(CBS News) Below is a transcript of "Face the Nation" on November 17, 2013, hosted by CBS News' Bob Schieffer. Guests include: Luci Baines Johnson Turpin, former Dallas Morning News reporter Hugh Aynesworth, former Associated Press correspondent Mike Cochran, former Chief Resident at Parkland Hospital Ronald Jones, Douglas Brinkley, Thurston Clarke, Larry Sabato, David Gergen and Peggy Noonan.
SCHIEFFER: And good morning again. We begin our broadcast with Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of Lyndon Johnson. She was a 16- year-old student at the National Cathedral School in Washington. She was in Spanish class that day when she got word that there had been trouble in Dallas.
Good morning and welcome.
JOHNSON: Good morning, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: Thank you so much.
JOHNSON: It's my honor to be here.
SCHIEFFER: You were in Spanish class.
JOHNSON: Yes. we had just finished lunch and walked back in to our Spanish class and had not settled into the class yet and a young girl came running in saying, "The president's been shot. The president's been shot."
And of course the entire class was in a state of a deer in headlights and trauma. And our teacher said, "Girls, girls, we know nothing about the truth of all of these rumors, and until we do, there will be Spanish."
You can imagine no one of course was listening to those instructions, but the instructions of the heart were overwhelming.
SCHIEFFER: What happened after you got this first word?
JOHNSON: Well, shortly afterwards, while there was a twitter in the room, the bells of the National Cathedral began to ring and ring and ring. And 400 girls, without saying a word, rose from their chairs and walked single file down into the gymnasium, which also served as our chapel.
Without any instruction, these 400 women, young women fell to their knees and listened to our headmistress tell us that the president indeed had been shot; his condition was considered very troubling. Governor Connally had been shot and his condition was unknown but considered very troubling. And they asked for all of our prayers.
But no one ever said a word about my father or mother. No one said a word, period. And then we were dismissed. And I wandered out into the quadrangle of the school in a daze. I looked over and saw that the Secret Service had very thoughtfully sent a man I knew, one of my father's detail, and I turned and ran in the other direction as if I could run away from the inevitable. And of course I wasn't capable of outrunning a Secret Service agent.
SCHIEFFER: But you were afraid he was coming with bad news?
JOHNSON: Of course I was. And he grabbed me, and he said, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Luci." And I just beat on his chest and said, "No, Gene, no."
And he said, "I'm sorry."
And no one even mentioned what "I'm sorry" or "No" was all about because the words were just unsayable.
SCHIEFFER: Well, when did you finally find out what had happened to your mom and dad and that they were safe?
JOHNSON: Well, I asked Gene. I said, "And Daddy and Mother?"
And he said, "They're OK."
SCHIEFFER: Did you ever see your mom and dad that night when they finally got back to Washington? I know it was very late.
JOHNSON: My -- my mother, yes. My mother came straight home and to comfort me momentarily but then to be all consumed by the work at hand. And my father went immediately to the executive office building and did not come in until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.
I did see him. We hugged briefly. And then for the days and weeks to come, it was, sort of, 24/7. There was so much that had to be attended to.
SCHIEFFER: Did he -- how did he seem? Was he different than you had come to know him?
JOHNSON: Strong and steady, determined to do the right thing, measured. When all the rest of the world was in a state of great trauma, I think he knew that indeed an evil person had killed our president but it was his responsibility to show the world that they couldn't kill our country. And so the continuity of serving the American people must go on, and that was, I think, his every moment.
SCHIEFFER: When did you finally move into the White House? And what must that have been like?
JOHNSON: Well, one night I heard my mother and father actually had raised voices. And that was just not in their temperament. And my mother was saying, "No, Lyndon, we just can't. We just can't."
And my father was saying empathetically but firmly, "Bird, we have to."
And she said, "Why, Lyndon?"
And he said, "We have to move on December 7th because that's the date that's convenient to Mrs. Kennedy and to the Secret Service and it is their convenience that we must honor."
And my mother said, "Any day but."
And he said, "I'm sorry."
And I was a post-War baby. I didn't understand that December 7th was a day that would live in infamy forever for their generation. November 22nd had become that day for me.
SCHIEFFER: What was it like to go through the funeral in Washington? What was it like to be there?
JOHNSON: Oh, every moment tore your heart out. You looked at the Kennedy family so close, so young, so vital, so noble, and this beautiful person, Jacqueline Kennedy, standing with a child in each hand, so terribly alone. And she leaned down and she mentioned something into her little boy's ear, and he left her hand and dutifully went over and gave that salute that the world will never forget.
And then at that point I don't think that there was a dry eye anywhere, not only in Washington, but the whole world was watching, and we were just consumed and in pain.
SCHIEFFER: As you think back on this 50 years later, what do you think the significance of that day was, and how did it affect you?
JOHNSON: Well, it was all so terribly personal. Obviously, the people that it affected most of all were Mrs. Kennedy and her family. And the rest of us were simply a backdrop, feeling their pain and wanting to comfort them and knowing that they couldn't.
But for me, it was a moment that changed my world for always. It was a day that will ring with pain and -- and respect for as long as I live.
SCHIEFFER: Luci Baines Johnson, thank you so much.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: We want to pause for a moment now to look back at the events of that day.
(UNKNOWN): Air Force One is coming to its final approach.
(UNKNOWN): At one of the largest airport greetings in Dallas history, Mrs. Kennedy was given a bouquet of roses.
(UNKNOWN): You've got some pretty large crowds down here and very few officers.
(UNKNOWN): It was variously estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 persons had turned out to greet President Kennedy.
(UNKNOWN): We're crossing downtown Dallas now.
(UNKNOWN): A pretty good crowd there.
(UNKNOWN): A big crowd, yes.
(UNKNOWN): As you can see, the welcome was enthusiastic and warm.
(UNKNOWN): Something is wrong here. Something is terribly wrong. (UNKNOWN): Looks like the president's been hit.
(UNKNOWN): 10-4. Parkland has been notified.
(UNKNOWN): I believe the president's head was practically blown off.
(UNKNOWN): President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas.
(UNKNOWN): President Kennedy has been given a blood transfusion at Parkland Hospital here in Dallas in an effort to save his life.
WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.
(UNKNOWN): This is a dark day in the history of America.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now these are scenes of a building across the street from the scene where President Kennedy was shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fifth floor of the book store company down here -- we found empty rifle holes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attention all squad for a suspect from (inaudible) Houston (ph) is reportedly to be unknown white male about 30, slender build, 5'10", 165 pounds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The suspect has been apprehended at the Texas Theater and en route to station. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Lee Henry Oswald (sic), the man charged with the murder of President Kennedy. But here is Oswald at the police station. He is saying there, "I did not do it. I did not do it."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital presumably he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th president of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do solemnly swear.
LYNDON JOHNSON, 36TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do solemnly swear...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That I will faithfully execute...
JOHNSON: That I will faithfully execute... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Johnson is flying back to Washington to actively take over the reins of government.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't need anything else out here. We don't need an ambulance or anything. It's just a matter of cleaning up now. (END VIDEOTAPE)
SCHIEFFER: Joining us now, Hugh Ainsworth who covered the assassination for the Dallas Morning News. He has a new book out called "November 22, 1963: Witness the History." Mike Cochran who covered for the Associated Press here in Dallas and in Fort Worth. And Dr. Ronald Jones now head of the surgery at Baylor University, he back then was chief surgical resident at Parkland Hospital.
Hugh, I want to start with you because you were one of the few people who saw President Kennedy being shot. You later were there when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and you also were there when Lee Harvey Oswald was captured at the Texas Theater.
What was this like when the shots rang out? You were just not far from where we are right now on Dealey Plaza.
HUGH AINSWORTH, AUTHOR: Within seconds, there was complete pandemonium. People were throwing their children down protecting them. People were running into each other. People were screaming, crying. It was just the most hectic thing you could imagine.
