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The Hours Before Dallas


William Kelly
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The Hours Before Dallas

A Recollection by President Kennedy's Fort Worth Advance Man

Prologue Magazine – Quarterly of the National Archives andRecords Administration

Summer 2000 Volume 32, No. 2 p. 75-

By Jeb Byrne

In the early morning of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy spoke in a light drizzle to a crowd assembled in a downtown Fort Worth parking lot, and then, shortly thereafter, to a dressier audience at a chamber of commerce breakfast in the ballroom of the adjacent Hotel Texas. Although the two events were similar to many other Kennedy public appearances, their evocation carries a special poignancy because they took place in the final hours of his presidency and his life.

As a bit player sent from Washington with responsibility for non-security preparations in Fort Worth, I had stood watchfully on the peripheries of both events. Arrangements for this part of a two-day presidential visit toTexas had been my concern since I arrived in Fort Worth and moved into the hotel ten days earlier….

….I knew they (the Secret Servie) were busy, but it was not until years later that I read agent Duncan's "Final Survey Report" in the National Archives and found that 508 persons had participated in security at the Fort Worth Stop (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233, Washington D.C.)…

…Before leaving Washington I had received the name of a Fort Worth attorney, David O. Belew, Jr., who was to be my local contact with Governor Connally….

…While I was engaged with my set of problems, Duncan, Hall and Howard went about their business of providing for the safety of the President while he was in Fort Worth…At night, we met to compare notes.

I also took the time to walk around downtown Fort Worth and get the feel of the city. One one walk, I enticed by a sale, I entered a hat store and came out with a Stenson. I tried to appear accustomed to wearing this Western head gear but probably fooled noone.

On my rambles, I dropped in twice to The Cellar, a below-the-street place near the hotel, where strange drinks without alcohol were served to the heavy thrum of drums and guitars. The preferred dress style was the 1960s Beatjik. The din did not encourage lengthy stays by visitors with unconditioned ears.

The Secret Service and I went out to Carswell Air Force Base for a meeting with the commanding officer Brig. Gen. Howard W. Moore. He contended that because Carswell was a Strategic Air Command base, the public would not be able to enter to observe the President's arrival and departure. I argued that an exception should be made, that it was a highly unusual occasion,and that the people of the Fort Wortharea should have the opportunity to see their President come and go. Eventually Carswell was open to the public for thevisit; no doubt weightier voices than mine were responsible for the reversal of the original, negative decision that I had reported to Washington….

…I am indebted to Mike Howard, a retired Secret Service agent,…notes that Duncan had assigned him as "law enforcement liaison." He had visited Fort Worth Police Chief Cato Hightower to advise him of "what was about to fall upon him." Howard sought the chief's help in viewing records of persons in the area who might be threats to the presidential party. He says that thirty people were detained or placed under surveillance…..

…Howard says that every floor and window in a tall building facing the parking lot where the President was to speak on Friday morning was thoroughly checked. Occupants were asked to keep their windows closed on November 21-22, but on Thursday afternoon a policeman spotted an open window onan upper floor. Howard says that two teenage boys in a law office were using a scope to get a closer look at preparations in the parking lot. The problem was that the scope was mounted on a hunting rifle belonging to the father of one of the boys, an attorney in the office. The rifle, taken from an office gun case, was not loaded. It was determined that innocent curiosity had compelled the boys to take a magnified look at the parking lot activity through the scope.The father was notified and the weaponry in the office safely locked up….

…I went to bed, declining an invitation to visit the Fort Worth Press Club, which was staying openlate for the benefit of visitngjournalists. Just as well. Among those who did go to the press club were some off-duty members of the Secret Service who had just arrived from Washington.A few also visited The Cellar, the aforementioned nightspot. After the Dallas catastrophe, they were pilloried by Drew pierson, one of the most influential syndicated columnists of the day, for drinking and keeping late hours on a presidential tripo. However, there was no evifdence at all of extensive drinking by agents of he Secret Service. As one agent told me, they were much more interested in getting a bite to eat than a drink. Meals for Seacret Service agents on presidential trips could be erratic.

A misting rain was falling in the morning when I went out otthe parking lot to check on arrangements for the President's public appearance.On the roofs of nearby buildings, policeman in slickers were outlined against the gray sky….

At 8:45 A.M. President Kennedy, Congressman Wright at his side, strode out of the hotel, neither of them wearing raincoats. Flanking tehm were Vice President Johnson, and Senator Yarborough, with Governor Connally a few steps behind, all three wearing raincoats against the drizzle. Mrs. Kennedy had remained behind in theKennedy's suite.

"There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth," President Kennedy began when he mounted the platform, "and I appreciate yourbeing here this morning. Mrs. Kennedy is organizing herself. It takes longer, but of course, she loks better than we do when she does it…We appreciate your welcome."

He went on to speak about the country's defense and the part that Fort Worth, home of such major defense contractors as General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter, played in protecting national security. He touched on the natoin's space effort.

The President's delivery was warm and direct. Americans, he said, must be willing to bear the burdens of world leadership. "I know one place where they are," he told his wet audience. "Here in this rain, in Fort Worth, in the United States. We are going forward."

There was prolonged applause from the eight thousand or sopeople in the parking lot…The President reentered the hotel….

The President's prepared remarks were directed to thecountry's defense posture. The parking lot talk had been a foretaste of what was to come. He had enlarged upon Fort Worth's contribution to air defense: World War II bombers, combat helicopters, the new TFX planes. It was a speech written for a Texas chamber of commerce and it was enthusiastically received…When the Kennedys had returned to the suite shortly after 10 A.M., a rare occurrence for usually tightly scheduled presidential trips ensured : Time off…..

During this hiatus, according to later accounts, President Kennedy telephoned former Vice President Nance Garner at his home in Ulvade, Texas to wish him a happy ninety-fifth birthday. Garner had served with President Franklin D. Roosevelt during FDR's first two terms.

The Kennedys also spent time looking at the art exhibit that had been mounted in their suite especially for their visit but which they had overlooked during their midnight arrival in the hotel. The exhibit included, among other original works, a VanGogh, a Monet, and a Picasso. The presidential couple telephoned one of the exhibit's organizers, Mrs. Ruth Carter Johnson (Stevenson?) whose name they found on aspecial exhibit catalog in the suite. They thanked her and her associates fortheir thoughtfulness.

During this waiting period, the President's attentionapparently was directed by aides to a nasty advertisement in the day's DallasMorning News….Kennedy mused out laud at this point about how easy it would beto assassinate a traveling president.

This was followed by a quick visit to the same suite by VicePresident Johnson to introduce his sister and her husband to the President.

Then, before the Kennedys departed for the motorcade, the President is said to have reiterated on the telephone to aide Lawrence O'Brien the importance of getting Senator Yarborough to ride in the same car with the Vice President….

Prologue: Selected Articles

Edited by William Kelly
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I knew they (the Secret Servie) were busy, but it was not until years later that I read agent Duncan's "Final Survey Report" in the National Archives and found that 508 persons had participated in security at the Fort Worth Stop (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233, Washington D.C.)…

What was the security headcount in Dallas?....

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I knew they (the Secret Servie) were busy, but it was not until years later that I read agent Duncan's "Final Survey Report" in the National Archives and found that 508 persons had participated in security at the Fort Worth Stop (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233, Washington D.C.)…

What was the security headcount in Dallas?....

hi dave, in melanson's the hidden history of secret service......he places 445 police, and 28 secret service on watch..in dallas..b

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"The Kennedys also spent time looking at the art exhibitthat had been mounted in their suite especially for their visit but which theyhad overlooked during their midnightarrival in the hotel. The exhibit included, among other original works, aVanGogh, a Monet, and a Picasso. The presidential couple telephoned one of theexhibit's organizers, Mrs. Ruth Carter Stevenson, whose name they found ona special exhibit catalog in the suite. They thanked her and her associatesfor their thoughtfulness."

Does anyone find it a unique coincidence that Mrs. Ruth Carter Johnson was a friend of Ruth and Michael Paine from when they lived in Philadelphia?

