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Another little piece of the Oswald history

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From the Fort Worth, Texas Star-Telegram:


Special to the Star-Telegram

DENTON — Alvin Preston McGraw was a master news reporter of the mid-20th century who loved to find an unusual tale to tell.

But his personal involvement in one of the biggest stories in North Texas history will be an "aha!" moment for many of today’s readers: In November 1963, Mr. McGraw, already a veteran reporter for Unit- ed Press International, was one of the reporters who was drafted to be a pallbearer for JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Mr. McGraw died May 26 at a Denton nursing home of kidney failure. He was 94.

"He was a really great writer but an excellent reporter," said Mike Cochran, a retired Star-Telegram reporter who competed against Mr. McGraw as a reporter for The Associated Press.

"Many’s the time we’d clash on stories. We’d go out and do everything we could to wipe the other one off the face of the earth," Cochran said. "And afterward we’d go out and have a beer or two."

Mr. McGraw was born April 9, 1915, in Centreville, Miss., to Howard Senton McGraw and Rubye Newman McGraw. After he attended Louisiana State University, Mr. McGraw’s career took him to Kansas City and New York City at the start of World War II.

Growing up, he was called by his initials, A.P., but a UPI editor once told him that it wouldn’t be acceptable to have the rival news service’s initials in a UPI byline. So he became Preston McGraw.

During the war, he worked for the Army News Service and the Stars and Stripes newspaper. Afterward, he was assigned to New Orleans and eventually to Dallas, where he settled in 1952 with his wife, Marjorie.

Burying Oswald

That’s where he was based on Thursday, Nov. 22, 1963.

Mr. McGraw had covered President John F. Kennedy’s arrival in Fort Worth and was waiting for him to get to the Dallas Trade Mart when he heard about the assassination.

"I remember as I left the Trade Mart to go to the hospital, I said to myself — I said it aloud, too — 'It’ll be 10 years before I hear the last of this,’ " Mr. McGraw told an oral history interviewer for The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.

On the Sunday after, Oswald was fatally shot in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters as officers moved him to the county jail.

His burial was hastily and quietly arranged for the next day at Fort Worth’s Rose Hill Cemetery.

Kennedy’s funeral was the same day in Washington, and few people showed up at Rose Hill — only five of Oswald’s relatives, funeral home employees, some police officers and several reporters and photographers.

Needing to get Oswald’s casket from the hearse to the grave, a funeral director drafted reporters as pallbearers.

The funeral director "told us that you’re not going to get any supper tonight if we don’t go on and get him buried," Mr. McGraw said during the oral history interview.

So Mr. McGraw stepped forward, and others, including Cochran, followed. Mr. McGraw confessed later that he had a motive.

"Frankly, what I had in mind was to get up close to the family so I could ask Oswald’s wife a couple of questions," he said.

He didn’t get that opportunity.

Mr. McGraw’s colleagues remember his interest in the news of the weird. "Humorous items, offbeat stuff — that was Preston’s specialty," former colleague Bill Ryan said. "Anyplace in the world where he could find anything offbeat or strange or weird, he would find it and write it up. And newspaper editors just ate that up."

"I think he was just born to the news business," said his daughter, Susan McGraw. "He just loved it. He said nobody could’ve had as good of a career as his."

Other survivors include son John McGraw and three granddaughters. Mr. McGraw was buried in Dallas during a private service.

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