Column: The days and years after JFK’s death

I still can remember, as if it were yesterday, when our social studies teacher Mr. Bloom walked into the classroom and told us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Today, regrettably, something like that might come as no big surprise. (“Oh, the president’s been shot. We’ve sort of been expecting that.”) But back then — in the innocent age before Martin and Bobby and John and Columbine and Virginia Tech and Newtown — it struck a real blow to America’s collective gut.

The days that followed were a blur brought to life on the Gustavson family’s 13-inch black and white television set. First there was Oswald’s arrest, followed shortly thereafter by his assassination by Jack Ruby. The president’s funeral followed next, with the iconic images of John John’s salute and Bobby comforting Jackie indelibly etched in our minds.

And now, of course, half a century later, all three of them are gone, too.

I was just 17 on Nov. 22, 1963, but 10 years later I had a chance to revisit the JFK assassination up close and personally when my boss at the time, U.S. Senator Richard S. Schweiker (R-PA), headed up a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation of the assassination and the Warren Commission Report.

In my capacity as Mr. Schweiker’s press secretary, I worked closely with his chief investigator, investigative reporter Gaeton Fonzi, who was absolutely, positively convinced Oswald did not act alone in killing Kennedy. And those were strange days indeed, with clandestine meetings with spooky and/or weird characters like New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison lurking in the shadows of the assassination. One time Gaeton even had me use a code name for some meeting or other. It would be safe to say some of us got caught up in the cloak-and-dagger nature of the times.

Years later, I found myself referenced in Gaeton’s 1993 book “The Last Investigation,” as follows: “Then there was the matter of the ‘classified Government document’ that Frank Sturgis said I had given him. Actually it was an unclassified memorandum written in 1964 by Al Tarabochia, an investigator with the Senate Security Committee, then headed by Mississippi’s notorious Commie hunter, George Eastland. The memorandum concerned a rumored visit to Cuba by Jack Ruby. (As mentioned earlier, Sturgis himself had also given me a story about a Ruby visit to Cuba, this one a detailed account of a meeting to plot Kennedy’s assassination.) A copy of Tarabochia’s memorandum was in Schweiker’s working files and, one night, Sturgis called me and asked if he could have a copy, saying he had Tarabochia’ s permission. I called Troy Gustavson in Schweiker’s office, Troy got the OK from Tarabochia and a copy of the memo was sent to Sturgis directly from Schweiker’s office.”

Incredible as it may seem — you really can’t make this stuff up — Al Tarabochia was our next-door neighbor in Alexandria, Va., at the time.

After we left Washington for Long Island’s North Fork in 1977, Gaeton went to work for the House Select Committee on Assassinations and ended up being perhaps the committee’s most vocal critic after it issued a final report concluding that the president “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.” Of course it was a conspiracy, Gaeton said, so why then did the House, and the Senate before it, lack the resolve to fully pursue the truth?

That’s a question that we’re still asking ourselves 50 years later.

And then, of course, there are the larger questions of who really killed John F. Kennedy and why? And something tells me we still won’t know those answers another 50 years from now.

At the risk of belaboring a point, the fundraising drive to replace the football goal posts at Greenport High School’s Dorrie Jackson Memorial Field finds itself less than $3,000 shy of its goal of $8,000. Major gifts by Peconic Landing and Ratsey Construction of Greenport have been matched by a dozen or so smaller gifts, but another dozen or so are needed. So, if you’d like to reward the Porters for their outstanding 2013 season or honor the memory of legendary coach Dorrie Jackson, please consider making out a check to “Gridiron Parents/Porters Football” and mail it c/o Ratsey Construction, P.O. Box 398 Greenport, NY 11944.