Kelly: Omaha TV anchor packed for Dallas to cover JFK story with a baby on the way -
Published Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:36 am
Kelly: Omaha TV anchor packed for Dallas to cover JFK story with a baby on the way

» When the bulletin of President John F. Kennedy's assassination was announced on radio, new Omaha television anchor Steve Bell was at home with his wife, Joyce, who was about to give birth to their first child.

Because phone lines were jammed, an assignment editor ran several blocks from WOW-TV, rang the Bells' bell and said, “Pack for Dallas!”

Steve, who later enjoyed a long career in network news, replied: “I can't do that. My wife is going to have a baby.”

But Joyce urged him to go, and Steve quickly caught a Braniff flight to Dallas that Friday with cameraman Bob Mockler.

By that evening, they stood at Dallas police headquarters. In a scene that wouldn't happen today, Lee Harvey Oswald was brought past reporters in a “perp walk” as the suspected perpetrator of the crime.

They shouted questions at him.

The Omahans stayed for the weekend and intended to report on Oswald's transfer from the city jail to the county jail Sunday, but it was delayed — and they had to catch their flight back home. So Bell filmed a report from Dallas saying that Oswald had been transferred, and he and Mockler (who still lives in Omaha) barely caught their plane.

That film never was shown on air because, as the pilot announced 15 minutes into their flight, Oswald had been killed by Jack Ruby.

Bell, 77, told me that story Friday from Muncie, Ind., where he is retired from a post-network career as a professor of telecommunications for 15 years at Ball State.

“I feel very blessed,” he said, “that I had two fulfilling careers. I always intended to be a teacher, but I was diverted for 35 years.”

A native of Oskaloosa, Iowa, he reported for ABC News from Vietnam and stood near Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968 as Kennedy made his victory speech in the California Democratic presidential primary — moments before RFK was assassinated.

Bell later was news anchor for “Good Morning America.”

In 1974, the network had recalled him from Hong Kong to become White House correspondent.

His NBC competitor there was future anchorman Tom Brokaw, who had worked at KMTV in Omaha at the time of the Kennedy assassination.

Oh, yes: Steve made it back from Dallas in 1963 in the nick of time. Four hours after returning, he drove Joyce to the hospital and baby Allison was born early on Nov. 26. They will celebrate her 50th birthday with her in Muncie.

» Another Omaha connection to the assassination was former White House photographer Cecil Stoughton, who took the historic picture of President Lyndon Johnson being sworn in aboard Air Force One.

Like Steve Bell, a native of Oskaloosa, Iowa, Stoughton lived and attended school at Boys Town from age 10 to 12, which was 1930-32.

During World War II, he was assigned to a motion picture unit. And while in Hawaii in 1947, he shot photos of Boys Town founder Father Edward Flanagan, who recognized him and called him by name.

Stoughton was a captain in the Army Signal Corps when assigned to the White House during the Kennedy Administration, taking many behind-the-scenes family photos. He stayed for part of Johnson's presidency.

Boys Town historian Tom Lynch said Friday that Stoughton, who died in 2008, visited Boys Town over the years. Some of his photos are part of the permanent collection at the town's Hall of History.

“He was a very nice man and loved Boys Town,” Lynch said. “He often said that Father Flanagan was a father figure and had a great influence on his life.”

» Omaha defense lawyer James Martin Davis served in the Secret Service after the assassination of President Kennedy and got to know agents who had been part of the Dallas detail.

Did they take the president's death personally? Of course.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

“The primary purpose of the Secret Service is to protect the president,” Davis said somberly, “and they lost their man.”

Had agents been stationed on the running boards of the presidential limousine, he said, they at least would have obscured the shooter's view. But JFK wanted people along the motorcade route to be able to see him and the first lady.

Davis, an Army combat veteran of Vietnam, received his 1970 commission into the Secret Service from Clint Hill, the agent who climbed onto the presidential limousine after the president was hit.

The limousine in which Kennedy was shot was refurbished and repainted black instead of the previous midnight blue.

It was returned to presidential service for 13 more years.

During his three years in the Secret Service, Davis occasionally guarded President Richard Nixon and stood on a back platform of the limo. Today the vehicle sits in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

Davis, a former federal prosecutor, said he is inclined to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.

» Sally Kreis of Papillion has personal memories of getting to know the Kennedys in her Omaha youth.

Her parents, Dr. Maurice and Jane Stoner, were active in Democratic Party politics, and politicians often came to their home. Her mother became chairwoman of Nebraskans for Kennedy.

Sally, who attended the 1960 inauguration at age 11 and graduated from Cathedral High in 1966, still has telegrams from John F. Kennedy and other family members to her mother, as well as lots of photos.

“That time and place,” she said, “seemed almost magical.”

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

Teen who worked as a cook is killed in shooting at Benson's Gallagher Park
Sweet deal on suite use has MECA board looking at written rules
Finally. Spring expected to return, stick around. No, really: Warmer-than-average weather in forecast
Home alone: When burglar broke in, 12-year-old locked herself in bathroom, called 911
City Council OKs redevelopment plan for north downtown project
Inmate accused of partially tearing off another's testicles charged with assault
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
Lawyer: Man had right to hand out religious fliers outside Pinnacle Bank Arena
Firefighters put out duplex blaze in N.W. Omaha
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
Coffee with a Cop set for Thursday in Benson
In TV ad, Shane Osborn says Ben Sasse 'beholden to Washington'
Douglas County offices accepting credit, debit cards
Ben Sasse raises more money than U.S. Senate foes Shane Osborn and Sid Dinsdale
Parched Omaha soil soaks up record precipitation
Engineering student harnesses girl power, starts engineering-science club at Gomez Elementary
WB Dodge Street lane closed
Ex-Omaha Mayor Hal Daub endorses Shane Osborn for U.S. Senate seat
New Doane College program promises free tuition for first class
No more last-minute hiring of Omaha Public Schools teachers
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Lunar eclipse was visible in the Omaha area
2 arrested in west Omaha hotel TV thefts
You can tape a cable TV access show at new city-built studio in Omaha
< >
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Breaking Brad: Hey, Republicans, are you ready to be audited?
A quick list of audit red flags: 3) You fail to sign your return. 2) You fail to report income. 1) You are a registered Republican.
Breaking Brad: Next year, Bo Pelini brings a mountain lion to the spring game
Before the spring game, Bo Pelini carried a cat onto the field. With Bo's personality, it'd have been more appropriate for him to carry a mountain lion.
Breaking Brad: Bo Pelini's cat lets spring game intro go to its head
Coach Bo Pelini took the field before the spring game holding a cat aloft. Typical cat. He was undoubtedly thinking, “Sixty thousand people, all cheering for me!”
Kelly: 3 former Nebraskans all take seats at the table of international diplomacy
Three former residents of the Cornhusker State are working together at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, and one took part in a recent high-level meeting about Ukraine.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
$25 for a $50 gift card to use at Schweser's!
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »