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The Recollections of Skip Rydberg

Tim Gratz

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From the 02/22/06 "Venice Goldolier" by George McGuinn

Link: http://www.venicegondolier.com/NewsArchive...2206/tp2vn9.htm

Drawing conclusions about Kennedy assassination

This is the first of a two-part series about Harold "Skip" Rydberg and his participation in the investigation of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. The first part covers the events in which Rydberg was involved in the days immediately following the assassination, and his role in the Warren Commission investigation.

Like most people, Harold "Skip" Rydberg remembers where he was when he learned President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed by an assassin.

"I was teaching an anatomy class," said Rydberg, now 65 and living in North Port.

Rydberg's class was at the Medical Illustration School at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. At 21, Rydberg was the school's art department head and the art director for the center.

What he didn't know at the time was how the assassination would affect his life, sending him on 42-year quest to correct what he calls an injustice and clear his name.

Rydberg said he had been at Bethesda for only a short time when the president was killed. A native of Chicago, he grew up in Sarasota and joined the Navy in 1958. He first trained as a hospital corpsman, then studied to be a medical illustrator.

"A medical illustrator has to study many of the same courses as doctors do," Rydberg explained. These include anatomy and physiology and surgical procedures.

Soon he was teaching classes to younger recruits, which is what he was doing when word spread on the base about not only the president's death, but that his body would be coming to their facility.

Rydberg stopped the class immediately. All enlisted men had been ordered to return to their quarters.

Later that night, Rydberg was part of the honor guard that greeted the helicopter carrying Kennedy's body. He remembers seeing Jacqueline Kennedy's hand on the gray steel coffin as they removed it from the aircraft.

Afterward, Rydberg said, he and his friends went to a restaurant, where they discussed with disbelief the events they had witnessed.

Being near the body of an assassinated president would have been a memorable event in almost anyone's life. But the 21-year-old Rydberg couldn't have predicted how his life would become intertwined with one of the most controversial death investigations of all time.

More than three months later, Rydberg, with little experience as a medical illustrator, was called upon to draw three illustrations of Kennedy's neck and head wounds for doctors who were to testify before the Warren Commission.

The Warren Commission used these illustrations to support its "lone gunman" theory. However, Rydberg said, he had little time or information to prepare his illustrations.

Rydberg said he received "secret verbal orders" from Navy Cmdr. John Stover to complete the drawings to help Naval doctors' testimony before the commission. The order, given on Friday, March 13, 1964, said the illustrations needed to be ready to present to the commission on Monday, March 16, 1964.

The doctors, James Humes and Thornton) Boswell requested they be done in color and life-size on 20-inch-by-30-inch illustration board.

"I was only given two days to draw three life-size drawings," he said.

"I asked if it would be possible to see the X-rays and photographs, and the answer was the doctors did not have them available for their testimony," Rydberg recalled. "As a normal medical illustrator, you need as much medical evidence to do the drawings. That includes the autopsy report, the photos and X-rays to do the best possible job."

He remembers being told the FBI and Secret Service took the undeveloped film and X-rays.

Rydberg spent two days in a 10 foot by 10 foot room, with an armed Marine guarding the door. There was no artist's table, and he was told to bring only his watercolor set and some sketch paper, nothing more.

"At the end of each day I would call to have Lt. Cmdr. Lynde D. McCormick walk with me, the drawings covered and put them in a large safe in the administration office," Rydberg recalls.

"The only things which went on in the small room were Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell, who would come in the room and check on the drawings," he said.

While drawing, Rydberg said he had nothing to go by except verbal anatomical landmarks and imagination about how the president was shot.

"During the drawings, Humes specifically asked me to make the right eye black, like a large hemorrhage had happened," Rydberg said. "So I drew what I thought was the right positions at the times of each shot."

"This was the only two days I had to complete these imaginary positions and then on Monday they were turned over to Adm. Calvin Galloway, commanding officer of the National Naval Medical Center," he said.

When Rydberg finished the drawings, the watercolor set and the sketches were destroyed.

"They wanted no one to know by guessing the colors used what I was doing," he said. "A little paranoid, I think, but they did it after the drawings were done on Monday."

"I went back to my normal duties, noting that I only had secret verbal orders to discuss with no one what I was doing or did."

Part Two will cover Rydberg's insight into how he felt about his role, what he has done to try to correct the mistakes in his drawings and his plans for the future.

You can e-mail George McGinn at gmcginn@sun-herald.com.

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[/b] Harold Rydberg was interviewed by William Matson Law and it can be read in Matson's book

In the Eye of History.


While creating my presentation, I found an article about Rydberg, which I found very interesting. Rydberg wrote a book and has also spoken at Lancer. He campaigned for years to see the actual autopsy photos, the photos denied him in 1964, but has proved unsuccessful, as I remember. I'm pretty sure that he believes Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy. Two other historical figures who support the CT view are H.B. McClain and James Tague.

As mentioned in my presentation, Rydberg makes clear that he was not given the measurements of Kennedy's wounds and was only given verbal descriptions. Humes testified before Specter that the measurements were used to create the drawings. Humes lied. As Specter was the one who both asked Humes to make the drawings and entered them into evidence, one should wonder whether Specter knew Humes was lying, even whether Specter asked Humes to lie. As Specter was to campaign vigorously for access to the autopsy photos in the period leading up the FBI re-enactment, one should only suspect that Specter knew the drawings were inaccurate, and sought to correct this error before it was too late. Too late.

If Specter had half the sack he claims to have (he named his memoirs "Passion for Truth") he would admit this mistake and tell us what REALLY happened. He had to have known the drawings were grossly inaccurate. For the measurements to be correct it would mean Kennedy's head was 50% larger than average. As the drawings were life-sized all Specter had to do was place a ruler on them and see that the neck wound was a heckuva lot closer to the mastoid process than 14 cm. Instead Specter now admits the drawings were rough and says he wishes he'd never admitted them into evidence.

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Barry Keane has written an excellent article on skip rydberg, named 'For the sake of historical accuracy' which details conversations with Harold Rydberg. Barry has generously agreed to let me display his article, complete with photographs on my website. I am currently having difficulties uploading the articles properly, though it should be up in the next 2 days. I shall notify you when it is ready as it is definitely worth a read.

All the best



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