SCHIEFFER: And it was such a contrast because people had been so happy at all this. Mike Cochran, you were the AP guy in Fort Worth. You worked out of the newsroom of the Fort Worth Star Telegram where I was a reporter. It had gone very well in Fort Worth.
MIKE COCHRAN, REPORTER: It had gone beautifully. The people of Fort Worth, the welcome was just amazing. I was -- obviously adored the president and Jacqueline it was really heart warming and the people at the Hotel Texas both outside and inside were just seemed to be beside themselves. And it was really quite a moving episode.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I remember the reporters who were there and covered him, and you were there, you were kind of relieved when the story moved to Dallas.
COCHRAN: Yes. I left the Hotel Texas and went to the final to Carsville (ph) and phoned what would have been what was the final wheels up bulletin for President Kennedy when the plane took off on short hop to Dallas.
I walked back -- when I got back to the office, I walked through the newsroom of the Star Telegram and as I passed the news desk I kind of stopped and quipped. And I said, well, we got him out of town safely. Went in to my office, I sat down at my desk and just minutes later a copy boy screamed and torn some copy off the Associated Press printer and he screamed "the president's been shot."
SCHIEFFER: You know, Doctor, you were at parkland hospital there. We didn't know what had happened, what -- how did you feel when you got word of this?
DR. RONALD JONES, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY CHAIRMAN OF SURGERY: I just finished an operative procedure that morning and gone down to the cafeteria to have lunch and the page operator began to call people stat, respond immediately including the chief of surgery who I knew was out of town. And I called the operator and I said, why are you paging everyone stat? And she said, Dr. Jones, the president's been shot and they're bringing him to the emergency room and they need physicians right away.
And so Dr. Perry and I ran out the back of the cafeteria, down the hall, down steps to the emergency room and in to trauma room one. And Mrs. Kennedy was on the left of the door as I entered, the president was on a stretcher arms out on arm boards and I noticed a small hole in the front of the neck that I estimated to be about quarter of an inch. And I knew he had a large wound to the back of his head, the extent of which I wasn't sure, because we hadn't examined him that closely.
And Dr. Carico (ph) was trying to get an airway going and Dr. Perry decided he would do tracheotomy and I would do a cut down in the upper arm.
SCHIEFFER: And he was alive at that point but just barely.
JONES: Dr. Carico (ph) thought he had seen some attempts at respiration, whether that was true or not a neurologic response I don't know. When I saw him he was motionless, his eyes were open, he was staring and I never saw any evidence of life as such, but nevertheless we decided to try to do something rather than do nothing because occasionally you can get somebody brought back.
But we didn't know the extent of that brain injury at that time.
SCHIEFFER: All right. We're going to take a break here. And we're going to come back and talk about what happened after that in a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the basement -- Oswald has been shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here comes Oswald. He is ashen and unconscious.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lee Harvey Oswald the man who Dallas police say killed President Kennedy himself is dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIEFFER: Now Hugh Ainsworth, you had been there in Dealey Plaza saw this happen. And then you were in the police station that morning when Oswald was shot. Tell us a little bit about what that was like.
AINSWORTH: You know, I was somewhat concerned, because he had been many death threats through the night and when I got up and found out they had moved him I just -- I was amazed. I grabbed my wife I said we have to get down there. So we ran like the devil for the police station.
I got in just a very few minutes before they brought him out.
Now, the -- I did not see Ruby. I was probably three or four feet people behind. But all of a sudden we heard this pop and it was almost like the first day, two days later because everyone went wild. And there were so many international reporters there, they were speaking different languages and pushing and shoving and you really had this huge cameras in those days. And everybody was getting bumped around.
But it was a good while before we knew it was Ruby.
SCHIEFFER: you had known Jack Ruby, did you not -- or knew of him?
AINSWORTH: I had known him about three years.
SCHIEFFER: Why do you think he did it?
AINSWORTH: I think he wanted to be somebody. He was quite a show off. He was not a nice man. He had a huge temper. And I'd seen him at the newspaper every week, couple of times. He was a groupie for a newsmen and cops.
