Winston Lawson

Biography

Winston Lawson was born in 1929. After studying history at the University of Buffalo he worked as a wholesale carpet salesman. In December 1951, he became a sales representative for Carnation, a company manufacturing milk products.

Lawson joined the US Army in 1953 and after basic training was sent to the CIC Counterintelligence School in Holabird, Maryland. Based at Lexington, during the Korean War he took part in the interviewing of prisoners.

In 1955 Lawson returned to the Carnation Milk Company and had various sales or public relations jobs with them in Poughkeepsie. He applied to enter the Secret Service in 1956 but was not accepted until October 1959. He did general investigative work in the Syracuse area, until being transferred to Washington in March, 1961. Soon afterwards he was given responsibility for organizing the security for trips being made by President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

On 4th November Lawson was asked to prepare for the presidential trip to Dallas, Texas. This involved discussions with Kenneth O'Donnell (special assistant to Kennedy), Roy Kellerman and Jesse Curry (chief of police in Dallas). However, Curry always insisted that Winston G. Lawson was the person who made all the major decisions. This included the order that the proposed side escorts for the motorcade were to be redeployed to the rear of the cars.

Lawson drove the presidential motorcade's lead car. In a statement he made later, Lawson commented: "As the lead car was passing under this bridge I heard the first loud, sharp report and in more rapid succession two more sounds like gunfire. I could see persons to the left of the motorcade vehicles running away. I noticed Agent Hickey standing up in the follow-up car with the automatic weapon and first thought he had fired at someone. Both the President's car and our lead car rapidly accelerated almost simultaneously."

Lawson remained a member of the Secret Service until he retired. He still works as a consultant on security issues. On the 40th anniversary of the assassination he gave an interview to Michael Granberry of the Dallas Morning News.: I must have thought a million times, what could I have done to prevent it?... From Love Field to Dealey Plaza, there were 20,000 windows. How could we possibly check them all?"

Granberry's article goes on to say: "When the president's day began at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, a persistent drizzle had forced the Secret Service to consider covering the motorcade's cars in Dallas with protective bubbletops. (Hours later, Dallas would end up sunny.) Though the bubbletops were not bulletproof, the metal and the contour of the covering, says Lawson, would have made it difficult for a bullet to do much damage, and might have kept a gunman from even firing in the first place. So he's asked himself a million times: Why couldn't it keep raining?"

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) William Manchester, The Death of a President (1967)

There was a sudden, sharp, shattering sound. Various individuals heard it differently. Jacqueline Kennedy believed it was a motorcycle noise. Curry was under the impression that someone had fired a railroad torpedo. Ronald Fischer and Bob Edwards, assuming that it was a backfire, chuckled. Most of the hunters in the motorcade - Sorrels, Connally, Yarborough, Gonzaiez, Albert Thomas - instinctively identified it as rifle fire.

But the White House Detail was confused. Their experience in outdoor shooting was limited to two qualification courses a year on a range in Washington's National Arboretum. There they heard only their own weapons, and they were unaccustomed to the bizarre effects that are created when small-arms fire echoes among unfamiliar structures - in this case, the buildings of Dealey Plaza. Emory Roberts recognized Oswald's first shot as a shot. So did Youngblood, whose alert response may have saved Lyndon Johnson's life. They were exceptions. The men in Halfback were bewildered. They glanced around uncertainly. Lawson, Kellerman, Greer, Ready, and Hill all thought that a firecracker had been exploded. The fact that this was a common reaction is no mitigation. It was the responsibility of James J. Rowley, Chief of the Secret Service, and Jerry Behn, Head of the White House Detail, to see that their agents were trained to cope with precisely this sort of emergency. They were supposed to be picked men, honed to a matchless edge. It was comprehensible that Roy Truly should dismiss the first shot as a cherry bomb. It was even fathomable that Patrolman James M. Chaney, mounted on a motorcycle six feet from the Lincoln, should think that another machine had backfired. Chaney was an ordinary policeman, not a Presidential bodyguard. The protection of the Chief Executive, on the other hand, was the profession of Secret Service agents. They existed for no other reason. Apart from Clint Hill - and perhaps Jack Ready, who started to step off the right running board and was ordered back by Roberts - the behaviour of the men in the follow-up car was unresponsive. Even more tragic was the perplexity of Roy Kellerman, the ranking agent in Dallas, and Bill Greer, who was under Kellerman's supervision. Kellerman and Greer were in a position to take swift evasive action, and for five terrible seconds they were immobilized.

