Enhanced Air Force One tapes capture a top general’s response to JFK’s murder

JFK and Curtis LeMay

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.

Bill Kelly, JFK researcher who created the enhanced Air Force One tapes

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.
– Right.
– 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.

 

56 comments

  1. Shane McBryde says:

    I just can’t say enough about the fantastic work you continue to do Mr. Morley. Your work over the last 20 years, your journalistic approach has done so much to expand my understanding of this case. Keep on keeping on brother!

  2. Photon says:

    So LeMay immediately left a fishing trip in Michigan on Nov. 22, 1963 to return to Washington.
    What was the Chief of Staff of the U.S.Air Force supposed to do when the Commander in Chief had been assassinated- keep fishing for walleyes ? Particularly when even the new President ( and others) believed that the assassination could be a prelude to a general attack on the U.S.?
    So somebody smoked a cigar in the autopsy room? Are you seriously stating that that is evidence that LeMay was there?
    What “generals” were at the autopsy? Finck mentioned “a general” but never identified him. The senior officers present were two U.S.N. Medical Corps Admirals – M.D.s, not line officers, not generals. When is the last time that you have heard a layman give orders to physicians on how to do a medical procedure? Ever? What physician would even agree to do that?

    • leslie sharp says:

      “What was the Chief of Staff of the U.S.Air Force supposed to do when the Commander in Chief had been assassinated.”

      A study of Curtis LeMay’s career is worth the time, as is a study of the dynamics with his boss in ‘63, the Secretary of Air Force, Eugene Zuckert, and Zuckert’s role in the General Dynamic’s F-111 controversy. Anyone studying the MIC in relation to Texas investors in the 1960’s will understand the significance. For further background: (this link does not reference the connection between the F-111 and General Dynamics, Henry Crown or Hilton Hotels, or General Dynamics’ CEO Frank Pace, and his role in an investment house with CIA Director Allen Dulles), but those who know the story will understand the significance) http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/1998/June%201998/0698zuckert.aspx

      Then I recommend that anyone interested in this subject review the personal histories of Sec. of AF Dudley Sharp (Houston TX related to the Howard Hughes empire or vice versa) and James Henderson Douglas (Quaker Oats family dynasty with deep ties to St Louis – The Spirit Of – establishment and common investments with George Herbert Walker of Brown Brothers Harriman). Sharp and Douglas served as Secretary of the Air Force prior to Zuckert. Missouri Senator Stuart Symington was the first Secretary of the Air Force. Symington would, decades later, figure on the periphery of the Bank of Credit and Commerce international weapons scandal along with Clark Clifford, a native of St. Louis.

      James Douglas (with personal ties to St. Louis investments) in particular is interesting in that he was Sec AF when Lee Harvey Oswald was in Russia, during which time Curtis LeMay’s Air Force career was approaching its zenith. Whether or not Oswald or Webster (or perhaps Richard Case Nagell) were little more than minor players in intelligence operations and of little interest to these military brass, the operations they may have been involved in would certainly have been of great interest.

      • Photon says:

        What is your point? The TFX program. ( it wasn’t the F111 until later) was McNamara’s baby, a jack-of-all trades fighter-bomber but master-of-none that McNamara thought could supply the needs of the Navy, SAC and TAC. It was a colossal boondoggle that never really achieved any of its objectives.But what does that have to do with LeMay? Or more to the point what does it have to do with the assassination of JFK?

        • JSA says:

          Maybe the point is that LeMay was mentally unstable? After all, he advocated launching a first-strike on the Soviet Union with tactical and long-range nukes, pretty much shooting off our arsenal at once, to get a lead in a nuclear exchange that he felt was “imminent.” When someone asked him about potential US casualties, he cavalierly replied that we would probably lose a lot of cities and a percentage of our population, but in the end we would “win.” And as irresponsible as it may sound, he also advocated attacking Cuba during the height of the missile crisis, telling Kennedy that he was “in a pickle” and had no other choice. LeMay was one of the Joint Chiefs! Certainly with a nutty psychological profile like his, I could see him signing on to a domestic coup to take down JFK, with LBJ, J. Edgar, Allen Dulles, and others participating.

