By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
An Enid man was on the scene in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago.
Jerry Kunkel, a 1957 graduate of Enid High School, was working as a news reporter for radio station KBOX in Dallas when Kennedy was assassinated. He was one of the first to announce Kennedy had died.
Kunkel had worked a morning shift from 9 a.m. until noon Nov. 22, 1963, and went to lunch with the station sales manager. While they were eating lunch, at about 12:35 p.m., Kunkel received a call at the restaurant that Kennedy had been shot and was believed to be dead. He went to Parkland Hospital where people were crowding around the entrance.
Kunkel was always dressed well in those days and said people thought he was a Secret Service agent. He walked into the hospital and went down a hallway, where a group of agents pulled guns on him and told him to get out. He retreated to the lobby and discovered that was the hallway where Gov. John Connally was located. Connally also was wounded in the assassination attempt.
Shortly afterward, Kunkel encountered a man in the men’s room at the hospital who identified himself as Dr. M.T. Jenkins, head of anesthesiology at Parkland Hospital.
“I asked him if the president was dead, and he said, ‘Oh yes,’” Kunkel said.
Jenkins said he was in the trauma room where Kennedy was taken and was standing at his head, with it tilted up. Kennedy actually was dead when he was brought into the hospital. Doctors did not know how seriously the wound was until they turned him over.
At that time, a Secret Service agent told first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who was in the trauma room, that the president was dead. She would not allow anyone to pronounce Kennedy dead until a priest had performed last rites.
Doctors located a hospital priest, who performed last rites, and Kennedy’s death was announced at about 1 p.m.
A presidential press aide at Parkland Hospital later made the official announcement that Kennedy had died.
“We scooped the story by 16 minutes,” Kunkel said.
As soon as Kunkel heard the announcement of Kennedy’s death, he ran to a telephone down the hall and called his radio station to inform them.
Kunkel said one incident that occurred immediately after the pronouncement was the Dallas County coroner came into the trauma room and announced the law stated that since Kennedy had been shot in Dallas County, the autopsy must be performed there. After a short argument, in which the coroner was backed up by the local justice of the peace, a Secret Service agent called Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“Johnson said the plane was not leaving until Mrs. Kennedy and the body of the president were on board. He told them to bring Kennedy to the plane even if they had to shoot the coroner,” Kunkel said.
The body was taken downstairs and loaded into an ambulance, but the Secret Service drove it. The ambulance took back roads and drove through a fence at Love Field to get to the plane without being noticed.
“Jackie was with the body the whole time,” Kunkel said.
Kunkel’s news director told him to take the station’s mobile unit to the Dallas Police Department.
“He said, ‘Maybe you should hang around the restroom — that seems to work for you,’” he said.
Kunkel took the KBOX mobile unit to Dallas Police headquarters. As he drove to the police department, he passed the Texas Theatre, where Lee Harvey Oswald was captured.
Later, his station learned about the Dallas police bringing Oswald into the press room for a news conference. Kunkel took the best tape recorder and went to the assembly room. While at the police department, he and another reporter, Sam Pate, talked to nightclub operator Jack Ruby, who was there. Ruby later killed Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police Department.
“Ruby was a wannabe. He wanted to be around media and police and politicians,” Kunkel said.
They also went to the Carousel Club, which Ruby owned, where they talked to Ruby. Ruby asked for the hotline number for another radio station in Oak Cliff, KLIF, and the KBOX number, and wrote them down. Later, when Ruby was captured, he had Kunkel’s name and the radio station number in his pocket. The FBI came to interview Kunkel and the report became part of the Warren Commission report, he said.
“The conversation with Ruby lasted less than five minutes, and he did not seem particularly upset about the assassination,” he said.
On Sunday morning, he again was at the Dallas Police Department. All radio stations were playing somber music, he recalls. Dallas police were transferring Oswald to the Dallas County Jail. They backed an armored car into the garage to transport him. Later, they backed two unmarked cars into the garage behind the armored car.
Police decided to put Oswald into one of the unmarked cars and lay him crosswise on the floor, so he could not be seen. That way, anyone who thought about disturbing the motorcade would think Oswald was in the armored car.
Another KBOX reporter was covering the incident at the garage when Ruby shot and mortally wounded Oswald. Kunkel said KBOX had the entire shooting live on the air.
Today, 50 years later, Kunkel has a thick file of reports of the shooting. He is the only member of the six-person newsroom at KBOX radio still alive. There were about 250 media members covering those events, and only about 59 of those are still alive, he said.