(2) Winston Lawson was interviewed by Samuel A. Stern on behalf of the Warren Commission (23rd April, 1964)

Samuel A. Stern: What did you do in Dallas from the time of your arrival in connection with trying to learn about people who might be potentially dangerous to the President?

Winston Lawson: I was aware of the so-called Stevenson incident and so I didn't have to be told that there.

Samuel A. Stern: How did you become aware of that?

Winston Lawson: I had read it in the paper, and so without making inquiries 1 was aware of that when I went there.

Samuel A. Stern: You received no specific advice about that from PRS?

Winston Lawson: No, sir; I was aware of this fact. And then of course it was after I arrived there people were talking about it also. And although to my know]edge none of the people involved in that particular incident had threatened the President or were known to us as threatening the President, I asked Agent Howlett if he would view some films of this incident that I understood one of the local TV stations had. I was informed of this by a local executive of the local paper who was on the host committee, that they had such films. And Agent Howlett did view these and had some still shots made of these individuals, although we still did not know that they were against President Kennedy or might harm him in any way. This was an extra on my part. I had asked Agent Howlett if he had any contact with any individuals, informants in the area that he might have, that the office might have about right-wing elements and what they might do, and was told that prior to my arrival in Dallas they had received some information on some right-wing activity, and that an investigation had been made, and that he also had talked to an informant or two I believe. But to their knowledge there was nothing in the radical-type right-wing movement so-called in the Dallas area that they knew of that was going to harm President Kennedy.

Samuel A. Stern: Did anything else occur? Did you have any discussions of this problem with the local police?

Winston Lawson: We talked with the local police on many occasions as to what would happen if there were demonstrations, pickets and so forth, if they knew of any activity, and I believe S. A. Howlett from the Dallas office did the same thing. The papers, the newspapers in Dallas had a few articles on how watchful the police were going to be of the crowd, with particular emphasis on disturbances or pickets, and some of the local committee, host committee, as well as some of the local political groups in the area were worried that perhaps the police would be overzealous in controlling picketing or disturbances, and asked me if I could find out just what the police were planning to do in this event, that there were some wild rumors as to just what the police were going to do. And because we like to have our local Agents who have to work with the police in these areas maintain the liaison I asked Mr. Sorrels if he would contact the chief of police and find out exactly what they planned to do in relation to picketing, and discussed the new ordinance that had been passed on the Monday, November 18 I believe it is, prior to the President's visit. And we were told that the police would accept peaceful picketing, but that the new ordinance was strictly to give them some power to act if pickets or individuals were interfering with lawful assembled groups, if they were trying to make noise to drown out people who were bona fide speakers at lawful groups, or if they were trying to interfere with any person entering or departing a lawful assembly.

Samuel A. Stern: Did anything occur in connection with a circular that was being circulated at the time?

Winston Lawson: Yes sir; I learned of a circular which had been distributed in various parts of the city, blue in color with President Kennedy's picture on it, and a list of grievances against him called treasonist to the United States. I was given a copy of the circular in the police chiefs office, and requested Mr. Sorrels, our local agent in charge he had received a copy of this circular, and I asked him to check with the district attorney's office, the Federal district attorney, to see if it was against the Federal law. At quick reading myself it didn't look like it was a violation of Federal law but I was in no position to judge it, and I could see no direct threat.

(3) Winston G. Lawson, United States Secret Service, statement (1st December, 1963)

On Friday, November 22, 1963, I handled general advance details, talked over final arrangements with Mr. Jack Puterbaugh; Mr. Art Balas, White House Communications Agency; Secret Agents Hickey and Kinney, and talked to various individuals on the phone before departing the Sheraton-Dallas Hotel. One of those who contacted me by phone was ASAIC Kellerman in Fort Worth concerning car seating and instructions as to whether the bubble top on the President's car was to be used. I also spoke with SAIC Sorrels, Dallas office, on the phone concerning his taking Secret Agents Hickey and Kinney to the airport. I departed the Sheraton-Dallas Hotel with SA David Grant.