Edited by William Kelly
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"The Kennedys also spent time looking at the art exhibitthat had been mounted in their suite especially for their visit but which theyhad overlooked during their midnightarrival in the hotel. The exhibit included, among other original works, aVanGogh, a Monet, and a Picasso. The presidential couple telephoned one of theexhibit's organizers, Mrs. Ruth Carter Stevenson, whose name they found ona special exhibit catalog in the suite. They thanked her and her associatesfor their thoughtfulness."

Does anyone find it a unique coincidence that Mrs. Ruth Carter Johnson was a friend of Ruth and Michael Paine from when they lived in Philadelphia?

Absolutely, Bill! Good catch.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Hours Before Dallas

A Recollection by President Kennedy's Fort Worth Advance Man

Prologue Magazine – Quarterly of the National Archives andRecords Administration

Summer 2000 Volume 32, No. 2 p. 75-

By Jeb Byrne

In the early morning of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy spoke in a light drizzle to a crowd assembled in a downtown Fort Worth parking lot, and then, shortly thereafter, to a dressier audience at a chamber of commerce breakfast in the ballroom of the adjacent Hotel Texas. Although the two events were similar to many other Kennedy public appearances, their evocation carries a special poignancy because they took place in the final hours of his presidency and his life.

As a bit player sent from Washington with responsibility for non-security preparations in Fort Worth, I had stood watchfully on the peripheries of both events. Arrangements for this part of a two-day presidential visit toTexas had been my concern since I arrived in Fort Worth and moved into the hotel ten days earlier….

….I knew they (the Secret Servie) were busy, but it was not until years later that I read agent Duncan's "Final Survey Report" in the National Archives and found that 508 persons had participated in security at the Fort Worth Stop (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233, Washington D.C.)…

…Before leaving Washington I had received the name of a Fort Worth attorney, David O. Belew, Jr., who was to be my local contact with Governor Connally….

…While I was engaged with my set of problems, Duncan, Hall and Howard went about their business of providing for the safety of the President while he was in Fort Worth…At night, we met to compare notes.

I also took the time to walk around downtown Fort Worth and get the feel of the city. One one walk, I enticed by a sale, I entered a hat store and came out with a Stenson. I tried to appear accustomed to wearing this Western head gear but probably fooled noone.

On my rambles, I dropped in twice to The Cellar, a below-the-street place near the hotel, where strange drinks without alcohol were served to the heavy thrum of drums and guitars. The preferred dress style was the 1960s Beatjik. The din did not encourage lengthy stays by visitors with unconditioned ears.

The Secret Service and I went out to Carswell Air Force Base for a meeting with the commanding officer Brig. Gen. Howard W. Moore. He contended that because Carswell was a Strategic Air Command base, the public would not be able to enter to observe the President's arrival and departure. I argued that an exception should be made, that it was a highly unusual occasion,and that the people of the Fort Wortharea should have the opportunity to see their President come and go. Eventually Carswell was open to the public for thevisit; no doubt weightier voices than mine were responsible for the reversal of the original, negative decision that I had reported to Washington….

…I am indebted to Mike Howard, a retired Secret Service agent,…notes that Duncan had assigned him as "law enforcement liaison." He had visited Fort Worth Police Chief Cato Hightower to advise him of "what was about to fall upon him." Howard sought the chief's help in viewing records of persons in the area who might be threats to the presidential party. He says that thirty people were detained or placed under surveillance…..

…Howard says that every floor and window in a tall building facing the parking lot where the President was to speak on Friday morning was thoroughly checked. Occupants were asked to keep their windows closed on November 21-22, but on Thursday afternoon a policeman spotted an open window onan upper floor. Howard says that two teenage boys in a law office were using a scope to get a closer look at preparations in the parking lot. The problem was that the scope was mounted on a hunting rifle belonging to the father of one of the boys, an attorney in the office. The rifle, taken from an office gun case, was not loaded. It was determined that innocent curiosity had compelled the boys to take a magnified look at the parking lot activity through the scope.The father was notified and the weaponry in the office safely locked up….

