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Old 08-28-2009, 07:50 PM
eflteacher eflteacher is offline
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Howard Brennan

Excerpts from Eyewitness to History
By Howard L. Brennan, with J. Edward Cherryholmes
Texian Press, Waco, 1987

After a score of years I have decided to tell my story. Some may wonder why. Certainly I had every opportunity to do so in 1963. I was besieged by hundreds of media people asking for an exclusive, and many other offers from writers to help me tell my story. At that time I turned down every request. It wasn’t that I wanted to be uncooperative, but I was following my rearing which had taught me not to capitalize on the misfortunes of others.
Outside of the Kennedy family, I believe that the assassination probably had as profound an effect on me as on any other person with the exception of Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby. I have decided to tell my story for two basic reasons, first: I have become convinced that the controversy surrounding the assassination has not abated after more than twenty years, nor is it likely to in the near future. Since I was the only eyewitness who can set the record straight for history, I believe I have a responsibility to end some of the questions forever, concerning exactly what did happen at Dealy [sic] Plaza on November 22, 1963. I have been a long time coming to this belief. I refused earlier attempts to get me to make any statement beyond that made in my appearance before the Warren Commission or in the television documentary on the assassination produced by CBS.
Early in 1983 my pastor, Edward Cherryholmes, convinced me that I should tell my complete story for future generations who will want to know the truth. Some things in this book will reveal new aspects never before known. I have wanted for a long time to tell publically how it really felt to be an integral part of an historic event. Thousands of times since that day I had asked myself, “Why me?” I still don’t know for certain, but I have accepted the fact that I was chosen to be the witness because of certain qualities I possess, as you will learn in this book. Someone like me had to survive to say what really happened. Volumes have been written about the assassination, but this is the only eyewitness account of what actually transpired.
My second reason for writing was to reveal what a profound effect the assassination had on my life, both directly and indirectly. Because I “happened” to be in the right place at the wrong time, it changed my entire life. It drove me from one part of the country to another and finally overseas. My health broke under the strain of my involvement and forced me into early retirement. My story is that which can happen to any common man when he is caught up in a most uncommon event. If, that day, I had been in any other place, looking in any other direction, I would have never been more involved than the average citizen. Because I did see it all, my life was changed forever. My story is a story that could happen to anyone who has notoriety thrust upon them
All the things that happened to me subsequent to the assassination fit together into a huge puzzle. It is only now that I can see this from a complete perspective. Every day for the past twenty years I have reflected back to how I got involved and often wished I had not. Though many of my experiences have been painful, I have learned patience and consideration for others. The years have dulled my feelings towards some of the media that pursued and attempted to exploit me. I have come to realize that they were simply trying to do their job as they saw it.
November 22, 1963 will rank with April 14, 1865 as a day to be remembered in American history. People still ponder over the assassination of President Lincoln and every American over twenty-five can say exactly what they were doing and thinking on that fateful day when President Kennedy was killed. It has remained in the center of our thoughts for two decades. Because of this I hope what I have to say will shed the light that is necessary to drive out the shadows which still surround us after all these years.
Chapter 1—The Day Dawns
It could have been like one of the thousands of other working days I’ve had in my life. It started out that way. I was deep in pleasant dreams when they were interrupted by a disc jockey after our clock radio came on at 5:30 a.m. The day was November 22, 1963. As I rubbed sleep from my eyes and sat up in bed and stretched, I had no realization that my life was about to be changed suddenly, dramatically and permanently. This day would not only change my life, but also the lives and thinking of millions of other Americans.
It was pitch dark outside except for the street lights and I wished that I could ignore the clock radio, turn over and snuggle up under the covers for at least a few more hours of sleep. As Louise got up to precede me to the kitchen, I knew my wish wouldn’t be granted. It was another work day and I would go through the same routine that I had gone through so many times over the years. Just at that moment I remembered, “Hey! Today is Friday! I better get moving, It’s pay day.”
I stumbled into the bathroom to shave and wash for breakfast. By this time I could smell the coffee perking in the kitchen. It was a ritual we had observed thousands of times in our more than twenty years of marriage. Louise called out to me from the kitchen, “What would you like for breakfast, honey?” The weather forecast for that day called for cloudy, chilly weather with a possibility of rain. Weather in Dallas that time of year can vary from near summer temperatures to miserably cold. One never knows in the morning what the temperature will be by evening. My job as a steamfitter, at the time, was in the Katy Railroad Yards next to the Texas Book Depository Building on the west side of downtown Dallas.
“Better make it bacon and eggs,” I called while continuing to get dressed. As a steamfitter, an expert in the heating and cooling systems for commercial buildings, my job had taken me from one end of the country to the other. We had returned from California three years earlier and settled in a small house at 6814 Woodard Street in east Dallas in a section called Urbandale. Louise was particularly happy since, after traveling all over the country with me, we had finally returned to the area of our birth. We were near both our families and we were hoping not to have to leave the area again. As I walked into the kitchen after dressing, I could smell the bacon frying in the pan and it was the incentive I needed for the day. The coffee was ready, a pickup that was counted on in the morning. I sat at the breakfast table while Louise was getting the meal on the table. At the time she was 42, and had light brown hair that was prematurely graying. She was 5’3” with blue eyes and a round face. We could still hear the radio going in the bathroom. The news announcer was reminding us of something that practically everyone in Dallas already knew. This was the day that President John F. Kennedy would arrive in Dallas. Air Force One was due to land at Love Field about 11:45 a.m. A motorcade would take the President through the downtown area on his way to a luncheon and speech at the Trade Mart.
“The President’s going to pass right by the place where I’m working, so I’m going to knock off while he goes by,” I told Louise. “That sounds great,” she said. “I don’t think I’d want to fight the crowds.” I responded, “Well, you don’t get a chance to see the President of the United States very often and I might never get another, so I’m not going to miss the opportunity.” “I don’t blame you. If I worked down there, I would too,” she said. “What time will the President be passing by where you work?”
“I’m not exactly sure, but the newspaper said he’d be at the Trade Mart about 12:30 and since this is at the very end of the parade, I suppose it’ll be about then.”
As I finished breakfast and got up to leave Louise cautioned me, “Now try not to be late tonight. Remember, we’re going shopping for furniture.” Louise was excited that for the first time in many years we were going to replace some of our old, worn out furniture with some new pieces. I assured her, “Don’t worry, Louise, I’ll come straight home!” I meant it. There was nothing that I knew of that would prevent me from keeping my word. I put on my aluminum helmet as I had done so often before and headed for the door, stopping, as always, to give Louise a kiss before leaving.
As I stepped out into the morning, it was now 7:15 a.m. and daylight had arrived. It was a steel-gray morning with low-hanging clouds, dampness in the air and a definite threat of rain.
Sitting in my driveway was my dependable ’56 Pontiac. I had owned the car several years and it had over 100,000 miles on the speedometer. It had carried me to jobs in many states and was a workhorse that never failed me. The ignition turned over immediately, even though the morning was damp.
I backed my car slowly out of the driveway and drove down and over one block to the major thoroughfare at the time, Military Parkway. I reported for work in Downtown Dallas and I could usually make the drive in 15 to 20 minutes. As I pulled out onto Military Parkway, I thought, “I hope the weather improves before the President’s visit.”
The drive to work was always a pleasant part of my day. It gave me an opportunity to think. Seeing the President was much in my thoughts that morning as I passed each landmark I had become familiar with. Never in my wildest imagination could I have believed what lay in store for me that day.
I turned the car radio on and again, the main topic of discussion was the visit of the President. The 1964 Presidential Campaign was already in full swing and everyone knew that carrying Texas was vital to the election. The announcer said that it was hoped this trip would pick up needed support for Kennedy as he expected a real challenge in 1964.
Military Parkway was a large, heavily travelled boulevard with good access to Downtown Dallas. Each day I passed near the Texas State Fairgrounds where the Cotton Bowl is located, I remembered the many good times I had there in my youth. I kept going on Military until it became Haskell Street then turned left onto Gaston Avenue heading West towards downtown Dallas. After a few blocks, Gaston changes to Pacific Street and I drove until I reached the corner of Pacific and St. Paul where I had to report in each working day. I walked into the office about 7:40 a.m. and greeted those who had already arrived for work.
After a few minutes of small talk with some of my friends, I left the building, got into my car, and drove the last few blocks to the job site. Traffic in the downtown area was becoming heavy and I was glad that I could get to the jobsite before it got more congested. I arrived at the Katy Railroad Yards a few minutes before 8:00 a.m. There were seven men in our crew which had been assigned to this project. I especially liked it because there wasn’t always a boss hanging over your shoulder. This job was outdoors, and I like that too. Texas weather is usually a lot more pleasant than in other parts of the country even in late fall and winter and so working outdoors was a pleasure.
The morning would start out pretty chilly, but I knew that the weather could possibly be nice before the day ended. As I got out of my car, I heard a voice behind me say, “Good morning, Howard! Are you ready for the big day?” I turned round to see George White, a fellow worker I’d gotten to know fairly well during the first three months we’d been at this site. “Are you going to watch the President when he goes by?” George asked.
“You better believe it,” I said. “I wouldn’t miss a chance like this for the world!”
We talked for a few minutes about the job and what needed to be done that day. It was projected that we’d be working together for another six months before all the work at the site was completed. As a steamfitter this is how I spent my life, working with one crew for a few months before moving on and getting to know a new one in a new situation. I got to know a lot of people, but not for very long. What I didn’t know as we stood and talked that morning was that this would be my last day at this particular job site. Events were about to swallow me up the way the whale swallowed Jonah that would take me places I would never have dreamed of going, meeting people I never thought I would meet, but most of all, causing me anguish I never could have imagined. As we chatted, it was like the quiet that sometimes comes just before the storm.
I set about my tasks for the day and was so involved in what I was doing that I completely lost track of the time. I thought it seemed like only ten or fifteen minutes had passed when I felt a touch on my shoulder and turned to see George. He asked me, “Aren’t you going to come and have coffee with us?”
I said, “Why, is it 9:30 already?” I glanced at my watch, and to my amazement, it was time for our morning break.
As we sat around in a circle there was a good feeling among us. Although we weren’t close friends, we all got along well.
We talked about the President’s visit, which was probably the topic of conversation in every coffee break in Dallas that morning. One of the men asked, “Is anyone going to make the effort to fight the crowd to get a look at President Kennedy?” I said, “I am.” Since we expected the President to pass by at 12:30, this was normally the time I would have been at lunch. I was the only one in the group who had decided to see the President. After finishing my coffee, I got back to work as quickly as possible and the minutes seemed to fly. I began to feel excitement and I knew that one day it would be something I could tell my grandchildren.
As I finished welding one particular piece, I glanced at my watch and noticed it was just 11:30, time to quit for lunch. I put away my equipment carefully, expecting to get back to it in about an hour. I walked in front of the Texas Book Depository and crossed the street on my way to the cafeteria located at Main and Record Streets. I knew that if I left to eat now I’d beat the noon crowds and still have a chance to see the President. When I reached the cafeteria, I looked through the window to see that there was almost no line at all.