At about 8:50 am we arrived at the Dallas Trade Mart. I looked over the security of the parking lot and area where the President was to enter the building. Inside the building I checked on details of the luncheon, answered various questions from interested parties, talked with Agent Stewart already on duty at head table, and left Agent Grant to complete the final preparations and survey for the President's visit and departed for Love Field.

I arrived at Love Field shortly after 9:30 am and checked to see if police security was in effect on a special hole cut in fence for our motorcade's use. I also located the motorcade vehicles and drivers who had been asked to arrive by 9:30 am I checked with Major Nedbal, USAF Advance Officer, on positioning of airplanes and other information. Questions of various press, Host Committee, political committee, communications and press technicians had to be answered. I started forming the motorcade, parking the vehicles and busses in proper positions, instructed drivers, checked and gave instructions to police at press area. I answered the security phone on a number of occasions and talked with Agent Hill in Fort Worth concerning Dallas weather conditions. The weather cleared and the President's car was placed in position for departure from airport without the bubble top covering it. I met some members of Greeting Committee and checked over flowers to be presented to Mrs. Kennedy and other ladies. I checked with Chief Curry as to location of Lead Car and had WHCA portable radio put in and checked. I also checked to see if escort vehicles were in position down the apron from reception area and checked to see if police were posted for crowd control.

About this time the press plane arrived and was met by me. White House Press and Transportation Staff were given instructions. I learned sound equipment, Presidential Seal, flags and a special chair had been sent by them direct to Trade Mart from Fort Worth, and so the police escort and vehicles arranged for these items to be taken to Trade Mart were not needed. Traveling press were requested to go either to their buses or press area....

The motorcade proceeded over the scheduled route from the airport. During the course of the trip I was watching crowd conditions along the route, requesting Chief Curry to give specific instructions to escort vehicles, keeping Lead Car in proper position in front of President's car depending on its speed and crowd conditions watching for obstructions or other hazards, and in general performing normal duties of advance agent in the Lead Car. Chief Curry was giving instructions at my suggestion to escort vehicles for keeping crowd out of street, blocking traffic in certain areas, requesting pilot vehicle to speed or slow up, and giving orders needed for us to proceed unhampered.

The President's car made one unscheduled stop, apparently at his direction, which was not uncommon. This lasted only a few moments and motorcade proceeded on. On a few occasions I noticed agents leap off the follow-up car to intercept someone or when they thought someone was trying to reach the President's car. They were able to return to positions on the follow-up car.

The motorcade proceeded at about 15-20 miles per hour until the very heavy crowd concentration in the downtown area, when it slowed to approximately 10 miles per hour.

At the corner of Houston and Elm Streets I verified with Chief Curry that we were about five minutes from the Trade Mart and gave this signal over my portable White House Communications radio. We were just approaching a railroad overpass and I checked to see if a police officer was in position there and that no one was directly over our path. I noticed a police officer but also noticed a few persons on the bridge and made motions to have these persons removed from over our path. As the lead car was passing under this bridge I heard the first loud, sharp report and in more rapid succession two more sounds like gunfire. I could see persons to the left of the motorcade vehicles running away. I noticed Agent Hickey standing up in the follow-up car with the automatic weapon and first thought he had fired at someone. Both the President's car and our lead car rapidly accelerated almost simultaneously. I heard a report over the two-way radio that we should proceed to the nearest hospital. I noticed Agent Hill hanging on to the rear of the President's vehicle. A motorcycle escort officer pulled alongside our lead car and said the President had been shot. Chief Curry gave a signal over his radio for police to converge on the area of the incident. I requested Chief Curry to have the hospital contacted that we were on the way. Our lead car assisted the motorcycles in escorting the President's vehicle to Parkland Hospital.

