Sue Vogelsinger won’t be among the throngs of history buffs and theorists poring over newly released details in the assassination death of president John F. Kennedy on Thursday.
Unlike most of them, Vogelsinger knew the former president in life. And the 81-year-old resident of Sandpoint, who once took dictation from Kennedy in the White House, is pretty sure Occam’s razor – the philosophical precept that simpler explanations are usually the best – explains the shooting on that warm November afternoon in 1963.
“Everybody has unanswered questions. What did happen for heaven’s sakes?” Vogelsinger said in an interview Wednesday, hours after President Donald Trump announced he’d release the final installment of files on the case. “I don’t think anybody has come up with any rationale that makes an awful lot more sense than Lee Harvey Oswald.”
Vogelsinger joined Kennedy’s press team in 1958, just as the bright-eyed politician from Brookline, Massachusetts, was cruising to a lopsided re-election in the U.S. Senate. She was part of a team of nine press agents who were on call any time the president needed an answer for the gaggle of journalists covering the White House.
“He was right around the corner, frequently popping his head in the office,” Vogelsinger said. “If you happened to be the only person there, he was very likely asking you to find out whatever it was he wanted to know.”
Vogelsinger wasn’t riding in the motorcade the day of the assassination, as she normally would have been. The stopovers in Dallas, then Austin, were routine political events, she said, and she had returned to Air Force One to begin preparations for the next day’s speech. The president was scheduled to arrive about two hours later, before the shots rang out in Dealey Plaza.
“One of the stewards came in, and said we had to start packing up. There’s been a shooting, and we’re probably going to have to leave,” Vogelsinger said.
Vogelsinger and a coworker, Chris Camp, tried to glean information from a tiny TV set on the plane, set to the White House’s internal communications rather than news broadcasts, which would soon transmit the shocking news. The small team of news agents, led by press secretary Pierre Salinger, began preparing for an inevitable flood of questions as reporters from all over the world began to cover the assassination of a U.S. president.
“We worked, and worked and worked,” Vogelsinger said. “We had to help them figure out what to do, and how to cover that story. We were there practically 24 hours a day.”
Vogelsinger stayed on with President Lyndon B. Johnson for a few months, but left to follow Salinger to California and assist the San Francisco native’s successful bid for the U.S. Senate. She later worked for Robert Kennedy, the president’s brother who also was assassinated, as well as George and Eleanor McGovern, Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Hillary Clinton.
In 2000, she moved with her husband, Bruce, to North Idaho to be closer to the couple’s twin daughters.
“I never expected that, I’ll tell you,” Vogelsinger said.
Two years ago, Vogelsinger brought several of her mementos from her time serving Kennedy to the taping of the Antiques Roadshow public television program in Spokane. The collection, appraised at between $60,000 and $80,000, included an official schedule of the day of Kennedy’s assassination and several dictated speeches Vogelsinger helped edit for the president.
She doesn’t miss the hustle and bustle of the beltway, but still has friends on the East Coast, and Vogelsinger said she’d probably reach out to them in the hours after the records are released.
“I’m sure I will get some calls once people see what’s going on,” she said.
Vogelsinger has avoided reading the Warren Commission’s report, an 888-page publication summarizing the findings of the investigation into Kennedy’s death that concluded Oswald acted alone. But as time has gone by, she’s become more and more sure of that conclusion, she said.
“I’ve always believed that it was probably Oswald by himself, and certainly now as we see more and more strange people coming out of the woodwork and killing for no reason at all, it even makes more sense that that could have been what happened,” she said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter