JFK Shooting Recalled
Local Resident, Former TV Reporter Remembers Kennedy Assassination
Couch’s Memories Remain Clear 37 Years Later
CLIFTON — Mal Couch, a citizen of the Womack community, and a former television reporter and cameraman for ABC-TV in Dallas, can remember Nov. 22, 1963, like it was yesterday.
AIRPORT CROWDS — Shown are former President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy as seen at Dallas Love Field just hours before he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. TV newsman Mal Couch’s footage of the Presidential trip has been seen worldwide over the years following the shooting in Dallas.
— Film Photo By Mal Couch
“I think I had the choice assignment. I was to meet the President at the airport, follow his motorcade through the streets of Dallas, attend the luncheon in his honor, and follow him back to the airport for his departure,” said Couch.
In the fall of 1963, Couch was a senior Dallas Theological Seminary student and he was working as a television reporter, cameraman, and assistant editor for WFAA-TV, an ABC affiliate in Dallas.
He explained that a month before President John F. Kennedy was to arrive in Dallas, the FBI screened all the newsmen in the Dallas area. Then, a few days before the President’s arrival, the newsmen received their assignments. Couch was notified that he was to film the President’s arrival for the ABC television network.
Following is the story as told by Couch.
“That Friday broke cloudy. And it was raining. I got up at 6 and drove out to the airport. The President wasn’t due for several hours, but I was nervous. This was my biggest assignment with the station.
“I had been in television since 1952 when I was a freshman in high school. Photography had been my hobby in junior high. By the time I entered high school, I had sold several filmed news stories to the station. They decided to take me on part time. Now, 11 years later, I was about the film the President of the United States.
“The crowd had begun to gather early, too. About noon, just a few moments before President Kennedy’s plane arrived on Love Field, the clouds lifted, and welcome sunshine broke upon the city. It seemed perfect for the event.
“Before the plane landed we reporters were cordoned off by the police. At last, the President arrived, and the crowd began to roar.
“As President Kennedy came out and stepped down the stairway with Mrs. Kennedy, the press broke and ran towards him. I got some shots with my telephoto lens on my 16 mm movie camera. I worked my way up beside him, as he broke ranks and walked along the fence, shaking hands with the people.
“The President appeared happy to be in Dallas. He did not look worn from his trip. Mrs. Kennedy, right behind him, looked vivacious, smiling, and pretty in her pink outfit.
“Within a few minutes after deplaning, the President and his wife stepped into his car with then-Governor and Mrs. Connelly. I managed to get alongside the car for some close-ups.
“Then the motorcade began to roll. I was riding in the fifth car behind the President’s with Bob Jackson of the Dallas Times Herald and the photographers from the other networks. Like the President, we were in an open car.
“As we neared the city, the cars slowed. The eager crowds along the road grew more dense. As we reached the canyons of downtown Dallas, the masses began to move in close. We could see that the largest crowds ever in Dallas had gathered to greet the President and Mrs. Kennedy.
“Sitting on the back of the rear seat of our open convertible, we filmed the smiling faces. There was a blizzard of confetti flying around us.
“We had reached the end of the narrow corridor where most of the crowd had gathered, and had just made a turn to the right to go down Houston Street. As cameramen, we could relax for a few minutes.
“Just 100 yards ahead, the President’s car took a westerly turn down Elm Street to go beneath an underpass. Beyond the underpass was clear highway to the Trade Mart, where the Presidential party would have lunch.
“Putting down my camera, I remarked, ‘Boy, what a beautiful day for a parade! Everything is going perfect, too.’ Hardly had I finished when we heard a sharp CRACK. It sounded like a motorcycle backfiring, or a firecracker. Then a second or so later, another CRACK.
“People began to run and scream. The reporter next to me jabbed me in the ribs. ‘Look!’ he yelled, ‘Up in the window...a rifle!’
“He was pointing straight in front of us to the Texas School Book Depository Building. There, on the fifth or sixth story, I saw about a foot of a rifle being drawn back into a window.