Upon our arrival there at approximately 12:34 pm, I rushed into the emergency entrance, met persons coming with two stretchers and helped rush them outside. Governor Connally was being removed from the car when the stretchers arrived and he was placed on the first one. Mr. Powers, myself and one or two others placed President Kennedy on a stretcher and we ran pushing the stretcher into the emergency area which hospital personnel directed us to. I remained outside the door where the President was being treated and requested a nurse to find someone who would know hospital personnel who should be admitted to the President's room. Other agents, in addition to some members of the White House staff, then stationed themselves at this door. ASAIC Kellerman and myself went to an office in emergency area and used a phone to contact the White House Dallas switchboard, who in turn contacted SAIC Behn, White House Detail in Washington. Mr. Kellerman informed Mr. Behn what had happened and we kept that line open to Mr. Behn's office during our stay at Parkland Hospital. I went outside into a corridor and noticed that agents had established security to the emergency area then proceeded to rear of hospital to make sure police security was keeping general public from the immediate area. Upon returning to the emergency room office, I again assisted in keeping line to Washington open, talked with Mr. Behn in Washington, requested the Dallas White House switchboard to contact Austin, Texas, where the 12 am (midnight) to 8:00 a.m. Secret Service shift was resting and instruct those agents to take first available plane back to Washington, DC. A few minutes later I learned a special Air Force plane would take them from Bergstrom AFB (Austin, Texas) to Washington, DC, and requested the Dallas White House switchboard to notify those agents of this change. It was then I learned that Mrs. Kennedy wished to return to Washington, DC, with the body of President Kennedy immediately, and I returned to rear of hospital to see if enough motorcade vehicles remained for transportation of agents, staff and others needing transportation to the airport...

While waiting for the departure of AF1, FBI Agent Vincent Drain, Dallas office, told me SAC Gordon Shanklin, FBI, Dallas, Texas, had some information. I spoke with Mr. Shanklin on the phone and he told me that an individual who had been arrested for the investigation of the killing of a police officer that afternoon had worked at the Texas Book Depository Building. I asked Mr. Shanklin to relay this to an agent on duty in the Dallas Secret Service office and then requested Chief Curry, who was with me, to speak with Mr. Shanklin on the phone.

(4) Winston Lawson was interviewed by Samuel A. Stern, John J. McCloy, Gerald Ford and Allen W. Dulles during the Warren Commission(23rd April, 1964)

Samuel A. Stern: Turning now to the question of the motorcade route, Mr. Lawson, what can you tell us about how that was selected?

Winston Lawson: On November 8 when Mr. Kellerman was giving me some of the information on the proposed trip to Dallas, all of the advance agents for the respective stops were given the current itinerary as prepared by the White House staff for their stops, and for the Dallas stop there was a 45 minute time lapse from the time the President landed at the airport until the time that he attended the luncheon, and at the time that I left Washington, it had not been decided whether he would attend this luncheon at the Trade Mart where it later was planned to have it, or at the Women's Building on the Fair Grounds. And this figured a great deal in the parade route, the 45 minutes.

Samuel A. Stern: The 45 minute time interval?

Winston Lawson: Yes, sir.

Samuel A. Stern: Was established for you by the White House?

Winston Lawson: Yes, sir.

Samuel A. Stern: And were you specifically instructed to prepare a parade route or was this your reaction to the time lag?

Winston Lawson: This is my function. I wasn't specifically asked to, but this would be the function of the advance agent.

Samuel A. Stern: Were you instructed that there would be a motorcade?

Winston Lawson: Yes, sir.

Samuel A. Stern: And that is what this 45 minutes was for?

Winston Lawson: That is correct.

Samuel A. Stern: How was the actual route determined then once the Trade Mart had been selected as the site for the luncheon?

Winston Lawson: Various routes were under consideration. We could have gone from the airport direct to the Trade Mart the way that we should have returned, the 4 mile route returning from the Trade Mart to the airport, or we could have taken a city street-type route all the way downtown and all the way back, or we could have taken a freeway downtown and a freeway back. But the route that was chosen was chosen because it was the consensus of opinion that it was probably the best route under the circumstances. It allowed us 45 minutes to go from the airport to the Trade Mart at the speed that I figured the President would go from past experience with him in advances, and as a regular working agent riding in a follow-up car. It allowed us to go downtown, which was wanted back in Washington, D.C. It afforded us wide streets most of the way, because of the buses that were in the motorcade. It afforded us a chance to have alternative routes if something happened on the motorcade route. It was the type of suburban area a good part of the way where the crowds would be able to be controlled for a great distance, and we figured that the largest crowds would be downtown, which ,they were, and that the wide streets that we would use downtown would be of sufficient width to keep the public out of our way. Prime consideration in a motorcade is to make sure the President isn't stopped unless he plans it himself. You must have room to maneuver, alternative routes to turn off from, room for buses and so forth, and particularly room to keep the public out of the street.

