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Governor Connally Speaks about President Kennedy’s Assassination, Part II (1965)

Gordon Wilkison

Sound | 1965

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Transcript
  •  Reporter: Governor, do you still feel any stiffness in your right wrist, any permanent disability there? 
  •  Connally: I wouldn't call it a permanent disability although I certainly have a stiffness in my right wrist. I can't turn the wrist over and obviously reminded of it every day, every time I eat a meal because I can't rotate the wrist enough to properly get a fork to my mouth as you normally can.  
  •  Reporter: Will you describe for us, as you remember them, the sequence of events say from the time the procession began to the point of the incident. What type of day it was. 
  •  Connally: Well we had started the day as you know in  Forth Worth. We arrived there late the night  of the 21st from Houston and a drizzling  rain. We woke up the next morning on the 22nd with the rain continuing. A temporary platform had been erected over the parking lot opposite the Texas Hotel, and the President, the Vice President, and I, and others had gone over to make an appearance on this temporary parking lot, and from there we went back into the hotel for the breakfast. 
  •  The want and enthusiasm of the crowd was, I thought, immense and spontaneous. Both at the appearance on the parking lot and certainly the breakfast where there was an overflow crowd. All went off extremely well.  I thought the President, President Kennedy, was in high, good humor.  Mrs. Kennedy came in and joined us at breakfast along with Mrs. Johnson, and everything proceeded on schedule. We left to go to Dallas. About the time we arrived in Dallas the sun broke clear. It looked like it was going to be a perfectly wonderful day. 
  •  The procession from the Dallas airport downtown was, in keeping up with the others we had in Texas, it was very nice and the crowds were huge, warm, and enthusiastic. The crowds at the airport were large. As we left the airport headed toward town out through the residential area of course the crowds were not as immense as they were in the downtown area. As we approached the downtown area of Dallas the crowds were really tremendous. Tremendous in size and warmth for the President and the First Lady. I was tremendously pleased because of the outpouring of the spontaneous nature of the throngs that just literally jammed the streets. 
  •  We had just gone through the downtown area and were turning to go on the freeway, the Stemmons Freeway, going to the luncheon that had been planned. We were all extremely exuberant about it. Very very well pleased in the light of everything that had happened. It was the President's first visit to Texas. We were not only anticipating a great luncheon but looking forward to a  tremendous dinner in Austin the night of the 22nd, which had been very carefully planned. People from all over Texas had already been gathering in large groups in Austin. 
  •  As we turned to go down to enter the freeway, the first inkling I had that anything was amiss, I heard a shot, what I thought was a shot. Others said a sound, but I thought it was a shot. I had heard too many rifle shots in my life not to be able to identity one and no thought crossed my mind except it was a rifle shot. I immediately became concerned and tried sitting on the jump seat immediately in front of the President in his limousine. I tried turning to my right to see if everything was all right with him. I never completed my return although I did not see him out of the corner of my eye. I was in the process of turning to my left to look back over my left shoulder when I felt a tremendous impact as if some one had hit me in the back with a closed fist. 
  •  It was not a sharp pain. It was not a sensation of being hit by a bullet. I had no way to gauge that experience of course, but I felt as if some one had hit me a very hard blow with a closed fist knocking me forward. The first time I really was conscious that I had been hit was when I bent over as a result of the impact of the bullet. I could see blood all over my clothing. I knew then of course that I had been hit, and I said to Nellie "My God, they're going to kill us both." 
  •  She immediately reached over and grabbed me. I suppose as a result of my own crumpling and her putting her arm around me and pulling me down, my head down into her lap, and she bent over me and very quietly talked to me saying, "Be still. Be still. You're going to be alright." I was conscious then of hearing a third shot. I say a third shot. I was not conscious really of hearing the second shot, the bullet that hit me. I very clearly heard the third one. They were coming in very rapid fire order and I knew as a result of the third shot that someone certainly, and I assume the President had been hit a fatal blow because I could see the evidence of it all over my clothing  and the car. I was conscious up to that point with my eyes open, and shortly there after as the car broke out of the procession and began to speed away I lost consciousness and was unconscious until we came to a halt in front of the hospital itself. 
  •  Reporter: Did you regain consciousness immediately upon arriving at the hospital? 
  •  Connally: Yes, I regained consciousness immediately upon arriving at the hospital. I think it was the braking action of the car. We obviously had been traveling at a tremendous speed. When they stopped, apparently the action of stopping the car made me regain consciousness, and it's a rather peculiar thing. I think, it enters your mind, it's strange what you think of. I had of course been Secretary of the Navy. I knew that as a result of that experience and from my experience during the war that junior officers, for instance, they are always the first in a car or boat and always the last out. A senior officer is the last in and first out whether it's a car, plane, boat, or whatever. 
  •  The senior officer always walks to the right. The junior's to the left. So as I regained consciousness the only thought that went through my mind was that every effort would be made to immediately get the President out of the car, and I was sitting in front of him on the jump seat by the door, and I knew it would be difficult if not impossible to get him out of the car without me getting out, so without saying anything but motivated by my thoughts I tried to raise myself up and get out of the car without any help so that they could get to the President. I didn't have the strength to do it. 
