The JFK file: Worthington woman documents president's assassination and the investigation
Marj Wendt admits she had a bit of a crush on John F. Kennedy.
So when President Kennedy fell victim to an assassin’s bullet on Nov. 22, 1963, Marj’s world pretty much fell apart.
“We were living down in Norfolk, Va.,” a short distance from Washington, D.C., Marj said. “My husband was a company rep for Litton.”
Litton was a large defense contractor, and James Wendt was assigned to Oceana Naval Base, where the planes used a Litton guidance system. On Nov. 22, he was at work and heard the news before his wife.
“I had two kids in school and that day I was ironing clothes —I ironed white shirts forever,” she said. “My husband called from the base and said, ‘Turn on the TV. The president has been shot.
“We used to take movies all the time, and we had this thing that we plugged into the TV (to film off of television), so I went and got that. I tuned in just as the ambulance was pulling up to Parkland Hospital.”
In the ensuing days, the television was never turned off in the Wendt house. Marj was glued to the TV coverage as Kennedy was pronounced dead, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States, funeral arrangements were announced, Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby and other happenings unfolded in the aftermath of the assassination.
“I watched TV for four days nonstop,” she said. “It was just such a shock. I mean, the whole nation went into shock. We had never experienced anything else like it, except maybe World War II, when we were attacked (Pearl Harbor).”
Using her filming equipment, Marj captured the images that flashed across the TV, including descriptions of the Zapruder film that documented the fatal shot to Kennedy’s head.
“It was stressful” living in close proximity to a naval base and the nation’s capital at the time, Marj noted. “My husband had to carry top security clearance just to get on the base, and we were just down the pike from Washington.”
Just how close they were to the action was apparent when a key visual element of the funeral proceedings was within eyesight.
“The missing man formation flew over our house,” recalled Marj, referring to 50 Air Force jetfighters that passed over Arlington Cemetery during JFK’s burial. “We knew it was coming. I was always with my camera in hand. I have never forgotten that.”
Marj’s documentation wasn’t just on film. She clipped out all the articles that appeared in newspapers and magazines and began a scrapbook focused on JFK. As the country’s sense of mourning subsided, she continued to closely follow the investigation of the assassination, eagerly reading every analysis or source of speculation.
“For years, I studied everything I could get my hands on to figure out who was behind it,” Marj explained. “Oswald was a patsy, lined up to take the blame. That was my opinion.”
Due to James’ work with Litton, the Wendt family moved around a lot in the ensuing years.
“We traveled from coast to coast three times during the Vietnam War,” Marj said, listing venues where they lived, including New York, Las Vegas and Washington state.
It was the last locale, Whidbey Island, Wash., that had Marj longing for a return to her Midwestern roots and especially sunnier weather, as Washington was notoriously damp and gloomy. Born in South Dakota, her family moved to Adrian, where she graduated from high school in 1943. She attended Nettleton College in Sioux Falls, S.D., for six months, and then was employed as a secretary for the Red Cross during World War II.
“They needed every body they could get,” she said. “At the time, Foss Field in Sioux Falls was the Sioux Falls Army Air Base. That’s where they trained all the radio operators. I worked there for three years.”
She met her husband-to-be when he was a trainee at the base. Eventually he was assigned to a squadron and sent overseas. After the war, he went to work for Litton.
When the moving got to be too much, Marj moved daughter Judy and son Dan back to southwest Minnesota.
“The first chance I got, I brought the kids back to the Midwest. I wanted them in school here, and I think it was the best thing I ever did for them.”
When her kids were mostly grown, Marj returned to the workplace and was a secretary at the local job service office until retiring.
Now 87 years old, Marj continues to look for materials related to JFK’s death. Her file includes a 1998 article from the Daily Globe titled “JFK autopsy files found to be incomplete,” as well as whole issues of more sensationalistic journals, such as a 1973 National Tattler.
“The national papers were pretty careful about what they put in the paper, but the Tattler …” Marj said with a chuckle, never completing her implication.
Marj remains firm in her resolve that there was more to JFK’s assassination than a lone crazy gunman at the Book Depository in Dallas. Because of her husband’s connection to defense contracts, she believes the war in Vietnam had something to do with it.
“The only problem was he wanted us out of Vietnam,” she said about her hero, Kennedy, “and it was the biggest moneymaker in the United States.
“I’ve been consumed by it because I know Oswald didn’t do it. He wasn’t that good of a shot,” she explained. “For years, I studied everything I could, because I know what I saw, and you kind of didn’t talk about it back then. It’s safe to talk about it now. Vietnam was making a lot of money for a lot of people, and Kennedy wanted us out of Vietnam. I followed it through the years and thought I’ll just keep this book, and now I’m able to find use for it.”
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers
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