Samuel A. Stern: What was the extent of your review of the parade route with the local police?

Winston Lawson: With the local police I went over the entire route on one occasion, went to the various stops at other times and so actually did parts of the route at that time, the part of the route which would be near the stop like the airport and the Trade Mart. But the actual route I went over with two police officers from the Dallas Police Department.

John J. McCloy: By went over you mean you actually drove along the entire route?

Winston Lawson: We drove it sir, with them taking notes, and them making suggestions and Mr. Sorrels and I making suggestions.

Samuel A. Stern: To what extent did they actually participate in the decision that this be the route?

Winston Lawson: They were asked their advice on possible routes that you could go to the Trade Mart.

Samuel A. Stern: And they had no disagreement with the route...

Winston Lawson: No, sir.

Samuel A. Stern: That was actually selected, no criticism of it? What arrangements did you make with the Dallas police for security along the route, starting from Love Field and getting to the Trade Mart?

Winston Lawson: A good deal of it was trait control, both to keep people out of our path as the motorcade progressed so that they would have at least the major intersections covered and as many of the other ones as possible. Those which were not, all intersections that were not able to be controlled physically by a policeman or more than one policeman were to be controlled by motorcycles that would hop-skip the motorcade, or other police vehicles in the motorcade.

At certain times certain intersections were to be cutoff as we proceeded so that it would allow time for any traffic ahead of us to clear the area before we arrived there. Where it was felt from past experience and the type of area that we were passing through there would be large crowds, more police were requested for along the route, and on the routes.

Samuel A. Stern: Foot policemen or motorcycle patrolmen?

Winston Lawson: Both, sir. They were requested at the corners to have more than one policeman, so that there would be policemen for watching the crowd and controlling the crowd, and other policemen who would have jurisdiction over the traffic in the area, so that someone wouldn't be watching the crowd and a car going by him or vice versa. We saw the underpasses or overpasses or bridges that were on the route, and they were requested to have officers, depending on the type of installation there that I just mentioned, the type that it was, either under it or over it, on the underpasses. The railroad lines were checked and here was no rail traffic of a scheduled nature over the two rail crossings that we would pass, none on the way in but two on the way out. However, just to make sure that a switch engine or other trains wouldn't come along about the time we were due there, and then stop the President's motorcade, why we had police stationed at the railroad crossings that were on the same level as the road...

Samuel A. Stern: What about the deployment of police on rooftops of buildings at any point along the route?

Winston Lawson: We had - police were requested at points where I knew that the President would be out of the car for any length of time.

Samuel A. Stern: And where was that?

Winston Lawson: At the Trade Mart and at the airport.

John J. McCloy: May I interrupt at this point. During the course of the motorcade while the motorcade was in motion, no matter how slowly, you had no provision for anyone on the roofs?

Winston Lawson: No, sir.

John J. McCloy: Or no one to watch the windows?

Winston Lawson: Oh, yes. The police along the area were to watch the crowds and their general area. The agents riding in the follow-up car as well as myself in the lead car were watching the crowds and the windows and the rooftops as we progressed.

John J. McCloy: It was part of your routine duties when you were going through a street in any city, to look at the windows as well as the crowds?

Winston Lawson: Yes, sir; and if the President's car slowed to such a point or the crowd ever pressed in to such a point that people are getting too close to the President, the agents always get out and go along the car.

Gerald Ford: I would like if I might to follow up with a question which you asked a minute ago on the record. As I recall your testimony, Mr. Lawson, you indicated that the police who were assigned along the route had the responsibility to check windows and the crowd. Is that what you indicated?

Winston Lawson: And also the agents as they went by; yes,sir. It wouldn't be just a police responsibility; no, sir.

Gerald Ford: How did the police know they had that responsibility?

Winston Lawson: In our police meetings, of which we had three or four listed in here, we talked about crowd control and watching the crowd, and of course the agents just do that anyway. That is part of their function. And in the newspaper accounts it said how watchful the police were going to be of all kinds of activity, and actually they requested public assistance, as I recall it, anyone that noticed anything unusual they had asked that they notify the police.

