The man who witnessed JFK’s death and LBJ’s oath

Posted at 7:11 AM, Nov 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-22 07:28:58-05

CBS 6 reporter Greg McQuade filed a series of special reports on the assassination and the people impacted by the murder of President Kennedy. Watch Greg’s 30-minute special scheduled to air Sunday at 11:30 p.m. on WTVR CBS 6.

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -  As a journalist, Sid Davis has enjoyed his front row seat watching U.S. history unfold before his eyes. As a White House correspondent for Westinghouse Broadcasting, Davis covered President John F. Kennedy's time in the Oval Office.

“It was pretty obvious to us that this was a magical figure,” Davis recalled. "I was in the room when he made that speech to Kruschev and get the missiles out of Cuba.”

In November 1963, the former Youngstown, Ohio crime reporter followed the Kennedys during their ill-fated two-day, five-city trip.

“The crowd went crazy at the airport," Davis said about landing with the president and first lady in Texas. "They gave her [First Lady Jackie Kennedy] a huge bouquet of roses.”

On the press bus, Davis joined the presidential motorcade through the streets of Dallas.

“We were about 80 feet behind the presidential limousine,” the 86-year-old journalist recalled as if it was yesterday.

As the president reached Dealey Plaza, gunshots jolt Davis and his fellow journalists.

“There were three distinct shots. No question about it. We didn’t know who they hit. All we saw was that people started to run. People scattered,” Davis said. “We looked up ahead and saw the presidential limousine just disappear. It was chaos. All hell broke loose.”

Davis raced to Parkland Hospital where he awaited word on the president's condition. There he had to quickly filter fact from fiction.

“They had security pretty well established by the time I got there. They wouldn’t let reporters in the emergency room area,” Davis said. "Then he [the Kennedy assistant press secretary Malcolm Kilduff] said President John F. Kennedy died today at 1 p.m. central standard time here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound to the brain.”

Davis reacted immediately.

“I ran for the phones," he said. "You’re putting on air for the first time that President John F. Kennedy is dead.”

While in the middle of filing reports from Parkland Hospital, a White House staffer ordered Davis into an unmarked police car.

“Where are we going?" Davis recalled asking. "I can’t tell you,” was the reply he said.

Davis ended up at Love Field, the airport where Air Force One had landed. Davis was about to witness another momentous event.

“We are told the vice president will be sworn in as president in just a few minutes,” he said. Davis watched as Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office. Jackie Kennedy stood by his side.

“The blood on her stocking congealed. It was thick and glistening,” he recalled.

Davis' place in history was sealed in one of the most iconic photos ever taken.

“That is me leaning down with the glasses writing into my notepad,” he said of the swearing-in photo. “That is me right there. I’m writing my notes.”

Other reporters on the presidential plane waited for Sid’s detailed account.

“The story I gave them was the first word flashed to the world that Lyndon Johnson was president,” he said.

Davis said he was able to hold his emotions together during the adrenaline-filled day, but eventually the weight of that dark day took its toll. Sid signed off his coverage with a quote from of Kennedy's favorite poets – Robert Frost.

“That is where I fell apart. 4:22am November 23rd 1963,” Davis said.