The cashier rang up my total and gave me my change. She said, “I wish I could leave here soon enough to see the President as he goes by. But with the crowd that’s going to be in I’ll miss the whole thing!” I felt sorry for her and said, “Well, you might get trampled in the crowd!” I picked up my tray and looked until I found a window seat where I could view the scene that was beginning to unfold on the sidewalk. The always busy downtown was becoming alive with movement. People were coming out of buildings and rushing to their destinations. A long line had formed in the cafeteria where I had gone through only a couple of minutes earlier.
Another thing I noticed as I looked out the window was that some people had begun standing at the curb in anticipation of the coming President. It was still more than thirty minutes before he was scheduled to pass, but the jostling for position had started. It was a pleasant, well-dressed crowd from the hundreds of offices in the surrounding area. I realized that the same thing was happening all along the parade route and I had better decide what I was going to do in order to be able to see. Although I’m not short, neither could I see over some six-footer, so I tried to figure out where I could get a good view.
I remembered that the Presidential motorcade would be turning off Houston onto Elm, and that there was a wall about four feet high in Dealy [sic] Plaza that would give me an excellent view. If I could get a seat on the wall, I’d have a panoramic view of the whole area. I finished my lunch and walked out of the cafeteria to be greeted by a bright sun that had come out just in time for the parade. I thought, “That’s a good sign!” I looked at my watch which indicated 12:18. By now I could hear as well as sense the excitement in the air. The sidewalks were lined to capacity.
The smiles on the faces were not unlike those you see on Christmas shoppers. There was a spirit of gaiety in the air, like a carnival. An anticipation was evident everywhere such as one feels when the referee raises his hand just before the kickoff at a football game.
As I walked the two blocks from the cafeteria to Dealy Plaza, an expansive, open area across from the Texas Book Depository, I realized that I stood out like a sore thumb. Nearly everyone else was wearing coats and ties or dresses while I had on work clothes and an aluminum helmet.
When I reached Houston Street, I cut diagonally across to Dealy Plaza. By this time, all traffic had been diverted from the area and it was easy for me to cross. Police were now in evidence everywhere and directing people. It was a tremendous sight. The whole square had come alive. The temperature had warmed up into the 60’s and office windows were open everywhere. It could be a day to remember.
As I reached Dealy Plaza, I saw a crowd gathered around a man on the ground who had apparently fainted. I asked the first man whose attention I could get, “Do you know what happened to him?” He shook his head and said, “I can’t tell you, I just got here myself.” Someone said they thought he had had an epileptic seizure. Maybe the excitement had been just too much for him.
While we were standing there speculating what might have happened, we heard a siren approaching and the crowd made way for an ambulance. Two uniformed men jumped out with a stretcher and in just a matter of seconds had the unconscious man on the stretcher and into the ambulance and he was whisked away. I looked down at the corner of Elm and Houston where the wall was and thought that my idea of getting a seat there was still possible. Either no one else had thought of it, or more likely, the way most people were dressed, they didn’t want to risk getting dirty by climbing up on a wall to sit. I quickly walked to the corner and hauled myself up on the wall before anyone else got the same idea.
My vision is unusually good; I am one of a select few who, for some reason, are gifted with extraordinary eyesight. As I child I didn’t realize this was unusual. I thought that everyone’s eyes were as good, but while playing the game of license plates when travelling in the car, I noticed I was able to identify license plates hundreds of yards before others could. It was a gift (or curse) that made my appearance at Dealy Plaza that day so very important. Later, sand blasting would get into my eyes and they would lose some of their power, but on that day my vision was perfect. My faith leads me to believe that my gift of super-eyesight may have caused Providence to place me at that spot in Dealy Plaza.
As I sat on the wall, looking around, I had an excellent view of the whole terrain. I could see people in every direction—it was a crowd that was becoming more excited by the minute.
Directly across the street from where I sat was the Texas School Book Depository Building. By now it seemed that every window in the place was open with one or more people peering out. There was a spirit of happy anticipation and I could hear much laughter and happy conversation. People were waving from the buildings and fire escapes.
I had thought all the windows in the Texas Book Depository were occupied, but as I looked closer, those occupied seemed to be confined to the lower floors. As I worked my gaze upward, I was struck by the fact that one floor, the one next to the top, seemed to be completely empty. I didn’t think much about it as I reasoned everyone would want to get on as low a floor as possible for the best view. Then, looking at the corner of the building, I noticed one man in the window. What drew my attention to him with all of the other people in the area, I don’t know. I looked at my watch and it was about 12:22. As I watched him, he went away from the window for a few seconds and then returned. I thought perhaps he was doing a special job and had just broken away from it for a moment to see what was happening outside.
There was nothing about this young man at first glance that seemed unusual. He appeared to be about average height, maybe 5’8” to 5’10” and of average weight, tending more toward the slender side. I’m not good at guessing ages, but he seemed to be 25–35. He had on light colored clothing. The thing that caught my attention was that he was alone. Most others were sharing this magic moment with someone, but he was a solitary figure who seemed to be in his own little world. After watching him for a while, I turned to look at some of the others and noticed two black men in the window directly underneath the lone man. There were exactly the opposite. They were laughing, smiling, waving to all who could see them and “having the time of their lives.” It was a festive mood which everyone seemed to find contagious.
After looking around at the crowd for a few moments, I fastened my attention again on the curious young man who was alone on the sixth floor of the building. The most unusual thing about him, I decided, was his demeanor. It stood out in sharp contrast to that of everyone else. There were undoubtedly those in the crowd who didn’t like the President. There had been reports of anti-Kennedy feeling and speculation that some kind of demonstration might take place. But from where I was sitting and from what I could hear, it was a happy, joyous crowd, glad for an opportunity to see their President who was, even then, becoming a legend. If there was animosity in Dallas, most people were keeping it to themselves.
As I looked at the man, it struck me how unsmiling and calm he was. He didn’t seem to feel one bit of excitement. His face was almost expressionless. I couldn’t detect either happiness or hate. Again he left the window for a few seconds, but almost as quickly he resumed his position there. It was only later that I discovered, along with the nation, that he was, in all probability, checking to make certain no one was coming up to the sixth floor to interrupt what he had planned.
While surveying the area, I glanced away to the side of the Depository Building and found something I could not understand. At that time there was a side entrance towards the rear of the building on Houston Street. At some point during the morning hours, the police had sealed off parking in that block and forced all cars to move. Saw horses were placed at Elm and Houston to block traffic. As I looked around I saw a lone car parked beside the Book Depository with a while male seated behind the wheel. The car was an Oldsmobile, a 1955–57 model. It is difficult to tell the exact year unless one is an expert because all those years looked nearly alike. I remember wondering why all the other cars had been made to move and this one had not.
I didn’t have the chance to study the driver carefully but he was wearing civilian clothes and appeared to be middle aged.
One thing that interested me about the car was the way it was parked. The left front wheel was pulled sharply away from the curb and the driver had the door partially open. Later I wondered if the reason for this was so the car could make a quick U-turn in a speedy departure. As I was watching the man in the car I saw a policeman who was on foot walk over towards the car and begin talking to the man in a friendly, laughing manner. So far as I could see, there was no attempt made to get the man to move his car and after chatting for a minute or so, the policeman walked back to his post. It was this fact that made me think the police should have made some report about the presence of the car, but I have never seen any other account of this “mystery car.”
As each minute passed the crowd grew more and more excited and I could feel this along with everyone else. It was a tingling sensation, a kind of mass intoxication that everyone was getting caught up in. At about 12:26 the word spread that the Presidential motorcade was approaching and it would be only a few minutes until it came into view.
The crowd was now at fever pitch and it was one of the most exciting moments in my life. If nothing else happened that day, I would still remember it always. I looked up at the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository where that quiet, strange man was hunched. He hadn’t changed his position or expression at all. He was perfectly calm and his face revealed nothing out of the ordinary. If someone had told me he was shortly about to assassinate the President, there was nothing in his behavior that would have made me suspect it.
Looking back, I know that the man was too calm, too unconcerned. If one can’t become excited at seeing the President of the United States, I wondered what it would take to move him. But the thought of assassination never entered my mind. During the several minutes I studied him, our eyes never met and he didn’t know I was watching him. I have often wondered since that time what would have happened if he had known. Would he have changed his plan? I doubt it…. He seemed not to be looking at anything in particular, rather gazing blankly into space, as if his mind were a thousand miles away. I’ve thought since that he was looking at the corner of Houston and Main from where the President would come. He seemed preoccupied. He left the window one last time for just a few seconds and then returned to his lonely vigil, At no time during all these many minutes did I see any rifle or anything that would have led me to believe that he was any kind of threat to the President.
I heard the wail of sirens from cars that were slowly approaching the corner of Main and Houston and swung around in that direction. Everyone around me was trying to do the same thing. Some moved from their positions to get a better look. From my position on the wall, I was head and shoulders above everyone else and glad that I had such a good seat. I could hear a ripple of applause beginning that would continue to swell in intensity as the motorcade drew nearer.
Two cars stopped at the corner of Main and Houston and I learned later that these were Secret Service Agents trying to secure the path of the President. Of course, for some time uniformed police had been present controlling the crowd and assisting with security precautions. Everyone knew that wherever a President goes, there’s always a large contingent of Secret Service officers. They were looking intently from side to side at the people who had lined the streets, but they saw nothing but happy, friendly faces—nothing suspicious.
Then the first car came into view.[1] It was moving very slowly, as were all the cars in the parade, probably not more than five miles an hour.[2] Next came the big, black Presidential Lincoln that had become familiar to so many Americans.[3] The President swung into view. He was waving and smiling with his usual Irish charm and the crowd responded with cheers and applause.
Two men were in the front seat, Governor and Mrs. John Connally sat in the seat behind them, President and Mrs. Kennedy in the back seat of the open car. I don’t think I’d ever seen a bigger car in my life. Mrs. Kennedy was dressed in a tailored pink suit and wore a small hat. Though I’d seen her many times on television and in magazines, she looked much different to me in person than I’d imagined. Governor Connally was smiling and waving at the crowd and made a striking impression with his prematurely silver hair and lean, tanned face. I thought to myself, “If there was anyone who looked the part of a Texas Governor, it’s got to be John Connally!”
The rapport between the crowd and those in the car was warm and real. Everywhere people were responding to the Kennedy’s with affection that was real.
I felt proud to be an American, happy that I’d have something to tell my friends about. Here I was, looking at the most important person in the world. He was “my President” in that moment. As the motorcade approached I broke into applause along with everyone else.
Of course, people riding in parade cars waving to the crowds don’t often look at individuals, We realize that, but in our fantasy we like to believe that when the President waves and seems to be looking, he is really giving us his personal greeting. I’d like to believe that President Kennedy waved at me as the car approached the corner of Elm and Houston.
The limousine approached the corner and began a wide swing to make the turn onto Elm. In just another minute or so, the whole thing would be over. A couple of hundred more feet and the cars would speed up and be gone from sight. I’d probably never see Kennedy or any other president in person again. I was glad that I’d come. It was everything that I’d hoped it would be.
The crowd reached its peak in noise velocity. This was a moment that everyone would savor for a lifetime. The car competed it turn straightened out its wheels and I was only twenty feet or so from the President. I thought, “I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life!” Of course, I would, but not in the way I thought at that moment.
Chapter 2—The Awful Hours