Gerald Ford: When you meet with police officials, in this case Chief Curry, Sheriff Decker, and who else, is this clearly laid out that the members of their organization have the specific responsibility of checking windows? Do you follow to see whether this is actually put in writing to the members of the police force, and the Sheriff's department?

Winston Lawson: No, sir; I do not follow to see if it was put in writing.

Allen Dulles: You mean an external check don't you? You don't mean going through each building?

Gerald Ford: No. As I understood it, policemen have the responsibility to check windows and to look at the crowd, and I was just wondering whether there is any follow to be sure that the chief of police and the sheriff or anybody else actually makes this specific communication to the people in their organizations.

Winston Lawson: In this particular instance there was not. Sometimes on my own advances I have received copies of police directives. Sometimes this is covered and sometimes there are other directives. This is not normal though. It is just that the police say "Here is a copy of one of our orders." Sometimes it is the posting of police, sometimes it is that. In Berlin where I was assisting on an advance for President Kennedy's trip in June, we received all kinds of information of this type, even to the fact where the police had requested anyone to notify them of anyone that tried to gain entry into their room that didn't belong there, if it was a business office or if it was a private home or if all of a sudden they discovered they had a friend that they never knew they had before and all that. But this is not always done.

John J. McCloy: I want to get it clear. In your presence, in the instructions to the police in Dallas, did you tell the police to keep their eye on windows as you went along?

Winston Lawson: I cannot say definitely that I told the police to watch windows. I usually do. On this particular case I cannot say whether I definitely said that. I believe I did, but I would not swear to the fact that I said watch all the windows.

John J. McCloy: I have heard it rumored that there was a general routine in the Secret Service that when you were going through in a motorcade or by car, that the problem of watching windows was so great that you didn't do it. It was only as you came to a stop that it was the standing instructions that then roofs should be watched and places of advantage would be inspected or looked at. Is that true?

Winston Lawson: No, sir; the agents in the motorcade are to watch the route and the rooftops and the windows as they can. Of course there were thousands of windows there, over 20,000 I believe on that motorcade. But agents are supposed to watch as they go along...

Gerald Ford: Did you look at or scan that building?

Winston Lawson: I do not, no, because part of my job is to look backwards at the President's car. The speed of the motorcade is controlled by the President's car, unless it is an emergency situation. If he stands up and is waving at the crowd and there are quite a few crowds then, of course, the car goes slower. If the density of the crowd is quite scarce or there is a time factor why you are going faster. So the person in the lead car in this rolling command car usually keeps turning around and watching the President's ear.

(5) House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979)

Findings of the Select Committee on Assassinations in the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963.

The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy....

Agencies and departments of the U.S. Government performed with varying degrees of competency in the fulfillment of their duties. President John F. Kennedy did not receive adequate protection. A thorough and reliable investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was conducted. The investigation into the possibility of conspiracy in the assassination was inadequate. The conclusions of the investigations were arrived at in good faith, but presented in a fashion that was too definitive.

The Secret Service was deficient in the performance of its duties.

The Secret Service possessed information that was not properly analyzed, investigated or used by the Secret Service in connection with the President's trip to Dallas; in addition, Secret Service agents in the motorcade were inadequately prepared to protect the President from a sniper.

(6) Michael Granberry, Dallas Morning News (22nd November, 2003)

For retired Secret Service agent Winston G. Lawson, the memory of Nov. 22, 1963, is an endless stream of windows.

"From Love Field to Dealey Plaza," he says, "there were 20,000 windows. How could we possibly check them all?"

For TV cameraman Mal Couch, then a precocious 25, seeing the rifle that he believes killed President John F. Kennedy - its barrel sticking out of one of those windows - marked "the beginning of the end of the world."

Lawson, 75, and Couch, 65, are survivors of a presidential motorcade that began in splendor and ended in horror.

Forty years have passed - a span of two generations, a lifetime for some - since JFK's assassination. But for the people caught in the maelstrom of the motorcade, the horrific day comes to life not only in the passages of a textbook or the images of a documentary.

It lives within them because it transformed them...

