As one of two Secret Service agents assigned to safeguard the spouse of President John F. Kennedy, Paul Landis was by no means far behind Jackie Kennedy wherever she went.
That was the situation on November 22, 1963, when the Kennedys embarked on what must quiet have been a routine motorcade through the streets of Dallas, Texas.
As excited crowds clamoured to catch a glimpse of America’s golden couple in their launch-high limousine, 28-year-ragged Landis was one of four agents keeping watch from the jumpboard of a Cadillac immediately behind.
It meant that when photographs rang out, he had a ringside glimpse of one of the most shocking — and defining — occasions of the twentieth century.
But for almost 60 years Landis has remained largely peaceful, traumatised by what he witnessed after the limousine passed by the Texas Faculty Book Depository and bullets struck the President’s neck and head. It is only now, in his 88th year, that he feels able to utterly recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated in front of him.
This month, Landis publishes his e-book, The Final Inspect, a compelling account of his time in the Kennedy detail, the elite team whose mission was to provide protection to the President and the First Lady.
Why did it take him so long to declare his story?
As one of two Secret Service agents assigned to safeguard the spouse of President John F. Kennedy, Paul Landis was by no means far behind Jackie Kennedy wherever she went (pictured front, wearing sunglasses, on the morning of JFK’s assassination
President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, and Texas Governor John Connally amble through Dallas moments ahead of Kennedy was assassinated
‘I had nightmares for years about the President’s head exploding in front of me, so I attempted to get rid of myself from the entire situation,’ Landis informed the Mail, speaking completely from his home in Cleveland, Ohio.
Intriguingly, nevertheless, his memories throw doubt on the official Warren Commission account of what happened at 12.30pm that sunny autumn day.
In particular, Landis’s recollections are at odds with the Commission’s finding that one bullet — the so-called ‘magic’ bullet — was able to pass through John F. Kennedy then hit Texas Governor John Connally in multiple places ahead of emerging undamaged.
Over the years, many have came upon this unconvincing, arguing that the trajectory wasn’t conceivable, and that one bullet wouldn’t have been able to cause a lot damage and remain unscathed.
Nevertheless the magic bullet theory was fashioned, in part, because a bullet was came upon subsequent to Connally on his hospital stretcher and was assumed to have come from his physique.
Then again, Landis is insistent this was the same ‘pristine’ bullet that he came upon at the back of the presidential limousine, resting on the high of the seat, and which he placed subsequent to the President on his stretcher — a fact that he has only fair lately made public. He thinks that in the chaos it must have bought moved.
It may probably appear care for an insignificant detail, nevertheless to other folks that consider that the plump fact of the assassination has by no means been informed, this may be a major pattern.
The Warren Commission eventually concluded that three bullets were fired by a single shooter — Lee Harvey Oswald — from the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle came upon on the Book Depository’s sixth flooring.
One bullet missed, and was idea to have hit a stamp, as fragments were came upon nearby.
The second — the infamous ‘magic’ bullet — hit JFK near the base of the back of the neck, a bit to the accurate of the spine.
It is only now, in his 88th year, that Landis feels able to utterly recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated in front of him
The Warren Commission eventually concluded that three bullets were fired by a single shooter — Lee Harvey Oswald
It then exited from the front of JFK’s neck, from where they concluded it went on to hit Governor Connally — sitting without delay in front of JFK, subsequent to his spouse Nellie — injuring his back, chest, wrist and thigh.
Another reason why the magic bullet theory made sense was that the inquiry determined the time lapse between the President and Governor Connally being hit was too tight for Oswald to have reloaded his weapon in time.
The third bullet struck President Kennedy in the head.
But if, as Landis says now, the bullet on Connally’s stretcher was the one he came upon elsewhere in the car (he thinks it must have hit the President in the back nevertheless didn’t penetrate deeply and was come what may dislodged from his physique) then that entire theory was based on a false premise.
And if the Governor wasn’t struck by that bullet, then how did he come to be shot?
Theories that a second shooter was involved have persisted over the years. In particular, some witnesses said they heard photographs from a nearby ‘grassy knoll’, made famous in the Oliver Stone movie, JFK.
Predictably, opinions about this pattern are divided in the U.S.
