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Tapes reveal reactions to JFK slaying

With first lady Jacqueline Kennedy at his side, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson takes the presidential oath aboard Air Force One hours after President Kennedy's assassination.
With first lady Jacqueline Kennedy at his side, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson takes the presidential oath aboard Air Force One hours after President Kennedy's assassination.

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CNN's Candy Crowley listens to tapes of top government officials learning the news of President Kennedy's death. (November 22)
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(CNN) -- On the 39th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination new voices tell a chillingly familiar story.

"Give me all available information on the president. Over."

It's November 22, 1963, and two-thirds of the members of the presidential Cabinet are in a plane over the Pacific Ocean, en route to Japan, when President John F. Kennedy is fatally shot while he rides in a Texas motorcade. Ground-to-air radio messages -- beginning with the above query from White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger -- boomerang between the White House and two aircraft carrying Cabinet members and newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"John and Governor Connally of Texas have been in the car in which they were riding. We do not know how serious the situation is. We have no information." -- White House reply to Salinger

Marking the anniversary of Kennedy's death, National Public Radio airs portions of that radio traffic Friday during the show "All Things Considered." NPR producer John McDonnough found the radio transmissions in the national archives.

The tapes reveal stalwart calm among the country's leadership during the crisis. As America fell apart, people on airplanes and in the White House coolly put it back together. The ensuing conversations used code names for key figures. Wayside for Salinger. Volunteer for Johnson. Lace for Jacqueline Kennedy, and the fallen president is the Lark.

start quoteThis is the situation room... The president is dead...He died about 35 minutes ago.end quote
-- White House radio transmission, November 22, 1963

"This is Situation Room. Relay following to Wayside... The president is dead.... New subject: Front office desired plane return to Washington with no stop Dallas. Over."

Meanwhile, White House staff in Dallas, Texas, communicated with the executive mansion, called the Crown, updating colleagues about the transition of power and arrangements for Kennedy's corpse and coffin.

"We are waiting for the swearing-in at the plane before takeoff," Dallas reports.

"That is for Volunteer, is that right?"

And then more questions from the Crown: "Do you have any idea yet what Lace wants to do, and what Volunteer wants to do on arrival here?"

Details follow regarding the autopsy and a special request for an ambulance to ferry the casket to Walter Reed Hospital, as a helicopter would be too awkward. And from Johnson's plane, Maj. Gen. Chester Clifton plans how to get the widow, Kennedy's body and the new president off the plane. Following tradition, Kennedy exited the plane from the portal he used while alive.

"...On the right rear, no the left rear of the aircraft where we usually dismount the Lark, we may need a fork lift rather than a ramp."

National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" features full tape airing Friday.

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