Sunday, July 21, 2013

Aboard the Cabinet Plane 86972

From The Kennedy Presidency An Oral History of The Era
by Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald S. Strober

[Note This book is an updated edition of “Let Us Begin Anew:” An Oral History of the Kennedy Presidency by the same authors]

page 450

We took off from Honolulu in one of the presidential aircraft and were several hundred miles west of there.

Several cabinet secretaries were with us, as was Pierre Salinger. I had been in the press, so I knew by the sound that there was a flash on the news ticker. I walked toward the communications area and the  sergeant had a piece of wire copy in his hand. He said, “The secretary [Rusk] will have to see this.”....

It was a flash saying: “Dallas. President Kennedy shot.” Then a bulletin. “Perhaps shot fatally.” We  took it to Rusk and he asked me to bring the Cabinet secretaries to his compartment. We immediately got on the phone with the White House Situation Room. They confirmed that something had happened and that the president had been rushed to the hospital. Rusk got on the public address system and told  everybody we had some bad unclear news: President Kennedy had been wounded and we were going to  turn back.

Salinger got in touch with the White House and used his code name. He said "This is Wayside. 

What word do you have on Lancer?” At the other end the fellow said "Lancer is dead. Rusk then went back on the PA system and said "I am sorry to have to bring you this grievous news, but President Kennedy has been killed. We now have a new president. May God bless our President and the United States of America.

page 449

PIERRE SALINGER “I was trying to find out what had happened. When we first got the news, we were not getting the information that he was dead but that he had been shot. That is why Rusk asked me to establish communication between the plane and the White House; there was a lot of confusion. When  we got the news that the president was dead, there was some discussion on the plane as to who could be responsible. Rusk thought it might be an international affair, and we sent a message to all U.S. Embassies to see if they could find out anything.

The partial interview below is taken from
C-SPAN Booknotes
Pierre Salinger: P.S., A Memoir
Program Air Date: November 12, 1995
For more information about this program, visit

LAMB: How many times in your life have you been asked where you were the
night or the day that John F. Kennedy was shot?

SALINGER: Very often. A lot of people thought that I was with John F. Kennedy when he was shot, and they were always surprised to discover that I was on a plane flying with six members of his Cabinet and going to Tokyo. I mean, the reason the president was sending me to Tokyo was -- it was an economic conference, but he wanted me to start working on a visit he was going to take in February of 1964, the first American president to visit Japan after the end of World War II. That's why I was on the trip. But we were only about three hours out of Honolulu, where we had spent a couple of days looking into the Vietnam issue, when suddenly we discovered that he had been shot. And we turned around. We didn't know he'd been killed, but we heard he was shot. And I was asked by Dean Rusk, who was then secretary of State, to open up the line to the White House so that we could have specific information as rapidly as possible. Well, it was about a half-hour after we turned around that we actually got the news that President Kennedy was dead.

LAMB: How many Cabinet officers were with you?

SALINGER: Six Cabinet officers: There was Rusk; there was McNamara; there was, well, I have all of them in the book, but they were coming for this economic conference, and that's why I was accompanying them.

LAMB: What happened after you got back?

SALINGER: Well, that was a long, long flight, as you know. We stopped in Honolulu. We had to put on the oil in this plane, then we flew. It was about 11 hours. We arrived here in Washington around 1:00 in the morning, went to the White House. It was about, I think, 2:30 or 3 in the morning that John Kennedy's body arrived, went into the West Wing. And then there was a Mass that I attended. And Jackie came up to me afterwards and put her arm around my shoulder and said, "Pierre, you know, you've just had a terrible day. I know, so why don't you spend the night here in the White House?" I mean, I had never spent the night in the White House in my life.

Anyway, I went upstairs with Larry O'Brien and Ken O'Donnell, and we spoke probably right up till about 6:30, 7:00 in the morning and then went to bed. And about 15 minutes later the phone rang, and it was the secretary at the White House who said, "Oh, Mr. Salinger, the president wants to speak to you." I must say, I had a little brain thing saying, "Oh, my God, I got a terrible -- I've had a terrible dream." But then I hear this voice saying, "Pierre, this is Lyndon Johnson," and he was the new president. 

1 comment:

  1. Also on the plane was Edward K. Thompson, LIFE Mag managing editor & his wife Lee Eitongon. She told me this in a 6 hour 1999 interview. Ed Thompson was the man in control of the backyard photo of LHO holding a rifle at his home in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas.