The most complete version of the Air Force One radio transmissions made on the day President John F. Kennedy was killed 50 years ago were aired publicly for the first time today at a JFK assassination conference at Duquesne University.
The 88-minute recording, available online here, captures the reaction of top U.S. government officials, including ultra-conservative Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, to the news that JFK had been shot in Dallas.
LeMay who was harshly critical of JFK’s liberal foreign policy, once described the people around Kennedy as “cockroaches” who deserved crushing. The enhanced tape shows that LeMay immediately returned to Washington on the evening of November 22, raising the possibility that one of JFK’s fiercest critics attended his autopsy.
While experts debate the so-called acoustics evidence about whether the sound of the gunfire that killed JFK was recorded, the Air Force One tapes are another piece of JFK acoustics evidence that is less disputed and less well known yet perhaps more important to the assassination story.
The new recording combines for the first time two different Air Force One tapes that have previously surfaced. The LBJ presidential library released one version of the tape in the late 1970s. A longer version surfaced in 2011 when a Philadelphia auction house offered an earlier generation tape that had been in the possession of the family of Gen. Chester Clifton, JFK’s military aide, who died in 1991.
The tapes were combined and enhanced by Primeau Forensics, a Michigan firm that does audio enhancement and voice identification, at the request of JFK researcher Bill Kelly. The result is a new piece of JFK assassination evidence.
The LBJ library has posted the early, shorter version of the Air Force One tape, which includes LBJ’s conversation with Rose Kennedy, JFK’s mother. The National Archives has posted the Clifton tape online.
When TV talk show host Piers Morgan reported on the Clifton tape in 2011, he erroneously said that the Clifton tape was “unedited.” In fact, the original, complete and unedited Air Force One tapes have never been released to the public and their whereabouts are unknown.
The new enhanced recording shows that the passages about Gen. LeMay were edited out of the version released by the LBJ library, according to Kelly.
The tape captures an aide to LeMay trying to get in touch with him.
- This is Colonel Dorman, General LeMay’s aide.
- General LeMay is in a C-140
- The last three numbers are 497 – SAM.
- 497 last three numbers.
- Right. He is in bound. His code name is Grandson, and I want to talk to him.
- Grandson. Okay sir, we’ll see what we can do. We’re real busy with Air Force One right now.
What Col. George Dorman wanted to tell LeMay is not heard on the tape. But the enhanced tape reveals that the Air Force sent a plane to pick up Gen. LeMay who was on a fishing trip in Michigan on the day JFK was killed. LeMay flew back to National Airport in Washington, arriving in the early evening of November 22.
JFK’s autopsy took place at Bethesda Naval Hospital later that night.
Dr. Pierre Finck, one of the pathologists who conducted the autopsy, testified at the trial of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw, that senior U.S. military officers had taken an active part in proceedings, and implied that they were in charge of the autopsy. Finck intimated that the pathologists were forbidden to dissect the president’s back and throat wounds by the generals in attendance.
Another participant in JFK’s autopsy said that one of the military officers attending the autopsy was smoking a cigar. LeMay was famous for smoking cigars in his public appearances.
Kelly said that the Clifton and LBJ Library tapes were copied from the longer Air Force One recordings have never been made public. The complete Air Force One records remains one of the most important pieces of missing JFK assassination evidence.
Kelly had previously released a transcript of the two tapes on his blog, JFK Countercoup.