‘If lawful, it makes it more doubtless that there were other shooters,’ says presidential historian and author James Robenalt.
Then again, Gerald Posner, who wrote the 2003 e-book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald And The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy, comments: ‘It may probably help resolve the riddle of the magic bullet, nevertheless it certainly doesn’t roam further than that.’
What is certain is that Paul Landis was there when it all happened.
He remembers hearing the first shot ring out from behind his accurate shoulder and turning to glimpse at the President.
The State Funeral of President Kennedy: Jackie Kennedy and Robert Kennedy prepare to depart the US Capitol building
A portrait of John F. Kennedy taken in the Oval Office in the White Apartment
‘He was leaning a bit to his left, towards Mrs Kennedy, and I believed he was turning around to glimpse where the noise came from.
‘I didn’t realise he had been hit by a bullet at that time,’ he says.
‘I heard the second shot. From my position, standing on the running board of the apply-up car, I didn’t scrutinize any reaction in the President’s car, so I believed that shot had missed.’
Meanwhile, Landis’s colleague, Clint Hill, who had also been in the apply-up car, had leapt into action and sprinted forward to clamber aboard the limousine as the motorcade approached an underpass.
‘I heard the third shot and I saw the President’s head explode in a mist of blood and flesh and brain matter — and I ducked to avoid getting splattered,’ continues Landis.
‘The third shot came fairly fast after the second… and then we raced to Parkland Memorial Hospital.’
Landis came upon the First Lady cradling her husband’s head in her lap. Her pink swimsuit, which she wore with a matching pillbox hat, was stained with her husband’s blood.
‘I asked Mrs Kennedy if I may probably help her up and she said: ‘No, no. I want to stay with him.’
‘I adopted Clint Hill into the back seat area of the limousine and saw two bullet fragments in a pool of blood subsequent to Mrs Kennedy.
‘Mrs Kennedy, at that point, was standing up to apply the President’s physique, which was being eliminated. And where she was seated, accurate behind her, on the high of the seat, there was an intact bullet resting there.
‘All people was concentrating on getting the President’s physique out of the car and of us were beginning to converge on the limousine, so I was afraid this bullet may probably disappear with a memento hunter, or that it may probably bag lost.
Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of President John F. Kennedy, holds her younger of us’s hands launch air St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, after funeral Mass for the president
Contributors of the Kennedy family leave the US Capitol follwing a temporary service, leaving the President’s physique to lie in state
‘There was no person to stable the scene, so I made a snap decision to position the bullet in my pocket.’
Landis recalls the pandemonium in the hospital’s trauma room, where doctors were working on the catastrophic head injury suffered by the 46-year-ragged President.
Connally — who recovered from his wounds — was being treated nearby
‘The doctors were saying: ‘Please! Please! All people! Make room so we can work!’
‘Other folks started to leave, and I reached into my pocket and I set aside the bullet subsequent to the President’s physique.’ He then adopted Mrs Kennedy out and stood guard as the First Lady sat on a chair launch air the trauma room.
‘There was a blank expression on her face. No tears. I bear in mind Mrs Johnson (the spouse of vice president Lyndon B. Johnson and soon to change into First Lady) coming over and talking to her.
‘Mrs Kennedy was in shock. I was in shock. I was afraid I would break down.’
Rapidly afterwards came the news that the President was dead.
Landis accompanied JFK’s physique and Mrs Kennedy back to Washington DC aboard Air Drive One; he also attended the state funeral.
He was by no means interviewed by the Warren Commission or the FBI, instead providing two statements to the Secret Service in the week after the assassination in which he now admits he did no longer mention the intact bullet. ‘When I wrote my file, I was below strain and hadn’t had a lot sleep for days,’ he says.
Laid low with images and memories, Landis left the Secret Service fair appropriate seven months later.
‘I didn’t read anything about the assassination, and I refused to think or talk about what I had done. I fair appropriate assumed that whatever the Warren Commission came up with, that was the answer to the assassination.’
Whatever the fact, for Landis the assassination introduced to an finish what had been his dream career.
Lee Harvey Oswald, assassin of President John F. Kennedy, reacts as Dallas evening club owner Jack Ruby, foreground, shoots at him from point blank range in a hall of Dallas police headquarters
President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy at the entrance to the White Apartment
He had joined the Secret Service in 1959, aged 24, thinking it sounded care for ‘the coolest job in the universe’. Physically runt, Landis only fair appropriate made the minimum height requirement of 5ft 8in.