SCHIEFFER: Mike, what happened. You were back in Fort Worth. You had no idea of coming to Dallas, did you?
COCHRAN: Not in the beginning. But after the -- we heard the president had been shot, well my wife had dropped me off after we'd gone to Carsville (ph) -- so I didn't have a car, but I jumped in with "Star Telegram" writers and photographers and just headed over the Parkland.
SCHIEFFER: But the most amazing thing that happened to you was the burial of Lee Harvey Oswald where you actually became a pallbearer as it were in that funeral, you and three reporters from the Star Telegram. Tell us how that happened.
COCHRAN: Well, it really -- it was at Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth. And of course I was based in Fort Worth. And so I assigned to cover it. And we'd gotten the tip the night before. I was in the Dallas -- in the Dallas bureau the night before after Oswald had been killed. And -- but we got a tip that there would be the funeral in Fort Worth the next day.
And so when I showed up of course there was nobody -- we were early, they delivered the casket, the police escort delivered the casket about 1:30. And -- but as the day went on there were no mourners. There's...
And so how did it happen? The funeral home operator said somebody has got to help us get this casket out of the hearse. COCHRAN: Well, they -- we were waiting. One of the strangest things at about 3:00 somewhere around 3:00 a rumor started that the casket was empty, that there was nobody in that casket and if there was anybody in that casket it was not Lee Harvey Oswald.
And so it -- it caused such a stir that the police chief Cato Hightower (ph) and couple of officers went in to the little chapel, checked, came back out assured us that Lee Oswald was in there.
SCHIEFFER: You and the reporters carried the casket out to the grave site.
COCHRAN: That's right.
SCHIEFFER: And doctor, let me ask you, you were called back to the emergency room for the -- when they brought Lee Oswald. Was he alive when he got there?
JONES: He was alive when he got there. There were four of us that got to trauma room two where Governor Connally had been and he did have a heartbeat. And he had been shot in the left chest and had major vascular injuries. As Jack Ruby shot him he turned like this and that caused a lot of more injuries that if he had taken the shot straight on.
But same thing, I put a -- did a cut down in the upper arm just as I had in the president and inserted a chest tube. And we had him to surgery within about ten minutes after he came to the emergency room. And he lived almost an hour and 20 minutes before he expired on the table.
SCHIEFFER: But he said nothing.
JONES: He said nothing. He was unconscious, much as the president looked, but he had a heartbeat and was alive when he came to the emergency room.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us this morning. And we'll be back in a moment.
SCHIEFFER: CBS News will continue our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination all this week across all platforms.
On the actual anniversary at 1:40 eastern time, cbsnews.com will stream the 1963 cbs news coverage of the assassination in real-time from the moment we went on the air until Walter Cronkite signed off some four days later.
In addition to reports throughout the week, Scott Pelley will anchor the evening news from Dealey Plaza Friday.
We'll be back in a minute.
SCHIEFFER: Welcome back to Face the Nation.
Joining us now, Thursten Clarke, the author of "JFK's Last 100 Days." CBS News contributor Douglas Brinkley and the University of Virginia's Center for Politics Larry Sabato.
Doug Brinkley, beyond this tragedy why was this such an important anniversary for America?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CBS NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think a lot of people are remembering where they were, what I did that day. This was brought to us live on television. You were playing clips of Walter Cronkite. Well, everybody was turning in to Cronkite. What's going on. Not just John F. Kennedy died, but who did it? Then who is Lee Harvey Oswald, who is Jackie Ruby? Why is Jackie Kennedy still wearing a pink Chanel suit with blood? Where is Lyndon Johnson? On and on and on for four days. Everybody kind of tuned in.
And there's a line by Bob Dylan, who once said people don't live or die; people just float. Most people live pretty flatline lives. But when Kennedy was killed, they weren't -- they weren't floating anymore. It was like real-time adrenaline for the whole country.
SCHIEFFER: You know, those of us who were here and covered this story, I think a part that is not really understood today is that, beyond this tragedy that we saw unfolding on television -- and we'd never seen anything like this before.