          Wack job LeMay went on to “bigger and better things” in 1968: He ran with George Wallace on the ticket against Nixon and Humphrey. What a guy!

        • leslie sharp says:

          Wasn’t there an investigation into the circumstances behind the TFX contract?
          And yes, JSA, I was also thinking about the alleged reaction Kennedy made after an encounter with LeMay to the effect: “get this man out of my sight.”

          Admittedly, these are inflammatory anecdotes; my real purpose was to identify LeMay’s superiors and the industrial connections they enjoyed during the Cold War. Who benefited?

      • LeMay would have been Vice-President of the United States, had Wallace been elected in 1968.

    • GERALD CAMPEAU says:

      Physicians at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base Prison take orders from there military masters all the time

    • Ted Aventura says:

      LeMay was the only member of the Joint Chiefs who contacted (3 times) Air Force One on its flight from Dallas to Washington. Shouldn’t all the Joint Chiefs have been concerned about a “prelude to a general attack”? Was the Air Force the only branch of service that was single-handedly going to stave off such an attack? No Navy, no Marines, no Army? LeMay’s introjection into the event, before the body was cool, cries out for some heavy explanation. An explanation that LeMay never gave during his lifetime; and that nobody has provided yet.

    • Rick Geer says:

      First-hand testimony from Bethesda technician Jerrold Custer says exactly that–that a 4-star general with no medical experience told the doctors what to do and stopped them from doing their examination in the way they wanted.

  3. Jean Davison says:

    The Sibert/O’Neill report has a list of those present at the autopsy, starting on this page:

    http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=10408&relPageId=289

    • Photon says:

      I know about McHugh, whose very visible actions as a Kennedy man after the autopsy cost him a second star. The only other general officer was present only briefly and was concerned more with transport of the body than autopsy procedure.

      • leslie sharp says:

        Has anyone considered who was already in Bethesda? Not particularly who was present at the hospital, but what forces resided there? What influence was wielded by their very proximity to the autopsy? Who among them were demanding answers to the assassination? Who was flying to Dallas to interrogate Oswald? Who was standing on their “collective ear” to demand answers to the murder of a democratically elected president? Where was the outrage?

        • Photon says:

          It was a hospital. What forces resided there? Pediatrics, Obstetrics, Internal Medicine, Neurology,etc. Real sinister stuff. And one of the finest Postgraduate medical training programs in the country. And one of the few facilities commanded by staff corps officers, not line officers.

          • JSA says:

            It was a MILITARY hospital. There were a lot of brass present in the autopsy room, barking out orders. This wasn’t a University of Berkeley, free thought, anything goes operation. It was very secret, it was hierarchically controlled by the brassholes present, and it was limited in scope (for example, Kennedy’s back wound wasn’t completely probed). Admiral Burkley later admitted that a better job could have been done but what was done was done. SPOILER ALERT: Burkley wasn’t even interviewed by the Warren Commission! Unbelievable.
            http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/The_Missing_Physician

          • Photon says:

            Ever been there?

          • leslie sharp says:

            The “there” referred to the community of Bethesda, and the residents of that military enclave. Start with recently “retired” Admiral Arleigh Burke, recent commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Do any of us think that the environment at the hospital did not suffer the influence of forces that might not have had a physical presence during the autopsy.

          • Photon says:

            Of all of the dumb comments, your Burke comment tops the list. Arleigh Burke was never commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence, he retired as CNO in 1961. Apparently you are totally ignorant about the exploits of “31 Knot Burke” and his destroyer squadron in the Solomon’s in WW II and of his work as Chief of Staff of Task Force 58.
            He was a line officer, not restricted line like Intelligence or Cryptology- the latter two communities generally tasked with command of Inteligence billets. But you wouldn’t know that. Why do you feel the need to imply that ADM Burke had anything but the most honorable intentions? It seems that you have taken the course of Simpich and as Jeff has noted,Groden. You make things up and hope that somebody who actually knows something about the subject doesn’t reply.

