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Nation Honors JFK 50 Years After Assassination; Dozens Killed in Chinese Oil Pipeline Explosion; Creigh Deeds Released From Hospital; JFK Conspiracy Theories

Aired November 22, 2013 - 12:30   ET



Live images there, and also very historic images you see on the bottom, right-hand side of your screen there of John F. Kennedy, 50 years ago today, on his fateful visit to Dallas. And then you see there you see on the left, the Arlington National Cemetery eternal flame there. And also there on the upper half of your screen, Dallas, today commemorating the legacy of JFK.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Yeah, a city that for 50 years has tried to shake off the reputation, if you like, of the city where JFK died, where he was killed and now for the first time actually marking this anniversary of his death.

GORANI: And shortly there will be a ceremony. Musicians from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra will perform. We'll also hear speeches. We'll also have a moment of silence marking the exact moment of the assassination. And we will bring you all those events, live, on CNN.

HOLMES: Oh, yeah, and the monument, too. There's going to be a monument unveiled, too, at the grassy knoll area.

GORANI: Take a look at an interesting new CNN poll on JFK. It shows he's the most popular president of the last century. Ninety percent -- nine-zero -- of the respondents approved how he handled his thousand days in office. And, when you break down the numbers, the approval rating is even higher among Americans who were alive during his presidency.

HOLMES: Yeah, those who have memories of the time.

Kennedy was very popular during his time in office. His average approval rating, according to Gallup, was 70 percent. That's actually the highest in Gallup's polling history.

Now, earlier this morning, the late president's younger sister laid a wreath at her brother's grave.

GORANI: Jean Kennedy Smith is his last surviving sibling. She campaigned around the country for him in 1960.

And in Dallas, the city where he fell, a moment of silence as we mentioned is going to be held exactly 50 years after the assassination. HOLMES: Yeah, We're going to bring that to you live. That's less than an hour from now.

And as we said, first time Dallas has officially commemorated JFK's death. Let's talk a bit more with CNN's chief national correspondent John King, along with the historian David Kaiser, who wrote the book actually, "The Road to Dallas -- The Assassination of John F. Kennedy."

So let's start with you, David. It's fascinating, looking at those poll numbers and the popularity of the president. I suppose when is a life is taken that way, in the consciousness of many people, you could basically rewrite how you thought or wanted the story to go, and you know, sort of change it along to suit your own thoughts. You know what I mean?

DAVID KAISER, AUTHOR, "THE ROAD TO DALLAS": Well, certainly. But I was interested in the figures for people like myself who actually do remember him. And I think many of us think of him, first of all, as the greatest politician of his generation, the G.I. or "greatest generation";

And secondly, as emblematic of a very different America, an America of which younger Americans today have no idea, when there was a general consensus, a belief in the United States, a belief in the purposes of the United States, at home and abroad, in which Kennedy was leading a great effort not only to bring peace to the world, but to inspire the whole world with the American way of life and to make American life fairer and more inclusive and more bountiful at home.

And those were not just words for him and his contemporaries. They took all that very seriously. And in the three years he had, and particularly in his last year in office, he made some spectacular progress towards those goals.

GORANI: John King is in Dallas. Of course, he's going to be anchoring our special coverage, alongside our team there on the ground.

But Dallas, you know, for a long time, fought against this notion, and understandably so, that it was the city that killed JFK, trying to move on.

For instance, there was an "X" marking the spot of where John F. Kennedy actually took that bullet that eventually killed him. That has been taken out, and sort of --

HOLMES: Paved over.

GORANI: -- paved over.

So what about now? Why has it taken Dallas this long?

KAISER: Well --

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Part of that is the political leadership, Hala and Michael, and part of it is the passing of time.

I'm going to hold up for you here. This is a replica of the "Dallas Morning News," 50 years ago, tomorrow. And Dallas has always lived with this. As you see right there, "Slain on Dallas Street." The city was called the "city of hate" for some time. There was a big debate in the White House about whether President Kennedy should even come to Texas, but especially to Dallas during that political trip 50 years ago.

But the political leadership in the city has decided now is the time to reflect and remember on this 50th anniversary. And you see here in Dealey Plaza, 5,000 people are allowed in with tickets. There's a huge media gathering here from all over the world.

And 50 years ago at this moment, the president was at Love Field. He had landed, a short flight from Fort Worth. He was at Love Field, and then about an hour from now, obviously, is when the tragedy happened here in Dealey Plaza. And so, it will be remembered here today, and the city hopes this is part of the turning of the page.

A new monument, as Michael mentioned at the top, will be unveiled over on the grassy knoll. At the foot of that monument, a paragraph from the speech the president was supposed to deliver here in Dallas that day. He was on his way to a luncheon at the Dallas Trade Mart when Lee Harvey Oswald shot him from the Texas School Book Depository.

So the city hopes, A, to mark the 50th anniversary in a somber, they hope, appropriate way, and yes, for the city's reputation, it is an attempt at a bit of a page-turning


And, David, we could ask you. You know, JFK, he had his flaws, personally and politically at times. People have largely forgiven that, haven't they?