The late autumn sun shone in all its glory in the moment that the presidential automobile came towards us. I was face to face with the President of the United States, and I joined those around me in greeting him. Much has been written about the animousity that was supposed to exist in Dallas towards John Kennedy. I don’t know if it did, but it wasn’t evident in what was said around me, with one notable exception I’ll mention momentarily.
Most of the crowd were waving and smiling and shouting things like, “We love you, Mr. President!” or “Welcome to Dallas, Mr. Kennedy!” Many said a friendly, “Hello,” but nowhere did I hear an angry voice, And Kennedy responded with that familiar charm that had a way of winning people. The car was moving slowly and so those around me had a good opportunity to look at the President. The car was about twenty or thirty feet away and I felt a sense of pride in being an American. Kennedy was handsome and seemed younger than his mid-forties.
I noticed that his face seemed more square-set than angular, as it had appeared in the newspapers and on television. All of the people in the car were responding to the friendly crowd and waving. Kennedy was looking to his left towards those of us in Dealy Plaza. As the car came abreast of where I was sitting on the wall, Kennedy turned to wave at those on the other side of the street. The next moments have remained fresh in my mind for nearly twenty years. In one respect, the whole experience seemed to take only a few seconds. In another, it resembled slow-motion action that one sees in the movies at times. What has been recorded as taking less than ten seconds seemed like an eternity to me. I’m sure others on the scene felt the same as I. When the presidential car moved just a few feet past where I was sitting, President Kennedy looked back to our side of the street. Just at that moment the whole joy and good will of the day was shattered by the sound of a shot. It took an instant to realize that something had happened. My first instinct was to disbelieve my own ears. Nothing could have been further from my mind at that moment than that someone was trying to kill the President. My first thought was that it must have been a backfire. I’m sure many other people around me must have thought the same thing for there was no instantaneous reaction from the crowd. It was as if no one could really believe that such a thing was even possible, certainly not in Dallas.
I looked up then at the Texas Book Depository Building. What I saw made my “blood run cold.”
Poised in the corner window of the sixth floor was the same young man I had noticed several times before the motorcade arrived. There was one difference—this time he held a rifle in his hands, pointing toward the Presidential car. He steadied the rifle against the cornice and while he moved quickly, he didn’t seem to be in any kind of panic. All of this happened in the matter of a second or two. Then came the sickening sound of a second shot and I looked quickly back to the presidential car which had moved only a few feet, still not apparently aware that it was the assassin’s target.
I saw Governor John Connally reacting to being wounded and the instinctive response of his wife to try and help him. I remember thinking, “Oh my God! He’s going to kill them, he’s going to kill them all!” The immensity and horror of what I was witnessing almost overwhelmed me. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t utter a sound. I could only watch the whole monstrous drama unfold.
Just then a woman close to me screamed in full realization of what was happening. She uttered something like, “Oh, my God!” But even as she did my eyes darted back to that solitary figure who was changing history. He was aiming again and I wanted to pray, to beg God to somehow make him miss his target. There wasn’t time to pray, not even time to think about what I was seeing but the sight became so fixed in my mind that I’ll never forget it for as long as I live. There was nothing I could do. It was a hopeless, sinking feeling. I would have gladly given my life in that moment to be able to save the President, but no one could move fast enough to shield him with his own body. Then another shot rang out.
All of this took only a few seconds. I didn’t realize at that moment that I was the only person who was actually watching the man firing the rifle. Simultaneous with the third shot, I swung my eyes back to the Presidential car which had moved on down to my left on Elm, and I saw a sight that made my whole being sink in despair. A spray of red came from around the President’s head. I knew the bullet had struck its intended target. Later, I would learn that the whole scene had taken less than ten seconds. In retrospect, it seemed like several minutes.
By the time the third shot had been fired, there was sheer pandemonium. Everyone was fully aware that the noise they were hearing was shots, not backfire. This was really happening. It was like a nightmare, only I couldn’t wake up from it. No one had to tell me what was ahead. The moment I saw the effects of the third shot, I knew that the assassin had been successful. No person could have survived that kind of wound.
Mass confusion and hysteria set in and I must admit, I was feeling it too. People were screaming. Men and women dressed in their fine suits and dresses, fell to the ground, getting them dirty, but hopefully getting out of the line of fire. At that moment, no one but me seemed to know where the shots had come from. By now uniformed policemen and plain clothes police, who I assumed were Secret Service or F.B.I. Agents came running from every direction. I jumped from the wall to try to get out of the line of fire. I never saw so many guns in my life. Most of the police were running towards the triple underpass which perhaps was a hundred feet or so ahead of the motorcade. Some were running towards an area to the right, slightly raised, which has come to be called the “Grassy Knoll.” Much speculation has been raised about whether there was another gunman there who was trying to catch the President in a cross-fire. Having witnessed the whole scene, I can say with certainty there was only one gunman present that day and all shots were fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. It is easy to understand why many thought the shots were coming from the area of the underpass as the buildings and open area combine to produce an “echo” effect.
Even as I hit the ground, my first instinct was to look back up to that man on the sixth floor. “Was he going to fire again?” I wondered. By now the motorcade was beginning to speed up and in only a couple of seconds the President’s car had disappeared under the triple underpass. To my amazement the man still stood there in the window! He didn’t appear to be rushed. There was no particular emotion visible on his face except for a slight smirk. It was a look of satisfaction, as if he had accomplished what he had set out to do. He seemed pleased that no one had realized where the shots were coming from. Then he did something that puzzled me. Very slowly and deliberately he set the rifle on its butt and just stayed there for a moment to savor what he had done, like a hunter who has “bagged his buck.” Then, with no sense of haste, he simply moved slowly away from the window until he disappeared from my line of vision.
I thought, “Any moment now, someone will set the police straight and they’ll charge the building to get him!” Some people were starting to get up off the ground, but as I looked around, no one was moving towards the building and I didn’t see any police available! Everyone was still trying to find out where the shots had come from.
The last thing I wanted to do was to get involved. I knew in that moment that I had to make a decision, the most important decision of my life. I didn’t have the time to think of all the possible consequences that might come to me as a result. I haven’t figured out why, of all the people who were present at the scene that day, I was the only person who saw the assassin fire, but Fate or God apparently chose me to be the witness. I was scared! I’d lived my whole life as a man who tried to mind his own business and not get involved in other’s troubles and now suddenly I was in a position where I might be called upon to play a part in one of the most momentous events in our nation’s history. As I got up from the ground, I realized I had to make a decision I would live with the rest of my life. I didn’t have time to dwell on the fact that I might be putting my life in jeopardy and possibly that of my wife as well.
I began to look for a policeman. Someone had just murdered the President of the United States before my eyes and there was no way under heaven that I was going to allow him to get away with it.
In that moment, while I was looking for police help, I heard someone say something behind me which made me angry and sick at the same time. I’ve said, before and during the time the motorcade passed I didn’t hear one adverse word directed towards the President, but just as I began to look for help, I heard a man behind me say, “I wonder if they got him!” All of my life I have tried to control a quick temper. My first instinct was to turn and go after whoever it was who had said it. I’m certain I would have taken out all of the frustration I was feeling at that moment on that individual. I didn’t even take time to think about how big he might be. At that moment I wanted to strike back for the loss that had come to me in the death of “My President.” But there were higher purposes to think about and I knew I couldn’t think about myself at that moment. I had to do everything I could to help catch THE ASSASSIN.
Finally, I saw a policeman standing at the Southwest corner of the SCHOOL BOOK DEPOSITORY and I ran across the street to get his attention.[4] There was much noise and confusion and people were trying to get out of the area. As I approached the policemen he said, “What do you want?” I said, “The man you want is in the building!” He said, “Are you sure?” I responded, “I sure am.” He grabbed my arm and we both ran to the front of the School Book Depository. I glanced back towards the street to the side of the building. The car I had seen PARKED there before the motorcade passed WAS GONE. Although only a few moments had elapsed and all exits were blocked except one, the car had disappeared. The policeman who had been talking to the driver was gone, but I assumed he was looking for the gunman.
Many times since, especially in recent years, I have thought about the car parked alongside the Texas Book Depository and wondered where it came from and where it went. I have always wondered why the policeman allowed the car to be parked illegally beside the building with its wheels turned outward when other cars had been made to vacate the area. Of course, the paramount question in my mind was, “Who was the man sitting behind the wheel that day?”
As I watched the car, it never occurred to me that an assassination was about to take place and this might be the “get-away” car. Even though I could not have positively identified the man behind the wheel, I can say this for certain. The man was white, middle-aged and dressed in civilian clothes. I didn’t have an opportunity to study his face, so identification is impossible but I have always felt that somehow he was involved in the assassination.
