Something Serious Has Happened on Air Force One (a Tl/story by Geon)

Chapter One: Shock Follows Shock


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“Something Serious Has Happened on Air Force One”

A story/TL by Geon

The ideas in this story/TL are inspired by discussions on my other thread, Coffin Chaos. Thanks to NHBL and others for their inspiration for this TL/story.

Chapter 1: Shock Follows Shock​

November 22, 1963, 3:55 p.m. EST:


The nation was already reeling in shock. Approximately one and a half hours earlier President Kennedy had been shot while riding in his motorcade through Dallas. The motorcade had quickly sped to Parkland Hospital where at 1 p.m. (CST) the President of the United States was officiallypronounced dead as the result of a fatal gunshot to the head.

The news of the tragedy had filtered out first through the local stations in Dallas and then throughout the nation. Perhaps the archetypical moment came when Walter Cronkite appeared on camera and clearly struggling to keep his emotions in check announced: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: [reading AP flash] 'PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED AT 1 P.M. (CST),' 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some thirty-eight minutes ago.”

The nation was still trying to come to grips with the news that their handsome charismatic president had been cut down when at 3:01 p.m. Walter Cronkite was interrupted in his report of the events in Dallas by Dan Rather who had been travelling with the President as part of the press coverage of his Texas visit.

Dan Rather appeared on screen visibly shaken. He was in the control tower at Love Field with a camera pointed in the direction of the plane designated Air Force One. The image showed the plane with six police cars from the Dallas Police Department and an ambulance parked at the base of the ramp leading up to the plane.

Rather: Walter, sorry to interrupt but it appears something is happening on Air Force One. About a half hour ago we learned that Miss Sarah T. Hughes, who serves as judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas arrived. Presumably she was here to administer the oath of office to Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Then barely 5 or 10 minutes after her arrival a group of Dallas Police squad cars pulled up with an ambulance as you can see behind me. Several men some of them uniformed Dallas police officers and some of them plainclothes officers got out of the cars and rushed up the stairs of the landing ramp. A cordon was formed around the plane to keep the press and the curious at a distance. Then approximately ten minutes ago we received as yet unconfirmed reports that shots had been fired on Air Force One. I repeat at the moment this is unconfirmed but there is word that shots have been fired on Air Force One.

[Rather pauses] And now I am hearing in the distance the sound of sirens and there appears to be more Dallas police squad cars arriving as you can see and a second ambulance. Walter at this moment it is too early to form any idea on what is happening here, but I think it can be safely said that something serious has happened on Air Force One!

Washington, D.C., Office of the Attorney General (3:30 p.m.)

Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney General of the United States was frantic for information. He had not been unable to connect with Air Force One since this nightmare began. He needed information and at the moment there was nothing but what the TV networks were saying. Amid his latest attempt to call the plane a group of secret service men entered his office over the protests of his secretary. One of the agents quickly said, “Mister Attorney General apologies but we need to get you to the White House shelter immediately.” “Will someone kindly tell me what the hell is happening here,” a stunned RFK asked as he was escorted out of his office?

The agent that had initially addressed Robert replied. “Sir, we don’t know. All we do know is that shots have been fired on Air Force One and that Vice President Johnson may, I repeat may have been hit.”

For Bobby this was one shock too many and he almost folded. But as he said later in an interview, “I knew for the sake of my family and the nation that now was not the time to lose it.”

He then asked, “Has the Speaker of the House been notified?” The agent nodded as they escorted Robert to a waiting car. “He is being escorted to the White House as we speak sir. He will meet us there.”

The trip to the White House was made in complete silence as Robert Kennedy tried to digest what was happening.
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Chapter One (continued) Washington and Dallas


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The Pentagon (3:35 p.m. [EST]):

In the Situation Room at the Pentagon General Maxwell D. Taylor, had the same question on his mind. The news from Dallas was confused. As a precaution Taylor had ordered all U.S. armed forces throughout the word to go to Defcon-4.

The assassination of President Kennedy was hard enough to take on a personal level. However, the attack might just be the opening shot in a plan to decapitate the U.S. government leaving the nation vulnerable to a nuclear attack.

There were contingency plans in place to deal with this possibility. At the moment however what Taylor needed was information.