Hanging over all this, it was like we all felt on 9/11; we didn't know what it meant. We didn't know if this was the beginning of World War III; we were a year away from the Cuban missile crisis.
It was just this profound, "I can't understand this. Why is this happening?"
And I think in a sense that America was never quite the same as it was after that day.
Thurston Clarke, your book focuses so much on Kennedy's last 100 days, why do you think that period was so important?
THURSTON CLARKE, AUTHOR OF "KENNEDY'S LAST 100 DAYS,": Because finally in that period he was addressing the two great threats to our nation, a nuclear war and racial conflict.
You know, at the inauguration Robert Frost wrote a poem that he couldn't deliver because of the glare from the sun. The last words were, "A golden age of poetry and power, of which this noonday is the beginning hour."
There was poetry in Kennedy's first two years but he didn't marry poetry to power until finally in June he gave two very important speeches: the first American University speech, proposing a test ban treaty; the second speech about race in which he announced he was finally sending a civil rights bill to Congress.
SCHIEFFER: Yes, because race had not been all that important to him or at least publicly; he did not mention it in his inauguration address. He was against James Meredith enrolling at Ole Miss; he urged him not to do it. He was against the March on Washington sponsored by Martin Luther King.
CLARKE: He was originally against it because the march was going to be at the Capitol and he was afraid it would make it seem as if they were trying to intimidate Congress. So he and Bobby Kennedy were -- through negotiations they moved it to -- down to the Lincoln Memorial.
But what you said is right; Kennedy was very disappointing to the civil rights leaders on civil rights. But when he gave this marvelous speech on the 11th, at that time, Martin Luther King turned to a companion and said, "Can you believe that white man not only stood up to the plate, he hit it over the ballpark -- out of the ballpark?"
SCHIEFFER: And, Larry, one of the nuggets in your new book that I found so interesting, the story of how Jackie Kennedy called the civil war historian James Robertson the night of the assassination to ask for help putting together her husband's funeral.
LARRY SABATO, AUTHOR OF "THE KENNEDY HALF CENTURY": It really impressed me enormously when I first heard this and I decided to stress it in "The Kennedy Half Century," because I think one of the less well-known stories and less told stories is how Jackie Kennedy helped the country get through this.
And somehow in the midst of her shock and grief, even on the flight back from Dallas, she was already planning to have a Lincoln- esque funeral for her husband and to create the myth of Camelot. She was thinking about his legacy.
She -- when she was told about Lee Harvey Oswald, she said, "He didn't even have the ability, the opportunity to die for civil rights; it had to be some silly little Communist." She wanted to convert his legacy into something bigger, and she did.
SCHIEFFER: But she actually tried to replicate in the White House how it had looked when Lincoln's casket had been brought --
SABATO: Yes. That historian was called by the White House and told to go over to the Library of Congress and get all the information he could about Lincoln's funeral.
The first thing he said was, "In the meantime you get all the black bunting you can find."
He went over to the Library of Congress; they didn't have the lights on. They couldn't find the light switches. They used flashlights and they found old "Harper's Weekly" from 1865. He dashed over to the White House, he got there in a sea of black bunting with a team of carpenters already ready to construct the Lincoln East Room affair just as it had been in 1865.
SCHIEFFER: And Doug, you of course wrote the wonderful biography of Walter Cronkite. This was a day that not only changed the country, it changed television. It changed the way we get information. Up until this point, most people got their news from print and this -- nothing like this had ever happened before.
BRINKLEY: No, in the '50s, you had the Kefauver hearings being brought on TV; well, that's just Congress. It's sausage-making and certainly John Glenn's triple orbit started bringing people into special effects television.
But bringing a real-life trauma like this, hour after hour after hour, with all those poignant moments, including the young Kennedy children there at Arlington National Cemetery, and Jackie Kennedy looking so almost madonna-like or almost at that -- every time you see that photo of her with the veil, it's just the most gripping drama.
And as you mentioned, after that, TV becomes -- Vietnam becomes the television war. and Watergate is brought on TV and we're all turned into these big events and followed them through. The Kennedy assassination began that.
