Just in time for the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, National Geographic has released an incredible, three-part series, titled "JFK: One Day in America." With eyewitness accounts, spectacular footage and detailed context, viewers get a full picture of what really happened the day our nation lost a giant: November 22, 1963.
Episode one focuses on the assassination itself - the days and hours leading up to the attack in broad Dallas daylight. Interviews with Secret Service agents assigned to the first family offer unprecedented insight and access. We see the heartache the First Lady was already experiencing, having recently buried their infant son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who passed away August 9, 1963, at just 39 hours old, following complications of hyaline membrane disease. Seeing the couple together, interacting at a public breakfast mere hours before the president's death, offers such a poignant glimpse at the couple. The video footage of their family from vacations - sailing, snuggling, experiencing so much joy - reminds the viewers this wasn't just a political figure -- John F. Kennedy was a beloved father, husband and family man.
Viewer Terry Truesdell was in grammar school when President Kennedy was shot. "I'll never forget. I was in sixth grade," he said. "I remember I was walking outside and the teachers all scurried us into the rooms. Usually, everyone was happy, but everyone seemed really anxious. They sat us down. The superintendent came in and told us he had an announcement. He told us the president had been shot. A couple of girls started crying. We were all in shock. He said there was nothing we could do about it, but to go home and be with our families. I went home and watched it with my mom and dad; no one really said much. Those kind of things just didn't happen then. People didn't get murdered; guns were not an issue. I grew up in South Dakota and people had guns in the back of their pickups for hunting, but you never, ever thought about someone using one to kill someone else."
Episode two covers the manhunt - establishing who did it and then, how to find him. This episode includes an interview with the man who drove Lee Harvey Oswald (and the gun he used, disguised as a package of curtain rods) to work that day - Wesley Buell Frazier. Frazier was a teenager at the time, and to him, it seemed like every other day they went to work together, although Oswald walked in by himself. The guilt and unanswered questions Frazier carries to this day transcend through the camera - you can feel how it haunts him.
The third and final episode, titled "Revenge" details Jack Ruby's vigilante justice in killing Oswald. The video footage is unbelievable, and again, viewers are presented with eyewitness accounts. While Truesdell didn't find anything in the series to be new information, watching the handling of Oswald was still surprising. "How they took Oswald into public... walking him through the crowds of people, letting the press interview him - you'd never see that happen anymore. And for people who didn't live in that time, it's hard to understand how that happened. But it was just such a rare occurrence. How many times have presidents been assassinated? There are events in American history that all people should know and understand what happened. The series was very factual - it was an absolutely great program."
For someone who didn't live through the Kennedy assassination (Terry Truesdell is actually my dad!), I found the series to be brilliantly done. While many of the details of the day are things most Americans know (it happened along a parade route in an iconic convertible, Lee Harvey Oswald fired from the Texas Book Depository, Jack Ruby later killed Oswald as he was being transferred to a different location, etc.), I also learned so much about the first family, the police officer (J.D. Tipitt) who was killed during the manhunt, and more about who Jack Ruby was (a nightclub owner who had ties to the PD and the press). I was shocked by the thousands of people lining the streets in anticipation of JFK's visit to Texas, and the millions more who mourned his death.
The series is full of insight, and a beautiful, haunting glimpse into what America used to be - before that day in November 1963 when she lost her innocence - and what we should aspire to be again: united.
Watch JFK: One Day in America on National Geographic or Disney+.