and her husband, then the Vice President, were two cars behind the car
carrying the President, Mrs. Kennedy, and Governor and Mrs. Connally
of Texas. A car filled with Secret Service officers drove between the
two open convertibles.
the motorcade moved through the cheering crowds in Dallas, Nellie Connally,
the wife of Texas' governor and close friend of Lady Bird, leaned over
to the president and exclaimed, "You can't say Dallas doesn't love
you!" Then the shots rang out - three in all. The shots hit President
Kennedy in the neck and head and the governor would be hit in the back
and wrist. As the president lay dying and Connally struggled to breathe,
the cars rushed to the nearest hospital.
if you can, that you have the president and the first lady in your state,
that you're entertaining them, that he is assassinated, and that you
become president and first lady," Mrs. Connally recently said thinking
of the situation Mr. and Mrs. Johnson found themselves in that fateful
day. "That's a pretty big load to carry."
of Mrs. Johnson's most difficult moments of the day was her first visit
with Jackie Kennedy in Parkland Hospital. The Secret Service led her
through the hospital to the First Lady.
I found myself face to face with Jackie in a small hallway
always think of someone like her as being insulated, protected. She
was quite alone. I don't think I ever saw someone so much alone in my
life," Lady Bird would write in her diary. "I went up to her,
put my arms around her, and said something to her. I'm sure it was something
like 'God, help us all,' because my feelings for her were too tumultuous
to put into words."
after that visit, and one with Nellie Connally, President Kennedy was
officially pronounced dead. The Johnsons were immediately rushed back
to the airport for the trip back to Washington. Seeing flags that had
already been lowered to half-staff, Lady Bird first realized the enormity
of what had happened.
on the plane, all the shades were lowered, and they awaited the arrival
of Mrs. Kennedy and her husband's body. The now-former first lady reached
the plane as Dallas Federal Judge Sarah Hughes arrived to administer
the oath of office.
Bird's account, one of the few recorded that day by someone so close
to the horror, offered insights into the tense hours after the attack.
She heard one Secret Service agent murmur that "We never lost a
President in the Service." She also felt for the Dallas chief of
police, who assured Mrs. Kennedy that they had done all they could.
Most of all, the sight of Jackie Kennedy haunted Mrs. Johnson.
looked at her. Mrs. Kennedy's dress was stained with blood. One leg
was almost entirely covered with it and her right glove was caked, it
was caked with blood - her husband's blood," Lady Bird wrote. "Somehow
that was one of the most poignant sights - that immaculate woman exquisitely
dressed, and caked in blood."
a few moments spent trying to comfort Mrs. Kennedy, Lady Bird returned
to the main cabin of the plane. The passengers were silent on the trip
to Washington. Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson followed Mrs. Kennedy and
the casket off the plane, and the President gave what Mrs. Johnson described
in her diary as a "very simple, very brief, and I think, strong
statement to the people" gathered.
next morning, described by Lady Bird as a gray day "suited to the
occasion," the Johnsons met with the Kennedy family, the Cabinet,
Congressional leaders, the Supreme Court, and White House staff in the
East Room of the White House, where the slain president was lying in
air of quiet prevailed," she wrote, "an utter, complete quiet
that seemed to grip - well, the whole country, I suppose - and certainly
the surroundings where I spent the entire three days." In her diary
entry, she mentioned that she is not even sure what happened the rest
of the day; her thoughts lie with her husband, now "wrestling with
the very big business of making the country go on living."
Sunday, November 24th, President Kennedy lay in state at the Capitol,
and Lady Bird described it in her diary as a day she would never forget.
She began the day at church, returned to the White House, and then got
into a limousine with President Johnson, Mrs. Kennedy, her two children,
and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. She was immediately aware of the
sea of silent faces lining the street once they exited the gates of
the White House. She noted her emotions in her diary: "I wanted
to cry for them and with them, but it was impossible to permit the catharsis
of tears. I don't know quite why, except that perhaps continuity of
strength demands restraint. Another reason was that the dignity of Mrs.
Kennedy and the members of the family demanded it."
as the procession followed the riderless horse, she again noticed flags
flying at half-staff. "Most vivid of all was the feeling of a sea
of faces all around us and that curious sense of silence, broken only
by an occasional sob...The feeling persisted that I was moving, step
by step, through a Greek tragedy."
her diary, she vividly portrays the days events. She observed the "grave,
white, sorrowful" face of Robert Kennedy. She described the service,
the President and Mrs. Kennedy kneeling before the coffin, and the behavior
of the Kennedy children. What she remembered most, however, was the
behavior of Mrs. Kennedy. "Maybe it was a combination of great
breeding, great discipline, great character. I only know it was great."
appreciation made Lady Bird's new role even tougher, and she knew it
right from the first moments. As Kati Marton wrote in Hidden Power:
Presidential Marriages that Shaped our Recent History, Jackie Kennedy
became an icon that Lady Bird could not match. She knew from her first
day that she would always be compared with Jackie Kennedy, and that
when people looked at President and Mrs. Johnson, what they wanted to
see was Jack and Jackie.
Over the next few days, as the country started to heal and the new President got acclimated to the job, Lady Bird and Jackie Kennedy had to work out the details involved with the Johnsons moving into the White House and the Kennedys moving out. Four days after President Kennedy was killed, the two women met to discuss the housekeeping details. Again, Lady Bird marveled at the strength of Mrs. Kennedy's character, and the strength that allowed her to keep going on as she was. While giving the new First Lady tips on maintaining the house, Mrs. Kennedy was at the same time reassuring and comforting Lady Bird; she told Lady Bird that she would be happy in the White House - fateful words as the Johnsons moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.