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November 22, 2013

JFK's last day: How the tragic event unfolded

It’s just before 8 a.m. Friday, Nov. 22, 1963.

At the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, Secret Service agent Clint Hill was walking toward Room 850, where President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, were staying in a suite that locals had specially decorated. They had lent art treasures — 16 originals by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and others — and hung them on the walls in welcome.

Emerging from the suite, Kennedy called out, “Good morning,” to Hill, whom he knew well as the agent who’d been protecting the first lady for three years.

And it did feel like a good morning, Hill said in an interview. A large, friendly crowd was gathering outside, despite the drizzle, for a speech — Kennedy’s first event of a packed day. Next was a breakfast speech inside the hotel, where another crowd erupted when the first lady entered.

“Everybody was just stunned by her. And of course everybody in the world would later see the pink outfit she was wearing,” recalls Associated Press writer Mike Cochran, who stayed with the couple as they headed to the Fort Worth airport for the hop to Dallas and a motorcade to a planned luncheon speech.

Skies had cleared by the time Air Force One touched down at Dallas’ Love Field, allowing the bubble top to be removed from the dark blue Lincoln that would carry the president through downtown.

It was a few minutes before noon.

Agents riding in the Secret Service vehicle just behind the president scanned the jubilant throngs, which thickened as the motorcade neared downtown. At one point, the cars slowed, then halted for a group of students.

“There was a banner: ‘Mr. President, please stop and shake our hands,’” Hill says. “Whenever that happened, we knew pretty well he was going to stop.”

Nancy White reached out from the crowd. “He shook my hand,” she says, amazement still in her voice.

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