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JFK, 50 years later: Gainesville man recalls fateful trip to Dallas

POSTED: November 22, 2013 12:59 a.m.

JFK memories: Nath Hayes

Readers recall what they were doing when news of the JFK assassination was announced.

SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Gainesville resident Nath Hayes was flying to Dallas the day President Kennedy was shot. In addition, Hayes' hotel was across the street from the Dallas police headquarters where Lee Harvey Oswald, who was accused of killing the president, was shot by Jack Ruby.

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With the national convention seven months away, Nath Hayes’ job was to check out where the Georgia Jaycees would be staying during the event in Dallas.

The trip on Nov. 22, 1963, would turn into something much more, including being a witness to history.

Hayes, following up on Georgia Jaycees President Malone Sharpe’s request to take the journey, flew out of Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport at about 9 a.m., making a stop at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport before proceeding to Dallas.

Similarly, President John F. Kennedy was aboard Air Force One, landing in the Texas city about 11:30 a.m. As Kennedy’s motorcade traveled through downtown, he was struck by an assassin’s bullet to his head and pronounced dead a short time later at Parkland Hospital.

Word of the national tragedy hadn’t reached Hayes, who was still in the air.

“I don’t even know if I knew whether the president was going to be in Dallas,” said Hayes in an interview this week at Lee Gilmer, which is at 1137 Aviation Way, Gainesville.

But those aboard the single-engine Mooney aircraft knew something was seriously amiss when they learned that airports in Dallas were closed.

“So, we landed at a small airport (in Louisiana) and caught a cab over to a motel, where we turned on the TV,” said Hayes, now 80.

That’s when they learned Kennedy had been killed.

Other major events happened that day, including Dallas police charging Lee Harvey Oswald with Kennedy’s murder and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as Kennedy’s successor.

The next morning, Hayes and his group were able to fly into Dallas, as the president’s body had been flown the evening before to Washington, D.C.

“Dallas was kind of like a ghost town,” Hayes said. “It was really kind of surreal. We were expecting to meet with the Dallas Jaycees, which we did, but there were very few restaurants open. It was just a quiet town.”

America was reeling from the sudden turn of events, not only in deep mourning but worried and fearful of what might happen next. The Cold War was in full gear, with Kennedy having sour relations with Cuba and the then-Soviet Union.

Hayes too was shocked.

“I was a great admirer of President Kennedy. I thought he was doing a good job,” he said.

As things turned out, Hayes and his group were staying in a hotel across from the Dallas police headquarters, from where Oswald was scheduled to be transferred the morning of Nov. 24 to the county jail.

Television cameras were in the basement of the police building, covering the transfer live, when nightclub operator Jack Ruby pulled a gun and shot Oswald. Oswald was loaded into an ambulance and rushed to Parkland, where he died two hours later.

“We were watching that on TV, but we could also walk over to the window and see the (police) building,” Hayes said. “We saw the ambulance come out of (the building). That was kind of weird.

“The next morning, we came home.”

Hayes, who sold insurance at the time and still does from his Gainesville office, took a few moments to reflect on Kennedy’s presidency, often dubbed “Camelot” because of its air of optimism and innocence.

“I think he made people aware of a lot of things,” he said. “He really brought to the forefront the problems that a lot of people had.”



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