version of the Bible throughout his speeches, and once startled and amused his wife by reading his favorite passage from Ecclesiastes (". . . a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance . . .") with his own irreverent addition from the political world: "a time to fish and a time to cut bait." During the eleven years I knew him, I never heard him pray aloud in the presence of others, never saw him kiss a bishop's ring and never knew him to alter his religious practices for political convenience...)
cozener - deceives or tricks; cheats; beguiles [origin uncertain]
LBJ OF ELMS ON ELM and LBJ AIR FORCE 2 TO 1
WWII pilot flew Air Force Two (...While in Washington, John Kistler took command of Air Force Two, the plane used by Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson. Kistler admits he was glad to end his time aboard the vice president's plane. "To tell you the truth, I really didn't appreciate him," Kistler said of Johnson. "He did too many things that were against the law. I couldn't stand it."...)
JFK Ex-Air Force One commander dies. Arlington National Cemetary, Apr 27, 2006 (...Retired Air Force Col. James B. Swindal flew the body of the slain president to Washington from Dallas in 1963, died April 25 at Cape Canaveral Hospital in Cocoa Beach, Fla. He was 88 and had complications from a broken hip....)
JFK's Air Force One pilot dies. San Francisco Chronicle. Apr 30, 2006 (....On Air Force One, he flew Kennedy to West Berlin in June 1963 to give the "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in support of democracy. In interviews, Col. Swindal said he shared "small talk" with Kennedy, who rarely stayed long in the small cockpit because he wore a back brace. "The Kennedys invited me to join them for lunch a couple of times, but I couldn't ever do it," Col. Swindal told the Chicago Tribune in 2001. "You fellows in the media would've had a field day if I were back there eating steak in the president's dining room and a near-miss occurred." ...)
LBJ'S FAMOUS PHOTO-OP
JFK HOLDING BIBLE
Reader says JFK's missing "missal" is in LBJ library
JFK FASCINATES BERLINERS (...An exhibition showing previously unseen photographs and memorabilia opens at a small gallery in the German capital Saturday. The centerpiece of the show...is a well-worn black leather briefcase he took with him everywhere, including on his final and fatal trip to Dallas in November 1963. The beloved case, which was thought to be lost for decades but reappeared in 1998, was auctioned off that year to a private collector for $770,000 -- but has since then been languishing in a strong box. Kennedy used it to carry reading materials and refused to discard it even after the handle came off and the seams split....)
**Polka-dot clothes feature in RFK's assassination as well. There was a girl in a polka-dot dress seen running from the murder scene. A Question of Conspiracy: The RFK Murder.
Sirhan & RFK Assassination: The Grand Illusion, by Lisa Pease, Probe magazine, March-Apil 1998
...Vincent DiPierro, a waiter who had observed Sirhan standing and talking to a pretty girl in a white, polka dotted dress earlier that night, heard someone yell "Grab him" a split second before the shots were fired...
JFK TRUTHS & UNTRUTHS & JFK ASSASSINATION PUZZLE PIECES & RFK ASSASSINATION PUZZLE PIECES
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