NBC Director Recalls Historic Coverage of JFK's Death

As news spread of President John F. Kennedy's death, the nation gathered around their television sets to learn what happened to the beloved president. And one NBC News director began the process of bringing that news to the nation.

NBC News had the only live capability from Andrews Air Force Base on Nov. 22, 1963. The man who directed that coverage shared his story with News4's Wendy Rieger.

"I was at the circle, Tenley Circle, and a woman started screaming at me, and she said, 'Turn on your radio!'' So I turned it on, and I heard Governor [John] Connally and President Kennedy had been shot," said Max Schindler Sr., who recently retired from NBC.

President John F. Kennedy had just been shot while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas. After hearing the news, the 25-year-old director rushed to the newsroom and prepared to be sent to the scene. 

"The newsroom was chaotic, to say the least. The bureau chief said, 'Have your wife pack a bag and send it by cab. We've chartered a plane to go to Dallas for the coverage," Schindler recalled. 

Before the bag even arrived, Schindler -- and the rest of the world -- learned that Kennedy had died. Schindler got in his car to head to Andrews Air Force Base, where Air Force One was expected to return. But he was met with gridlocked traffic. He flagged down an officer he saw weaving through traffic for help.

"I said to him, "I'm the director for NBC, and we gotta do the coverage of Air Force One returning to Andrews.' I said, 'I need to get out there. Can you help me?'"

Schindler got a police escort to the base, adding that his only regret is that he never got that officer's name. He lucked out a second time after a fellow NBC employee helped him get inside Andrews after Secret Service refused to let him in, despite his White House pass.

NBC was the first of the three networks to arrive, and because of the equipment capabilities at that time, Schindler learned that his crew's footage would be shared world-wide.

Schindler's camera was rolling as Air Force One taxied to a cargo loader, and the nation got its first look at Kennedy's casket.

"I remember saying to the whole crew, 'You realize that's the President of the United States in that coffin,' " Schindler recalled. "It was a moment of realization for all of us. Everyone had heard he'd been shot; they heard he was dead. But for the American public, that was the first concrete evidence they had that he was dead."

Kennedy's wife, Jackie, was still in her blood-stained pink suit as she and her son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., rode down with the coffin and got into an awaiting ambulance.

"I said the cameraman, 'Slowly pan back to Air Force One.," Schindler said.

At that moment, Lyndon B. Johnson got off the plane, approached a podium and addressed the nation for the first time as the President of the United States.

"I remember his words. I'm almost positive it went exactly like this," Schindler said as he closed his eyes. " 'I will do the best that I can. I need your help, and God's help.' " 

The young director said at the time he didn't realize his role in history.

"After it was all over, I was real sad. But while it was going on, it's what we do ... and I didn't think at the time about recording history. I was doing my job."

A few years later, President Johnson told Schindler that he was watching TV before he stepped out of Air Force One. When the camera panned back to the plane, he saw it as his signal to come out and address the nation.

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