A little more than six months from now, the United States will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest dates in the nation’s history: Nov. 22, 1963.
Lee Harvey Oswald is believed to have shot and killed President John F. Kennedy on that day as the presidential motorcade passed below Oswald’s sniper’s lair on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
But if things had gone differently 50 years ago today – April 10, 1963 – Oswald might not have been in a position to kill the president by the time Nov. 22 rolled around. He might have been awaiting trial or serving time for the assassination of retired Major Gen. Edwin Walker, the far right segregationist who told crowds in the early 1960s that he left the US Army because he believed the United States was surrendering its sovereignty to the United Nations.
Any discussion of the JFK assassination and the events leading up to it is, by its very nature, tinged with uncertainty. Despite the findings of the Warren Commission, which determined that Oswald acted alone in slaying the 35th president, numerous theories persist that assert otherwise. A poll conducted March 27-30 by Public Policy Polling found that only 25 percent of respondents believed Oswald acted alone in killing JFK, while 51 percent believed he was part of a broader conspiracy. Twenty-four percent of the respondents were not sure.
The Warren Commission’s findings may be far from widely accepted, but they represent the official US government position on the assassination. What is not as well known about Oswald is that the Warren Commission determined he tried to kill Walker the night of April 10, 1963. The bullet fired into the retired general’s Dallas home missed his head by about an inch.
According to the Warren Commission, in March 1963, Oswald used the alias “A. Hidell” to purchase a Carcano 6.5 mm rifle by mail from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald used that weapon to shoot at Walker in April and kill the president in November.
The prolific and talented American writer Stephen King explores the JFK assassination in “11-22-63,” an outstanding novel with a plot revolving around a time traveler from 2011 who goes through a “rabbit hole” with the intention of preventing Oswald from killing the president. There will be no spoilers here, but a central premise of King’s book is that “The Butterfly Effect,” a key tenet of chaos theory, is real. If Oswald had been eliminated before he’d had the chance to kill Kennedy, then history would have changed in ways far exceeding the localized death of Oswald, a troubled young man the historian and author William Manchester referred to as a “wretched waif.”
Oswald may or may not have killed Kennedy, but we can be sure that if he had succeeded in killing Walker – assuming the Warren Commission was correct in its conclusion that Oswald took a shot at the retired general – his mindset would have been entirely different from April 10 onward. If he had been caught, of course, then he would not have been working at the book depository when Kennedy visited Dallas, and he could not have been either the killer or the “patsy” he claimed to be before Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby gunned him down in the basement of the Dallas Police Department just days after JFK’s assassination. But even if Oswald had evaded capture after killing Walker, it is unlikely he would have stayed in Dallas. He probably would have been far away, possibly even back in Russia, when Kennedy’s motorcade made its way through Dealey Plaza in November.
Be that as it may, it doesn’t take something as extraordinary as time travel to change history. History can hinge on a matter of inches. If Oswald was the person who took aim at Walker as he sat in his home, and if that aim had been adjusted ever so slightly before he squeezed the trigger on April 10, 1963, what we know as history today would be, at most, a work of fiction by a writer with both a credibility problem and a seriously twisted imagination.
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Sources and Resources:
Gen. Edwin Walker, 83, Is Dead; Promoted Rightist Causes in 60's, New York Times, Nov. 2, 1993
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