The phone at Taylor’s side rang. Taylor pushed a button picked up the receive and listened. After a moment he put his hand to his brow and after a moment’s thought said, “Tell the officer of the day a plane will be sent for him immediately. He is to be back in Washington with the “football” (the satchel for the codes authorizing a nuclear strike - it never was far from the president) as quickly as possible.”

General Taylor hung up and started making calls to the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was likely to be a very long and busy weekend.

Dallas, Love Field, 2:20 p.m. (CDT)

From his vantage point in the control tower Dan Rather had a fairly clear view of what was happening on the runway that Air Force 1 was on. For the past 15 minutes he had been unable to report any further information.

Then at 3:20 he noticed more vehicles arriving on the field. He quickly signaled that he wanted airtime. Moments later he was broadcasting.

This is Dan Rather. As you can see below me on the field where Air Force One is sitting more vehicles have arrived in the past few minutes. There is a limousine as well as a third ambulance and two more Dallas Police Department squad cars. And now…I believe…yes you can see that a casket, presumably the casket holding President Kennedy’s body is being carried down the passenger stairs by several DPD officers accompanied by a plainclothesman.

Walter Cronkite: Dan has there been any word from the Dallas Police Department about the shots that you said you had heard about earlier?

Dan Rather: No Walter, I’ve made two attempts to contact them but so far no... Walter one moment. I am seeing stretchers being brought down from Air Force One. As far as I can see there are three people being brought down on stretchers, but they are too far for me to get a clear view.

And now…Walter, it looks like one of the plainclothesmen is coming toward the tower. I am going to go down and try to get some information if I can...please stand by.
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Very good, very ominous start. Gives me the creeps.
What were the continuity of government rules at the time?
I suspect that there would be a backup "football" in Washington in case the one traveling is compromised.

This sure speaks of a different time, when a reporter could get into the control tower. Back in the mid ;80's, my college roomate knew one of the control tower folks, so we both got to go up in a control tower.
Chapter 1 (contd.) Love Field Announcement


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Dallas; Love Field, 2:30 p.m.:

The officer chosen to break the news was wishing that he was anywhere but here. If this wasn’t the biggest screw-up in the history of the DPD he didn’t know what was. His job right now was to give as little in the way of information as possible without seeming to cover anything up. He prayed that what he said would be enough to pacify the Press for now. But given what he was going to say he suspected – rightly – that it would only inflame the situation.

We need to say something, thought the hapless officer. “The Press saw the stretchers being unloaded from the plane as well as the casket. We can’t let this turn into something that could balloon out of control.” Those had been the words that his sergeant had told him. A statement had to be made and the patrolman had been on cameral before.

Taking a deep breath, the DPD officer stepped up to a microphone that had been hurriedly set up.

As millions of Americans watched and listened throughout the nation and millions more were tuning in around the world the DPD officer spoke reading a quickly prepared statement.

Good afternoon, I will read this short statement to the Press. There will be no questions following this. In accordance with Texas State Law, anytime there is a death by violent or suspicious means an autopsy must be performed. Accordingly Chief Coroner of Dallas Dr. Earl Rose attempted to take temporary custody of the body of President Kennedy at Parkland Memorial Hospital. He was confronted by the President’s aide Kenneth O’Donnell who refused to relinquish the body.

Following Texas law Dr. Rose procured a court order to prevent the body from being removed from the state. He and a contingent of DPD officers boarded Air Force One for the purpose of retrieving the body for autopsy. A scuffle ensued between the Kennedy advisors, secret service, and Dr. Rose and the DPD contingent. During the scuffle a DPD officer, we are unsure yet who, accidentally discharged his weapon. Thinking this was an attack the Secret Service drew their guns and opened fire.

As a result of the incident, President Johnson, Kenneth O’Donnell, and justice Sarah T. Hughes, as well as two DPD officers were wounded. The injured are presently being transported to Parkland Memorial Hospital for treatment. That is all I have to say.

The DPD officer retreated even as the Press shouted questions he had no answers for. And a stunned nation needed answers.
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For the record, the Secret Service chief on 1/22/63 was James Rowley, who was based in Washington. He began his career under FDR and also was Ike's WH chief agent before becoming agency chief in 1961. He and his boys are going to have a lot of 'splaining to do!
Chapter One (contd.) Meeting in Washington


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Washington, D.C.: White House Situation Room, 4:00 p.m.:

John McCormack, Speaker of the House looked around the room at the group gathered there. Present beside himself were Robert Kennedy, Attorney General, and J. Edgar Hoover, head of the F.B.I. Also present by speaker phone was General Taylor who was monitoring the situation from the Pentagon War Room.

