Friday, November 5, 2010

                              How “Typical” was the Protection for President Kennedy in Dallas?
                                                              John Delane Williams

       The protection afforded President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963 seemed lacking to me when compared to current standards. (However, an Arab reporter was able to throw both his shoes at  President George W. Bush at a press conference in Bagdad on December 14, 2008. That occurred without any apparent quick reaction from the Secret Service, or any other security service, which brings into question current standards). A more relevant question might be, ‘Was the protection afforded Kennedy in Dallas consistent with protection during Kennedy’s presidency?’
 President Kennedy in Pueblo, Colorado, August 17, 1962
I went to Pueblo Public School Stadium around noon on Friday August 17, 1962 to see President Kennedy; it would be the first time I ever saw a US president in person. There was a lot I didn’t know back then, including anything about presidential security, or even President Kennedy’s schedule beyond his appearance at the football stadium. Only recently did I find out, through the Kennedy Library website [1], that this stop was Kennedy’s second stop of the day. That morning, he was in Pierre, South Dakota, dedicating the Oahe Dam on the Missouri River. The event I saw was in the early afternoon. The Pierre to Pueblo flight would have been approximately 640 miles. Next, a 1050 mile trip to Yosemite National Park in California followed, with President Kennedy seeing the sights there. All of this was preceded by a 1500 mile trip from Washington, to Pierre, South Dakota. Thus President Kennedy flew over 3000 miles that day, and still spent significant time in three disparate locations away from Washington. I was aware of only the stop in Pueblo. The next morning, Kennedy went to Los Banos, California for a dedication of the San Luis Dam, and then to Fresno for his trip back to Washington.  Almost 47 years after the fact, I am impressed by the indefatigable nature of President Kennedy. [2]
 I should indicate that at the time of President Kennedy’s visit to Pueblo, I was 23 years old, starting my first year of teaching mathematics and statistics at a junior college. History was not something that I would have ever envisioned as being even of a remote interest. Still, my observations of that day remain fresh in my mind. As I entered the stadium, which would hold over 20,000 people that day, I noticed a rather large contingent of officers surrounding the stadium, as well as inside. Many of them appeared to be state patrolmen. I thought that strange, but I pushed that observation aside momentarily. Walking up the aisle, looking for a good seat, I noticed that my brother, Gerald R. Williams, was standing in the middle of the aisle that I was going up.  He was holding a rifle in his hands.  Instinctively, I said, “Hi Gerald.” Gerald had become a Colorado State Patrolman the previous year, November 6, 1961. It had been a year and a half since I had last seen him, some 1200 miles away in California, where we both lived at the time. He did not acknowledge my greeting.
 As I sat down, I then became acutely aware of the number of patrolmen who were armed and in the stadium. There appeared to be three patrolmen in each aisle. I was aware that the horseshoe stadium had at least 12 aisles, having played American football there many times. Additional armed patrolmen were at the top of the stadium. Since the stadium was in a natural bowl, this placed many of them at street level. I surmised that out of my view several more patrolmen would have been patrolling the road along side and behind the stadium which Kennedy would take to get to the podium.  At the airport, security would have been provided by the Sheriff’s office and the Pueblo City Police. The five miles from the airport to the city limits would have been secured by the state patrol.  Once the city limits were reached, security for the eight miles to the stadium would have been provided by city police. The motorcade had additional security personnel from city and state police and the Sheriff’s office.   It seemed a little eerie to see all of the patrolmen holding their rifles throughout the proceedings.
 While the event was predicated on the passage of the Frying Pan Arkansas Project, a project to divert water from a lake in the Rocky Mountains to Eastern Colorado to provide irrigation for the dry plains, much of the time was used to introduce Democratic candidates for offices in the upcoming November elections. To the audience (and to me) this was a chance to see, not just a president, but to see President Kennedy. Pueblo was as different from Dallas as could be imagined. The city was over 60% Catholic, and had provided a huge majority for Kennedy in the 1960 election. This was a city that truly loved President Kennedy—yet the security afforded him there was significant. It was my only exposure to presidential security until I became aware of the lessened security afforded President Kennedy in Dallas.
 Meeting with my Brother Two days Later
Gerald lived in La Junta, Colorado, 60 miles east of Pueblo, with his family. He moved there after gaining employment with the Colorado State Patrol. One of my first questions to him was regarding his ignoring me at the Kennedy event. His response was, “They sent me there to protect the president, not to talk to my brother.” As I was to find out over time, this formerly “fun loving person” had become serious about his new vocation. [3, 4]
Events in the next two months would in a peripheral way tell me a bit more about the degree of involvement of the state patrol in protecting President Kennedy. As it happened, our mother died on October 20, 1962 (during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis). Three days later, an escort of 200 state patrolmen accompanied her body to the Ordway (Colorado) Cemetery, some 50 miles distant from Pueblo. The 200 patrolmen represented one-fourth of all of the state patrolmen in the State of Colorado.  There were no published estimates of the protection provided for President Kennedy by any agency for the Pueblo portion of the President’s Western tour. Undoubtedly other officers, including additional state patrolmen, the County Sheriff’s office, and Pueblo city police provided protection at the airport and in the parade route to and from the airport, in addition to the Secret Service. The five miles from the airport to the city would have been fully secured. The trip to Colorado was perhaps the first such visit to Colorado by a sitting president. (The 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado was the first such major party nominating convention held in the state.) The Colorado State Patrol would have made it its highest priority to provide the best possible security. The total contingent of state patrolmen could easily have been 200 or more, a quarter of all state patrolmen in Colorado.  The Colorado protection afforded President Kennedy could be considered “normal”. [5]