After President Kennedy was elected in 1960, Landis — code name Debut because he was the youngest agent at the White Apartment — was assigned the job of protecting the Kennedy younger of us — Caroline, then aged four, and John Jnr, 10 months.
‘The younger of us were scrumptious and effectively-behaved. Mrs Kennedy wanted them to have as normal a life as conceivable, so we tried to stay in the background,’ he says.
‘One day, I was leading Caroline around the White Apartment grounds on her pony, Macaroni, and she said she wanted to head and scrutinize her Daddy and I believed: ‘Why no longer?’
‘We trotted over to the Oval Office and I peeked through the display door and President Kennedy was sitting at his desk, writing. I opened the display door and the three of us — Macaroni, Caroline and I — walked in.
‘I am going to by no means neglect the expression on President Kennedy’s face. His jaw literally dropped launch. Then he relaxed, had a great smile on his face, bought up from his desk and walked around and said: ‘Mr Landis, I really don’t think this is a legal idea.’ By then, I was thinking the same. I was panicked about Macaroni all at once deciding to alleviate herself on the rug decorated with the Presidential Seal, so we went back launch air.’
On another occasion, he had to loan the President a penny to allow Caroline to purchase a sweet from a gumball machine.
‘The President grew to change into to me and said: ‘I don’t have any money — attain you have a penny?’
‘This was the strongest man in the world, and I had to resolve his financial disaster.’
Eventually, Landis was moved on to Mrs Kennedy’s protection detail, along with senior agent Clint Hill.
‘Mrs Kennedy was younger and vivacious and charming, and she had an waggish sense of humour,’ he says. ‘The Kennedys created such a friendly atmosphere with all the agents, it was care for we also lost a family member that day.’
In the decades after he left the service, Landis became a businessman, married and had a son and a daughter, ahead of divorcing in 1984. He now works as an ambassador at his local historical society.
In 2013, Landis says he was given the e-book Six Seconds In Dallas, by author Josiah Thompson, and was dismayed when he learned for the first time about the ‘magic bullet’ came upon with Governor Connally.
‘I was care for ‘No! That was my bullet!’ My mind was spinning, and I believed that I had to appropriate this,’ he says.
President Kennedy speaks at a dedication ceremony a day ahead of his assassination
James Robenalt says that he was sceptical about Landis’s revelation at first, nevertheless now he feels his account wants to be investigated.
‘If President Kennedy was hit by a bullet that was ejected from his back and landed in the limo, then it means Governor Connally was hit by a second bullet — no longer the first one that hit Kennedy. And then a third or maybe more [bullets] hit Kennedy in the head.
‘The Warren Commission assumed that one of the three photographs missed President Kennedy, nevertheless this is now in doubt because of the Landis revelation.’
Nevertheless Gerald Posner suggests the bullet may probably quiet have been ejected from Governor Connally’s physique.
‘The Governor was over 6ft tall and was slumped over in the jumpseat, which was a very small space,’ says the author.
‘It is conceivable that the bullet came out of the Governor’s physique, as the Secret Service agents were pulling him out, and that was the one Landis came upon.’
Another theory, Posner says, is that Landis’s recollection of putting it on the President’s stretcher is merely wrong, and that in the chaos at the hospital, he set aside it on another stretcher.
Landis is aware that his revelation will spark speculation nevertheless he says he feels aid that his story is out in the launch.
‘It took me 60 years… working my way through the mental course of, questioning things and then starting to feel guilt — no longer about what I would done, nevertheless guilt that I hadn’t said anything,’ he says.
Of theories that Oswald — who was himself shot and killed no longer long after his arrest — didn’t act alone, Landis insists to me: ‘I know there are crazy conspiracy theories out there, and I find them entertaining, nevertheless that’s all’.
Nevertheless it certainly’s clear he’s also had moments when he’s been less certain, saying fair lately: ‘Now I begin to wonder.’
Certainly, as the 60th anniversary of the assassination of JFK approaches, the circumstances around the killing of the Thirty fifth President of the United States remain as intriguing as ever.