Winston Lawson grew up in western New York, where his father was an accountant, his mother a teacher. He worked in counterintelligence in the Army and developed an interest in law enforcement. So he applied to the Secret Service when he and his wife, Barbara, were living in Syracuse. He did so just in time: In those days, applicants could not be over 30, his age when he applied.

Prized for being a stickler for detail, he became one of the agency's most valuable "advance" men, the job he held when President Kennedy came to Texas.

It was his job to check out the host city - in this case, Dallas, where citizens had recently heckled both Vice President Lyndon Johnson and U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson.

"The city was absolutely going out of its way to be cordial," said Lawson, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va. As the motorcade left Love Field, en route to downtown Dallas, Lawson and the other agents - all of whom were in the procession - were staggered by the number of people who lined the streets, the thousands who waved and cheered.

As the motorcade began the last leg of its journey, heading down Elm, the feeling was one of triumph and vindication for Dallas.

And then came the first shot.

Like most witnesses, Winston Lawson recalls two more, though puzzled by the quicker pace between the second and the third, which all but tore the president's head off. The madness that ensued found him and other agents racing to Parkland Hospital, where he was among the first to see the president's body, crumpled in the Lincoln.

"You could see the damage to the head, which was devastating," he says. "You could see the color of the skin, which was gray, but not gray, really. I knew it had to be a fatal wound. I never saw the president alive again or his body again."

Instead, he embarked on a 40-year trial of re-examination. "I must have thought a million times, what could I have done to prevent it?" he said. "And what could I have done about 20,000 windows?"

He says he believes fervently that Oswald acted alone. Conspiracy buffs, he says, neglect to consider the 10 miles of the motorcade's route, stretching from Love Field, to Lemmon Avenue, to Turtle Creek, to Cedar Springs, to Harwood, to Main, to Elm, to history. The trip was to take 35 minutes before arriving at the Trade Mart.

"There were a million better places from which to have fired a weapon," said Lawson.

He did not let the assassination derail him. Rather than go to a field office, as most agents eventually do, he remained at Secret Service headquarters until he retired. He also chose to remain in the agency's protective division, a decision he admits was influenced by Dallas.

Whenever he returned home from work, he would drive past the eternal flame at President Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery. "So it never left me. It's something you want to remember, because you don't want it to happen again. But you want to forget it because it happened. It's a paradox."

One he would not have been able to weather, he says, without the love and support of fellow agents. "They would say to me, and it's hard for me to say without breaking down or tears coming to my eyes, 'Win, if it had to happen to anyone, we're glad it happened to you.' Because I was known for doing the best, most thorough advance in the entire agency. They know I would have done everything and more" to prevent what happened, he says.

"And I can't tell you how much that support has meant over the years." Lawson's desire to protect continues, even at 75. He handles security for a high-profile client whose name he declines to reveal. But nothing in the present can stop the litany of what-ifs involving the past.

When the president's day began at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, a persistent drizzle had forced the Secret Service to consider covering the motorcade's cars in Dallas with protective bubbletops. (Hours later, Dallas would end up sunny.)

Though the bubbletops were not bulletproof, the metal and the contour of the covering, says Lawson, would have made it difficult for a bullet to do much damage, and might have kept a gunman from even firing in the first place. So he's asked himself a million times: Why couldn't it keep raining?

"I've spent years puzzling over thousands of what-if scenarios," he says. "Was there anything else I could have done? I guess I'll never have all the answers."

(7) Winston Lawson, interviewed by the Sixth Floor Museum (9th May, 2003)

Well, in a couple of words, that’s false (the theory that the motorcade route was changed). That myth is wrong…at first, we didn’t know what route it was going to be because we didn’t know where the speech/luncheon site was going to be. It was either going to be at the Women’s Building at the state fair grounds or it was going to be at the Trade Mart, and early on, in the first couple of days of the advance, I went to both places. And it was later determined that, for one reason or another, it would be better to go to the Trade Mart… That route almost had to be what it was except for a couple of places out near the airport. But eventually, we had to go down Main Street, and of course, it’s one-way here now. But then, we had to come over towards the School Book Depository and turn left onto Elm here to be able to go onto the Stemmons Freeway, which we needed to do in the best and most practical way to get to the Trade Mart.