Protection, or Lack thereof, in Dallas
The contrast for me, then, is between the “normal” security provided President Kennedy in places like Pueblo, Colorado, and the protection provided him in Dallas. Palamara [6] had a photograph of “normal” security for President Kennedy.  The photograph shows the motorcycle policemen aside the limousine; agents are on the back of the limousine, and an agent in the back with President Kennedy. The media car is behind the backup car.      
Palamara has coined the phrase “Security-stripping test” to describe the multiple indicators of the stripping of security for the Dallas trip. Palamara lists 30 items of security stripping in Dallas. [7] Among them were the changing of the motorcade route, the changing of the motorcycle formation, the putting of the press and JFK’s personal physician, Admiral George Burkley, at the rear of the motorcade, and the removal of the bubbletop from the limousine. Agents were not on the back of the limousine. Agents in the follow-up car were told not to move during the shooting, with one agent being called back. Pierre Salinger, JFK’s Press Secretary, was not present. No action was made in regard to the umbrella man, despite his having and displaying his umbrella on a clear day. Members of the Sheriff’s Department were told to stand down by Sheriff Decker. [8] An ambulance was removed from Dealey Plaza minutes before the motorcade passed through. There were persons in Dealey Plaza who apparently held Secret Service credentials. These appear to have been stolen from at least one agent.  The Secret Service then chose to change all Secret Service Commission books. This change occurred in January 1964, without admitting a Commission book was lost. [9] It does seem clear that security was significantly lessened in Dallas when compared to other times President Kennedy traveled outside of Washington D.C.
Postscript:  An Untimely Death in Colorado
Despite my brother’s dedication to his profession, his career would be abbreviated. On a wintry evening, December 16, 1967, a driver was stuck in the snow near Rocky Ford, Colorado, 12 miles west of La Junta. A second motorist in the same vicinity had run out of gas; the state patrol was called. Gerald was the responding officer. As a precautionary measure Gerald told the stranded drivers that he would be the person walking closest to the traffic as they walked back to the patrol car. A train was on the tracks to their left with its headlight shining. Gerald was hit from behind by another driver, who was found to be driving under the influence of alcohol and without a valid driver’s license. My brother was dead on the scene. The two stranded drivers were unhurt. Four days later his funeral was held in La Junta. He was buried next to his mother at the Ordway Cemetery, 24 miles away. An entourage of 400 state patrolmen in their vehicles accompanied his body for its final trip; this amounted to half the entire contingent of state patrolmen in Colorado. [10, 11] The Colorado State Patrol honored both a beloved President and its own fallen heroes.
  1. video in
  2. Ibid.
  3. A change point in Gerald’s life came in the previous year. He had been working as a hard rock miner, and fell in a shaft, narrowly averting death. He then applied to the Colorado State Patrol to begin work as a patrolman. I was aware of these changes, but not the change to a seriousness of purpose that he underwent. On the other hand he continued to be a most likable person.
  4. Gerald’s daughter, Debra Williams Kansgen, still has the pin given to her father by the Secret Service for his role in protecting President Kennedy (e-mail, 1/7/2009).
  5. As a point of reference, Colorado has 104,091 square miles within its borders, about 9,500 square miles more than the entire United Kingdom. Colorado’s population, currently 4.9 million, is only about 8% of that of the United Kingdom (61 million).
  6. Palamara, V. (1997; extended version of the 1993 text.) The third alternative-survivor’s guilt: The Secret Service and the JFK Murder. Pittsburgh, PA: Author.  (between p. 23 & p. 24).             
  7. Ibid, pp. 60-61.
  8. Craig, R. When they kill a president. (Manuscript). See also Groden, R.J. & Livingston, H.E. (1989). High treason. New York: The Conservatory Press, p. 162.
  9. Bolden, A. (2008). The echo from Dealey Plaza: The true story of the first African-American on the White House Secret Service detail and his quest for justice after the assassination of JFK. New York: Harmony Books; also Williams, J.D. (2008). Echo from Dealey Plaza-Abraham Bolden. Dealey Plaza Echo, 12, 2, 51-54.
  10. While the death of state patrolmen in the line of duty is rare, it is by no means unknown. At the time of this writing, 24 patrolmen (including one woman trooper) in the State of Colorado have lost their lives in the line of duty since the inception (1935) of the patrol.  Gerald R. Williams was the 12th patrolman to lose his life in the line of duty.
  11. Gerald’s youngest son, Patrick, recently retired as a Senior Trooper from the Texas Highway Patrol. Though Patrick lives and worked in the Dallas area, with Texas having two recent presidents (Bush I and Bush II), Patrick’s only involvement with presidential or vice-presidential trips to Texas was that Patrick was in a motorcade for then Vice-President George H.W. Bush in Austin in 1986. Patrick stated, “I wouldn’t consider it part of his protection detail myself; however, I was in a long line of vehicles which escorted him to the airport in Austin. “  (e-mails, 1/3/2009; 1/5/2009).
From the Dealey Plaza Echo, (2010). 13, 1, 1-4.

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