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LBJ and the Kennedy Killing
By Assassination Eyewitness
By James T. Tague
Trine Day LLC Copyright © 2013 James T. Tague
All rights reserved.
November 22, 1963 – The Assassination of President Kennedy
After nearly fifty years this chapter flows from memory of what I witnessed in Dealey Plaza at 12:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963, the moment that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in front of my eyes in Dallas, Texas.
When I had finished writing the chapter from memory, I then retrieved from my closet a spiral notebook in which I had written, the very evening of November 22,1963, everything I could remember about the events of the day.
I then compared the two, what I had written then, and what I had written nearly fifty years later; there was no difference – they were identical.
Today, though, I can put names on the witnesses and others I encountered that day, and know the exact distances that I had guessed at on the evening of November 22, 1963. To me personally it has been a lesson in the reliability of eyewitness testimony: visions that are burned into your mind. There do appear to be collateral influences that have a tendency over time to alter and distort those original visions. One has to have a strong mind-set in order to not allow these outside influences to corrupt what one has originally witnessed.
After I was discharged from the Air Force, I had taken a job as a new-car salesman. It was something I enjoyed doing. Selling new cars was quite different 40 years ago than it is today – it was low key, no pressure, you made friends with your customers, and most became repeat customers. On November 22, 1963 I had a luncheon date with a friend at noon in downtown Dallas.
I was about to leave for lunch, when an old customer came in to buy a car. Business came first, and I did not get away until after 12:00. As I drove down the Stemmons Freeway toward downtown Dallas, the only thing on my mind was hoping that my friend would not be upset with me for being late.
I exited Stemmons onto Commerce Street, a one-way street going east toward the center of Dallas and swung into the far left lane next to the curb. As I entered the triple underpass I noticed that traffic was stopped ahead of me, and I came to a stop just as the nose of my car was about to exit from under the triple underpass.
I could only see straight ahead as there was a man in front of me standing by his car, between his car and car door, looking off to the left. I sat there for a second or two, and then got out of my car to see what was happening that had stopped traffic. I walked the four or five steps it took to be out of the underpass and stopped on the curb at the east edge of the underpass facing Dealey Plaza.
At this location three streets come within three feet of each other to go under the railroad tracks, Elm on the north, Main in the center, and Commerce on the south. I was standing on the narrow curbing between Commerce and Main Streets, a couple of feet or so east of the underpass. Other than the cars that were stopped ahead of me there was no one else close to me, and I had a clear view of Dealey Plaza.
I noticed a crowd up by the School Book Depository on the corners of Houston and Elm Streets; I was wondering what was going on when a limousine with flags on the front fenders emerged from the crowd on Elm Street in front of the School Book Depository. It was only then that I remembered having read in the newspaper that President Kennedy was going to be in Dallas that day and that this must be his motorcade through Dallas.
The President's car had barely cleared the crowd around the intersection of Elm and Houston Streets when I heard the pop of a firecracker going off. I remember thinking what kind of fool would light a firecracker with the President driving by – the police will get him for sure. My line of vision was toward the crowd as the Presidential limousine was curving down Elm Street directly at me. The limousine was between me and the crowd in front of the School Book Depository.
The President's limousine was slowing down when I heard the very distinct crack of a high-powered rifle shot, then, rapidly, the crack of another shot. The limousine was almost upon me with this shot, there was movement inside the limousine, then the limousine accelerated and went under the triple underpass.
Something stung me in the face during the shooting, and it took a second or two for all of this to start to register. My mind was racing, somebody had just shot at the President. Something sent a signal to my brain that I was in danger, I ducked back behind the protection of the concrete. I stood there frozen trying to grasp what had just happened – my mind racing.
Later, on television that night I watched a news clip that showed almost immediately after the shooting there was a rush by the crowd and a motorcycle policeman toward the Grassy Knoll and the picket fence. My mind had been so absorbed with trying to grasp what I had just witnessed that I have no memory of this rush of people toward the Grassy Knoll right in front of me.
But back to that afternoon, when my frantic thoughts were broken by a man (I was to later learn this was Deputy Sheriff Buddy Walthers) in a suit standing in front of me asking very excitedly, "What happened down here?"
I replied that I did not know, and as Deputy Sheriff Walthers and I stood there talking, we noticed a policeman had parked his motorcycle across the street on the north curb of Elm Street near the Grassy Knoll and was talking to a couple of men.
We crossed Main and Elm Streets and walked up to the policeman in time to hear one of the men standing there sobbing, "His head exploded, his head exploded." The motorcycle policeman asked him whose head. The man replied, "The President's."
With that statement, I remember Deputy Walthers turning to the grass beside the sidewalk and kicking the grass with the toe of his shoe as hard as he could three times, saying, "Damn, damn, damn!" It was at this point that Deputy Walthers said, "You have blood on your face." I reached up and felt my face. There were three or four drops of blood on the palm of my hand.
