Remembering JFK 50 Years Later



Today is, of course, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I wasn't alive on that horrible day in Dallas, but I've visited the site recently, when living in the DFW area, and I know there's still a bit of a lingering sense of community shame that this happened there.

I recently just learned that JFK spoke on 11/21/63 in my current home of San Antonio, at the then-Kelly Air Force Base (the site where my wife now works… they have a display commemorating that).

Probably most interesting was my chance, back in 2006, to do a Lean assessment for a department at Parkland Hospital, where JFK was taken (and where Lee Harvey Oswald and, later, Jack Ruby both died). I had some free time and I stumbled across a display case in a basement hallway of the hospital.

The case held some artifacts (clothing from doctors and nurses) from 11/22/63 and honored those who worked on that day, even though JFK was beyond saving through no fault of theirs.

Items from the JFK's treatment room are “locked away” now, as this news report describes, after the trauma room was demolished as part of a hospital expansion. Dallas County is currently building a “new Parkland” on a site nearby. In recent years, Parkland has been in the news for quality problems (including a patient who died waiting in the ED) and the CEO was fired a few years ago, after 30 years (!!) in the job.

With all of the conspiracy theories, there's so much interest in how JFK was killed (and by whom and why)… I think it's an interesting question (and a Lean question) to ask how it could have been prevented.

I saw an article yesterday, while up in Canada, talking about JFK's insistence on using open-top cars, putting politics (and vanity?) above safety:

Kennedy's love for convertibles made him an easy target

The article starts with a good “Why” question:

Why would they let an American president ride through crowded streets in an open car? The question occurs to everyone at some point, and the answer is simple: John F. Kennedy wouldn't have it any other way.

Maybe having the bubble top on might not have helped?

Mr. Kennedy's limo for those trips, and for Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, was an unarmoured stretch Lincoln Continental with a detachable bubble-top that was seldom used and not bullet-proof.

In a surprising and weird bit of government frugality, the JFK limo remained in use after the assassination (that's hard to imagine):

Surprisingly, the car stayed in presidential service after Kennedy was killed. Reinforced with titanium, bullet-proof glass and a non-removable top, the repainted car carried Lyndon Johnson to his inauguration in 1964 and remained in the presidential fleet till 1977.

That car is now at The Henry Ford museum near Detroit, where I've seen it many times. More on the limo.

It's easy to ask questions like:

Thankfully, the Secret Service has gotten much better at protecting Presidents since, although Presidents still often ignore their requests (demands?) that they avoid risky situations like handshake lines along routes.

One JFK theory suggests the fatal shot was actually friendly fire from a Secret Service agent who accidentally discharged his gun  and, supposedly, this embarrassing situation was covered up — something to try to error proof through better training of agents in handling weapons? Who knows.

If you were around, what are your recollections of that day? Are there any Lean questions or Lean thoughts that come to mind regarding the assassination, how it could have been prevented, or how some of the allegedly botched investigation could have been prevented?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I remembered that day fifty years ago and I was just in the first grade. It was moment in time to gasp in horror even for a kid in primary school.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jay. The only similar “gasp in horror” moment for me was when the Challenger launch failed (“exploded,” although that’s not technically correct) when I was 13 years old or so… about the same age my dad was when JFK was assassinated.

      • I was living in Somerset, Massachusetts, just outside of Rhode Island and we were not a very religious family though I have a cousin who is a mother superior and two aunts that were nuns and six great-aunts that were nuns and I remember seeing the funeral or something on television and seeing a Cardinal and thinking something must have happened to God.

  2. I just watched a show on PBS with Robin Macneil and Jim Lehrer, who were both there that day, working for NBC and the Dallas paper respectively. It had been raining that morning, but cleared. Lehrer was where the cars were lined up to go to the airport, and asked if the bubble top was going to be on. The secret service agent had an “oh, yeah” reaction, radioed to check the weather downtown, and gave the order “lose the bubble top”. Lehrer says he is still haunted by his question. The bubble top was about 1/4 inch plexiglass; not bullet proof, but it might have deflected a bullet, similar to how General Edwin Walker was spared when Oswald allegedly shot at him through a window at close range, but hit the mullion.