Later, I would remember, “if that was a ‘get-away’ car, why didn’t it wait to pick up the killer?” Was it possible that he was being left on purpose? These questions and others tormented me for years after that experience and will never be fully answered. The one thing I knew for certain—there was a car there before the assassination and it disappeared before the assassin had time to get out of the building.
[Authors Note: Howard did not report the presence of the car beside the Book depository Building initially because he did not make an association. Subsequent to that time he had already made a formal statement and probably realized that to insert this new item might cast some doubt on his testimony. He thus determined not to say anything he could not verify absolutely. In retrospect, he acknowledged he probably should have reported it, but he wanted to be sure his testimony would stand since it was critical.]
While I was waiting for the policeman to return, I looked around again at the scene. The chaos and anguish of a few minutes earlier had subdued. There was no one still sitting on the ground and the noise and confusion had begun to settle. A curious, almost eerie quiet had descended over the area. Shortly after we got to the front steps of the building a plain clothes policeman came out of the door.[5] He asked me what I had seen and I told him. I gave him a description of the man I had seen on the sixth floor with the rifle. “He was a young man about 25 to 35 years old. He seemed to be of average height, not over six feet and he had dark hair that was beginning to recede.” He went to a police car that was parked nearby and broadcast the description I had given him. I learned later that this was the first description broadcast to all units of the Dallas Police Department and may have led Officer J. D. Tippit to stop Lee Harvey Oswald. After the broadcast, he and another officer returned to where I was standing. “Please come with me, I want you to show me where you saw the man with the rifle,” indicating I should follow them into the building. “Wait a minute,” I said, thinking of my wife and family, “I can’t go in there with you.” I was concerned that the man who moments before had shot the President was still in the building. “All right then will you stand right there until we come back?” I nodded yes and he went back into the building with two other policemen. Other officers were now returning from the “Grassy Knoll” and were surrounding the building.
As I stood there in front of the Depository I had a chance to think back over the past few minutes. It seemed impossible that only a short time ago I had been just another average American who had come to see the President pass by and now because of that I was an eyewitness to an assassination that would change the entire course of history. Before I could reflect any longer I was confronted by a television reporter and cameraman. They wanted to interview me and find out what I knew about the shooting. I did not want to talk to him and I certainly did not want my picture broadcast. If there were more people involved than the young man I had seen then showing me on television as an eyewitness would be like hanging a target over my heart for someone to shoot at.
He kept asking “Who are you, what do you know about the shooting of the President?” I turned my back on him without answering. He continued to try to get me to talk even though I moved away from him. Finally I said “I don’t know anything.”
I learned later that my wife, Louise, had been watching television and was the reporter trying to interview me. Even though my name wasn’t given, she knew that I must have seen the assassination. My little grandson, who was less than two, pointed at the TV and said, “There’s Granddaddy!” My daughter Vicki had watched the whole scene in a beauty shop. I felt exposed to the whole world as I tried to evade that reporter and cameraman. I don’t know how long the reporter stayed with me, but it had to be several minutes: Each time he’d approach me I’d turn or move away a few steps. It is my sincere belief that Lee Harvey Oswald came out of the front door of the Depository while I was trying to avoid the TV reporter. If my attention had not been distracted I might have spotted him right there.[6]
In retrospect, maybe it’s just as well my attention was diverted. If Oswald and I had come face to face, and I showed recognition, he might have killed me to keep me from identifying him as he later killed Officer J. D. Tippit. Everything seemed to work in Oswald’s favor to make his escape from the Texas Book Depository possible.
About 25 minutes after the President was shot a man came out of the Depository and identified himself as Special Agent Forrest Sorrels with the Secret Service.[7] I gave him the same information that I had given to the other officers a few minutes before. Mr. Sorrels asked if I would accompany him to the Sheriffs office across the street and give them a written statement. “Of course, I will,” I said. “I want to see that man caught. I’ll do all I can to help you.” Since it was a short distance to the Records building, we walked rather than rode. It was hard to make small talk in a situation like that. As I looked at Sorrels and the others I could see the pain in their eyes that the man they had sworn to protect had been shot. At this point, there was no word on the President’s condition, but if I could read their expressions correctly, he was already dead. We went to an office on the second or third floor and, I began to recall the events that would be etched in the minds of Americans for years to come.[8] As I was describing the man and the precise location where the shots had come from, I remarked about the two black men who were immediately beneath him. Some of the cement had shattered and bits and pieces had gotten in their hair. With more time to think, I recounted every detail about the young man that might help them apprehend him. His facial features, distinguishing marks, anything that would help. I was asked, “If you saw this man again, could you identify him?” I said, “I believe I can!” I knew that I could never forget the face I had seen in the window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
Sorrels said, “We appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Brennan. Your testimony may be very important.” I began to realize how important it was. Just then, as I was finishing with my testimony to be signed, another man came in whom I assumed to be an F.B.I. Agent who informed us that President John F. Kennedy had died from a massive bullet wound to the head. The F.B.I. and Secret Service men in the office didn’t respond visibly to the news, but I think, like me, they had somehow hoped against hope that it wasn’t true.
In another part of Dallas, Lyndon Johnson had become the 36th President of the United States. A city-wide search was being launched for an assailant as yet unknown, Mrs. Kennedy was in a state of shock, wild rumors were spreading about the international conspiracy, millions were glued to their televisions sets, not knowing what to think. TV commentators stumbled over their words, having lost their usual polish, and little by little the wheels of industry and business were grinding to a halt, not to begin again until after the period of national mourning was over. Here I was, in the eye of the hurricane, feeling numb and sick inside.
Then came a report that one of the employees at the Texas Book Depository was missing. At that moment, I just wanted to get away from it all. Mr. Sorrels introduced me to two men who were with the F.B.I. “We’ll be going with you,” one of them said. “For awhile we feel that we should put you in protective custody as a precautionary measure.” I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I had a pretty good idea. They felt that since the killer hadn’t been caught and may have seen the telecast, that my life might be in danger. If there was a conspiracy, there might be others who would want to silence me. “We’ll be with you at all times for awhile, but we’ll do everything in our power to stay in the background.”
The two men escorted me back to my work site at the Katy Railroad Yards. They stayed several yards away and didn’t make themselves conspicuous. By the time I returned to work, most of the crew had left for the day. George White was still there, but he was putting his tools up, getting ready to call it a day. Although it wasn’t yet 3:00 p.m., there wasn’t much heart to get any work done. Reports were still being flashed in by radio and television and most of the workers just wanted to get home and find out what was going on. Although I’d been absent from my job for nearly three hours, George didn’t seem to notice that I’d been gone. Perhaps we were all so preoccupied with our feelings that we didn’t think about anything else.
I walked about fifty feet from the small office workshed and got into my old Pontiac. As I headed East, I noticed a car following me. The F.B.I. was as good as its word. I was determined to keep my involvement as quiet as possible and so when I reached the main office, I listened more than talked about what awful things had happened. I heard all kinds of theories, those which I suppose had been supplied by TV or radio. One theory was that the assassination had been the work of a right-wing group determined to do away with the President. I didn’t know about that, but I couldn’t think that a group of Americans, no matter how much they disagreed with the President, would try and kill him. I didn’t tell anyone that I’d seen anything.
We began saying good-bye and scattered to our homes. As I got into my car for the trip I had made so many times before, it was as if this were the first time I had ever made it. Everything looked different somehow. The late afternoon traffic rush was smaller than usual and as I drove along, I thought “What in the world is happening? Am I in any real danger?” I managed every intersection and light mechanically. I travelled nearly thirty minutes in my car, all the familiar landmarks I normally saw every day invisible to me. As I pulled off Military Parkway and finally into my own driveway I brought something with me I had not taken this morning, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and, in a larger sense, a whole new life.
As I shut the car door and walked towards the house, I knew I had to tell Louise that I was an eyewitness to the assassination. I couldn’t just say nothing. Sooner or later she would find out. When and if the killer was caught, I would surely have to make an identification, so I decided the best thing to do was tell her the whole thing. When I opened the front door, Louise was standing there and I can never forget the look on her face. Somehow, she knew, I thought. But how?
My little grandson, Tyson, came running towards me, crying. “Granddaddy, I saw you on TV!” In a moment I knew that Louise had seen the reporter trying to interview me and realized something was wrong. “Howard, how are you involved?” she asked, looking me straight in the eyes. I hesitated for a minute trying to think what to say, finally I said, “It’s just a case of being in the right place at the wrong time. Louise, I was there. I saw him do it. I saw the man shoot President Kennedy. It was the most terrible thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” I told her the whole story, how I’d found a good seat on the wall and watched the man before the President came. About the awful moment when all hell broke loose and the shots rang out.