At present they were all waiting for a report from Dallas on the condition of the Vice-President. Technically, according to the Constitution, the moment that Kennedy had been declared dead Johnson had automatically assumed the role of President. The oath of office was merely a formality.

Over the speaker phone General Taylor reported that the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk's plane enroute to Tokyo for a meeting was turning around and would return to Honolulu where it would refuel and then return to Washington. A flight of F-100 fighters would escort the plane from the time it left Honolulu until it landed at Andrews Air Force Base.

As General Taylor finished speaking an aide came in and handed a piece of paper to McCormack. The Speaker of the House read the paper and sighed. “Gentlemen, Kenneth O’Donnell died in the emergency room about 10 minutes ago. At present Johnson is still alive and is in surgery, but the doctors aren’t holding out too much hope for him. They define his condition as critical. He apparently lost a lot of blood on the way to the hospital.”

Robert Kennedy spoke up as McCormack finished. “Mister Speaker, I recommend that we send for the Chief Justice to immediately swear you in as acting president. The nation needs to know that the business of government is continuing amid this crisis.”

McCormack shook his head. “No. I will not be sworn in until we know for sure if Johnson is going to live or not. I will act in his name but taking the oath – I won’t do that until…” McCormack didn’t finish the sentence; he didn’t have to.

Robert Kennedy looked at the chairman of the F.B.I. There was no love lost between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover. But despite his flaws Hoover did know how to get the job done. “Mr. Hoover,” Kennedy said, “I know it is still early in your investigation, but do you have any leads or ideas of how could have been behind this?”

Hoover prided himself as being a man who stayed on top of any situation. But here all he could offer was hearsay and conjecture. “Mister Attorney General,” he began, “as of right now we have all sorts of leads with no real proof behind any of them. This could be a lone nut; it could be a right-wing militia operation. We know some of these right-wing crazies have made threatening statements against the President.” Here he produced a flier from his pocket that had a picture of John F. Kennedy on it with the worlds WANTED FOR TREASON.

“For all we know it could be an attempt by the Russians to decapitate our leadership preparatory to a nuclear strike. At the moment sir we just do not know anything.” Hoover concluded shaking his head.

“That was our thought too sir,” said General Taylor, “which is why we went to Defcon 4. I would like to recommend that we bring our alert level even higher to 3 given the possibility Mister Hoover has mentioned.”

John McCormack considered a moment then shook his head again. “No, we do not want the Soviets to start panicking here. We need more information before we take any further steps. For now, we will keep things at Defcon-4.”

The Speaker looked at his watch and said, “I suggest gentlemen that we try to get more information from our various sources. We will reconvene back here in one hour.” With that the meeting was adjourned.
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What fortuitous timing. I just started reading The Day Kennedy Was Shot just a few days ago.

edit: holy shit! a timeline where the DPD actually tried to do the autopsy. incredible
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F106 have too short of legs. They would be flying a great circle route which would be closer to Alaska than Hawaii and refuel in Elemdorf by Anchorage. They would have F101 or F100,s from there as escort and depending if they go over Canada some AVRO CF101 from there and pick up anything from a F100, F101, F4 Phantoms even some Navy aircraft depending what was there.
F106’s are short range interceptors not escort fighters. They would also have tanker support so the SecDef plane wouldn’t have to refuel. He would be using the USAF executive planes that were set up for tanking.
Chapter 1 (contd.) Bobby phones Dallas


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In one of the White House offices Robert Kennedy worked the phones over the next hour first calling Jacqueline. The Secret Service had managed to arrange for her to have a room at a hotel near the airport. She had finally accepted a mild sedative from the President’s personal physician and was resting. Nevertheless, she accepted the call from Bobby. Before Bobby could get in more than a simple “How are you doing?” She had made it clear that she was not leaving Dallas without Jack.

Bobby assured Jacqueline that he would move heaven and earth to ensure that Jack’s body would be on the way back to Washington by tomorrow at the very latest. Then he urged her to get some rest while he made some other calls.