          • leslie sharp says:

            Photon, my research indicated that Naval intelligence fell under the purview of the CNO at the time. If you can point me to a correction of that, I am open. Arleigh Burke left in somewhat of a bluster according to some reports, and immediately joined the board of Texaco (Texas Co.) on leaving the Navy. (given that I have already enraged you, I will add that he was a key board member when John Tilton’s son was hired by Texaco to enjoy a 30 years career with the oil giant. Who benefited?)

            Burke also went on to be a leading member of CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies), THE military think tank of the 1960’s and 1970’s. He also had close business ties with Gen. George Olmsted whose financial conglomerate “fell into the hands of” the Bank of Credit and Commerce,

            Your admiration of Arleigh Burke, and your knowledge of his Naval career does not mitigate the fact that “he benefited,” and he certainly influenced America’s MIC in the years after the assassination.

          • JSA says:

            “Ever been there?”

            Yes I have.

          • JSA says:

            “When?”

            It was YEARS ago. My friend’s dad took me there in the sixties. I honestly cannot remember what he did, but the family was “Navy”. They had a “Go with Navy” sticker on their car, and moved away after only a couple of years. It was just a boring stop for me on the way to visit WPGC’s ‘Good Guys Radio’ studios because my friend won a prize. He got to meet Harv Moore and get his picture taken. I remember that more than I remember the facility. Since I was with the guy’s dad we got to go in. It generally isn’t open to civilians.

  4. George Simmons says:

    I have always found the testimony of Dr Pierre Finck in the Clay Shaw trial to be intriguing and revealing:
    A:I will remind you that I was not in charge of the autopsy, that I was called..
    Q:You were a co-author of the report though, weren’t you Doctor?
    A:Wait. I was called as a consultant to look at these wounds, that doesn’t mean I am running the show
    Q:Was Dr Humes running the show?
    A:Well, I heard Dr Humes stating that, he said “Who is in charge here?, and I heard an Army General, I don’t remember his name stating, “I am”. You must understand that in those circumstances, there were law enforcement officers, military people with various ranks, and you have to co-ordinate the operation according to directions.
    Q:But you were one of the three qualified pathologists standing at the autopsy table, weren’t you Doctor?
    A:Yes
    Q:Was this Army General a qualified pathologist?
    A:No
    Q:Was he a Doctor?
    A:No, not to my knowledge
    Q:Can you give me his name, Colonel?
    A:No, I cant, I dont remember

    So, we have one of the co-authors of the report, one of the three qualified pathologists, stating, under oath, that he did not know who was running the autopsy.

    • George Simmons says:

      Another interesting point of Dr Finck’s testimony was when he was asked why he did not dissect the track of the bullet wound in the neck. He seemed to be very reluctant to answer this question, and had to be directed by the Judge to answer:
      Q:I will ask you the question one more time: Why did you not dissect the track of the bullet wound that you have described today and you saw at the time of the autopsy at the time you examined the body? Why? I ask you to answer that question.
      A:As I recall I was told not to. But I don’t remember by whom.
      Q:You were told not to, but you don’t remember by whom?
      A:Right
      Q:Could it have been one of the Admirals or one of the Generals in the room?
      A:I don’t recall.

      So, we also have one of the co authors of the report, one of the three qualified pathologists stating he did not do this dissection because he was told not to, but he cannot recall who told him not to do it.

  5. Ray Mitcham says:

    Paul O’Connor said General le May was present at the autopsy.

    • Photon says:

      Paul O’Connor said a lot of things. Unfortunately after he made the statement that there was no brain in JFK’s head the rest of his testimony collapses.Shipping casket? Why didn’t anybody else notice that?

