Skip to main content

Second Gunman

May 2024
2min read

From November 17 to 22, 1963, I was in Dallas to cover a soft-drink convention for a trade magazine. That fateful week produced some unusual coincidences for me.

One of the Tuesday speakers was Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who had been lined up by his friend and later aide Cliff Carter, a 7-Up bottler from Bryan, Texas, whom I knew professionally. I was with the reception group when Johnson arrived more than a half-hour late. He made it clear that if he was not put on to speak immediately, he would leave. The presiding officer reluctantly stopped Charles Brower, president of BBDO advertising agency, in mid-sentence, after which Johnson made a decidedly political talk. Mr. Brower got a tumultuous ovation when he returned to the podium with the opening comment “Some of our best programs are interrupted by commercials.”

I was carrying a rolled-up flip chart wrapped in brown paper, a slim package that could easily have been mistaken for a rifle.

On Thursday, the day before President Kennedy was to address a luncheon in a nearby building, I was given a walking tour of the facilities, which by then were under Secret Service surveillance. We saw men who looked like agents, but we were not challenged.

That night, after a barbecue ending our convention, a friend took several of us to a gaudy nightspot, the Vegas Club, on the outskirts of town. We were greeted at the door by a slight, balding man who collected a buck from each of us as admission. It was a slow night, and we stood around shooting the breeze with this fellow for quite some time. I didn’t know his name then, but three days later I figured out that it was Jack Ruby.

On Friday I was in the crowd on Market Street waiting for the Kennedy motorcade. My time ran out, and I had to leave to catch a 12:30 taxi to Love Field. On our way there, between 12:35 and 12:40, sirens were screaming and unmarked cars raced past at high speed with emergency lights flashing. My taxi didn’t have a radio, so as we drove past Parkland Hospital, we had no idea why people were running frantically toward it from all directions.

It was pure pandemonium at the airport. In addition to shouts that the President had been shot, an attendant told us that Governor Connally and others were dead. Nobody knew anything for sure.

I checked in at the airline counter for a two o’clock flight to Louisville. I was carrying a rolled-up flip chart wrapped in brown paper, a slim package that could easily have been mistaken for a rifle. After a short delay we boarded our flight and taxied out. We sat at the end of the runway for a few minutes until the captain tersely announced that the President was dead. He then began our takeoff, and I have a vivid memory of roaring by the suddenly somber sight of Air Force One parked on the ramp.

It has occurred to me many times that Kennedy’s assassin or conspirators could have been aboard our plane or any other flight that left Dallas in the hours immediately after the tragedy. And I have wondered if the authorities ever thought about a fellow who had been within arm’s reach of Lyndon Johnson early in the week, who walked through the Kennedy luncheon site, who talked with Jack Ruby Thursday night, who was standing along the parade route Friday, and who left downtown about the time the shots were fired, flying out of Dallas with something that sort of looked like a gun.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.