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Thursday, September 28, 2023

J.F.Okay. Assassination Witness Breaks His Silence and Raises New Questions

He nonetheless remembers the primary gunshot. For an instantaneous, standing on the working board of the motorcade automobile, he entertained the useless hope that perhaps it was only a firecracker or a blown tire. However he knew weapons and he knew higher. Then got here one other shot. And one other. And the president slumped down.

For thus many nights afterward, he relived that grisly second in his desires. Now, 60 years later, Paul Landis, one of many Secret Service brokers simply toes away from President John F. Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas, is telling his story in full for the primary time. And in no less than one key respect, his account differs from the official model in a approach which will change the understanding of what occurred in Dealey Plaza.

Mr. Landis has spent many of the intervening years fleeing historical past, making an attempt to neglect that unforgettable second etched within the consciousness of a grieving nation. The reminiscence of the explosion of violence and the determined race to the hospital and the devastating flight residence and the wrenching funeral with John Jr. saluting his fallen father — it was all an excessive amount of, too torturous, a lot in order that Mr. Landis left the service and Washington behind.

Till lastly, after the nightmares had handed eventually, he may give it some thought once more. And he may examine it. And he realized that what he learn was not fairly proper, not as he remembered it. Because it seems, if his recollections are right, the much-discussed “magic bullet” could not have been so magic in any case.

His reminiscence challenges the speculation superior by the Warren Fee that has been the topic of a lot hypothesis and debate over time — that one of many bullets fired on the president’s limousine hit not solely Kennedy however Gov. John B. Connally Jr. of Texas, who was driving with him, in a number of locations.

Mr. Landis’s account, included in a forthcoming memoir, would rewrite the narrative of one in all fashionable American historical past’s most earth-shattering days in an essential approach. It might not imply any greater than that. However it may additionally encourage those that have lengthy suspected that there was multiple gunman in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, including new grist to one of many nation’s enduring mysteries.

As with all issues associated to the assassination, after all, his account raises questions of its personal. Mr. Landis remained silent for 60 years, which has fueled doubts even for his former Secret Service associate, and reminiscences are difficult even for these sincerely sure of their recollections. A pair parts of his account contradict the official statements he filed with authorities instantly after the capturing, and a few of the implications of his model can’t be simply reconciled to the prevailing report.

However he was there, a firsthand witness, and it’s uncommon for brand spanking new testimony to emerge six many years after the very fact. He has by no means subscribed to the conspiracy theories and stresses that he’s not selling one now. At age 88, he mentioned, all he needs is to inform what he noticed and what he did. He’ll go away it to everybody else to attract conclusions.

“There’s no objective at this level,” he mentioned in an interview final month in Cleveland, the primary time he has talked about this with a reporter prematurely of his e-book, “The Remaining Witness,” which will likely be printed by Chicago Overview Press on Oct. 10. “I simply assume it had been lengthy sufficient that I wanted to inform my story.”

What it comes right down to is a copper-jacketed 6.5-millimeter projectile. The Warren Fee determined that one of many bullets fired that day struck the president from behind, exited from the entrance of his throat and continued on to hit Mr. Connally, one way or the other managing to injure his again, chest, wrist and thigh. It appeared unbelievable {that a} single bullet may do all that, so skeptics known as it the magic bullet concept.

Investigators got here to that conclusion partly as a result of the bullet was discovered on a stretcher believed to have held Mr. Connally at Parkland Memorial Hospital, in order that they assumed it had exited his physique throughout efforts to avoid wasting his life. However Mr. Landis, who was by no means interviewed by the Warren Fee, mentioned that’s not what occurred.

In actual fact, he mentioned, he was the one who discovered the bullet — and he discovered it not within the hospital close to Mr. Connally however within the presidential limousine lodged at the back of the seat behind the place Kennedy was sitting.

When he noticed the bullet after the motorcade arrived on the hospital, he mentioned he grabbed it to thwart memento hunters. Then, for causes that also appear fuzzy even to him, he mentioned he entered the hospital and positioned it subsequent to Kennedy on the president’s stretcher, assuming it may one way or the other assist docs work out what occurred. In some unspecified time in the future, he now guesses, the stretchers will need to have been pushed collectively and the bullet was shaken from one to a different.

“There was no person there to safe the scene, and that was an enormous, large hassle to me,” Mr. Landis mentioned. “All of the brokers that had been there have been centered on the president.” A crowd was gathering. “This was all occurring so shortly. And I used to be simply afraid that — it was a bit of proof, that I noticed immediately. Essential. And I didn’t need it to vanish or get misplaced. So it was, ‘Paul, you’ve bought to decide,’ and I grabbed it.’”

Mr. Landis theorizes that the bullet struck Kennedy within the again however for some motive was undercharged and didn’t penetrate deeply, subsequently popping again out earlier than the president’s physique was faraway from the limousine.

Mr. Landis has been reluctant to invest on the bigger implications. He all the time believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

However now? “At this level, I’m starting to doubt myself,” he mentioned. “Now I start to surprise.” That’s so far as he’s prepared to go.

