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For JFK's advance man, a routine mission turned hellish

  • Article by: Pamela Huey
  • November 19, 2013 - 10:21 PM

Five floors below Jane Freeman’s apartment at Walker Place lives Jack Puterbaugh, who helped advance President John F. Kennedy’s Texas trip in November 1963.

Puterbaugh, a former high school teacher who had been active in the Minnesota DFL, had also served as an advance man for Kennedy’s trip to Duluth in October of that year. His assignment in Texas was to find the best place for the Nov. 22 luncheon — the Trade Mart or the State Fairground’s women’s building.

Along with a Secret Service agent, Puterbaugh drove both routes from Love Field, where Air Force One was going to land.

“They wanted the motorcade to go through downtown Dallas,” he remembers.

While scouting the two routes, he recalled seeing the Texas School Book Depository, where days later Lee Harvey Oswald would fire shots at the motorcade. “I made a rather cryptic remark, ‘that must be where they burn books in Dallas.’ ”

He was well aware of the right-wing political climate in Dallas, but he said there was no indication that there would be any trouble as a result. On Nov. 22, Puterbaugh was in the pilot car — a Dallas police car — five or six blocks ahead of the presidential limousine. He watched the large, friendly crowds — including nuns with schoolchildren — who lined the streets as the president’s limo approached.

His car had just pulled out onto the Stemmons Freeway on its way to the Trade Mart, where Kennedy was to give a luncheon speech. Puterbaugh didn’t hear any gunshots, but a police call came over the radio: “All officers go to the triple underpass.”

Soon, a second call came alerting Parkland Hospital of an emergency.

“We pulled over and stopped. My initial reaction was someone had thrown an egg or something at Kennedy,” he said.

Puterbaugh’s pilot car pulled behind the Secret Service vehicle that was racing to the hospital. “We pulled into Parkland along with the other units. I was there when they came and got the president and took him into the hospital.”

He saw Kennedy’s lifeless body and he realized the awful truth. “I didn’t even want to think about it.”

With no transportation and no assignment, Puterbaugh walked back to his hotel and then grabbed a cab to go to the airport to catch a flight to Washington. “I was just in shock.”

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