Thursday, March 15, 2012
WHCA Comm Center After Action Reports
White House Communications Agency (WHCA) Communications Center Swtichboard
Radio Operators After Action Reports
[BK Notes: Many thanks to Doug Horne for providing these records]
THE WHITE HOUSE
April 1, 1997
Ronald G. Haron
Assassinations Records Review Board
600 E. Street 2nd Floor
Washington D.C. 20530
Dear Mr. Haron,
White House Communications Agency (WHCA) has searched their files for assassination-related records and was able to locate several statements from WHCA personnel who were on duty at various locations at the time of the assassination of President Kennedy. These statements were found in a folder titled “PRES KENNEDY ASSASSINAITON”. Copies of the statements are attached. There is no other assassination related material in the folder, except the list of telephone calls recorded by the White House switchboard on 22 November 1963, previously forwarded to your office.
The WHCA has completed its assassination-related records search.
Gregory G. Raths
Assistant Chief of Staff
White House Office
STATEMENTS [BK Notes: These statements are in the order in which they were in the file except for Trimble has been moved from third to the end]
CWO Arthur W. Bales, Jr.
WHCA Trip Officer for Presidential Visit to Dallas, Texas
SSG Brazell, Chief Switchboard Operator
White House Switchboard in Dallas, Texas
MSG Tarbell, Chief Switchboard Operator
Signal Switchboard, Washington, D.C.
SFB Carriger, Chief Operator,
Communications Center, Washington D.C.
SP4 Witte, Operator, Communications Center
SGT Bodenstiner, Operator, Communications Center,
MSG John Trimble, Radio Operator
Aboard AF-1 for flight from Dallas, Texas to Washington D.C.
THE WHITE HOUSE
SUBJECT: Sequence of Events – 22 November 1963
TO: Commanding Officer, WHCA
Following is approximately the sequence of events, as recalled by the undersigned, in Dallas, Texas, 22 November 1963
1. Prior Communications Arrangements: The Dallas White House had been established in the Sheraton-Dallas Hotel, and Communications facilities included a one-position switchboard with 3 dial trunks, 2 LD’s 3 tie lines to the Fort Worth White House Bd, 1 tie line to the Sheraton-Dallas Hotel Bd., 3 extensions to Love Field, 4 extensions to the Dallas Trade Mart (site of the President’s scheduled speech), secure teletype equipment, and radio and phone patch facilities to cover the motorcade.
2. Planned schedule of Events: The undersigned was to cover the President’s arrival at Love Field, and, with the Special WHCA Courier, travel in the motorcade and cover all stops to include the President’s departure from Dallas. SSGT Robert D. Brazell, with six men, were manning the Dallas White House; and seven men, making the Texas circuit aboard the Press Plane, were to remain at Love Field, as they would not be needed in Dallas. A recoding technician, Specialist John Muhlers, was set up and stationed at the Dallas Trade Mart to record the President’s speech and to furnish audio feeds to the various news media.
3. The arrival and Motorcade: Air Force One landed and the President spent some time shaking hands and greeting the large crowd at Love Field. The motorcade then departed for the trip through downtown Dallas and to the Trade Mart. In the WHCA Communications Car were: A telco driver; the undersigned WHCA Advance Officer; the WHCA Courier, Mr. Gearheart; and the Telco special representative (or “Shadow”), Mr. Herb Smith. We were approximately six cars and two (Press and Staff) buses behind the President. The motorcade had just passed the last buildings on the route before entering the freeway to the Trade Mart. The WHCA Communications Car was around two corners from and not in sight of the President’s car. Three explosions were heard, and I thought that they were backfires from vehicles up ahead. Herb Smith remarked that firecrackers were inappropriate for the occasion. Then the USSS Agent riding with the President announced on the FM “Charlie” radio, :Lawson, he’s hit”. The motorcade came to an abrupt halt with one bus and the WHCA car still around two corners from the President. Realizing that emergency communications facilities may be required on the spot, I instructed the driver to get Mr. Gearhart immediately to the vicinity of the President and to keep him there regardless of my own location. I, with the Telco representative, Mr. Smith, then started running toward the scene of the shooting. As we rounded the first corner the motorcade suddenly raced away. I commandeered a police car and instructed the driver to take us immediately to the Parkland Hospital. We arrived short minutes after the President.