A local of Ohio and son of a school sports activities coach, Mr. Landis doesn’t come throughout as a swaggering safety agent. He needed to stretch to satisfy the 5-foot-8 peak requirement when he joined the service, and will not accomplish that. “I’m too little now,” he mentioned, to make it in right now’s company. He’s quiet and unassuming, wearing a coat and tie for an interview, his grey hair neatly trimmed. He has somewhat hassle listening to and speaks softly, however his thoughts is obvious and his recollections regular.

Lately, he confided his story with a number of key figures, together with Lewis C. Merletti, a former director of the Secret Service. James Robenalt, a Cleveland lawyer and writer of a number of books of historical past, has deeply researched the assassination and helped Mr. Landis course of his reminiscences.

“If what he says is true, which I are likely to imagine, it’s more likely to reopen the query of a second shooter, if not much more,” Mr. Robenalt mentioned. “If the bullet we all know because the magic or pristine bullet stopped in President Kennedy’s again, it implies that the central thesis of the Warren Report, the single-bullet concept, is improper.” And if Mr. Connally was hit by a separate bullet, he added, then it appeared attainable it was not from Oswald, who he argued couldn’t have reloaded that quick.

Mr. Merletti, who has been pleasant with Mr. Landis for a decade, was undecided what to consider his account. “I don’t know if that story’s true or not, however I do know that the brokers that had been there that day, they had been tormented for years by what occurred,” he mentioned in an interview.

Mr. Merletti referred Mr. Landis to Ken Gormley, the president of Duquesne College and a distinguished presidential historian, who helped him discover an agent for his e-book. In an interview, Mr. Gormley mentioned he was not stunned {that a} traumatized agent would come ahead all these years later, evaluating it to a dying declaration in authorized instances.

“It’s quite common as individuals get to the tip of their lives,” Mr. Gormley mentioned. “They wish to make peace with issues. They wish to get on the desk issues they’ve been holding again, particularly if it’s a bit of historical past and so they need the report corrected. This doesn’t seem like a play by somebody making an attempt to get consideration for himself or cash. I don’t learn it that approach in any respect. I believe he firmly believes this. Whether or not it matches collectively, I don’t know. However individuals can finally determine that out.”

Mr. Landis’s account varies in a few respects from two written statements he filed within the week after the capturing. Apart from not mentioning discovering the bullet, he reported listening to solely two pictures. “I don’t recall listening to a 3rd shot,” he wrote. Likewise, he didn’t point out going into the trauma room the place Kennedy was taken, writing that he “remained exterior by the door” when the primary girl went in.

Gerald Posner, writer of “Case Closed,” a 1993 e-book that concluded that Oswald certainly killed Kennedy on his personal, mentioned he was doubtful. Whereas he didn’t query Mr. Landis’s sincerity, Mr. Posner mentioned the story didn’t add up.

“Individuals’s reminiscences usually don’t enhance over time, and it’s a flashing warning signal to me, about skepticism I’ve over his story, that on some essential particulars of the assassination, together with the variety of pictures, his reminiscence has gotten higher as a substitute of worse,” he mentioned.

“Even assuming that he’s precisely describing what occurred with the bullet,” Mr. Posner added, “it would imply nothing greater than we now know that the bullet that got here out of Governor Connally did so within the limousine, not on a stretcher in Parkland the place it was discovered.”

Mr. Landis mentioned the reviews he filed after the assassination included errors; he was in shock and had barely slept for 5 days as he centered on serving to the primary girl by means of the ordeal, he mentioned, and never paying sufficient consideration to what he submitted. He didn’t assume to say the bullet, he mentioned.

It was not till 2014 that he realized that the official account of the bullet differed from his reminiscence, he mentioned, however he didn’t come ahead then out of a sense that he had made a mistake in placing it on the stretcher with out telling anybody in that pre-C.S.I., secure-the-crime-scene period.

“I didn’t wish to speak about it,” Mr. Landis mentioned. “I used to be afraid. I began to assume, did I do one thing improper? There was a concern that I may need carried out one thing improper and I shouldn’t speak about it.”

Certainly, his associate, Clint Hill, the legendary Secret Service agent who clambered onto the again of the dashing limousine in a futile effort to avoid wasting Kennedy, discouraged Mr. Landis from talking out. “Many ramifications,” Mr. Hill warned in a 2014 electronic mail that Mr. Landis saved and shared final month.

Mr. Hill, who has set out his personal account of what occurred in a number of books and interviews, solid doubt on Mr. Landis’s model on Friday. “I imagine it raises issues when the story he’s telling now, 60 years after the very fact, is totally different than the statements he wrote within the days following the tragedy” and informed in subsequent years, Mr. Hill mentioned in an electronic mail. “In my thoughts, there are severe inconsistencies in his varied statements/tales.”

Mr. Landis’s rendezvous with historical past started within the small city of Worthington, Ohio, north of Columbus. After school and a stint within the Ohio Air Nationwide Guard, he was working in a clothes retailer when a household pal described his job within the Secret Service. Intrigued, Mr. Landis joined in 1959 within the Cincinnati workplace, the place he chased thieves who swiped Social Safety checks out of mailboxes.

