Newspapers keep history safe
In 1963, several shots rang out through Dealey Plaza in Dallas that shocked the nation and for my parents, stopped time. There have been too many of these moments in history that has stopped time, 9/11, Columbine and in 1963, the assassination of the United States 35th President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Pictured is the November 28, 1963 edition of The Hearne Democrat that has been living in our vault for 50 years. November 22, 1963, the day of the assignation, was a Friday. The Hearne Democrat was a Wednesday newspaper, this was the first local newspaper after the assassination and featured on the front page is a photo of the President and Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson. I just thought you might like to see how your newspaper presented the news.
My mother was a Kennedy supporter as were most of the adults in my family, though I was not yet born and would only learn that fact later in life. My mother however was not a Johnson supporter, in fact, she was a hippie in California. That just makes the next part of this story funny.
In 1983, my family relocated from Austin, Texas to Johnson City, Texas, the hometown of Lyndon Baines Johnson. I have spent from that time to this very day researching the assassination as well as the life of Lyndon Johnson along with his wife Lady Bird. Having once owned the local newspaper of a President turns you into a presidential information stalker of sorts. I have met the Presidential family, though not the President himself. Johnson died in 1973, his family, to this day resides just outside of Johnson City on a ranch in Stonewall, Texas.
I use to tell folks that my Pulitzer Prise lived in Johnson City, Texas.
In a little small town hardware store, on the square in Johnson City lived a man named Nelson Withers. He was the sole proprietor of Blanco County Supply and a life-long resident of Johnson City. While Nelson was the sweetest old hardware guy you would ever want to meet, he had a few secrets.
At least once a week, I would venture into the hardware store to talk with Nelson. It was my theory then and now that there are some things in this world you will tell your best friend and not your wife. In my opinion, Nelson not only knew who shot Kennedy, but that Johnson knew before the assassination was carried out. Now that is a big accusation, and though never confirmed by myself or anyone else that I know, after three years of conversations with Nelson, I believe it and you can call it “gut” knowledge.
Nelson went to school and graduated with his friend, Lyndon Johnson and the two were life-long buddies. Johnson was often seen in the hardware store playing checkers and drinking beer. Nelson was in the famed “aqua-car” photo crusing Lake Marble Falls with Johnson when the local police made the mistake of “pulling over” the group in the car. Lady Bird took away Johnson’s “Aqua-Car” after that incident and the vehicle is still at the family ranch in Stonewall, Texas. Johnson and Nelson also shared another mutual friend, Johnson’s Lawyer Anton N. (A.W.) Moursund.
I will save that relationship story for another time.
While the nation mourned the loss of JFK, the first public appearance of Johnson was November 23, 1963 on the front page of national newspapers all over the country as he is sworn in as 36th President on Air Force One, where was Johnson before that?
Given no statement of record and based only on research and interviews, I do know where Johnson was at the time of the assassination, he was in Johnson City, Texas visiting with his friend at the hardware store. The family had traveled home for the weekend and were in Stonewall at the time of the shooting.
When the shots were fired, the Secret Service rushed Johnson to his home in Stonewall, Texas from the hardware store, and picked up Lady Bird and then rushed the pair, along with daughter Lucy to Randolf Air Force Base in San Antonio. Nelson was sitting with Johnson when Johnson got the news that Kennedy had been shot.
Boarding a US military plane, the family was flown to Dallas, but was not taken to the Hospital. Instead the vice-family was taken to Air Force One. The trip by car to San Antonio was more than 2 hours, then the flight to Dallas, many hours had passed since the shooting and so had JFK at this point in time.
Johnson and family waited aboard Air Force One for the arrival of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the body of the President. While the swearing in photo is a bit deceptive because it gives you a sense they are in the air flying towards Washington, that is false, they were on the ground in Dallas.
Here is what I do know about the assassination of JFK.
Nelson Withers of Johnson City knew the truth, but would never tell me. I guess some secrets just go to the grave. After more than three years of questions, his sly smile and occasional nod was all he would reveal as an answer to my many, many questions. Nelson Withers passed away April 28, 2008 in Fredericksburg, Texas at the age of 83. He left no known written secrets, no note that would reveal the truth. He died after his wife of 55 years, Margaret Mearle Lackey.
Withers was a pillar in his community. A WWII veteran, supporter of the Blanco County Livestock Show & Rodeo, County Fair Association Director and contributed to every youth activity I could name, from Cheerleader camps to band camps, football programs and even buying livestock for kids that could not afford the project. He was a person you could trust, and a person that could keep a secret.
Dennis Phillips | Publisher