4. The Parkland Hospital: The very limited telephone facilities at the hospital were tired up by the members of the Press Pool. I immediately seized all but one line (leaving Merriman Smith on the one most remote from the Emergency Rooms) and established direct circuits to the Signal Board in Washington; the Dallas White House Bd; and to the Signal board via the Dallas and Fort Worth White House Boards. I assigned police officers to guard these phones and instructed the individual Signal Operators in Washington who were on these circuits to handle no other calls, but to guard these lines exclusively. I then ordered six lines in to the hospital from the Dallas White House Board and informed appropriate White House Aides of my actions. I then checked back with the Dallas White House and learned that SSGT Brazell had, on is own initiative, ordered in an additional switchboard position, 3 additional dial trunks, 4 trunks to Washington, and had alerted Telco to the possibility of further TTY facilities being required. I instructed SSGT Brazell to direct for of the seven men (Press Plane Riders) at Love Field to report to me at the hospital, and the other three report to him at the hotel. The six lines to the hospital, the four trunks to Washington, and the additional TTY facilities were cancelled before completion. As the WHCA personnel arrived from Love Field, they replaced the police officers who had been guarding the seized telephone lines. At the appropriate time I instructed Mr. Gearhart to remain with the President Johnson, and they left shortly for Love Field. I remained at the hospital and later went to the field with (the body of) President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy, instructing the WHCA personnel to remain at the hospital until released by the White House Staff personnel who were remaining there a while longer. Meanwhile, I had advised Captain Stoughton, WHCA Photographer, and SP5 Muler (Recording – stationed at the Trade Mart) of President Johnson’s return to Air Force One: enabling Captain Stoughton to be the only photographer aboard when the President took his oath of office. Muler recorded the proceedings, and the tape was returned to Washington via Colonel McNally aboard the Press Plane.
ARTHUR W. BALES, JR.
1.1-Position 555 PBX trunking to Washington through Ft. Worth with no direct connection to Washington.
2.3 city dials
3.3 LD toll terminals
4.Radio on top of PBX
CHRONOLOGICAL SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
1.Complete relaxation waiting for parade to arrive at luncheon site.
2.(1230) Sudden blaring of radio “Lead us straight to the hospital he’s been shot – repetition “He’s been shot.”
3.Realization of inadequate facilities to handle any emergency of this type.
4.Placed order for additional 555 position, additional dial trunks and more extensions in the room even before the party arrived at the hospital.
5.Party reached hospital and all dial trunks lit up immediately.
6.Direct connection set up immediately between Agent directly outside of emergency room and Mr. Behn in his office in Washington which became the Washington Command Post and clearing house. Ordered to monitor the circuit which was done to the best of ability on top of moving regular traffic.
7.Calls from members of the President’s family bridged into the Behn-Emergency room focus. (E.g. Attorney General asking whether a priest had been called.)
8.Constant advisement on the location of the Vice President.
9.Made arrangements with police to have WHCA Press Plane party rushed to hotel for use as needed.
10.Dispatch of part of this contingent to assist at the hospital on CWO Bales’ orders.
11.Mr. Kilduff ordering return of delegation enroute to Japan immediately upon perceiving seriousness of the situation. Placing of this in the hands of the WHCA Duty Officer in Washington.
12.Answering calls with extension on top of PBX; then routing them to proper spot. Utilized radio man Lukens on “hold and wait” calls.
13.President Johnson returns to aircraft.
14.Second peak of calls for day doing such things as finding Judge Sarah T. Hughes to swear the President in and finding someone in the Department of Justice to dictate the oath of office. Vice President Johnson personally spoke to the clerk In Judge Hughes’ Office.
15.By this time the telephone company had performed a near miracle and installed the second 555 position with three additional dial trunks on it.
16.An effort was being made to bring up four full periods back to Washington but desisted when it became obvious that the need for them was almost over.
17. As a general comment: enough traffic passed through that one position 555 as should normally have gone through a 3-position PBX at full throttle.
PS: The Switchboard operator recalls placing a call from Attorney General to Air Force One prior to the swearing in ceremonies; he does not know to whom he spoke but feels it was to the Vice President.
On November 22, 1963 the first indication of any sort of trouble in Texas was a short UPI release which came in on the printer in the Comm Center at approximately 12:30 p.m. stating that the President had been shot in Dallas, Texas. We here at the Washington Switchboard had heard nothing of any trouble. However, shortly after we received this we received an incoming call from Agent Emory Roberts in Dallas asking for Chief Wildy and then right after this call another call from Mr. Bales at the hospital in Dallas, asking us to stay on the line and keep the circuit open. One operator did just that. We actually did not get official word of the assassination. Just information via radio, and of course, many rumors as to who had been killed or wounded. First reports had it that an Agent had been shot along with the President. Of course, not having any official word, we could not give out any information.
As the minutes passed it became more and more apparent that what was just rumor was not fact and at approximately 2:05 p.m. official word was released that President Kennedy had been shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. Immediately after the announcement, the switchboard went completely wild with everyone attempting to call out and anxious wives trying to call in to find out if their husbands were all right. The Sterling Exchange within a short time became overloaded and we could not dial out. The focal point for calls here at the White House was John McNally’s office in the East Wing with Senators and Congressmen proceeding there. It soon became apparent that one line off of our board could not handle traffic so five (5) additional temporary lines were asked for and were installed at 1645 to Mr. McNally’s office.