With the overwhelming intensity of what had just happened, it was only then that I recalled that something had stung me in the face during the shooting. Deputy Walthers asked me where I was standing during the shooting and I pointed to where he had run up to me and had asked me what happened down here. We crossed Elm Street, having to wait for the Main Street traffic to clear in order to cross Main.
As we stood there Deputy Walthers said, "Hey, look at that mark on the curb." There were four traffic lanes between us and the curb, but even from that distance there was a very visible gray-whitish mark on a dirty, much darker curb. The mark was a few feet in front of where I had been standing.
We both closely examined this small scrape, it was very fresh, not dirty like the curbing around it and was about a half-inch wide by three-quarters of an inch long. It was a no-brainer – it was a bullet mark. The bullet had dislodged about an eighth of an inch of concrete and was at the part of the curb where the side rounds into the top. It had obviously glanced off the curb at an angle.
I remember Deputy Walthers taking out his ballpoint pen and trying to draw a large circle around the bullet mark and my telling him he was going to ruin his pen on the concrete. It was obvious to both of us that either concrete debris or bullet fragments from this missed shot was what caused me to be stung in the face during the shooting. We crossed back across Main and Elm Streets to where the motorcycle policeman was still standing near the Grassy Knoll.
There was now a large crowd gathered around the policeman. Deputy Walthers told the policeman what we had discovered, and the policeman radioed in that he had one man there with a slight injury. According to the Dallas police radio logs, it was now 12:37 p.m. I was told that they needed to get a statement from me. With the intensity of this event I had forgotten that my car was still parked on Commerce Street in a traffic lane.
I went back to my car and drove out from under the triple underpass to park my car. It had been 15 or 20 minutes since the shooting and curiosity seekers were now clogging the streets around Dealey Plaza. There was no place to park, so I headed down Commerce towards the Dallas Police headquarters to give the requested statement, my mind still trying to digest what I had just witnessed.
I then remembered my luncheon date. Her office was also on Commerce Street on the way to Police Headquarters, and there was a parking place in front of her office building, so I stopped for a minute to run in and tell her what had happened.
She worked at a brokerage firm and the phones were ringing off the wall – I stood by her desk for a minute or two as she answered call after call from people across the country wanting to know what was going on in Dallas. She finally waved me off, so I left.
As I started to leave the building, I noticed a pay phone and called my parents in Indiana. I remember telling Dad that President Kennedy had just been killed in Dallas. Dad told me he was watching TV and that the President was still alive. They were attending to his injuries at the hospital. I told Dad, "No Dad. He is dead. I was there."
At the Dallas Police Headquarters I explained to the officer at the desk why I had been sent there, and he sent me to the homicide office. The police building was a buzz of activity as police officers scurried up and down the hallways. I found the homicide office and there was no one there, so I waited a few minutes. An officer in plain clothes came in (I was to later learn this man was Gus Rose) and I again explained why I had been sent there. We went into his office and the officer took notes on a pad.
While Detective Rose was taking notes there was a commotion at the door to Homicide, and a disheveled young man was brought into the room in handcuffs. Detective Rose, who was taking my statement, asked one of the officers who had brought in the handcuffed man who he was and the officer replied, "This is the man who just killed a police officer in Oak Cliff." With these words my interview was over, and I was dismissed.
When I stepped out of Dallas Police Headquarters there was a chill in the air that I felt for the first time that day. The most direct route to work took me down Elm Street back through Dealey Plaza. As I approached Dealey Plaza the traffic became heavy and there were now police officers directing traffic. At about the spot where President Kennedy had received the fatal head wound, an officer held up his hand for me to stop, and I did. He came to my driver's window and stated that they had just found a piece of the President's skull there by the curb and described the size, about one inch by six inches. Why this officer stopped me and told me this, I do not know to this day.
When I got back to work the manager was closing the business and I went home.
Later that night as I was watching television they showed a picture of the man who had been brought into the office while I was giving my statement – it was Lee Harvey Oswald.CHAPTER 2
The President's motorcade consisted of seventeen cars and one bus. There was a pilot car that was to travel about a quarter of a mile ahead of the motorcade. The purpose of the pilot car was to alert the motorcade of any accidents, fires, obstructions, or anything that could be detrimental along the motorcade route. Then came the lead car, it would travel about 100 feet in front of the Presidential limousine. Behind the President's limousine would be the Secret Service car and behind it would be various dignitaries and a bus with the White House press.
The motorcade started at Love Field, where the President had landed after spending the night in Fort Worth. The route from Love Field through the streets of Dallas and through downtown Dallas was uneventful, the President was greeted by a pleasant and cheering crowd; the crowds were large and well under control.