  •  No one knew why I was doing it. Nellie later said she wondered what I was trying to do when I forcibly lifted my head up and tried to rise out of the seat, and of course when I did so I crumpled again. Some one later then, I heard the talk that was going on around the car, I was conscious during this time, and some one bodily lifted me out of the car, and of course they took the President out. They put me on a stretcher and wheeled me into the hospital. I didn't know exactly where I was except I knew it was a hospital because I could see the orderlies, the nurses, hear the talk, and this was the first time I began to feel any pain. At this point the pain became excruciating. It was a very very intense pain which I felt at this time. 
  •  Reporter: Governor, last year you told us "the assassination is still something I think about quite often," and two months ago in Chicago you said it was almost a nightmare. Do you think about now it less than you did during the first year? 
  •  Connally: No, I don't think about it any less. I think about it constantly. As I told you a moment ago, I think about it almost every day. I think about it almost every time I sit down to a meal and pick up a fork or a spoon. I think the intensity of the feeling has perhaps diminished somewhat because memory fortunately dulls the sharpness of a great tragedy, which this was, and I try not to consciously think about it although it's obvious that every time I take a shower or go swimming I think about it because I see the scars from the operation, so it's not something that I'm ever going to escape from. It's something that I nevertheless try to relegate to proper perspective, and in that context let me say that I have reluctantly agreed to talk to you gentlemen today because I personally feel my, and Nellie personally feels, I think that this is no longer a subject we should discuss in detail in public, and I have tried to refrain from doing so as much as I possibly could. 
  •  It's no longer a matter of news. It's no longer a matter of front page information. I don't personally like to relive the tragedy. It is something that in my judgement should be relegated to the pages of history, a dark and tragic page of history, but nevertheless it is now a matter of history, one that I think proves the strength and resiliency of this country, of its people, of its form of government that we suffered great shock, great crisis, great tragedy, and yet we rebounded immediately and not in any sense have we permitted what has to be one of the great national tragedies to warp us or make us lose perspective of our mission as individuals or as a nation, so I say to you that I have granted this interview today because perhaps I should, not because I want to, but I hope that the outcome of the interview will be, in perspective, that we're discussing not a newsworthy item as such but rather we're remembering in perspective a terrible tragedy that befell this nation. 
  •  Reporter: Was this something you thought about when you were going through your own deliberations about running for a third term and the fact you would be exposed once more to the public interviews? 
  •  Connally: Oh beyond any question. It's something I thought about a very great deal. I thought about not from the standpoint of fear or being exposed to the public, but I thought about it more in the light of... I think of how much time one has to do the things he wants to do. I thought about it in terms of my own life, my family, my wife, and children, of what I owed to them. I thought about it in terms of where my greatest duty and obligation were. I thought about it terms of none of us are permitted to know how much time we are going to have. If I could by some miracle know I had another 20, 25 years to enjoy on this earth there would have been no question in my mind about what I would have immediately announced. Nevertheless I have had proven to me in a rather forceful manner that time is fleeting. You can never be sure of what moment you may be called and, knowing that, it gave me pause for concern about seeking another term as governor because there are a number of- there are many things that I want to do. 
  •  I think this conscious thought will always be with me, that many of the think we think are important in our daily lives, many of the activities that we engage in, many of the things on which we spend time, in the perspective of life and the time we have to live it are minutia and are of inconsequential nature. So that whatever time I have, I want to spend it in what I at least think are labors of lasting import, so I most certainly did think about it at very great length before I decided to remain in public life. 
  •  Reporter: Have you heard from Mrs. Kennedy since the assassination? 
  •  Connally: Yes, but we have not heard from her recently nor have we communicated with her. Our paths in the normal course of either our daily lives, our social lives, or our political lives do not cross, and we have not been in recent contact with her. 
  •  Reporter: You've been out of the state off and on many times since the assassination. You remember just afterwards any great deal of resentment towards Dallas and Texas throughout the country. Have you noticed a diminishing of this? 
  •  Connally: Yes, I think the anger that welled up in people resulting in them striking out in every direction including accusing the great city of Dallas for this tragic occurrence has almost, if not entirely, diminished. 
  •  Reporter: Governor, District Attorney Henry Wade in Dallas has recently suggested that he would face commuting Jack Ruby's sentence to life in prison. Do you feel this is a- what are your feelings on this? 
  •  Connally: I wouldn't like to prejudge what actions I might in respect to the commutation of the life sentence of Jack Ruby. I would like to wait until this matter has been finally settled and reaches a formal decision before I anticipate what I might do. 
  •  Reporter: Have you every commuted a sentence?