A 12 months later, he was despatched to Washington the place he joined the protecting element for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandchildren. After Kennedy was elected, Mr. Landis, code named Debut due to his youth, was assigned to protect the brand new president’s youngsters and later the primary girl, Jacqueline Kennedy, alongside Mr. Hill. As a result of the primary girl accompanied her husband to Dallas that fall day in 1963, Mr. Landis, then 28, was a part of the motorcade, driving the rear of the correct working board on the black Cadillac convertible, code named Halfback, simply toes behind the presidential limousine.

On the first shot, Mr. Landis turned to look over his proper shoulder within the path of the sound however noticed nothing. Then he turned to the limousine and noticed Kennedy elevating his arms, evidently hit. Instantly, Mr. Landis observed that Mr. Hill had leapt off their follow-up automobile and was sprinting towards the limousine. Mr. Landis thought of doing the identical however didn’t have an angle.

He mentioned he heard a second shot that sounded louder and eventually the deadly third shot that hit Kennedy within the head. Mr. Landis needed to duck to keep away from being splattered by flesh and mind matter. He knew immediately that the president was lifeless. Mr. Hill, now on the again of the limousine, turned again and confirmed it with a thumbs down.

As soon as they reached the hospital, Mr. Hill and Mr. Landis coaxed the distraught first girl to let go of her husband so he might be taken inside. After they exited the automobile, Mr. Landis observed two bullet fragments in a pool of shiny crimson blood. He fingered one in all them however put it again.

That’s when he mentioned he observed the intact bullet within the seam of the tufted darkish leather-based cushioning. He mentioned he slipped it into his coat pocket and headed into the hospital, the place he deliberate to provide it to a supervisor, however within the confusion instinctively put it on Kennedy’s stretcher as a substitute.

The hospital’s senior engineer later discovered it when he was shifting Mr. Connally’s stretcher, by then empty, and bumped it in opposition to one other stretcher within the corridor, ensuing within the bullet falling out.

The Warren Fee report mentioned that it “eradicated President Kennedy’s stretcher as a supply of the bullet” as a result of the president remained on his stretcher whereas docs tried to avoid wasting his life and was not eliminated till his physique was positioned in a coffin.

Investigators decided that the bullet, designated Fee Exhibit 399, was fired by the identical C2766 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle discovered within the sixth ground of the Texas Faculty Ebook Depository. They concluded that the bullet handed by means of Kennedy, then entered Mr. Connally’s proper shoulder, struck his rib, exited below his proper nipple, continued by means of his proper wrist and into his left thigh.

Docs concurred that the one bullet may have brought about all of the injury. However the bullet was described as almost pristine and had misplaced just one or two grains of its unique 160 or 161 grains in weight, inflicting skeptics to doubt that it may have carried out all that the fee mentioned it had. Nonetheless, ballistic consultants utilizing fashionable forensic strategies concluded at the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination that the single-bullet concept was completely believable.

Mr. Landis mentioned he was stunned that the Warren Fee by no means interviewed him, however assumed that his supervisors had been defending the brokers, who had been out late the night time earlier than socializing (Mr. Landis till 5 a.m., though he insisted they weren’t drunk). “No one actually requested me,” he mentioned.

Many footage of these days of mourning present Mr. Landis at Jacqueline Kennedy’s aspect as she endured the rituals of a presidential farewell. Night time after night time, these seconds of violence in Dallas saved replaying in his head, his personal private Zapruder movie on an infinite loop. “The president’s head exploding — I couldn’t shake that imaginative and prescient,” he mentioned. “No matter I used to be doing, that’s all I used to be serious about.”

With Mr. Landis and Mr. Hill nonetheless defending her, the previous first girl was in fixed movement within the months afterward. “She’d be within the again seat sobbing and also you’d wish to say one thing nevertheless it wasn’t actually our place to say something,” Mr. Landis recalled.

After six months, he couldn’t take it anymore and left the Secret Service. Haunted, he moved to Cape Cod in Massachusetts, then New York, then Ohio close to Cleveland. For many years, he made a dwelling in actual property and machine merchandise and home portray, something so long as it had nothing to do with defending presidents.

He was usually conscious of the conspiracy theories, but by no means learn a e-book about them, or the Warren Fee report for that matter. “I simply paid no consideration to that,” he mentioned. “I simply eliminated myself. I simply felt I had been there. I had seen it, and I knew what I noticed and what I did. And that’s all.”

He did a couple of interviews in 2010 and thereafter, however by no means talked about discovering the bullet. Then, in 2014, an area police chief he knew gave him a replica of “Six Seconds in Dallas,” a 1967 e-book by Josiah Thompson arguing that there have been a number of shooters. Mr. Landis learn it and believed the official account of the bullet was improper.

That led to conversations with Mr. Merletti and Mr. Gormley and finally, after a few years, to his e-book.

It was not straightforward. As he completed the manuscript, he stared on the laptop display screen, broke down and cried uncontrollably. “I didn’t notice that I had so many suppressed feelings and emotions,” he mentioned. “I simply couldn’t cease. And that was simply an enormous emotional aid.”

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