“Then our car turned sharply down Elm Street. I began taking pictures of the people running, falling to the ground, and screaming. Many of them fell as I aimed my camera at them, perhaps thinking I had a gun.
“One of my pictures shows a policeman running toward the car with his .45 pulled, pointed right at my camera (and my head). ‘Get down!’ he yelled, ‘Get down!’
“By the time we had gone another 50 yards or so, we wanted out of the car. Our driver was scared stiff. We pounded on his back to stop the car.
“Finally, he slowed down enough for some of us to peel off the back and sides. We hit the ground running. We raced back to the scene of the shooting.
“I’ll never forget running along — with my camera going — yelling at the top of my lungs. ‘They can’t do it! They just can’t do it! You just don’t shoot the President!’
“The next moment, a woman came walking toward me slowly, crying her eyes out. Then a man ran past me, pursued by an FBI man.
“At the scene, people were still lying on the ground, some protecting their children. Others were running. Policemen were scattering in every direction with shotguns and pistols drawn.
“I started toward the building where I had seen the rifle in the window. Then I saw something very weird. There was a trail of blood from the spot where the shooting occurred to the entrance of the Texas School Book Depository. I pointed it out to a man with me.
“Just then an FBI man stepped out of the building, and in his hand was an object dripping blood. It looked like a piece of hairy flesh. I know I didn’t imagine this. The scene is very clear to me.
“I was also one of the few persons to see a small amount of brain matter near where the shooting had occurred.
“We stayed in the area just a few minutes. Then decided to go to Parkland Hospital. We surmised that if the President was hit or hurt, or anyone injured, he would be taken to Parkland, the nearest hospital.
“We hailed a young fellow driving past, jumped into his car, and told him to take us to Parkland. We entered the expressway, but almost immediately we were stopped by a police blockade.
“We left the car and began walking on the expressway. Up ahead, cars were parked and people were lined along the route. Several asked when the President would be coming by. They didn’t know what had happened.
“Of course, they were shocked when we told them. We, then, asked a woman to take us to the hospital.
“When we arrived the hospital was surrounded by police. It had taken us about 15 minutes to get there from the scene of the shooting. We used our press cards to get past the police and headed for the emergency area. There we saw three of the cars parked under the trees.
“The President’s car was splashed with blood, and the pink roses Mrs. Kennedy had received at the airport were strewn over the seats and on the ground. Some of the petals were spattered with blood. The secret service men ordered me away from the car.
“Everyone just stood around in hushed silence. People were crying softly, even senators. In one car the mayor’s wife sat in stunned silence, still holding her bouquet. The sun beat down, and birds sang in the trees. Finally, we heard the official word that the President was dead.
“Meanwhile, I had been taking pictures of the people standing around and crying.
“Even before we heard that Kennedy was dead, Vice-president Johnson and some secret service men came running out of the hospital, jumped into a limousine, and roared away. We did not know until later, that he was being taken to the airport to be sworn in as President of the United States.
“About an hour later we saw Mrs. Kennedy come out of the hospital. We watched as they placed the casket into an ambulance. Then I took pictures of the hearse leaving for the airport. I followed in an ABC car that had come to the hospital. Then I shot the plane as it took off.
“My assignment was over.”
The film that Couch shot that fateful day was aired on ABC television coast-to-coast several times over the following days.
Most of the original footage that he shot was turned over to the government, although WFAA-TV did keep a copy of the film.
Being one of only four persons to have seen the rifle in the Book Depository, Couch was requested to give testimony to the Warren Commission, which published the report which quotes much of Couch’s testimony. In the ensuing years, Couch was also called upon during further investigation, and the secondary Warren Commission investigation.
“One thing that impressed me in the days that followed the assassination of President Kennedy, was that so many people appeared confused and lost at that moment. They walked around the city in a daze. They had no connection with life, it seemed,” Couch said later on. “For me, my personal faith in Jesus Christ and in a God who controls the affairs of men, did not change a bit. In fact, it gained deeper roots.”