    Connally: Yes, I have. I have commuted a sentence.

    Reporter: Have you visited in the period since the assassination the area in Dallas where the memorial has been placed. 
  •  Connally: No, I have not visited the area. I have been by it, but I have never stopped and visited it as such. I don't anticipate that I will. Maybe some day I shall, but I had great respect and admiration of President Kennedy. I served under him. I need nothing to remind me of my relations with him and certainly I need nothing to remind me of the tragic occurrence that is responsible for the erection of the monument, and therefore I have not visited the area nor do I anticipate that I will any time in the near future. 
  •  Reporter: At first you said you received a number of letters, in some way faulted you for the assassination. Have these letters continued or- 
  •  Connally: No. Those letters have stopped. I have not received any such letters in several months now, and I never worried about them particularly in relation to me.. I worried about them only in a sense that I think they reflected a strange attitude in the minds of so many people in the country. I was concerned in that standpoint but not because the letters themselves accused me of being responsible for the President's tragic death just because I was riding with him. 
  •  Reporter: There was a time where Mrs. Connally said that even the sound of a gun, for instance the salute of Erhard when he was here, made her jump, made her nervous. Do the two of you still have this feeling about guns, loud noises, that sort of thing? 
  •  Connally: Yes. I think it affects us both. When Chancellor Erhard was here, and this was the first public appearance I had made, and they started sounding the 21 gun salute for him both of us were visibly shaken by it. Still any sudden noise, any unexpected noise affects us. I don't know how long of course this will continue, but it certainly is true up to this time. 
  •  Reporter: You're not a hunter are you?

    Connally: Yes I am a hunter, and I'm going to  continue to hunt, and again it doesn't bother me so long as I anticipate and know that a rifle is going to be fired, a shotgun is going to be fired, but it's the sudden, or unexpected, or unanticipated noise whether it's a care backfiring, a gunshot, or something of that type that unnerves us still. 
  •  Reporter: At the time of the Warren Report, Attorney General Carr in his own report that came out at the same period, and in there he recommended more coordination between the federal law enforcement agencies and those of the state of local governments. Are you aware of this bearing any proof. 
  •  Connally: Yes, I think it definitely has so far as I know, and I'm not conversant of all of the details of the coordination and cooperation between all levels of law enforcement, but certainly I think it's resulted in a greater awareness and greater consciousness on the part of local police, certainly the department of public safety, the FBI, and the Secret Service. The Secret Service has augmented its forces. It's changed its, many of its practices. It's reorganized the whole agency I gather from press reports, and I don't think there's any doubt but what there isn't any awareness on all levels of law enforcement officials that there must be now, a degree of cooperation, of coordination, the exchange of information to a greater degree than ever before. 
  •  Reporter: Has the tragedy brought you and your family closer together? 
  •  Connally: Yes I think so, although I must say that our family is one of those fortunate ones. We've always been extremely close. Nellie and I have. We have been to our parents, to all our brothers and sisters, and we certainly have to our children, but again this is a relative matter, and I think it has brought us closer together because we have, I think, consciously tried to curtail some of our activities in order that we might be together more and that we're more considerate of each other and that we have a better appreciation and understanding of what each of us mean to each other, and to that extent I would anticipate that no one could go through an experience of this kind without being brought closer to those whom they love and for whom they feel responsible. 
 
TAMI Tags
  •  Connally describes the hours leading up to the assassination 
  •  Connally gives a detailed account of the shooting 
  •  “I said to Nellie, ‘My God, they are going to kill us both.’” 
  •  Conally describes regaining consciousness as they arrived at Parkland Hospital and trying to get the President out of the car 
  •  Connally discusses how often he thinks about the assassination 
  •  Connally discloses his reluctance to speak about the assassination in public 
  •  Connally explains his decision to remain in public office and his new perspective that time is fleeting 
  •  Connally on interacting with Mrs. Kennedy since the assassination  
  •  Connally discusses the public anger toward him and the city of Dallas following the tragedy 
  •  Connally is asked about the possibility of commuting Jack Ruby’s sentence 
  •  Connally on visiting Dealey Plaza again 
  •  Connally discusses the letters he would receive that accused him of being responsible for JFK’s death 
  •  Connally describes his and Nellie Connally’s new reaction to sudden noises and gunfire 
  •  Connally speaks about cooperation between law enforcement agencies 
  •  Connally explains how the tragedy has brought his family closer together 
 
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This interview footage captures scenes of Texas Governor John Connallly speaking about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and his experience following the tragedy. Governor Connally first gives a very detailed account of the days and hours leading up to the motorcade’s trip through Dealey Plaza, then he describes being shot, awaking at the hospital, and learning of the President’s death. He then goes on to discuss life after the event--his and Nellie’s new reaction to the sound of gunshot, how often he reflects on the event, and receiving letters from citizens lashing out at him and at the city of Dallas. Connally emphasizes that he agreed to the interview reluctantly, that President Kennedy’s assassination should no longer be a news item to be talked about publicly but a piece of history to be considered with proper perspective. He also explains his new take on life that time is fleeting and he wishes to not spend any of his remaining time on things of an inconsequential nature, rather on “labors of lasting import.”
The thirty-eighth Texas State Governor, John Bowden Connally Jr., was born on a farm near Floresville, Texas, on February 27, 1917. Connally graduated from the University of Texas in 1941 with a law degree and was subsequently admitted to the State Bar of Texas. He began his political career as a legislative assistant to Representative Lyndon B. Johnson in 1939. The two retained a close but often torrid friendship until LBJ’s death. After returning from U.S. Naval combat in the Pacific Theater, Connally joined an influential Austin law firm, served as LBJ’s campaign manager and aide, and became oil tycoon Sid W. Richardson’s legal counsel. Connally’s reputation as a political mastermind was solidified after managing five of LBJ’s major political campaigns, including the 1964 presidential election. In 1961, Connally served as Secretary of the Navy under President John F. Kennedy.
 
Wealthy financiers like Sid Richardson and a strong grass-roots network of supporters helped Connally win his first gubernatorial election in 1962. The three-term governor fought to expand higher education by increasing teachers’ salaries, creating new doctoral programs, and establishing the Texas Commission on the Arts and the Texas Historical Commission. In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed Connally to the foreign-intelligence advisory board. He was named the sixty-first Secretary of Treasury in 1971. Connally became one of the President’s principal advisors and headed the Democrats for Nixon organization, finally switching to the Republican Party in 1973. Connally is also remembered nationally for being in the car with President Kennedy during his assasination in Dallas in 1963, when Connally received wounds in his chest, wrist, and thigh. 
 
The former Texas governor announced in January 1979 that he would seek the Republican presidential nomination. His campaign was abandoned after media attacks over a controversial public speech and bank partnership. Financial troubles befell Connally by the mid 1980s after a real estate development partnership with former Texas Representative Ben Barnes collapsed. John Connally died on June 15, 1993 and is interred at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. 
 
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Gordon Wilkison
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Connally, John
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John F. Kennedy
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