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The Kennedy Assassination - Maine Man in the Thick of the Action
11/22/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Most people over a certain age can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing the moment President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago today. Very few of them, however, were as close to the action, and as involved in it, as Bill Lord. Born in Saco, Maine, Lord now lives in retirement in Kennebunkport. On Nov. 22, 1963, Lord was a 25-year-old reporter with ABC, assigned to support the coverage of Kennedy's trip to Texas. Tom Porter has more.

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Bill Lord 5

Bill Lord watches ABC News reports on the 1963 assassination from his home in Kennebunkport.

"And on the morning of the assassination I was at our local affiliate, WFAA in Dallas, and going over the tapes of the morning," Bill Lord recalls. "The president and Mrs. Kennedy had been in Fort Worth, and then flew to Dallas. And suddenly we heard over the police radio that there had been shots fired at the motorcade in Dealey Plaza. And I said to one of the newsmen in the station, 'Where is Dealey Plaza?' He said, 'Oh, it's just two blocks from here. So we ran to Dealey Plaza, grabbed a film cameraman. And when I got there, they were just then pointing to the textbook depository building, saying there was a man up there with a rifle."

ABC anchor: "We have this from Washington: Government sources now confirm that President Kennedy is dead."

As the network anchor informed the nation of their president's death, Bill Lord was among the first newsmen on the scene in Dealey Plaza, where the assassination took place.

"Today there would have been 3,000 iPhone cameras in Dealey Plaza with very good coverage of every incident," Lord says.

Bill-Lord

Bill Lord in 1963, reporting for ABC News on the Kennedy assassination.

In Lord's report for ABC that day, he interviews witnesses who were near the president. "This patrolman was so close to the president that, following the three shots, his uniform was spattered with blood," he reported.

"People were weeping in shock, they were angry, stunned, it was an horrendous scene," Lord says. "And the police were scurrying about trying to locate the shooter. They had already identified, through witnesses, that there had been someone up in the building - the textbook depository building. So that was the beginning of a very long week in Dallas."

ABC's White House correspondent Bob Clark soon returned to Washington with the press pool, as the story shifted away from Dallas back to the nation's capitol - or so people thought. Bill Lord was left behind to cover the aftermath of the shooting, including the arrest and and interrogation of suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

It was two days after Kennedy was killed that Lord found himself in the basement of Dallas police headquarters, witnessing the transfer of Oswald to the nearby county jail. It was considered a minor part of the story, but nevertheless an event that had to be covered, says Lord.

"So there I am tethered to a telephone, and I can see Oswald coming out of the elevator," Lord says, "and he goes out of my line of sight. And as he goes out of my line of sight, he's going toward the vehicle that's going to take him to Dealey Plaza and the county jail. And 'bang!' There's one shot."

And that bang was the sound of local nightclub owner Jack Ruby fatally shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Lord soon finds himself on the air, giving live updates to an ABC anchor, trying to describe unseen events happening less than 20 feet away.

Watching and listening to the footage 50 years later from his southern Maine home, Lord relives those stressful moments.

Bill Lord: "Here is the actual reporting from the phone booth."

Reporting audio: "Bob Walker WFAA-TV Dallas, Texas, interrupting. There's been a shooting at Dallas Police Station as Oswald is being transfered. For details, Bill Lord, ABC at City Hall. Bill..."

"I was concerned whether or not I was going to get this right because I was on the air live, and I can't see what's happening," Lord says. "And I figure, this is the end of my career - I'm going to say something that's not right."

Bill Lord reporting audio: "Policemen rushed to the scene, attempting to ascertain what had happened. Photographers were taking pictures."

"So I'm sort of padding, and finally my cameraman comes back and says 'Oswald was shot.' Then Ruby was brought back and then Oswald was brought back, so I ultimately felt comfortable in that I had dodged that bullet in terms of mis-reporting," Lord says.

Bill Lord admits he felt overwhelmed at the time, but kept those feelings under control as he acted for a while as the lone voice of ABC, calmly and professionally describing these extraordinary events.

Bill Lord reporting audio: "There is someone down on the floor. A detective put his hand up on his forehead, shaking it all, 'No, no.!'"

"As a newsman you want to be where history is made, but you never think you're going to encounter that type of history," Lord says. "I mean, that's history with a capital H."

See Bill Lord being interviewed on ABC Television hours after President Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, and other videos from ABC's coverage of the assassination.

Archival photo of Bill Lord:  Courtesy Bill Lord

Photo of Bill Lord today:  Tom Porter


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