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TODAY   |  November 22, 2013

Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather remember JFK assassination

Legendary journalists Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather remember where they were the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago, and talk about the impact of his death and his legacy.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> today. of course the event that is getting the most attention today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of president john f. kennedy . tonight on an nbc news special tom brokaw asks eyewitnesses, politicians, journalists, and celebrities where were you?

>> i remember exactly what i was doing and where i was.

>> i was a senior in high school . it was right after lunch.

>> i was in school.

>> i was coming home from the studio.

>> i was walking down the hall at law school .

>> i was on the shuttle getting off on 42nd and lexington.

>> i was on a bus going to new haven for the harvard-yale game.

>> i was playing in the harvard-yale soccer game.

>> i was in school. i was in class.

>> in 1963 , dr. robert grossman was a 31-year-old neurosurgeon at parkland hospital .

>> we got downstairs, we could see limos, police cars , ambulance at the entrance to the emergency room .

>> so you run into a room and there's a gurny.

>> there was the president of the united states lying motionless surrounded by physicians. it was clear that he had a severe head wound. there was a great deal of bleeding from his head.

>> at the hospital were two catholic priests. dan rather got them on the phone and asked has the president been shot and he said yes the president has been shot and the president is dead. the president is dead. what a hammer to the heart.

>> seeing the president dying in front of you, the feeling is one of awe. everyone was concerned. everyone was concentrating on the medical aspect but i think everyone was concerned what this means for the country. was this the start of world war iii .

>> there is also a companion book to the special where were you. america remembers the jfk assassination . tom brokaw is with us along with dan rather who was in dallas 50 years ago today. what a pleasure to see you guys. good morning.

>> good morning.

>> we'll go to the where were you. you were in dallas. where, dan ?

>> i was headquatered at the cbs affiliate but at the time of the assassination i was just pass the railroad overpass, the car underpass just beyond where the motorcade was to officially end.

>> tom.

>> i was in omaha. on was on duty. and the bells began to go crazy. i wandered over and couldn't believe it. i still remember my mind set. it's going to change us. that was my immediate thought. we shot a president, and this president. put it on the air because the network in those days gave back to the affiliates noon hour for local programming. i interrupted a garden program to announce the president had been assassinated.

>> so many people talk about how the nation changed that day and people use the phrase lost it's innocence. do you agree with that assessment? here's a country that had just been through world war ii .

>> what a good point. i agree with it up to a point. we didn't believe assassinations would happen here. yes, we had three previous presidents assassinated but we believed that was all in the past. assassinations were something that happened perhaps somewhere in asia. in that sense we lost our innocence but it's overstated because we had been through the great depression, world war ii , the korean war so to call us innocent was accurate. but when president kennedy talked about the torch being passed, that's how the nation changed. he was the first president born in the 20th century . first roman catholic . next to youngest man to go into the presidency. only theodore roosevelt . the nation was turning young. they had a young vibrant president and in that sense we moved forward into the future.

>> there was something else going on. at the same time i completely agree with what dan says. it was the arrival of television. he was very familiar to people because he was in their living room every night in the way no president before him had been. people felt a connection to him in some way. and he was perfectly casted for this new medium, charismatic, good look, and he knew how to use it. so that made it this rivoting moment for people.

>> right. he was the first television president. he had television but there weren't that many television sets in the country. as he came into the presidency television was becoming the dominant means of communication in the country and he was made for television and also the first, i would say hollywood president. he had this star aura about him and was the first to bring marketing techniques to the presidency.

>> think of moments that resinate like that moment resinated. pearl harbor , the assassination of jfk , 9/11 that we covered afterward. you talked to a wide variety of people for this special. were you surprised at how emotional they still got recounting their stories from that day?

>> i think and especially in a generational sense. the people that were his age or a little bit younger or older felt connected to him and the possibilities seem endless because he was going to talk about going to the moon and he always would say we go not because it's easy but because it's hard. he was challenging the country and we were coming out of the 1950s with dwight eisenhower who did great things but he came determined to reactivate the american spirit and people felt a part of that. the boomers were not yet of age. but i was 20 when he was elected who felt this is the kind of leader we're going to have for the rest of my life. somehow we're going to be challenged in a different way and we're no longer expected to just go stand in line and wait our turn. that young people can take hold of this country and make a difference.

>> this moment, of course, has endured in our collective psyche and part of that is because there's still people that are very suspicious. they still believe there maybe more to this story than lee harvey oswald acted along and shooting from the book depository. i'm curious, dan , what you make of that?

>> it's understandable. we love to doubt. i don't have any argument with anybody that thinks it was otherwise than lee harvey oswald and some conspiracy.

>> do you have any doubts?

>> i love to doubt as well as to know but i do believe one gun, one shooter. i think it was lee harvey oswald the shooter. i do not believe he was part of a conspiracy but i'm open if somebody comes forward with convincing evidence or testimony i have an open mind .

>> that's where i am as well. i think he shot him. fired three shots. was there a dotted line to some other force of some kind, johnson always believed the cubans had something to do with it in part because the kennedy people were trying to get rid of castro and i mean get rid of him and a secret committee working on eliminating him and taking him out all together.

>> tom brokaw , dan rather , what a pleasure to have you guys here.

>> you know what you're going to do from your friday night now. from 9:00 to 11:00 , you're going to be in front of your television.

>> tonight at 9:00, 8:00 central time . right here on today. where were you the day jfk died.

>> live coverage of the moment of silence