Kennedy killed, events before and after Nov. 22, 1963
From my viewpoint
In January of 1963, John Connally became governor of Texas. Orange County lawyer Gene Hoyt served as his county campaign chairman. Although other volunteers did more to promote Connally for governor in Orange County, Hoyt, who wasn’t a lawyer in the general sense, doing mostly abstract work, deeds and so forth, was rewarded big and way above his experience when the new governor appointed him district judge of the new district court.
Texas was primarily a one party state—Democratic. However, there were two distinct factions, the liberals, controlled mostly by the unions and the conservative branch, which Connally came out of. The two branches fought each other in the primaries more furiously than today’s Republican and Democratic fights. Somehow in Orange County, the two factions had come together to support Connally.
Bob Montagne, Nolton Brown and Marlon Shelton and some labor bosses controlled the liberal wing of the party. In most cases, my side lost in county races; however, we also won some big ones. We were adversaries, but I always had respect for the way they played the game. From time to time, we rode the same horse. I never held political grudges even though some very good friends of mine were defeated. Today, the few whom are left that fought those fights I consider my longtime friends.
One reward paid to the liberal faction was that Judge Hoyt would choose Martin Ardoin as bailiff of the new district court. He would later be elected justice of the peace. Hoyt didn’t last but one term before Fred Trimble, another non-practicing attorney, who came from the conservative wing, defeated him. In the process, Montagne, Brown and labor defeated longtime sheriff Chester Holts and elected longtime constable Buck Patillo sheriff. The reason I’ve gone through all this explanation is to show the Democratic political climate in Texas and how it ultimately led to the assassination of President John Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.
A rift had developed between Gov. Connally and Sen. Ralph Yarborough, a far-to-the-left liberal and the darling of the labor forces, Yarborough was also a friend to Orange County.. Kennedy came to Texas to unite the two factions that threatened to split the state party. Because of the upcoming presidential election, he needed to heal the wounds.
It was a mild November day; the president was getting a good Texas welcome despite some negatives being hurled at him. The Dallas Morning News, which fought Kennedy’s liberal politics, ran a bitter full-page ad addressed to the president that essentially accused him of treason. “Why have you scrapped the Monroe Doctrine in favor of the spirit of Moscow?” the ad read.
The crowds had lined the route of the motorcade in Dallas when we entered the Marine Room on Second Street in Orange. District Attorney James Morris, Louis Dugas, Jerry Zuncker and myself. Jim had acquired a sack of fresh oysters and we were eating them raw as fast as the shucker, “Twist,” supplied them when a waitress came into the back room and told us the President had been shot in Dallas. We more or less discounted it as rumor. There had been plenty of rumors. Vice-president Lyndon B. Johnson was concerned that the scandals surrounding his cronies Bobby Baker and Billie Sol Estes would ruin his hopes for the presidency. Also, he feared that he might be dropped from the ticket in 1964 because he and Bobby Kennedy hated each other.
Most people believed if an attempt were made on the President’s life, it would most likely be made in Dallas. A fact that very few people are aware of is that Richard Nixon was in Dallas on that day hawking conservative causes, which promoted further hate for Kennedy.
When we turned on the car radio on returning to the courthouse, we learned that Parkland Hospital had just announced that the President had died at 1 p.m. and Gov. Connally had been severely wounded. Dr. Red Duke was the chief resident surgeon at Parkland at the time. I walked into the living quarters at the jail to find Sheriff Chester Holt’s eyes glued to the television set. Walter Cronkite was recapping the event. Tears were streaming down the cheeks of the sheriff. He cussed under his breath and asked me what kind of animal would do such a thing. We watched the reports together and at 2:38 p.m. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President on Air Force One.
Marlin Shelton and others had left for Austin where President Kennedy was scheduled to make a big Texas speech that Friday evening at the “Texas Welcome Dinner.” They were halfway to Austin when they heard the President was dead. They turned around and came home. Just the day before JFK had been in San Antonio and Houston. Gus Garza, a photographer from Bridge City, had taken pictures of the president in Houston.
Sheriff Holt and I learned that Lee Harvey Oswald was being accused of shooting the President and Gov. Connally. Castro had threatened to retaliate after the Bay of Pigs invasion ordered by President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushcuf was irate after the Cuban Missal Crisis also ordered by JFK. Oswald had lived in Russia from 1959 to 1962.
Now here’s a strange twist, on Oct. 17, a month earlier, my uncle, Meldon Duplantis, had entered two pen-and-ink drawings in a Beaumont art show and had asked Phyl and I to go by and vote on them. The one that placed first was a drawing of Oswald that my uncle had drawn after seeing a picture of him in a New Orleans paper passing out pamphlets. My uncle said there was something about Oswald that just caught his eye and he wanted to draw him.
Uncle Dan spent 30 years investigating the Kennedy assassination. He interviewed many people and at one time had his life threatened. His theory was that the mob was behind it. His report was over 3,000 pages. When I wouldn’t get interested, he gave the report to a Lafayette newsman. Dan died at age 90. When Jack Ruby shot Oswald as he was being transferred to jail in Dallas, Uncle Dan painted a picture of that scene with ordinary house paint and presented it to me.
Most of us were in our late 20s to mid-30s; Louis and Jim are gone now. That awful day and dreadful time is etched forever in our very being. It’s part of us. As for me, no other happening left an impression as the events of that week did. It stands out alone. I feel in some way I was a part of history, mostly because I lived it and because of the circumstances. I knew some of the characters, like Jack Ruby. Joe Runnels and I had recently visited Vice-president Johnson and Sen. Yarborough in Washington. In 1964, the Warren Commission concluded Oswald acted alone. I seem to agree but that will be debated until the end of time.
Waggoner Carr was the Texas Attorney General. He and I became friends through W. T. Oliver. He told about having breakfast with the President in Fort Worth that morning. They shook hands and Carr told the president he would see him that night in Austin. He flew to Dumas and when he arrived, he was told the President had been shot. Later Carr issued a statement in Washington. He met with hostility from the world press and was called that “son of a bitch from Texas.” When the Warren Commission took over the investigation, the blame on Texas didn’t last. We have elected three presidents from the state since but Texas has changed and so has its politics.