A lot of us saw the Zapruder film of the assassination on television and we’ve seen it repeated many times. It is a traumatic event we all witnessed. That’s one of the reasons I was so interested in the story. It is a unique view of what trauma was all about. But there was no diagnosis of PTSD until 1980. It made the situation much worse for Jackie because no one really understood what she was going through.
In 1964, right after the assassination, Jackie was getting all kinds of condolence letters. I read a letter from the former British prime minister Harold Macmillan. It was the strangest condolence letter I had ever read. He had been wounded in the First World War and he talked about that and talked about God, and I wondered, why is he writing like this to her? Then I picked up her first response to this letter.
I started to read their correspondence again and Jackie would tell him that no letter was more important to her than his letter. “You have saved my life,” she wrote.
I didn’t understand what was going at first on at first but the linking of her experience to a soldier in war became fascinating. After reading her letters and literature on PTSD, I realized Jackie had all the symptoms of that trauma. It all came out of that Macmillan letter. For a biographer, there are always those chance things and you can’t get them out of your mind.