KAISER: Well, I guess that's true. Now, again, one reason that I look back nostalgically at that era was that, at that time and for sometime before that in American life, the basic assumption observed by the media was that leaders' personal lives were their own business.

And that allowed them to function as leaders and to follow their inclinations on their own time. And it certainly did not prevent people like Kennedy or Franklin Roosevelt or many others I could mention, any extramarital affairs, for instance. It did not prevent them from functioning very effectively. And it certainly didn't prevent him from functioning very effectively.

Kennedy was a remarkable man in that he was totally involved in any moment he happened to be in. And if you were in the room along with him, and many, many people testified to this, he made you feel like you were the only person in the world. And I have to come to believe that that was really the way he was, that if he was in a meeting talking about the possibility of Soviet missiles in Cuba, he was totally focused on that. If he was with a young woman for an hour, he was totally focused on her. And if he was with his children, he was certainly totally focused on them. And that was him.

But he was a brilliant politician and, in my opinion, a very fine diplomat and president.

HOLMES: Historian David Kaiser, thanks so much, also, John King in Dallas.

And, John, we've got plenty more to talk about with you, too, a little later, as we continue our coverage from there and elsewhere around the nation.

GORANI: Now to this story, an elderly American war veteran being held in North Korea, there is word that the north might have gotten the wrong man.

We'll explain, next.


HOLMES: Some other news "AROUND THE WORLD" now.

Dozens of people killed after an oil pipeline exploded in China. This happened in the eastern part of the country in a city that is a major oil hub.

GORANI: Now, the explosion blasted a big hole in the road above it and ignited a fire that took hours to bring under control.

Authorities say at least 35 people were killed, and government officials say a leak in the pipeline triggered the blast.

HOLMES: Got an update, too, on that state senator who was stabbed earlier this week. Creigh Deeds has now been released from the hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Tuesday you might remember his son Gus stabbed him more than 10 times in the head and neck before committing suicide, shooting himself.

GORANI: Right, well, this is just such a tragic story.

Gus Deeds, the son, was reportedly supposed to get an emergency mental health evaluation the day before the stabbing, but was turned away from the hospital because there wasn't any room.

Creigh Deeds tweeting out a short time ago, "I am alive, so must live. Some wounds won't heal."

HOLMES: A very sad story.

Reuters is reporting that an elderly American veteran being held in North Korea might be the victim of mistaken identity.

GORANI: This is just remarkable. Merrill E. Newman is the man who's missing. He's 85-years-old -

HOLMES: Eighty-five. GORANI: -- and went to North Korea, but the North might have the meant to grab Merrill H. Newman, who was awarded the Silver Star for his service in the Korean War.

HOLMES: Unbelievable.

Either way Merrill E. Newman, who is also a veteran of that conflict, has still not been heard of.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd with the latest.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's an 85-year-old retired tech company executive from Palo Alto, California, a long-time Red Cross volunteer, who had been looking forward to a trip to North Korea with a friend.

But Merrill Newman is now a captive in an oppressive corrupt and has been for nearly a month.

According to his son, Newman was near the end of an organized, heavily monitored tour of North Korea when the subject of Newman's status as a U.S. soldier in the Korean war came up at a meeting with North Korean officials.

JEFF NEWMAN, FATHER DETAINED IN NORTH KOREA (via telephone): The Korean War was discussed and my dad's role in the service. The meeting concluded. I understand that my dad was a bit bothered.

TODD: The next day, his son says is, five minutes before his flight was to depart from the Pyongyang, Merrill Newman was pulled off the plane. His family hasn't heard from or about him since.

What could have provoked the North Koreans to do this? Analyst Jonathan Pollack, who's been there twice, says Newman could have said something, even unwittingly, that set them off.

JONATHAN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: He could have said something disparaging about the North. He might have said something about the history of the war, because again, as the North Koreans would have it, this was a war of national liberation.

You know, the North Koreans have all kinds of laws that they can trot out for the occasion. And with North Korea, all prices are subject to change without notice.

TODD: Secretary of State John Kerry calls Newman's detention "disturbing."

Former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson is working his North Korean contacts to try to win his release.

Merrill Newman has a heart condition. Kenneth Bae, another American being detain in North Korea, has diabetes and other illnesses. Pollack has a warning. JONATHAN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The possibility that one or two Americans might die while being held unreasonably in captivity by North Korea is a scenario that would -- I would think that the North Koreans would find deeply troubling.

TODD (voice-over): Pollack says, if that happens, the North Koreans could lose a chance at any kind of renewed contact or cultural exchanges with the U.S., which they badly want. And, he says, humanitarian groups, which do so much to help the starving sick people in North Korea, may cut that off.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: What a bizarre story. Eighty-five years old.

GORANI: And they still haven't heard from him.


GORANI: And we'll continue to follow that story.

HOLMES: All right. This is, of course, the 50th industry of JFK's assassination and conspiracy theories are still very popular.

