Ike Pappas, a television correspondent who is best remembered for being an arm’s length from Lee Harvey Oswald when he was killed and reporting the event live to listeners of WNEW radio in New York, died Sunday in Arlington, Va.
He was 75 and lived in McLean, Va. The cause was congestive heart failure, said his wife, Carolyn Hoffman Pappas.
Pappas had a 25-year career at CBS, including stints covering the Pentagon, Congress and foreign wars. He appeared frequently on the evening news with Walter Cronkite and, later, Dan Rather.
In 1987, he became a symbol of downsizing in the television news business when his was the most prominent of 215 jobs eliminated by the network. He started his own production company for news programming, for which he felt he had a made-to-order labor pool. “If you’ve been fired by the network, then you’re the person for me,” Pappas said in announcing the company’s formation.
On Nov. 24, 1963, two days after President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Pappas was one of dozens of reporters waiting in the basement of police headquarters for Oswald to pass through on his way to jail. When Oswald emerged, Pappas blurted a question — “Do you have anything to say in your defense?” — and in the next instant, Jack Ruby brushed by him and shot Oswald.
At Ruby’s trial, Pappas contradicted a police officer who had testified that Ruby yelled an epithet at Oswald as he shot. He never heard Ruby say that, Pappas testified.
Icarus Nestor Pappas was born on April 16, 1933, in New York City, in the Flushing section of Queens. His parents, Greek immigrants, owned a delicatessen. After graduating from Long Island University, he spent two years in the Army, serving in Germany, at first, his wife said, as a truck driver.
His career in journalism got off to a serendipitous start. “After he wrecked three trucks, they reassigned him to work on ‘Stars and Stripes,’” she said.
In addition to his wife, Pappas is survived by a brother, a sister, two sons, a daughter and two grandchildren.
On that memorable day in Dallas, it took a moment for Pappas to get his bearings.
“There’s a shot!” he said on the air, and his breathing grew labored as havoc obviously overtook the scene. “Oswald has been shot. Oswald has been shot. A shot rang out. Mass confusion here. All the doors have been locked.”
There was a tense pause.
“Holy mackerel,” Pappas said.