Louise didn’t say anything for some time. She just stood and listened to me. She knew how badly I needed to talk to someone who would understand. Finally she said, “Sit down, I’ll fix us a pot of coffee!” The routine was comforting. When the coffee was ready, I told her about the F.B.I. men and how they would protect us and pointed out, through the window, their cars which were strategically parked to cover all approaches to the house. “How long are they going to watch us?” she asked. I shook my head. “I don’t know. I guess as long as they think I might be in any kind of danger.” Louise shuddered visibly when I said that and I could see that the very thought was upsetting to her. I reassured her, “Now don’t worry, I’m not really in any danger. They’re just doing it as a precaution.”
This didn’t seem convincing to her. “Howard,” she said, “I’m afraid. We don’t know who might be out there looking for you!” I couldn’t reply to that. Louise wanted to know everything that had happened in the minutest detail. I repeated the events of the day to her, recounting details that were larger than life. Then she told me something I hadn’t heard before. “I heard on the television that the police have arrested someone they suspect as the killer.”[9] This news hit me like a thunderbolt. If this were so, it was a relief. But that the same time, I felt in even more danger, because if the police had found the young man who was in the sixth floor window, there might well be others who would do whatever they could to keep me from identifying him. We turned the television on again. We were becoming more and more embroiled in the drama that was developing and could only wonder what would happen next.
The shock was beginning to wear off and with it was a growing sense of fear. Not knowing who or what might be out there looking for me, I felt like an animal who is being chased by a hunter. No matter how hard or fast I might go, I felt like the hunter was gaining on me. I asked Louise, “What are we going to do? Should we get out of town for awhile until things get settled? She shrugged and shook her head. “I don’t know what to say. We can’t hide.”
As we watched TV, they showed the reporter trying to interview me again. I felt rage and fear at the same time. My privacy was being violated and there was nothing I could do about it. I wondered who was watching TV that might recognize me. I felt panic because I realized that if I was in any danger, then certainly Louise and my daughter Vicki and grandson Tyson might also be. By now, I recognized that I must be the only eyewitness, for I had heard of no one else coming forth as one. The pressure was becoming more intense with each passing minute and hour. My stomach was tied up in knots and I had no desire for any kind of food. Louise had no appetite either. So we just sat and talked and watched television.
Finally, I knew we had to break the spell of the moment, so I went to bathe and get cleaned up. The F.B.I. said that we should go about our lives as if nothing had happened, though we knew that this wasn’t possible.
The bath felt especially good and relaxing and I realized how tense I really was. Putting on clean clothes made me feel less conspicuous for some reason. I was anxious to get out of the house and do something to forget what I had seen. When I came out of the bedroom Louise told me, “They say that the name of the man who is accused of killing President Kennedy is Lee Harvey Oswald. They say he also killed a Dallas policeman!” The name didn’t mean anything to me, but I knew that when I was called, if Oswald was the man, I would be able to identify him without a doubt in the world. I had studied the face of the man in the window closely, not really knowing why at the time. Now I knew within myself that my identification would be all the government would need if he were the man.
While we were discussing this latest news, I saw something on the television that made me quake. I’m not certain of the exact time, but I believe it was about 5:30 p.m. that the first picture of Lee Harvey Oswald was flashed on the screen. I remember thinking, “It’s him! He’s the one who did it!” But I never said a word at the time, not even to Louise. Showing the picture of Oswald before any identification was made seemed very strange to me. Millions of people were seeing Oswald before I, the one person who could positively identify him, had been taken to an official lineup. I felt a sense of resistance within myself. How is this man going to get a fair trial?” I thought. “He is already guilty in the minds of everyone who is seeing him?”
Since we had been told to go on about our lives and that we would be protected, we felt we had to go to the bank to make arrangements to buy our new furniture. As we went out of the kitchen door to get into the car, I was aware that we were being watched. I went a half block and instead to turning right to reach Military Parkway, as I ordinarily would have done, I simply wasn’t thinking and turned left and went around the block. Instead of turning the final left turn to get to Military, for some reason, I went straight ahead. We drove about ten minutes to the First National Bank of Mesquite without thinking anymore for the moment about the assassination or the F.B.I. or Lee Harvey Oswald.
When we arrived at the bank, it was a busy Friday evening and we needed to see “Tut” Morrison, the Vice President, he was with other customers, we had to wait about thirty minutes before getting in to see him. He finally came out smiling to greet us and ushered us into his office. “How are things, Howard?” he said. “Fine, fine!” I said. I couldn’t really tell him what was happening in my life. We talked about the assassination which seemed to be the only topic of conversation in Dallas that day.
While we were making arrangements for a credit line, Mr. Morrison’s secretary came in looking bewildered and a little pale. “I hate to bother you, Mr. Morrison, but Mr. Brennan needs to call the F.B.I. right away, they say its urgent.” She gave me the number. “Tut” Morrison looked bewildered but said nothing. “Can I use your phone Tut?” I asked. He nodded and I walked over and picked up the phone and dialed the number the secretary had given me. The voice at the other end answered with the telephone number I had dialed and I explained who I was. “We lost you out there, Mr. Brennan, and we were a little concerned.” “In just a few minutes one of our agents will arrive at the bank. Would you wait there until he comes?” “I’ll be glad to,” I said, now realizing the concern I had caused. By going the wrong direction, I had caused three F.B.I. cars to lose track of me, and at the moment, when the idea of a conspiracy was very much on the mind of everyone that was the last thing they wanted to do.
In the matter of a couple minutes a gentleman came to Morrison’s office. Just before he arrived, I felt I should explain to “Tut” what was happening. It isn’t often that a bank officer gets a visit by an F.B.I. agent and so I told him that I had been an eyewitness to the assassination and that I was in the protective custody of the F.B.I. I’d barely finished when a man appeared at the door whom I recognized as one of the men who was watching the house. Up to this point we hadn’t been introduced. His first words were “You’re Mr. Brennan?” I said “Yes, sir, you got the right man!” He reached into his pocket and presented his credentials which verified who he was. “You gave us quite a start, “ he said. “We thought we’d lost you and it took us a while before we could locate you. We called your daughter, who told us you were here. ‘I’ll try to be more careful next time,” I said. “I’m sorry if I put you to any trouble. He smiled and assured me that I wouldn’t lose him again.
We finished our business with Mr. Morrison and went straight home. As we drove along, I looked back and there was a car following us. In retrospect, there may have been two or three cars following from that point on. But I know there was one for sure. When we reached the house, they seemed to disappear, but I knew they were there, which gave me a certain feeling of security.
As soon as we got inside the house we turned on the television again to see what had happened and Louise went to make yet another pot of coffee. About 7:15 p.m., the phone rang. The voice on the other end identified himself as Agent Lish with the F.B.I. He said, “We’d like to have you come down to make an identification.” Mr. Lish,” I asked, “will this be confidential?” He assured me that it would. I wanted to protect my identity especially from the news media. “We’ll do everything possible to protect your identity,” I was told. Within a few minutes, there was a knock at the front door and one of the F.B.I. agents who had been watching the house ushered me to the car for a ride to City Hall. As we drove through the night, I looked out the window at the city lights wondering what would happen next. I was feeling anxiety and was hopeful that my privacy could be preserved. Already my picture had been on TV several times, although without being identified. We had also heard a report that there was one unidentified witness who could link Lee Harvey Oswald to the killing of John Kennedy.
When we reached City Hall, I was let out to enter alone and go to the third floor where I would meet with Mr. Sorrels and others. When I reached the third floor, the hall was jammed with reporters and media people everywhere. They were all trying to get some sort of lead on what was happening and I had no problem in walking past them. Not one reporter knew who I was and that suited me just fine. If they had known my connection with the assassination, I am sure I would have been mobbed right there but time was still on my side.
Pushing my way through this mob I found the office I’d been instructed to go to. Mr. Sorrels was there and another man who identified himself as Agent Robert C. Lish of the F.B.I. Lish was a short man of a medium weight and build who curiously wore his hat most of the time. I remembered talking to him earlier on the phone. I told Mr. Lish, “I’m not at all satisfied with this situation!” Lish looked a bit puzzled. What do you mean?” he said. “My picture has been on the television several times today without my permission and I know someone is going to recognize me and put two and two together. I want it taken off and I want it taken off right away!” Mr. Lish nodded and said something to another man who was in the room who immediately left. From that moment, my picture never appeared on that television channel again. “I want to keep my identity a secret!” I told them. “We’ll do all we can to help you do that,” Lish said. “We want you to look at a lineup and see if you can find someone in it who resembles the man you saw on the sixth floor. I said, “I’ll be glad to cooperate, but I don’t think it’s fair for me to make an identification. Any one of a million people who saw him on television a while ago could make the same identification.” Lish smiled diplomatically.
I was led into a darkened room with lights at one end. When we arrived, a group of several men, perhaps as many as seven, were led in and made to stand in line with numbers over them. As soon as I saw him, I think he was number two, I knew without any doubt whatsoever that they had captured the man whom I saw fire the shot that killed President Kennedy. I felt a surge of emotion, a sense of outrage at this young man who had literally thrown the whole world into chaos. As I was looking at each of the men in the lineup I saw a face that I recognized. It was a Dallas Detective that I knew. He was perhaps the most well-known of all the Dallas Police and his picture had been in the papers many times. If he was there, that meant only one thing. My privacy had been broached. I felt sick and a little betrayed. I’d come to City Hall with the understanding that I would be dealing only with the F.B.I. and/or the Secret Service, not the Dallas Police.