We had no direct lines to Dallas, Texas off our board. We had full period loops to Fort Worth, Texas and they worked Dallas off their board. They only had a two position 555 and could not really handle too large volume of traffic. They were able to advise us when the oath of office was administered to President Johnson and when Air Force 1 took off from Dallas. As soon as it was ascertained where the body of President Kennedy was to be taken we started asking for lines to that location. One line to the Naval Medical Center was installed at 1850 and an additional line to same location was put in at 2052. During the time that Air Force 1 was enroute back here, we had a constant phone patch up to them with President Johnson calling various people here in D.C. and in Texas.
At this time we only had one line off our board to the President’s residence on 52nd Street, N.W. It was decided that this would not be sufficient to handle traffic so five additional lines were installed to that location at approximately 2200. Also at the same time, we had President Johnson’s commercial phone disconnected at this residence.
The personnel on duty here at the Signal Switchboard on the day shift of course did not leave at 3:00 p.m. when the shift ordinarily ends, but stayed on duty until approximately 7:00 p.m. with the exception of my self and I went home at 11:00 p.m. after a long and hectic day.
Never in all my experience on the switchboard have I ever seen a board so busy for such a great length of time. It was an experience which all of us here at the Switchboard do not want to happen again at least in our lifetime.
RESUME OF EVENTS OF 22 NOV 1963:
Someone handed me a bulletin from UPI stating that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Tex. I immediately called Sgt. Tucker and passed info to her. Her immediate reaction was “Oh, you’re kidding me”, repeated several times. After I had somewhat convinced her that info received over UPI news ckt., she said she would pass to Major Patterson.
Next I took bulletin to Mr. Harmon, the Duty Officer. He was on phone at the time trying to get verification and amplification of facts. All later releases were passed to Mr. Harmon to centralize all info.
We were working Dallas via TWX. We immediately called Dallas and kept them “up” on the TWX. We next attempted to get a full period on-line ckt. with Dallas. I don’t recall if this project was completed. Next, we re-activated full period on-line ckt. to Ft. Worth. This took approx. two hours to complete due to the fact the circuit had been released to Telco earlier.
Comm Center personnel were calling in for instructions. Advised to “stick close to phone” and if anything developed, we would advise. Some of the evening trick personnel reported for duty as much as one and a half hours early and some of the day trick personnel stayed on duty until President Johnson returned to Wash, D.C.
There were no increases in traffic during this time. However, later that night, we started reviving messages of condolences from various heads of State.
During return flight of AF-1 from Dallas, we were working the aircraft via KW-7. The operator aboard the aircraft was so busy that he could not attend the ckt. We attempted to relay three or four messages of condolences to AF-1 (one of the messages was from Queen Elizabeth) but were unable to ascertain that the message was received.
Polly Yates, Asst. to General Clifton
We informed Polly Yates of situation. She said if were unable to get a receipt for the messages, she would see that they were available for delivery upon PRES US arrival in Wash. D.C. We did not get any acknowledgements of receipt and Miss Yates was so informed.
22 NOV 63 IN COMMCENTER
I was wandering about the Comm Center as usual picking up little bits of information about how the place worked when I was attracted by a series of 5 bells on UPI. I looked over PFC Russell’s shoulder to see what was about to appear. There was nothing for what seemed like a long time, but was probably less than ten seconds, and then, on a line, in a shaky hand came UPI’s bulletin heading “….Dallas, with Kennedy….” The text consisted of five words on line, gabled, misspelled and unsteady, “Kennedy, Connelly shot, possibly fatally.” And then nothing.
Russell jumped and said “hey you guys, look at this!”, The guys were SGTS Dreyllinger and Bodensteinger who were standing by the TWX. Dreylinger and Bodensteiner laughed slightly, as one would at a bad joke (which, it turned out, is what they thought it was). I went around to check the patch board to make sure someone hadn’t plugged UPI onto a different machine and put a piece of our gear at the other end of the monitor I had been watching in order to see what kind of action they could get out of duping a couple of new bodies in the Comm Cener (It had been a slow afternoon). For a full minute people just walked around in circles, Russell and I affirming that we had actually seen the bulletin come in on the monitor (although admitting the possibility that someone at UPI might be wanting to lose his job in a hurry), and the rest of the Comm Center personnel becoming more and more convinced that the bulletin was real. AP came in with a confirming bulletin in about 70 seconds after UPI. Someone called the Duty Officer. A couple of people, including myself began to ring up the trip sites and put them in uppers. Someone in the front office began to call up off duty personnel and have some of them report to the Comm Center. SFC McCullough began to get the suitcases down from above the ECTRRM gear. I spent the rest of the afternoon passing general info and info from the news services to the trip sites.
