Newsman, Mr. Peppermint reflect on JFK 45 years later

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by BY JASON WHITELY / WFAA-TV

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:52 AM

Belo Interactive
The presidential limousine speeds towards the triple underpass as a Secret Service agent clings to the rear of the car just moments after the shots were fired.
WFAA-TV
Bert Shipp, left, and Jerry Haynes relayed news of the assassination to the world on November 22, 1963.

DALLAS - As the motorcade made its way through downtown Dallas, The Julie Bennell Variety Show was on the air during the lunch hour at WFAA-TV, as announcer Jay Watson rushed in the studio.

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, you'll excuse the fact I'm out of breath. But about 10 or 15 minutes ago, a tragic thing happened in the City of Dallas," he said.

As that day in Dallas unfolded, Bert Shipp, WFAA's former Assistant News Director, and Jerry Haynes, better known for years as Mr. Peppermint, were among the first to report the news.

"Television grew up that day," Shipp said.

"I ran back as quick as I could," Haynes added. "I was 34-years-old so I was a sprinter. [On the way] I heard a lady say 'Oh my Lord they killed him!.'"

Haynes went on the air within minutes alongside Watson, after witnessing the assassination in Dealey Plaza, just four blocks from the studio.

Shipp was awaiting Kennedy's arrival at the Trade Mart, where the motorcade was scheduled to go before gunfire erupted downtown.

"They went right past me," Shipp remembered, "and I started shooting and I hollered at a Channel 11 guy who was with me and I said 'There was a foot hanging out of the back of that limousine! Did you see that?!'"

In what is unheard of now, Shipp said he asked a Dallas policeman he knew at the Trade Mart to take him to Parkland Hospital because he thought emergency lights would get him there quicker than his news car.

After arriving, he discovered finding a phone to report the news was a challenge.

"The one phone over there, Merriman Smith from UPI I found out later, was on it," Shipp added. "I tried to take it away from him. He told me he was going to put it where the sun don't shine."

Now without a car, getting back to the station was almost as hard as finding a phone.

"I walked out to Harry Hines [Boulevard} in front of Parkland," Shipp said. "The first car to stop, I grabbed the door and I said 'Take me to Channel 8! The President's been shot! I need to get back right away.' It was a real old man and he said 'I'm not going that way.' I said 'Yeah, you are!'"

To this day, Shipp claims credit for saving Abraham Zapruder's famous film of the assassination.

"I did," Shipp said. "Single-handedly. Mr. Zapruder never knew that. I started to ask him I'd like to have a cut!"

The day after the shooting, Shipp added, four FBI agents came to WFAA and wanted to develop what they considered potentially important 8mm film of the assassination.

Shipp refused to let them do it though because Channel 8 could only process 16mm film, anything other types would likely be destroyed.

For four days, a staff of eight newsmen stayed on the air at WFAA, puffing cigarettes, even using a blackboard and chalk to illustrate what happened.

"Looking back how did we do all that?," Haynes said. "Well, we did it because we had to."

As remarkable as the memories, is the fact their broadcast even exists.

Days before the assassination, WFAA was the first television station in North Texas to test new technology called videotape.

They were recording that afternoon, 45 years ago, which now forever documents Dallas' darkest days.

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