SCHIEFFER: As horrible as it was, I mean, I think what -- it hit people even harder because they had come to believe, did they not, Thurston, that they knew the Kennedys better than they'd known any of his predecessors simply because of television.
CLARKE: Well, exactly. And Kennedy gave a televised, live televised news conference on average every 16 days. It's extraordinary. Now if you compare it to what happened since.
The other thing is that, again and again, you read people saying, I knew him as if he was my brother, as if he was my son. Charles de Gaulle said afterwards, they're crying all over France as if he was a Frenchman, a member of their families. I mean, de Gaulle was stunned by this reaction.
SCHIEFFER: And he was --and still in my view -- was the best there ever was at television and knowing how to use it and how to communicate on television.
SABATO: All the presidents try to imitate John F. Kennedy, but they can't. He had a special magic, a special combination of rhetorical ability, the ability to inspire and also self-deprecating humor, which some of our presidents really ought to acquire.
CLARKE: But you know, the interesting thing is he didn't like television that much. When he came to the White House, he had all of the sets pulled out and he left one with rabbit ears so Caroline could watch "Lassie."
SCHIEFFER: I never knew that. Why do you think it is -- and I'll put the question to all three of you -- today, 61 percent of the American people still believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. I think the evidence is overwhelming that he did. I've always tried to keep an open mind about these various conspiracy theories.
But as yet no one has shown me evidence to convince me that he -- that there was anybody else connected.
Why do you think that is, Larry?
SABATO: People looked at this as one of the most terrible things that had ever happened in American history; it was. It was so big, how could you balance it with a loser, a total loser, who had failed at everything, as Lee Harvey Oswald had?
There had to be more meaning in it. And they tried to invest it with meaning by saying, it's the CIA, it's the anti-Castro Cubans, it's LBJ. It's this one. It's that one.
But as you say, you have to go by the evidence and we're still waiting for evidence beyond that of Lee Harvey Oswald, who clearly was guilty.
SCHIEFFER: There's no question that the administration was using every means they could; they wanted to kill Castro and they were sending sabotage missions in there.
Castro knew about that. But again there is no evidence that he ever acted on it. In fact he later said in interview -- you know, I would always want a second source when I hear something from Castro.
But he said, I'm smarter than that, basically. He said they would have obliterated this island if I had done something like that.
BRINKLEY: Look, it's clear Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy. And you ask why people wonder; I interviewed Gerald Ford at Rancho Mirage once for a book, and I was asking him about NATO and the fall of Saigon and his presidency.
And he said, come here. He said, look at this, and it was a little stack like this.
He said, this is my incoming about my presidency. Now you see this stack, it was like towering, he said that was about me and the Warren Commission and why I invented a magic bullet.
And you know, we -- I think it's on the Warren Commission report, I think it was at times sloppy, it was rushed, but it was right in the end. And maybe on this 50th anniversary we need to thank people, the legacies of Gerald Ford and John McCloy and Arlen Specter and people that worked so hard on those multiple volumes, because they, I think, nailed the story.
SCHIEFFER: What do you think, Thurston, that John Kennedy's real legacy is? CLARKE: Oh, first of all that he was the first Catholic elected president. I mean, he kicked open the door; after him came whole bunch of other minorities. He appointed the first Polish American to his Cabinet, John Gronouski.
He wrote a book about immigration called "A Nation of Immigrants," very important to him.
The other is, of course, the Cuban missile crisis. If Kennedy hadn't been president, I don't -- I wonder if we'd be sitting here right now, if there would be a Dallas. I mean, his role in that was absolutely crucial, and he realized it, too. Afterwards, at a press conference, you know, he'd been the only one who didn't want to have a retaliatory strike. At a press conference afterwards he refers to Abraham Lincoln asked his Cabinet to vote. Lincoln's Cabinet all -- they say, "Twelve ayes." Lincoln says, "I vote nay. The nays win."
That had to be on his mind.