GORANI: Hear from one of the emergency room doctors who tried to save the president. Stay with us.


HOLMES: Right around now, 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was starting his final journey in an open air limousine driving through the streets of Dallas.

GORANI: When you watch these images, you think to yourself how different things are today.

HOLMES: Uh-huh. Imagine that.

GORANI: Imagine a president in an open top limousine. Well, that was the day 50 years ago that a beloved president was gunned down. But there are still many questions about who was behind it, at least among many Americans still asking these questions.

HOLMES: Yes, because, take a look at that, a Gallup poll recently showed 61 percent of Americans, 61 percent, still believe the assassination was a conspiracy. Ed Lavandera looks now at some of the theories.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fifty years later, people still come every day, point to the sixth floor window, stand on the grassy knoll, imaging what that day was like. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy driving by, smiling. They looked down from the school book depository building, imaging what Lee Harvey Oswald saw. The moment gunfire exploded, the piercing echoes through Dealey Plaza.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time.

GARY MACK, 6TH FLOOR MUSEUM CURATOR: Does it amaze me that people come to Dealey Plaza 24/7 scratching their heads and pointing and walking around? No, not at all. The Kennedy assassination story is modern folklore now. People just aren't satisfied with the official story that one man did all that damage, not only to a person, but to a country and to the world.

LAVANDERA: The official story, of course, is that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

DR. RONALD JONES, PARKLAND E.R. DOCTOR: Could he have survive his first wound?

LAVANDERA: Ronald ones was one of the emergency room doctors who tried to save President Kennedy and vividly remember the chaotic moments in the packed operating room of Parkland Hospital.

JONES: We knew we were working on the president. We were anxious. We were excited. We were doing what we would do in the care of a normal trauma patient, and yet here was the president of the United States. Nobody knew he was dead.

LAVANDERA: Dr. Jones says the first thing he noticed was a wound on the president's neck.

JONES: Initial impression was that this is an entrance wound and this is an exit wound up here. We had no information as to how he was shot, with what was he shot, who shot him. We had no information whatsoever. We had not seen the supruder (ph) film.

LAVANDERA: Later on, the Warren Commission report would determine that neck wound was where the so-called magic bullet exited Kennedy's body before striking Texas Governor John Connally.

JONES: This could have been an entrance wound or an exit wound. And I don't know if anything will ever come up - it's been 50 years and nothing has surfaced yet that would indicate that there was a second shooter. Certainly that possibility exists. But right now, I would accept the Warren Commission report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a fairy tale. It didn't happen. No bullet went through both men.

LAVANDERA: To conspiracy theorists like Robert Groden, the single bullet theory is one of many problems with the official story.

LAVANDERA (on camera): So the x there in the middle of the - of the road, you put that down here?

ROBERT GRODEN, CONSPIRACY THEORIST: Yes. Uh-huh. I put that down there 19 years ago.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Robert Groden grew up in New York and moved to Dallas almost 20 years ago, proving the Kennedy assassination conspiracy is his life's mission. You can find him on the grassy knoll every weekend arguing his case.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Do people come out here and say, man, you're just crazy?

GRODEN: Nobody says that.


GRODEN: Nobody. I believe there was this - I guess amalgamation between the mob and the - and the elements within the CIA.

LAVANDERA: All right. So the CIA and the mob working together is the theory that --


LAVANDERA: Somehow -

GRODEN: Most people that really know the case are somewhere in that ballpark.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): That is the legacy that still hangs over Dealey Plaza, one of the most tragic events of the 20th century, still shrouded for many in mystery.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


HOLMES: And we will be taking you live to Dallas as the city honors President John F. Kennedy on this 50th anniversary of his assassination. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


GORANI: Well, we are now minutes away from the exact time President John F. Kennedy was killed 50 years ago today. The exact time he was pronounced dead. Take a look at these live pictures of Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where he was gunned down. And as we were mentioning, Michael, the city is holding its first official ceremony to mark the tragedy since the assassination.

HOLMES: Yes, it seems extraordinary, doesn't it? You see the crowd there. There's been a moment of silence. There's going to be that. You're going to have military jets flying over. Some of the president's speeches are going to be read. And there is going to be a new JFK monument that's going to be unveiled. It's actually located on the grassy knoll on the Elm Street side there. And the inscription that's on it is actually the final part of the speech that JFK was on his way to deliver at the Dallas Trade Mart on that day. GORANI: And Kennedy was the nation's 35th president. One of its most beloved leaders. And this week has given us all an opportunity really to revisit history, to revisit the legacy of John F. Kennedy. What would the U.S. have been like had this assassination not happened? These important pieces of legislation, the Voting rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, --

HOLMES: He was moving towards a detente with China at the time.

GORANI: The Vietnam War. So many things would have potentially been different. Either way, it's just been an opportunity for all of us here in the U.S. and also, as we know, around the world, to revisit this important moment.

HOLMES: A lot of interest around the world indeed.

Thanks for your company here on "AROUND THE WORLD". We're going to hand it off to Wolf Blitzer for now though. Thank you.