The officer walked over to me sticking out his hand to shake. He greeted me by name and I knew if he knew who I was and what my connection with the case was, then others must know. He asked me, “Does the second man from the left look most like the man you saw?” He was talking about Oswald and I knew what he wanted me to say.
I felt even more angry and betrayed. I hadn’t agreed to make an identification to the local authorities. I knew that there were ways my identity could become known though the leaks in the police department and I didn’t want any part of it. I knew that they had Oswald on enough charges that he wasn’t going anyplace. He had been charged with resisting arrest and carrying a firearm without a permit. There was overwhelming evidence that he had killed Officer Tippit and so my identification in that moment wasn’t absolutely necessary. If they needed me later, I knew I could identify him.
I said brusquely, “He looks like the man, but I can’t say for sure!” I needed some time to think. I turned to Mr. Lish, who had detected my resentment and said, “Let’s go back to the office. We have some talking to do.” As we went, I commented that the man in the lineup wasn’t dressed the same way the man in the window had been.
“We forgot to tell you that he changed his clothes immediately after leaving the Depository, Lish said. When we reached the office I responded angrily, “You promised me anonymity. You people haven’t kept your word.” Sorrels looked genuinely puzzled. “What do you mean?” “If this Detective knows who I am and what my connection with the assassination is, then it won’t be long before everybody finds out.” Sorrels tried to be reassuring, “We’ll do everything we can to protect your identity, Mr. Brennan, but this isn’t entirely our jurisdiction.” I wasn’t sure just what he meant, and said so. “There isn’t anything we could do about it,” Sorrels explained. “The law is clear that murder, even assassination, is a state offense and must be turned over to local officials for investigation and prosecution!”
So it was out and I had to deal with it. No matter how hard they might try, it was only a matter of time before people would find out that the unidentified witness whose description had helped catch Oswald was really Howard Brennan. Suddenly, I didn’t feel very good. I felt very vulnerable, exposed to naked light, and I didn’t like it one bit. I knew I was going to be sorry that I decided to become involved.
While we were talking, Captain Fritz came in and asked me, “Can you make a positive identification of any of those we showed you in the lineup?” Having felt betrayed in my quest for anonymity, I was in no mood to hurry the process of exposure. I said, “You already have your man on enough charges to hold him for a long time. I’m not going to make a positive identification at the moment. If and when the time comes and you need it or have to let him go, we’ll deal with it then.” I wasn’t saying, “Yes, Oswald is the man,” nor was I saying, “No, he isn’t the one.”
It wouldn’t be long before the press would find out who I was, and after that, who knew? Now I really did feel in danger. We discussed the situation for several minutes but I remained adamant in my decision not to make an identification at that time.
As the F.B.I. agent drove me home, we had a little conversation. The trip gave me time to think on the depth of my involvement in the case and I wished selfishly that I’d been looking some other direction earlier in the day, instead of at the face of Lee Harvey Oswald. I knew that my involvement wasn’t going to end in a day or a few days or weeks or even months. The weight of the whole thing was beginning to press in on me and weigh me down like nothing ever had before in my entire life.
The agent let me out at my door and resumed his watch along with the others. Louise had the coffee pot on and I was ready for some. We had not eaten yet I still was not hungry. She brought out a plate of cookies that she’d made during the day and we sat down at the kitchen table to discuss again all the things that had happened since that morning. I couldn’t believe it, but it was still November 22nd. By now it was about 9:00 in the evening. Lyndon Johnson had been sworn in as the 36th President, the body of President Kennedy along with his widow, had been flown back to Washington, national mourning had already begun, and television commentators were trying to make some kind of sense out of the day’s insanity.
Friends were gathering in small clusters in homes around the country with only one topic of discussion on their lips and here I was in Dallas, Texas, fearful for my life and that of my family. I knew I needed the support of my wife and family. In times of great trouble we always seem to find our way back to our loved ones.
“I wonder what can happen next?” Louise asked as we sat in the kitchen. “Who can say?” I replied. “Who would have believed so much could happen in one short day?” “Louise, I’m really scared!” I blurted out. She looked surprised but waited for me to explain. Then I began telling her of my experiences at City Hall and coming to realize that my name was known to the Dallas Police. “This thing is getting out of control,” I said. “I’m afraid everyone will find out…I feel like they betrayed me.” “I wouldn’t have gotten involved if I’d known my name was going to be spread all over the place.” “Howard, it’s too late to worry about that now. You are involved and we just have to see this thing through. Everything will be all right. I’m sure the F.B.I. will give us all the protection we need.” “Louise,” I said, “maybe we ought to get out of town for a while. Maybe we should even consider moving away permanently. You know with my kind of trade I can go just about anyplace and get a good job.” She didn’t answer me directly at that point. She just let me think about what I had said. I was talking about running away. I was scared and wanted to get out. I didn’t know who was out there in the night looking for me with the idea of doing the same thing Oswald had done to Kennedy. Maybe they already knew; maybe I had only a short time. If the F.B.I. had lost me once, maybe whoever was looking for me could get by them. They were, after all, only human. With all the precautions that had been taken to safeguard the life of the President, he had still been killed by a single assassin. It wouldn’t be nearly so hard to get to me.
Louise put her hand on mine as we sat there at the table. “Howard,” she said, “no matter what happens, we’ll make it together, just like we’ve always done.” She smiled a gentle smile that brought me more reassurance than any words any law officer could ever offer me. I still was afraid, but I no longer felt blind panic.
About 9:30 we heard a knock at the door and we both went to answer it. Louise stayed a little behind me. It was Agent Lish of the F.B.I. Looking out I could see a car parked at the curb. Looking further I could make out that he wasn’t alone but had brought someone with him. “I’d like to see you if you aren’t too tired.”
“That’s perfectly O.K. I don’t think I’m going to sleep very much tonight anyway. Why don’t you come in and have a cup of coffee?” Lish came in and seemed more informal and friendly than I had remembered while at City Hall. “I thought we might get better acquainted and maybe answer some of your questions,” he said. As we started to pass pleasantries, another man stepped from the shadows on the porch where I had only seen his figure and moved into the light. Louise gave an audible gasp that all of us could hear and I felt a shock run through me. There standing in our little hallway was John F. Kennedy, alive again. At least that’s what I thought at that instant. The man standing there was the exact double of the late President in every detail. Had I not known that the President was dead, I would have staked my life that I was being visited by him. Every feature about him, his face, his hair, his build, even his clothes looked exactly like the President. It was as if a ghost had suddenly appeared. Even his voice sounded so much like Mr. Kennedy’s. My mind simply couldn’t absorb it all and Louise was struck dumb, her eyes wide open in amazement. Lish introduced the double as a fellow agent and apologized for not preparing us for this shocking experience. We all sat down at the kitchen table. Later I would learn that many American Presidents have had doubles, including President Roosevelt. All my life I had heard that there is someone, somewhere who looks exactly like you, but until that night I’d never known it for the truth. The agent told us some of his experiences doubling for the President. They were fascinating.
We emptied the coffee pot, made another pot, drank that and just kept the coffee and cookies in supply as we kept at vigil. A President was dead, a killer was being interrogated, a nation was in shock. Everything had slowed down to a crawl and on this Friday night as the hour grew later and later, it seemed unbelievable that my wife and I were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and eating cookies with F.B.I. agents we hadn’t even known a few hours ago.
Lish told me, “You’ll continue to be under protective custody for the time being. Let me repeat these are just precautionary measures. We have no evidence that suggests you are in any kind of danger whatsoever. You’re to go on about your business without worrying. There are a few things we’ll ask you to do. We want you to keep your shades pulled down at all times. If anyone should want to harm you, this will make it more difficult to try it from a distance. We also want you to answer your door together. Above all else, when you do go to the front door, know who that person is, or don’t open the door at all. It doesn’t matter what business that person might have with you, for the time being don’t open the door to anyone you don’t know very well.”
These warnings brought me up short. I realized how important it was to them that nothing happen to me, at least until Oswald’s trial. All other evidence against him at this point was totally circumstantial, and while a good case was being assembled, I was the one eyewitness whose words could convict him beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Sometime well after midnight, the agents left with one final word of encouragement, “Remember,” Lish said, “you have nothing to worry about. Just get a good night’s sleep.”
We finally sank into bed a little while later and I know I managed to drift off into a fitful sleep, but it’s hard to remember sleeping at all. After all the coffee we had consumed and the magnitude of events, I lay awake for a long time, going over in my mind everything that had happened to me that day. I was glad that Louise was able to sleep.
My life, as I had known it before, was coming to an end and a new life was beginning. I realized this with some sorrow. I wasn’t at all certain that I really liked this new life as much as the old one and felt that somehow the old one was being ripped away from me against my will. Things would never be exactly the same again for me or my wife. I didn’t think I had changed, but the world around me had. Finally came the mercy of sleep that soothes the cares of the day away. I could only wonder what another day would bring.