Patrick and I went home at the usual time, more to get us out of the way than for any other reason.
SGT Bodensteiner 22 NOV 63 in comcen
Resume of events in Commcen - 22 Nov ’63
I was working on a circuit near our UPI and AP news monitors when one of the other operators, who had been reading the news, told me that the President had been shot. My first reaction was that I thought he was only joking.
He then told me to come and read it on the UPI monitor myself. This still didn’t convince me that it was true, thinking that he could have easily typed it on the machine himself as a joke. I no sooner had told him that wasn’t a very nice rumor to start when I saw a more detailed item come over our AP monitor. We then told the other operators and the D.O. was notified.
The next hour or so was spent mostly between watching the news for the latest developments and informing our personnel that were out at the various trip sites on this tour of the President.
The rest of the day followed the general routine for a normal day, except for the atmosphere of tragedy and the conversation among the operators on duty.
Most of the operators on the day shift stayed over three to four hours after the normal shift change in case of any unexpected occurrence.
TRIMBLE - AF1 Radio Operator
22 November 1963
After an overnight at Ft. Worth, Air Force One departed Carswell AFB at 1125 AM (Local Time) for Dallas. After a short flight we arrived at Dallas and blocked in at 1140 AM.
After the rain storm of the previous night the sun seemed particularly bright as the President and First Lady deplaned to the warm greeting of what was probably the largest crowd of the Texas tour. The Last we were to see of them together was when they departed the airport in their open car.
The first indication that anything was amiss came when one of the WHCA representatives, Theron Burgess, who was on duty at the airport, told me that someone in the motorcade had been hurt. My first reaction was that one of the Secret Service Agents had fallen from the car. About 15 minutes later we were told the ready the airplane for immediate take-off. At this time we were not told why we were leaving or what our destination would be. No information was forthcoming at this time and since we at least needed a destination for flight clearance purpose Col. Swindal asked me to check with the switchboard. After identifying myself to the switchboard operator he told me that the President had been shot and that no other information was available. This was relayed to Col. Swindal although he had just heard it himself from another source.
My communications equipment had been on since receiving the immediate take-off order. I had cleared a voice and teletype frequency with Andrews Airways. Even though I was using the call sign AF 26000 and could not tell the reason for clearing a voice frequency, Andrews cooperated fully. I was making periodic signal checks with Andrews when someone entered the airplane and said the President was dead.
All the chatter ceased and I think we were all numb and did out jobs automatically as we waited --- waited for the body to arrive from the hospital; waited for President Johnson; and finally for the judge to arrive and perform the swearing-in ceremony.
We departed Dallas at 1447 Dallas time for the three hour flight to Washington.
I was busy every minute of the trip and had three phone patches going simultaneously for much of the time. The normal HF air to ground communications had to yield to higher priority traffic. Some position reports were sent, some were not. Quite a bit of time was spent by Dr. Burkley and General Clifton in the air and General Heaton on the ground concerning removal and preparation of the body after reaching Andrews.
My circuits were in continuous use and Andrews always had a waiting list of various officials who wanted to communicate with the airplane. Due to the limited facilities on both ends, many times I had to decide who we would talk with next. I had a good knowledge of the Kennedy team and don’t think I made any mistakes in this respect.
We had been cleared to an altitude of 29,000 feet upon leaving Dallas. I was able to send one of the few position reports over Nashville and found that we were then at 41,000 feet because of winds and weather.
About this time I received a call from the rear of the plane saying that President Johnson wanted a phone patch with Mrs. Rose Kennedy. I immediately seized my best frequency and placed the call through Andrews and the WHCA switchboard. A short time later both the President and Mrs. Johnson offered their condolences to Mrs. Rose Kennedy. These Mrs. Kennedy accepted in a strong, clear voice.
A few minutes later I placed a call, again through the WHCA switchboard to the wife of Governor Connely in Dallas. Both the President and the First Lady talked with Mrs. Connely and assured her that the Governor would be all right.
The rest of the flight was about as hectic as the first. We landed at Andrews and blocked in at 1805 local time.
A large crowd and many bright lights were visible when the doors were opened. Mrs. Kennedy was scheduled to leave by another exit but insisted on being lowered to the ramp with the remains. She entered the ambulance and accompanied the body out of sight.
After President Johnson made his very short talk and departed, I remember thinking what irony that this terrible thing had to happen at all --- but to have it happen in the United States. Somehow it was still unbelievable.
JOHN C. TRIMBLE