When the President's car turned onto Elm Street, in front of the Texas School Book Depository, it only needed to go through Dealey Plaza, and then there was a clear path on Stemmons Expressway to Market Hall, where the President was scheduled to speak. Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry drove the lead car.
In his book JFK Assassination File, Chief Curry states he was traveling at a speed of approximately eight to ten miles per hour toward the underpass on Elm street, and was about halfway between Houston Street and the triple underpass, when he heard the first shot. Chief Curry remembers someone in the car saying, "Is that a firecracker?" Chief Curry also remembers the shots as being fairly close together, but with a longer pause between the first and second shots.
There were police motorcycle officers riding on each side of the President's limousine slightly to the rear of the limousine. Motorcycle officer Bobby Hargis was riding near the left rear fender of the President's limousine when a bullet hit the President in the head. With the impact of this frontal headshot, a sheet of blood and brain tissue exploded backward and to the left and into the motorcycle's windshield of Officer Hargis. Officer Hargis parked his motorcycle and started running up the Grassy Knoll towards the picket fence.
In the lead car, Chief Curry heard on the police radio channel someone in the President's car say, "Let's get out of here." There was an immediate exchange of messages by Chief Curry, and it was quickly determined that the President had been hit and a motorcycle escort was quickly formed to lead the Presidential limousine to Parkland Hospital. In the first minute Chief Curry was on the air saying, "Go to the hospital, officers, Parkland Hospital, have them stand by. Get men on top of the underpass, see what has happened up there, go up on the overpass. Have Parkland stand by ... I am sure it's going to take some time to get your men up there. Put every one of my men there. ... Notify station five to move all men available out of my department back into the railroad yards and try to determine what happened and hold everything secure until Homicide and other investigators can get in there."
Besides Chief Curry in the lead car, there was FBI SA Winston George "Win" Lawson, Sheriff James Eric "Bill" Decker and FBI SAIC Forrest V. Sorrels. The Secret Service follow-up car had special assistants to the President, Kenneth "Ken" O'Donnell and David F. Powers plus Secret Service Agents Samuel A. "Sam" Kinney, Emory P. Roberts, George W. Hickey Jr., Glen A. Bennett, Clinton L. "Clint" Hill, William "Tim" McIntyre, John D. "Jack" Ready, and Paul E. Landis.
In the car behind the Secret Service car was the Vice President's car with V.P. Lyndon Johnson, his wife Lady Bird, SSA Rufus Wayne Youngblood, Congressman Ralph W. Yarborough, and Texas Department of Public Safety Hurchel D. Jacks. There were ten cars and one bus after the V.P.'s car.CHAPTER 3
Inside the President's Limousine
The Abraham Zapruder amateur 8mm home movie captured the reaction of the occupants of the President's limousine from a split second after the first shot was fired until the limousine went under the triple underpass. A road sign obscured the limousine at the moment the first shot hit the President.
As the limousine came into view from behind the sign, the President was raising his hands and forearms in a horizontal motion as if he were reacting to a sharp poke in the back, or, as most interpreted this reaction, as if he was reaching for his throat. Zapruder's home movie did capture on film everything else but that first split second.
What the occupants of the limousine remembered months later when they testified before the Warren Commission varies with what was captured on film. And the Warren Commission's final conclusions vary with both the occupant's memory and what was shown in the home movie.
That there were only three shots heard does not eliminate the possibility of more than three shots due to the possibility of a silencer or simultaneous shots, and all the testimony by the occupants of the car assumed that there were only three shots.
There were six people riding in President Kennedy's limousine when the shots were fired, two secret service agents were in the front seat, Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman was in the passenger seat, and Secret Service agent Bill Greer was the driver. Governor and Mrs. Connally were in the middle jump seats, and the President and Mrs. Kennedy were in the rear seat. Both President Kennedy and Governor Connally were on the right side, the passenger side of the car, and seated next to the their wives.
The First Shot
Governor Connally testified before the Warren Commission about the first shot as follows: "When I heard what I thought was a shot, I heard the noise which I immediately took to be a rifle shot. I instinctively turned to my right because the sound appeared to come from over my right shoulder, and I saw nothing unusual except just people in the crowd, but I did not catch the President in the corner of my eye, and I was interested, because once I heard the shot in my own mind I identified it as a rifle shot, and I immediately – the only thought that crossed my mind was that this is an assassination attempt. So I looked, failing to see him, I was turning to look back over my left shoulder into the back seat, but I never got that far in my turn. I got about in the position I am in now facing you, looking a little bit to the left of center, and then I felt like someone had hit me in the back."
Excerpted from LBJ and the Kennedy Killing by James T. Tague. Copyright © 2013 James T. Tague. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
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