The day the world changed

If the 35th president of the United States had not been assassinated on that fateful Friday afternoon in Dallas, then it is most unlikely my career path would have led me to United Press International (UPI) and ultimately to Australia and the editorship of the Mudgee Guardian.

In 1963 as a journalism student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas I was assigned to cover President Kennedy’s visit to Dallas, 100 miles north of Waco, for the school daily newspaper, The Baylor Lariat.

At that time I planned to go to work after my 1965 graduation for the Scripps Howard newspaper group where I had already been hired for two summer internships. In the off chance I decided on a wire service career instead, it was a near certainty I would follow the footsteps of Baylor Journalism Department Chairman Dave Cheavens and join the Associated Press – UPI’s arch rival.

Thus I had no idea how dramatically my plans would be changed as I joined other reporters at the Dallas Trade Mart complaining that the White House was slow in giving us copies of President Kennedy’s prepared luncheon speech.

Out of the blue a man who wore an earpiece and talked into his sleeve told me somewhat forcefully: “You need to go to Parkland Hospital”. He pointed me toward a fire exit, saying I should go down the outside fire stairs and tell the policeman guarding the stairs to get me to the hospital. I’ve no idea why that stranger with an earpiece gave me that directive, but I obeyed.

The policeman stopped a passing car and put me in it along with a couple of other reporters, telling the woman driver to take us to Parkland Hospital.

Looking back 50 years later, my strongest personal recollection – other than the facts of the story that everyone knows – is the way the man with the earpiece, the policeman at the foot of the stairs and so many other people went out of their way to help a young journalist and provide him and other members of the press with a degree of access unheard of by today’s standards. Here are a few memories:

n At Parkland hospital a nurse at a nursing station made a woman get off of a pay telephone so I could use it to call the Baylor Lariat. Then she fought off all others who tried to use the phone during the next couple of hours while I went in search of more info and attended the briefing where Malcolm Kilduff announced to a teary-eyed press corps that the president was dead.

n The motorcycle cop who gave me a ride perched precariously on the back of his three-wheeler from Parkland Hospital to the Dallas police station – a shocking no-no by today’s OH&S standards. On the way his police radio blared out reports of the capture of Oswald.

n The policewoman who, without batting an eye, directed me up to suite 317 in the police station where the Homicide & Robbery office was located and Oswald was being questioned. My press pass for the Kennedy trip was identification enough. What a far cry from today!

n The way the police paraded Oswald’s rifle through a hallway choked with reporters. It’s shown on Page 63 of Four Days, UPI’s book about the assassination, and there I am at the right-hand edge of the picture. A portent of things to come?

n The offer of a late night hamburger and coke from none other than Jack Ruby as I waited in a crowded police station hallway.  Ruby and I had gotten acquainted over the past two years during my repeated trips up to his Carousel Club in Dallas. Back then I played the trumpet and I sometimes sat in as musicians jammed after the strip club’s closing on Saturday nights.

Ruby told me he was going out to get burgers for some of the police and asked if I wanted anything. He brought me back a couple of little burgers and took a bag of others into a room where police officers were carrying out their investigations. (This is a detail I kept to myself for many years to avoid explaining how I came to know Ruby to Baylor’s Baptist powers that be, publishers of the Baylor Lariat, and to my strict Baptist mother.)

n My regret, after checking into a hotel about 3am on Sunday, to learn on waking via the TV that I had missed Ruby shooting Oswald. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr! 

So how did all of this set me on a career with UPI, much less a move from America to Mudgee?

Shortly before I graduated in 1965 journalism professor David McHam took some of his students including me to a meeting in Fort Worth where UPI Southwest Division news editor, Jack Fallon, spoke about UPI’s Pulitzer Prize winning assassination coverage.

After Fallon’s talk, McHam led me over to meet him and – to my absolute surprise – told Fallon: “DeLong wants to work for UPI.”

I spent the next 21 years with UPI.

In 1979 UPI sent me to cover the Three Mile Island nuclear plant disaster and an Australian-born radio talk show host, Susan Bray, interviewed me in Des Moines, Iowa, about that experience. 

Four years later she married me, and in 2001 we moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Mudgee where her broadcast career had started at 2MG in 1961.

The rest is history.

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