2 witnesses to key events surrounding JFK assassination die

2 witnesses to key events surrounding JFK assassination die

11:11 PM CDT on Tuesday, April 27, 2010

By SCOTT PARKS / The Dallas Morning News
sparks@dallasnews.com

The deaths of H. Louis Nichols and Aubrey Rike probably wouldn’t have been noticed outside their circle of family and friends – except for one thing: Both men were eyewitnesses to important events surrounding the death of President John F. Kennedy.

The assassination at Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas occurred more than 46 years ago. When all eyewitnesses have died, historians will be left with no one significant to interview. The flesh-and-blood humanity found in troubled eyes and wistful faces animated by dramatic memories will be lost forever.

Then, we’ll be left to assemble new accounts of momentous events – as we have with Lincoln’s assassination, the Titanic’s sinking, the destruction at Pearl Harbor – from dusty records, old videos or sketchy secondhand accounts of friends and relatives who once talked to the eyewitnesses or who found yellowed letters in an attic trunk.

J. Frank Dobie, the noted Texas author and folklorist, once said that the average Ph.D. thesis “is nothing but a transference of bones from one graveyard to another.”

With the deaths of Nichols, Rike and others in the past year, we move closer to the time when no one is left to testify.

H. Louis Nichols: Dallas lawyer visited Oswald in jail

10:59 PM CDT on Tuesday, April 27, 2010

By SCOTT PARKS / The Dallas Morning News
sparks@dallasnews.com

H. Louis Nichols, a Dallas lawyer who died Sunday at 94, sat knee to knee with Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 23, 1963, the day after President John F. Kennedy died in Dallas.

The story of how he came to share a few one-on-one moments with Oswald centers on the sense of professional responsibility Mr. Nichols felt as president of the Dallas County Bar Association in 1963.

Dallas police arrested Oswald several hours after the assassination on a Friday afternoon. Once Oswald was in jail, it was unclear to the world whether he wanted or had requested an attorney. It also was unclear whether the FBI or police might be keeping him from an attorney while interrogating him.

By 2 p.m. Saturday, Mr. Nichols began receiving calls from Dallas attorneys concerned that Oswald did not have an attorney. Esteemed law school deans from “back East” were calling to express concern that only a legal backwater would deny an attorney to a murder suspect, Mr. Nichols’ friends told him.

The situation was puzzling. Mr. Nichols was a civil lawyer unfamiliar with criminal law. Oswald, who was indigent, couldn’t pay a lawyer. In 1963, criminal suspects in Texas had no right to a court-appointed lawyer before they were indicted.

Still, Mr. Nichols concluded that even a pariah like Oswald deserved representation. And it was up to him as bar association president to see if the accused killer wanted a lawyer. So, Mr. Nichols cleaned up, got dressed on a Saturday afternoon and drove to the city jail.

After navigating his way through a horde of reporters and television cameramen, he went to Police Department offices and announced that he was there to speak to Oswald. Accompanied by Police Chief Jesse Curry, Mr. Nichols took the elevator to the sixth floor of the Police and Courts Building, where he found the prisoner by himself in a small cell between two empty cells. A police guard sat just outside the cell door.

“So, he sat on one bunk and I sat on the other. Maybe three or four feet apart,” Nichols told a lawyer for the Warren Commission, a prestigious group of government officials who investigated the assassination.

Nichols described Oswald, who was dressed in white T-shirt and slacks, as calm and rested. He had a bruise over one eye but appeared to be in good health. He said that police were holding him “incommunicado” and that he did not know what had happened to the president, Mr. Nichols told the Warren Commission.

Oswald said he wanted a New York lawyer named John Abt or a lawyer associated with the American Civil Liberties Union to represent him. Oswald also wanted a lawyer “who believes as I believe, and believes in my innocence.”

“What I am interested in is knowing right now, do you want me or the Dallas Bar Association to try to get you a lawyer?” Mr. Nichols asked Oswald.

“No, not right now,” he replied.

Mr. Nichols, who was 47 at the time, left the jail cell confident that he had done his duty as bar association president. The next morning, Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald on live national television.

Mr. Nichols’ family describes him as a humble man and a hard-working attorney who didn’t formally retire until age 91.

“As someone who sat knee to knee with Lee Harvey Oswald, he believed he was a part of history,” said Martha M. Nichols, his daughter.

Jennie Nichols, a granddaughter, recalled the day she brought her grandfather to her fifth-grade class for show and tell.