…I went to bed, declining an invitation to visit the Fort Worth Press Club, which was staying openlate for the benefit of visitngjournalists. Just as well. Among those who did go to the press club were some off-duty members of the Secret Service who had just arrived from Washington.A few also visited The Cellar, the aforementioned nightspot. After the Dallas catastrophe, they were pilloried by Drew pierson, one of the most influential syndicated columnists of the day, for drinking and keeping late hours on a presidential tripo. However, there was no evifdence at all of extensive drinking by agents of he Secret Service. As one agent told me, they were much more interested in getting a bite to eat than a drink. Meals for Seacret Service agents on presidential trips could be erratic.

A misting rain was falling in the morning when I went out otthe parking lot to check on arrangements for the President's public appearance.On the roofs of nearby buildings, policeman in slickers were outlined against the gray sky….

At 8:45 A.M. President Kennedy, Congressman Wright at his side, strode out of the hotel, neither of them wearing raincoats. Flanking tehm were Vice President Johnson, and Senator Yarborough, with Governor Connally a few steps behind, all three wearing raincoats against the drizzle. Mrs. Kennedy had remained behind in theKennedy's suite.

"There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth," President Kennedy began when he mounted the platform, "and I appreciate yourbeing here this morning. Mrs. Kennedy is organizing herself. It takes longer, but of course, she loks better than we do when she does it…We appreciate your welcome."

He went on to speak about the country's defense and the part that Fort Worth, home of such major defense contractors as General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter, played in protecting national security. He touched on the natoin's space effort.

The President's delivery was warm and direct. Americans, he said, must be willing to bear the burdens of world leadership. "I know one place where they are," he told his wet audience. "Here in this rain, in Fort Worth, in the United States. We are going forward."

There was prolonged applause from the eight thousand or sopeople in the parking lot…The President reentered the hotel….

The President's prepared remarks were directed to thecountry's defense posture. The parking lot talk had been a foretaste of what was to come. He had enlarged upon Fort Worth's contribution to air defense: World War II bombers, combat helicopters, the new TFX planes. It was a speech written for a Texas chamber of commerce and it was enthusiastically received…When the Kennedys had returned to the suite shortly after 10 A.M., a rare occurrence for usually tightly scheduled presidential trips ensured : Time off…..

During this hiatus, according to later accounts, President Kennedy telephoned former Vice President Nance Garner at his home in Ulvade, Texas to wish him a happy ninety-fifth birthday. Garner had served with President Franklin D. Roosevelt during FDR's first two terms.

The Kennedys also spent time looking at the art exhibit that had been mounted in their suite especially for their visit but which they had overlooked during their midnight arrival in the hotel. The exhibit included, among other original works, a VanGogh, a Monet, and a Picasso. The presidential couple telephoned one of the exhibit's organizers, Mrs. Ruth Carter Johnson (Stevenson?) whose name they found on aspecial exhibit catalog in the suite. They thanked her and her associates fortheir thoughtfulness.

During this waiting period, the President's attentionapparently was directed by aides to a nasty advertisement in the day's DallasMorning News….Kennedy mused out laud at this point about how easy it would beto assassinate a traveling president.

This was followed by a quick visit to the same suite by VicePresident Johnson to introduce his sister and her husband to the President.

Then, before the Kennedys departed for the motorcade, the President is said to have reiterated on the telephone to aide Lawrence O'Brien the importance of getting Senator Yarborough to ride in the same car with the Vice President….

Prologue: Selected Articles

I reboot this thread so Joe Backes can read it and see where there was a "Down Time" in Fort Worth that he denies happened.

I also take issue with his giving extra credence to JFK's best advance man, Bruno, who did some early work on but was not in Dallas on 11/22/63.

I also disagree with those who dismiss Jim Root's research, which, Like Larry Hancock's work, views the assassination from the top down, an interesting and rewarding perspective.

On the same note, I think Joe Backes has contributed a number of important articles to JFK research, and its a shame he has to express himself as such a jerk, though apparently he can't help that.

BK

JFKcountercoup

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