SCHIEFFER: Thank you all very much on this very special weekend in American history. We'll be back in one minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Everything we saw him do seemed to betray a huge enjoyment of life. He seemed to grasp from the beginning that life is one fast-moving train and you have to jump aboard and hold on to your hat and relish the sweep of the wind as it rushes by. You have to enjoy the journey. It's unthinkable not to. I think that's how his country remembers him, in his joy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIEFFER: We're back now with our friends Peggy Noonan, the columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and Harvard University's David Gergen, both of whom worked for Ronald Reagan. David also worked, of course, for President Clinton.
Now, Peggy, you were a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. I know that presidents write every word of every speech, but that was a particularly eloquent thing there. Did you, maybe, help him draft it, work with him a little?
NOONAN: I -- I worked with him on that. That was in 1985, June of '85. The president and Mrs. Reagan were very fond of Jackie Kennedy and her children, and they came to him personally and said, "We're having a fundraiser for this library that we're starting. Could you help us?"
And the JFK Library, at that point, had not been fully endowed. And the Reagans, Ronald and Nancy Reagan thought, "That's history. That's not partisan. That's not anything like that. Let's help them be a repository for history."
So, very graciously, the president and the first lady went over to Ted Kennedy's house in McLean, Virginia, and spoke about the nature and personality and character of this man Ronald Reagan had politically opposed and yet, on a personal level, was appreciating very deeply.
And it was very touching. It was nice. It was like the old days where you could be nice to the other side.
SCHIEFFER: I'll tell you, there is one kind of bipartisan thing in recent history, isn't there, David, and that is that every president wants to, sort of, be like Jack Kennedy in a way?
GERGEN: Absolutely. Yeah...
SCHIEFFER: And borrow from him?
GERGEN: Absolutely. After Lincoln died, there was -- historians wrote that every president wanted to get right with Lincoln; they wanted to walk in his footsteps and be in the mantle of Lincoln. And that happened after John F. Kennedy.
You know, Larry Sabato's book -- you just had him on as a guest here -- is very much about every president drew upon Kennedy, especially Bill Clinton.
You know, remember that famous scene, when Kennedy (sic) was young, came to the White House, and he, sort of, reached out and touched the hand of God. And he was always influenced by it and drew heavily upon it in his rhetoric and in his actions.
SCHIEFFER: What do you -- I'd -- just the same question to both of you. What do you think this anniversary means for the country?
I think it's very important for people who were not alive when this happened to understand as much as they can about this. What is it that you find most important, Peggy?
NOONAN: Well, it is the 50th anniversary. This may be the last time we remember this shattering historical event, the last time we remember it on this level. You know, the 60th and 70th won't be like this, and so many people who can talk about it will have left.
Look, this was a moment that, for two generations of Americans, was -- was quite something that entered their minds and their imaginations forever. For the baby boomers of America, the biggest generation in U.S. history, they watched it live on this new thing called TV.
I was a baby boomer. I can remember when we got our first TV, just about 1959. So it was just amazing to have it -- this shattering event enter your living room and enter your head.
For our parents, the greatest generation, Jack Kennedy's generation, it was losing one of their own, one who had fought World War II with them. And they thought very much, as Mary McGrory, whom you knew, once had a conversation with Pat Moynihan in which Mary, waiting on line to see John Kennedy's casket at the Capitol -- she looked at Pat Moynihan and she said, "What are we doing at Jack Kennedy's funeral? I can't believe it. We will never laugh again."
And Pat Moynihan said, "We'll laugh again, but we'll never be young again."
And so that was another generation that was just hit by this historical event.
GERGEN: Yeah. You said last night on the special, Bob, that it was a loss of innocence. And I think that captures it absolutely right. For so many people, America seemed to be at peace with the world. We were prospering. We had this, sort of, sense that we could go anywhere and do anything.
And we had then entered -- that was the dawn of a new age. It was a tumultuous period that followed. There was a real sense -- you know, we often quoted Yeats in the '60S and '70s about "Things fall apart. The center cannot hold." It was from his poem "The Second Coming" after the -- World War I.