[1] The lead car, described as a “Rolling Command Car” was an unmarked Dallas Police closed Ford sedan. The car was driven by Chief of Police, Jesse Curry and occupied by Secret Service Agents Forrest V. Sorrels, Winston G. Lawson and Sheriff J. E. (Bill) Decker.

[2] William Greer, driver of the Presidential Limousine estimated the car’s speed at the time of the first shot as 12 to 15 miles per hour. Other witnesses estimated the speed from 7 to 22 miles per hour. Based on the Zapruder films the actual speed was computed to be 11.2 miles per hour.

[3] The Presidential limousine was a specially designed 1961 Lincoln convertible with two collapsible jump seats between the front and rear seats. It was outfitted with a clear plastic bubble-top which was neither bullet-proof nor bullet resistant. Because the weather had cleared, the Secret Service after discussing the matter with Presidential assistant Kenneth O’Donnell ordered that the bubble-top be left off. President Kennedy rode on the right hand side of the rear seat with Mrs. Kennedy to his left. Governor John Connally occupied the right jump seat, Mrs. Connally the left. Driving the car was Special Agent William R. Greer of the Secret Service and in the right seat was Assistant Agent in charge, Roy H. Kellerman.

[4] This officer was W. E. Barnett of the Dallas Police Department. In a deposition to the Warren Commission on July 23, 1964 he stated…”about that time a construction worker ran from the southwest corner of the intersection (Elm and Houston) up to me and said, “I was standing over there and saw the man in the window with the rifle.” He and I and the sergeant (Howard) all three broke and ran for the door (of the School Book Depository building). I kept the man there with me. The Sergeant ran to the back to make sure it was covered. I kept the man there until they took him across the street to the courthouse…”
Q. “How long do you think it was from the time the last shot was until the time you were at the front door…”
A. “It was around 2½ minutes.” (Barnett may have seen the car)
(Three men assigned to Elm and Houston)