    The reason given for re-using the limo, which Johnson opposed, and he eventually had it painted black, from the midnight blue that showed up so well on black & white TV, was that to build a new one to specs would take too long. From memory, the 1961 Lincoln cost about $20,000 out of the factory, and had about $50,000 of modifications. When it was refurbished (and the president used older, 50’s vintage limos during that time), the cost was about $200,000. Even then, I don’t think cost was the driver.

    The Dallas medical examiner tried to prevent JFK’s body from being removed until he did an autopsy. It was a state crime, and there was no federal law then against killing a president. The medical examiner was run over roughshod by the federal agents, who took the body. When he did the autopsy on Oswald 2 days later (a nurse stopped them from taking Oswald into the very same trauma room where JFK died), nobody wanted that body. But an independent autopsy (the federal one was rushed and apparently not a quality job) would have probably provided needed facts for the investigation. But there was a rush to get back to Washington, and LBJ wouldn’t leave without the body. I remember watching TV the night of 11/22, waiting for Air Force One to land, just like I would less than 6 years later, watching TV waiting for Apollo 16 to land on the moon. We saw live, Jackie coming down the steps, still wearing the blood-stained pink (gray on TV) suit. We also had TV on when Oswald was shot, which was probably the first time a murder had been broadcast live on national TV.

    For me, that was a nightmarish, long weekend (Friday PM through the national day of mourning Monday) that I’ve tried to put out of my mind, but I will never forget. So much can change in life and in the world in just one instant.

    • Thanks for the comments and reflections, Dad.

      Was the implication from Lehrer that he inadvertently reminded them to take the bubble off when they might have otherwise forgotten? There are allegations that some of the Secret Service members were very hung over that morning… not a good state to be in for providing world-class security, but those alleged hangovers might have saved JFK if they hadn’t taken the bubble off.

      But, the one article I linked to said JFK loved riding in convertibles in the rain and often did that with world leaders… but maybe Jackie would have had other thoughts on that??

      I read an article today in a Canadian paper that RFK and other officials from the White House were on the phone with the doctor(s) doing the Navy autopsy, pestering them to go faster while it was happening. Some experts have said a better autopsy would have been done at Walter Reed, but that was Army and Jackie said “Jack was a Navy man” and sent him to the Naval facility.

      So many “what if” questions. There’s a book out by Jeff Greenfield, a political reporter, that gives his theory about what would have happened had JFK not been killed, living through a second term. Might be an interesting holiday read.

      • You might or might not want to read Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which combines history (well documented and factual) with King’s style of “what if”, with a fake newspaper picture “JFK escapes assassination, first lady also OK!” I won’t give away the ending, except to say it is typically Stephen King!

  3. My dad talked about the long lead time for a new limo… here’s a tidbit from Paul Lukas at

    One of the lesser-noted ramifications of JFK’s murder was that Congress rushed to place his likeness on the 50-cent piece (replacing Benjamin Franklin, who had been on the half-dollar since 1948). Within two months of the shooting, the U.S. Mint was producing JFK half-dollars – the fastest turnaround ever from a person’s death to his commemoration on an American coin.

    Proof that government CAN do things quickly, if they want to? That’s fast “time to market” in really sad, unfortunate circumstances.

  4. FBI agent James Hosty, who is in King’s book and the movie “Parkland” ( certainly played a big part in the “what if”, along with the system, I’m sure. Hosty “was one of 12 agents reprimanded for investigative improprieties [destroying evidence on the orders of a superior] after the release of the Warren Report”. In the movie Parkland, he is chewed out by his supervisor for being responsible for “the biggest law enforcement f***-up ever”.

  5. I just watched a vintage interview with a reporter who recounted a conversation with JFK in 1960 in a plane. JFK said that while the Secret Service is very competent, they are given an impossible job, because if someone with a rifle, however insane, really wanted to assassinate the president, the Secret Service likely wouldn’t be able to stop it. So he had his fatalism, which was so common in those days; e.g., smoking, seat belts, nukes, etc.


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