It was also something -- I think we were robbed of a sense of the future. It was very different from the Lincoln assassination when there was an equal amount of grief, but there was a sense, when Lincoln died, that his work was completed by April of 1865. The war was basically over, whereas with Kennedy, it was just beginning. And there was a sense that somehow this "silly little Communist," as Jackie Kennedy called him, had stolen their future.
SCHIEFFER: You know, Luci Johnson, when I talked to her, and she said, talking to her after we did the part on camera, she said, over and over, her father kept saying "I've got to show 'em; we've got to show 'em they killed our president, but they haven't killed our country."
Everything he did, Lyndon Johnson was concerned about how it would be viewed by Khrushchev and the Soviets. Because they didn't know at that point what this was all about. And I think, while it was one of the most tragic periods in our history, it was also a time that we can all be proud of because, when Lyndon Johnson stepped off that airplane, he was in command. And the president of the United States had been shot, but there was another president there, and the Constitution once again had held.
NOONAN: Yeah, we had to prove we had it all together. And he did. LBJ understood not only is the world watching, American young people are watching. People are anxious. We hadn't been through a moment like this in a very, very long time. And he knew that the strength of this system, the continuity of the presidency, the seamless continuity of our politics, everybody must be reminded that continues. We're going to grieve; we're going to mark this tragedy, but nothing changes here. America goes on. SCHIEFFER: David, why do you think so many people still cannot accept the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone?
GERGEN: Well, I think that the shooting really opened this new age of skepticism, too, and we're very doubtful of what we're told by public authorities. Of course that's gotten much worse in recent years. And we're going through a particularly acute period of that right now.
And I think that the fact that Jack Ruby got in there and was able to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald so easily -- we forget; you were here, Bob. You know, you were -- you understood the Dallas-Fort Worth culture. For the country to see Ruby get in there and do that, it was as if he's trying to silence him. And I think that made a big -- big...
SCHIEFFER: It's very hard for people to understand now that that's just, sort of, how it was in those days. Basically, if you look like you belong some place, you could get in. That's why I always wore a snap-brim hat as a police reporter for the Star-Telegram. If people wanted to assume I was a detective, we let them assume that.
And -- and you could do that in those days.
Well, I want to thank both of you so much.
GERGEN: One last thing, Bob. I've just -- a poll three years ago asked Americans, "Who do you think -- if there's any president put on Mount Rushmore, who should it be?" Fifty years later, it's Jack Kennedy, number one.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, thank you all so much for being with us today, and...
NOONAN: Thank you, Bob. It was a privilege to be here.
GERGEN: Yes, it was.
SCHIEFFER: I'll have some final thoughts in a minute.
SCHIEFFER: When I arrived in Argentina in 1983 to cover the war with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands, I was told Argentina had no reliable history. Each of the country's leaders had rewritten history to play up his accomplishments and play down or eliminate whatever his predecessor had accomplished, a frequent habit of totalitarian leaders.
In the days after Oswald shot the president, the first reaction of many in Dallas was to bulldoze this building as if that might somehow erase the whole thing and the fact that it had happened here. Instead, community leaders decided to make it into a museum and a center for scholarship about one of America's most terrible weekends. They recognized that a democracy requires an accurate history without which we cannot understand how we came to be what we are. There had been threats of demonstrations and even violence from scattered right-wing hate groups before Kennedy came to Dallas, but his reception in every city, including Dallas, was overwhelmingly friendly.
The man who shot him was anything but a right-wing zealot. He was an itinerant loner, a loser and a failure who had defected to the Soviet Union. He was not from Dallas or of Dallas, yet for years, in the minds of many, it was somehow Dallas's fault. It was not. And the Sixth Floor museum at Dealey Plaza has helped us understand that. We may never understand why Oswald did it, but the assassination could have happened in any city in America. Back in a minute.
SCHIEFFER: Well, that's it for us today. We'll be back in Washington next Sunday. We want to thank you for watching this special edition of "Face the Nation" marking the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. We also want to give a big thank you to Dallas County, the city of Dallas and everyone here at the Sixth Floor museum. We'll see you next week.