[5] This was Inspector Herbert Sawyer of the Dallas Police Department who had arrived at the Depository moments after the shooting. He put out the first description of Lee Harvey Oswald over the police radio at 12:45 p.m. He advised all police units that the suspect wanted in the shooting of the President was “a slender white male about 30 years old, 165 lbs.” This description was given to him by Howard Brennan.

[6] The exact time Lee Harvey Oswald left the building has not been determined. Dallas police officer T. L. Baker who entered the Depository only moments after the last shot was fired encountered him in the second floor Employees lunch room. The School Book Depository manager, Roy Truly identified him to the officer as an employee so Baker continued his search of the building. From the second floor Oswald made his way down the stairs and out the front door. So in all probability Howard Brennan was correct in his assumption that Oswald passed by him while he was trying to avoid the reporters.

[7] Agent Sorrels had been in the lead car of the Presidential Motorcade. He led the way to Parkland Hospital and as soon as the President was taken into the Emergency room he returned to the School Book Depository. Mr. Sorrels testified before the Warren Commission that Mr. Howard Brennan was pointed out to him as someone who had information concerning the shooting of President Kennedy. Sorrels states in his testimony that only after he talked to Brennan did he know that the shots had come from the Texas School Book Depository.

[8] Howard Brennan’s statement to the Dallas Police Department:
Before me, the undersigned authority, on this 22nd day of November A.D. 1963 personally appeared Howard Leslie Brennan, Address 6814 Woodard, Dallas, Texas
Age 44, Phone No. EV1-2713
Deposes and says: I am presently employed by the Wallace and Beard Construction Company as a Steam fitter and have been so employed for about the past 7 weeks. I am working in the Kay Railroad yards at the West end of Pacific Street near the railroad tracks. We had knocked off for lunch and I had dinner at the cafeteria at Record and Main Street and had come back to see the President of the United States. I was sitting on a ledge or wall near the intersection of Houston Street and Elm Street near the red light pole. I was facing in a northerly direction looking not only at Elm but I could see the large red brick building across the street from where I was sitting. I take this building across the street to be about 7 stories anyway in the east end of the building and the second row of windows from the top I saw a man in this window. I had seen him before the President’s car arrived. He was just sitting up there looking down apparently waiting for the same thing I was to see the President. I did not notice anything unusual about this man. He was a white man in his early 30’s, slender, nice looking, slender and would weigh about 165 to 175 pounds. He had on light colored clothing but definitely not a suit. I proceeded to watch the President’s car is it turned left at the corner where I was and about 50 yards from the intersection of Elm and Houston and to a point I would say the Presidents back was in line with the last window I have previous described I heard what I thought was a backfire. It run in my mind that it might be someone throwing firecrackers out the window of the red brick building and I looked up the building. I then saw this man I have described in the window and he was taking aim with a high powered rifle. I could see all of the barrel of the gun. I do not know if it had a scope on it or not.
I was looking at the man in this window at the time of the last explosion. Then this man let the gun down to his side and stepped down out of sight. He did not seem to be in any hurry. I could see this man from about his belt up. There was nothing unusual about him at all in appearance. I believe that I could identify this man if I ever saw him again.
H. L. Brennan
Subscribed and sworn to before me on this the 22nd day of November A.D. 1963.
C. M. Jones
Notary Public, Dallas County, Texas

[9] After leaving the School Book Depository Building Oswald walked seven blocks to Elm and Murphy where he boarded a city bus. It was caught in traffic and unable to move. He asked for a transfer, got off the bus and walked three blocks to the Greyhound bus station. He got in a Checker cab and was taken to his rented room at 1026 N. Beckley. There he changed clothes and picked up his Smith and Wesson 38 cal. revolver. Shortly after leaving his room Oswald was stopped near the corner of 10th and Patton in the Oakcliff section of Dallas. Officer J. D. Tippit had been patrolling the area since hearing the broadcast describing the Presidential assassination. After a few words to Oswald, Tippit got out of his car and walked around to the front. It was just past 1:15 p.m. Oswald drew his 38 and shot the officer four times killing him instantly. With the gun still in his hand, he cuts through Patton Street to West Jefferson and ran into the Texas Theater without buying a ticket. The police were notified and converged on the theater. Oswald was arrested after a struggle by officers, Nick McDonald, C. T. Walker and Ray Hawkins. The time was 1:50 p.m.

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Old 12-10-2010, 04:28 PM
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Howard Brennan

What Howard Really Saw
One of the Warren Commission's most important witnesses was Howard Leslie Brennan, the steamfitter with superb eyesight who reported seeing Lee Harvey Oswald fire from the southeast window of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. If Brennan was right about what he saw, then the basic story of the assassination was settledOswald fired three shots from behind and did all the damage. If Brennan was wrong, then all bets are off.
Brennan's story is widely believed to contain key inconsistencies and uncertainties, such as whether his eyesight was really as good as he claimed, how much he really saw that day, and why he declined to identify Oswald in a lineup. Here we present his testimony to the Warren Commission (1964) and the first two chapters of his book (1988). The book purports to resolve all the discrepancies and tell the full story that he was afraid to tell in 1964. Unfortunately, there is no way we can verify his full story because it remains that—eyewitness testimony without supporting documentation that can be tested objectively.

Last edited by theme : 12-10-2010 at 04:37 PM.
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Old 12-10-2010, 06:47 PM
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Re: Howard Brennan

Howard Brennan's testimony to the Warren Commission in 1964.

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Brennan's story is widely believed to contain key inconsistencies and uncertainties, such as whether his eyesight was really as good as he claimed, how much he really saw that day, and why he declined to identify Oswald in a lineup. Here we present his testimony to the Warren Commission (1964) and the first two chapters of his book (1988). The book purports to resolve all the discrepancies and tell the full story that he was afraid to tell in 1964. Unfortunately, there is no way we can verify his full story because it remains that—eyewitness testimony without supporting documentation that can be tested objectively. So it's up to each of us to draw our own conclusions.

Carolyn Arnold, co-worker of Oswald's testified that she saw Oswald sitting in the second floor lunchroom at 12:15pm.

Arnold Rowland, who was standing on Houston street made a statement to the Dallas Sheriff's Department (with regard to looking up at the sixth floor at 12:15pm). Upon looking I saw what I thought was a man standing back about 15 feet from the windows and was holding in his arms what appeared to be a hi [sic] powered rifle because it looked like it had a scope on it.


Bonnie Ray Williams was on the sixth floor close to 'sniper's nest' at 12:15pm, a co-worker of Oswald's testified that he was on the sixth floor for 10 or 15 minutes eating his lunch quite close to where the sniper's nest was set up. And as he didn't see anyone there to watch the Kennedy motorcade with, he left and headed for the fifth floor at approximately 12:20pm.

No one can place Oswald on the "sixth floor" of the School Book Depository.

Unfortunate Howard Brennan didn't have a camera. Maybe there was nothing to shoot.

Its his word, stood at a considerable distance, means nothing.

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