His next call was to the Dallas Police Department the Coroner’s Division. He asked to speak with Dr. Earl Rose. He was told that Dr. Rose was presently unavailable. His Irish temper wearing thin Robert Kennedy identified himself and demanded that Dr. Rose be brought to the phone immediately. After a few minutes the receptionist told Kennedy that Dr. Rose would be available in about 5 minutes.

Five minutes later Dr. Earl Rose came on the line. In his office Dr. Rose activated a tape recorder to make a transcript of the conversation between himself and Kennedy in case he would need it later for legal purposes. Ironically, he didn’t know Kennedy had started recording the conversation at his end as well.

The transcript of the Kennedy/Rose conversation both the Rose and Kennedy tapes was sealed by the Warren Commission and only opened by the Freedom of Information Act in November 2013 on the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

Below is the transcript of this conversation:

Rose: Good evening, Mister Attorney General.

Kennedy: Mr. Rose, I will come right to the point. First, I will ask, have you begun your autopsy on the president?

Rose: Yes sir. In accordance with Texas law sir.

Kennedy: [pause] I see. How long do you anticipate the procedure will take?

Rose: We can have the preliminary work done in a few hours. The blood work and toxicology reports may take a day or so.

Kennedy: Dr. Rose I am afraid I cannot wait ‘a day or so’. I must demand sir that my brother’s body be returned to Washington as soon as possible. Do you have sufficient information to issue a death certificate?

Rose: [pause for several seconds] Uhm, yes Mr. Attorney General, given the nature of the case I believe I have sufficient information to issue a preliminary death certificate.

Kennedy: Then do so. U.S. Marshalls will be arriving at your office tomorrow at 8 a.m. They will want a copy of all your preliminary findings, and they will be taking my brother’s body to the airport. They will expect full cooperation from you and the Dallas Police Department Dr. Rose. Do I make myself clear?

Rose: Yes, Mister Attorney General.

Kennedy: Very good Dr. Rose. One of the Marshalls will also want to take a statement from you regarding what happened aboard the plane earlier this afternoon. You will answer his questions to the best of your ability. [pauses] Dr. Rose, at present you are not under any suspicion of a crime. But given what we are learning about the events on Air Force One a short time ago that could change depending on how cooperative you are with us in this investigation. Am I clear sir?

Rose: [pause] Yes sir, you are.

Kennedy: Very good. We will likely talk again later. Goodbye sir.

[transcript ends.]
Chapter 1 (contd.) Announcement at Parkland


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Dallas, Texas, Parkland Memorial Hospital, 3:12 p.m. CST:

The words “feeding frenzy” would well have suited the mood in the small conference room set aside for the press by Parkland Hospital. Aside from the announcement at Love Field by the DPD and the announcement of Kenneth O’Donnell’s death a short time ago no real information had been forthcoming.

Now the chief surgeon in charge of President Johnson’s care had said he needed to make an announcement. Cameras and microphones were hurriedly set up in the small room.

The roar became a buzz and them silence in the conference room. The chief neurosurgeon, Dr. William Kemp Clark, who just a short while previously had worked on President Kennedy had been selected to make the announcement and had assisted in the surgery to try to save the Vice President. He stepped to the mike and spoke.

Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson passed away during surgery 10 minutes ago. The Vice President had suffered an injury by gunshot wounds to his aorta and to his abdomen which caused extensive loss of blood. Attempts to restore blood by transfusion proved inadequate and Vice President Johnson was declared dead 10 minutes ago.”

The quiet room erupted in chaos.
In the long term, I'm sure that there will be a LOT of changes regarding the President, his security, and who has what sort of jurisdiction if there's any sort of incident involving the president.
I was just reading about McCormack; I'm guessing not much will change in regards to Vietnam, as it said he was a staunch anti-Communist and supported the war. He'll probably still be able to get Medicare and Civil Rights legislation passed. What a complete disaster this will be, however, and conspiracy theories will abound. What will happen to Oswald? if he lives and goes to trial, things will get extremely interesting.


Conspiracy theories would be endless even today.
The elected executive power beheaded in the same day.
No way in hell anyone would believe any sort of official investigation, heck, it would be the thing being branded as "fake" and the "conspiracy theory" in this TL.
Texas police would be grilled to ashes, Federal police and their authority would be massively extended.
I can see some sort of law where the security apparatus of the president takes full control of local police to avoid anything remotely like this ever happening.