      • Ray Mitcham says:

        A waiting team of soldiers carried the cheap shipping casket, with the president’s body in it, into the morgue at 6:35 p.m., even while Mrs. Kennedy was still slowly traveling from Andrews Air Force Base to the Bethesda facilities under the assumption, erroneous as it was, that her husband’s body was still inside the expensive, heavy, ornate casket that was riding in the back of her car.

        How do we know this happened? Because it was witnessed by several Navy and Marine enlisted men who were there and saw it happen.

        Moreover, their eyewitness accounts are buttressed by two documents that were discovered in the 1990s by the Assassination Records Review Board, the agency that had been created in the wake of the storm over government secrecy in the Kennedy assassination produced by Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie “JFK.”

        The first document was a written report of the funeral home that handled the embalming of the president’s body. It contained the following notation: “Body removed from metal shipping casket at NSNH at Bethesda.”

        The second document was an official military report filed four days after the assassination by Marine Sgt. Roger Boyajian, which stated in part: “The detail arrived at the hospital at approximately 1800 [6:00 p.m.] and after reporting as ordered several members of the detail were posted at entrances to prevent unauthorized persons from entering the prescribed area…. At approximately 18:35 [6:35 p.m.] the casket was received at the morgue entrance and taken inside.” (Brackets added.)

        Who were the other enlisted men who confirmed the early delivery of the president’s body into the Bethesda morgue?

        They included E-6 Navy corpsman Dennis David, who later became a Navy officer and who served for 11 years in the Medical Services Corps, until he retired from active duty in 1976. It was under his supervision that a team of sailors offloaded the cheap shipping casket from the black hearse containing the team of men in suits and carried it into the Bethesda morgue.

        In fact, David said that when he saw Mrs. Kennedy walking into the front of the Bethesda hospital at 6:55 p.m., he knew what she did not know: that the expensive, heavy, ornate casket from Parkland that was sitting in front of Bethesda Naval Hospital did not contain the deceased president’s body.

        Also confirming the early delivery of Kennedy’s body to the Bethesda morgue were E-4 Navy corpsman Paul O’Connor, E-5 Navy corpsman Floyd Riebe, E-4 Navy corpsman Jerrol Custer, E-4 Navy corpsman Ed Reed, and E-4 Navy corpsman James Jenkins.

        The overwhelming weight of the evidence renders a virtually inescapable conclusion: that some time between Parkland Hospital and Andrews Air Force Base, unidentified agents of the U.S. government secretly removed the president’s body from the expensive, heavy, ornate casket into which it had been placed at Parkland and then secretly delivered it in a cheap shipping casket to the Bethesda morgue at 6:35 p.m.

        • Photon says:

          Godfrey McHugh or Jackie Kennedy were with the body continuously from Parkland to Bethesda; McHugh accompanied the body into the autopsy suite. He termed this claim “idiotic”, which it is.

          • Neopatriot says:

            The casket was left unattended during the swearing in ceremony so they were not “constantly” with the casket.

          • Ray Mitcham says:

            So the enlisted men who saw the metal casket and the Funeral home that removed JFK froma metal casket were all wrong?

            A new book makes McHugh out to be a liar. According to Steven Gillon’s just published The Kennedy Assassination 24 Hours After: LBJ’s Pivotal First Day As President, McHugh DID leave the coffin. He furiously roamed around the plane as it sat on the runway at Dallas Love Field, demanding to know what was causing the delay in takeoff. When the pilot told him they were waiting for the judge to arrive aboard Air Force One to swear in LBJ, McHugh confronted Johnson in the plane’s bathroom where the new president was babbling nervously about a worldwide plot. “It’s a conspiracy. They’re going to kill us all,” LBJ sputtered. McHugh was shocked by what he saw, but was oblivious to its real significance. LBJ’s erratic behavior might have been a ruse to distract the one person who was most loyal to JFK, thus leaving the coffin unattended for conspirators to highjack the body

          • Photon says:

            Either McHugh or Jackie Kennedy was with the casket from Parkland to Bethesda .At the time McHugh was “roaming” the plane Jackie was sitting next to the casket. When Jackie went forward for the swearing in McHugh stayed with the casket. It was never left unattended.