The kids were studying the Kennedy assassination, and Mr. Nichols was happy to tell them his story.

“That day, he was show and tell,” Ms. Nichols said.

Services for Mr. Nichols will be at 11 a.m. today at Park Cities Presbyterian Church.

In addition to his daughter and granddaughter, survivors include his wife, Elaine Nichols; a son, David Nichols; and another granddaughter.

Aubrey Lee “Al” Rike: Ambulance driver helped Jackie after JFK assassination

11:02 PM CDT on Tuesday, April 27, 2010

By JOE SIMNACHER / The Dallas Morning News
jsimnacher@dallasnews.com

On Nov. 22, 1963, Aubrey Lee “Al” Rike had hoped to get a glimpse of President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade.

Instead, the 25-year-old Dallas ambulance driver became an eyewitness to the turmoil at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he would befriend Jacqueline Kennedy, help her transfer her wedding band to her husband’s finger, and place the president’s body into a bronze casket.

Mr. Rike, 72, died Thursday of a heart attack at LifeCare Hospitals of Plano.

The emotion of that day would forever overcome Mr. Rike when he would tell his story for interviews, speeches or seminars, said his wife, Glenda Rike of Plano.

Few knew of Mr. Rike’s amazing story until a researcher located him in 1980, said Gary Mack, curator of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. In September 2001, Mr. Rike told his story for the museum’s oral history collection, choking up when he recalled helping Mrs. Kennedy place her wedding band on her husband’s finger.

When the ring stopped at the first joint of the president’s ring finger, Mr. Rike reached for some lubricant, which helped somewhat but not much.

“And she said, ‘Thank you,’ and then she reached out and kissed that ring,” Mr. Rike said.

Born in Dallas, Mr. Rike was a graduate of Crozier Tech High School.

He served in the Marines before becoming an ambulance driver.

The day of the assassination, Mr. Rike and his partner were called to transport a man to Parkland. He had fainted across from the Texas School Book Depository about 10 minutes before the motorcade was to pass.

While filling out forms at Parkland, Mr. Rike noticed something big was happening. He saw Lyndon B. Johnson and thought the vice president might have had another heart attack.

Next, Texas Gov. John Connally was brought into the emergency area, followed moments later by the president, his head covered with a coat.

Mr. Rike said he spotted Mrs. Kennedy seated on a straight-back metal chair outside the trauma room.

The first lady asked Mr. Rike if he was from Dallas.

“And I said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ ” he recalled in his oral history. “And you know, it’s kind of hard to make a conversation with, you know, the first lady.”

Mr. Rike said he wetted a towel in a nearby scrub room and gave it to Mrs. Kennedy. She cleaned blood from her hands and placed the towel under her chair.

Mr. Rike said the area was chaotic, loud and crowded with officials. Out of cigarettes, Mr. Rike got permission to go to a vending machine.

When Mr. Rike returned, Mrs. Kennedy asked if she could have a cigarette, he said.

As Mr. Rike reached into his breast pocket, a Secret Service agent knocked the cigarettes down, scattering them across the floor.

The agent retrieved one of cigarettes and handed it to Mrs. Kennedy and asked Mr. Rike if he had a light.

“So I gave him my Zippo very carefully because I didn’t know what he was going to do with that,” Mr. Rike said.

Mr. Rike said he waited with Mrs. Kennedy for the casket to arrive.

After the president was given last rites, Mr. Rike and his partner transferred the body to the casket.

Mrs. Kennedy wanted to ride in the back of the hearse with her husband. Mr. Rike folded down the jump seat for Mrs. Kennedy, holding her arm so that she could climb inside the hearse.

“A Secret Service agent grabbed me and threw me against the door,” Mr. Rike recalled.

Mrs. Kennedy then said, “Leave the young man alone. This is the only gentleman I’ve met since I’ve been here,” Mr. Rike recalled.

“And so I said, ‘Thank you, ma’am.’ ”

He then he helped Mrs. Kennedy into the hearse.

“And she said, ‘Thank you very much.’ ”

Mr. Rike went on to a 26-year career with the Highland Park Police Department.

“Aubrey never embellished his story or changed it in any way – ever,” Mr. Mack said. “He didn’t make a big deal about what he did.”

Services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at Turrentine Jackson Morrow Funeral Home in Allen. Visitation will be from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the funeral home.

Mr. Rike is survived by his wife, Glenda Rike of Plano; a son, Larry Rike of Plano; and a sister, Carolyn Hawkins of McKinney.

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