        • leslie sharp says:

          thank you.

        • S.R. "Dusty" Rohde says:

          Let’s not forget that JFK left Parkland Hospital wrapped in white sheets and arrived in a black body back.

          • Photon says:

            No he didn’t. He was wrapped in a mattress cover

          • S.R. "Dusty" Rohde says:

            Correction “Gray body bag”….

            Photon….cite your source for the claim about the mattress cover please….

          • Photon says:

            Warren Commission testimony of Doris Mae Nelson March 20, 1964 @ Parkland Memorial Hospital.

          • S.R. "Dusty" Rohde says:

            So, Doris Mae Nelson states she saw none of the following happen herself but was told of these things by other nurses….let’s see….

            “Mrs. NELSON.
            Yes, one of the nurses,Miss Hutton came out and said that the President was havingextensive
            bleeding from the head and they had wrapped
            four sheets around it but it was still oozing
            through,so I sent her to the second floor to obtain a mattress cover, a plastic mattress
            cover, to put in the casket prior to putting
            his body in the casket. and I did not see this happen, but this is how it was explained to me by
            the nurse, and the plastic was placed on the mattress cover and the cover was around
            the mattress.”

            Photon, please make note that the statement by Mrs. Nelson clearly informs us that the plastic mattress cover was applied to the mattress in the casket, not to President Kennedy.

            WC testimony of Doris M. Nelson, March 20, 1964… http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/wc/wcvols/…/WH6_Nelson.pdf

          • S.R. "Dusty" Rohde says:

            PS: Out of fairness and consideration, I will concede the following. It is not entirely outside the realm of possibilities that someone misidentified the plastic mattress cover as a gray body bag. However, that is a big stretch, as the two are drastically different in material, shape and design…and I doubt the mattress cover had a zipper.
            And Yes, I have used both, body bags and Hospital matress covers.

      • Let;s say no one else noticed it, Photon. It doesn’t mean there was no shipping casket. O’Connor saw it.

  6. Dan says:

    Bill Kelly has the logs from the Special Air Mission at Andrews Air Force base that show that a VIP plane was dispatched from Andrews to a small air strip in Wiarton, Canada to pick up Gen. LeMay, northwest of Toronto. This is not consistent with the story in the recent LeMay biography that LeMay was on vacation in Michigan when the assassination occurred.

  7. Hans Trayne says:

    What happened to Operation Furtherance? It called for an immediate strike against both the USSR & China when the President had either been killed or was missing.

    Who held the Pentagon back; was it waiting on Lemay to push the button?

  8. This tape will significantly contribute to determining the truth about the assassination. Good that it has been discovered and been out for the public to know. I just hope this case will rest soon and that the truth will surface.

  9. Willy Bova says:

    To clarify a couple points, Wiarton AFB is far closer to the lower Peninsula of Michigan than Upper Pennisula. Second if General Lemay was fishing in Canadian Waters he would have been required to check in with Canadian Customs, and to have a license. My Dad bought an old fishing resort on Sugar Island , Michigan that looked directly at Canada. So I’ve done the Michigan resident fishing in Canadian waters before. So check in was usually done at a phone on an island in Canada and the resort operator could issue the fishing license. The Resort my father bought was previously owned by James Hoffa and his family retained a Cabin next to the 13 cabin resort, after his disappearance, the Cabin was never used during the 12 years my dad owned the resort. It is not likely General Lemay was fishing in Canadian waters. The time to get to the Wiarton and take of was 150 minutes from the time of the assassination. Plus if he was in Michigan waters the boat ride would have been lengthy. How was General Lemay contacted about the Assassination? Radio? What did the Chief of Staff of the Air Force Travel with for communications during 1963? The whole General Lemay “Story” on the day of the assassination has a few holes, to say the least.

    Willy

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