David Francis Powers

David Francis Powers

David Francis Powers was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts on 25th April, 1912. Both his parents had emigrated to the United States from County Cork, Ireland. After leaving school he worked for Sampson and Murdock Publishing Company but continued his education by taking evening courses at Boston University.

In 1942 Powers joined the 14th Air Force and during the Second World War and later served with the Flying Tigers in Japan, China and Burma.

In 1946 Powers joined the political campaign of John F. Kennedy. Concentrating on the working-class neighborhood of Charlestown, Powers helped Kennedy to win the 11th Congressional district seat. Powers also helped Kennedy against Henry Cabot Lodge in the 1952 Senate race. During this period, Powers, Larry O'Brien, Matthew McCloskey and Kenneth O'Donnell became known as Kennedy's Irish Mafia.

After Kennedy's successful presidential campaign in 1960, Powers became his Special Assistant. His duties included escorting guests in the White House. Powers was also one of Kennedy's closest political advisers. Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary, said Powers was “the most gregarious and popular member of the staff.” Kenneth O'Donnell said: “Outside of Bobby, President Kennedy had one really close friend and that was Dave Powers.”

On the 22nd November, 1963, Powers travelled in the Secret Service car immediately behind the presidential car. Powers later admitted to Tip O'Neill that say that he was sure he had heard two shots that came from behind the Grassy Knoll fence. Kenneth O'Donnell, who was sitting next to Powers, also supported this view of the assassination. O'Donnell commented: "I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn't want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family."

President Lyndon B. Johnson kept Powers on the White House staff. For several months after the assassination, Powers had lunch with Jacqueline Kennedy every day at her house in Georgetown. Powers resigned in 1965 and later helped Robert F. Kennedy in his attempt to become president in 1968.

Powers was appointed curator of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston from its opening in 1979. He also co-wrote Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy with Kenneth O'Donnell. The book was published in 1976.

David Francis Powers died in Arlington, Massachusetts on 27th March, 1998.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Pierre Salinger, With Kennedy (1966)

The most gregarious and popular member of the staff was Dave Powers, the official White House greeter. Dave would escort prominent visitors from their cars into the President's office and could rarely resist testing their sense of humor. When the Shah of Iran came to call, Dave put a friendly hand on his shoulder and said, "I want you to know you're my kind of Shah." He was even more direct with Soviet First Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan. "Tell me," he said, "are you the real Mikoyan?"

Powers was an unemployed veteran just returned from the China-Burma-India theater of operations when a young man campaigning for Congress knocked on his door and asked for his help. Powers agreed and was with John F. Kennedy more than any other man from that time until the assassination. Dave was the first staffer to see the President up in the morning and the last person to see him at night. He flew with him wherever he traveled, always making certain that a clean shirt and a cool drink were waiting for him in his hotel room.

Although Powers was somewhat older, and didn't pretend to be an expert on anything but baseball, JFK always enjoyed being in his company. Dave had more success than all the rest of us put together in raising the President's spirits when he was low.

Dave's knowledge of baseball was fantastic. I never knew anyone who could stump him with a question. He could not only recite the batting averages of obscure players of half a century ago but tell you how they did against right- and left-hand pitchers and whether they were faithful to their wives. His own favorite question was, "Whose record did Babe Ruth break when he hit sixty home runs?" When his victim couldn't remember such an obvious landmark in baseball history, Dave would shake his head in disgust. "He broke his own record of fifty-nine. What kind of an American wouldn't know that?"

(2) Tip O'Neill, Man of the House (1987)

I was never one of the use people who had doubts or suspicions about the Warren Commission's report on the president's death. But five years after Jack died, I was having dinner with Kenny O'Donnell and a few other people at Jimmy's Harborside Restaurant in Boston, and we got to talking about the assassination.

I was surprised to hear O'Donnell say that he was sure he had heard two shots that came from behind the fence.

"That's not what you told the Warren Commission," I said.

"You're right," he replied. "I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn't want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family."

"I can't believe it," I said. "I wouldn't have done that in a million years. I would have told the truth."

"Tip, you have to understand. The family-everybody wanted this thing behind them."

Dave Powers was with us at dinner that night, and his recollection of the shots was the same as O'Donnell's. Kenny O'Donnell is no longer alive, but during the writing of this book I checked with Dave Powers. As they say in the news business, he stands by his story.

And so there will always be some skepticism in my mind about the cause of Jack's death. I used to think that the only people who doubted the conclusions of the Warren Commission were crackpots. Now, however, I'm not so sure.

But I'd rather focus on Jack's life. He really did have the charisma, the glamour, and the talent that has become part of his legend. He had a radiance that made people glow when they were in his company. He brought to all sectors of the American public a new feeling that they were wanted, that there was a place in America for them regardless of religion or race. And perhaps most important, when Jack Kennedy was president, people had trust in their government. I look forward to the lay when that will once again be true.

(3) John H. Davis, The Kennedy Contract: The Mafia Plot to Assassinate the President (1993)

It was during the late seventies that every conceivable damaging revelation came out about the Kennedy brothers, yet the Kennedy family still opposed the 1976-79 House Select Committee on Assassinations' reinvestigation of the Kennedy murder. What more could they be hiding?

As it turned out, the new investigation discovered more information damaging to the Kennedy image. It found out that Jacqueline and Robert had been, from a strictly legal standpoint, unwitting accessories after the fact in the President's murder.

First, the Assassinations Committee determined that it was principally Jacqueline Kennedy and the so-called "Irish Mafia" trio of Dave Powers, Kenny O'Donnell, and Larry O'Brien who were responsible for removing Kennedy's body from Parkland Hospital to Air Force One and then to Bethesda Naval Hospital outside Washington. The move was illegal and resulted in the President receiving a wholly inadequate autopsy, a calamity that has stirred innumerable controversies over the past thirty years.

Furthermore, the Assassinations Committee determined that Jacqueline and Robert exerted undue influence on the autopsy surgeons at Bethesda Naval Hospital preventing the President from receiving a complete autopsy and even interfering with standard autopsy procedures regarding the tracking, or dissection of gunshot wounds.

Finally the committee determined that Robert Kennedy had actually caused crucial physical specimen evidence to disappear from the custody of the National Archives, namely slides of the President's wound-edge tissues and his formaldehyde preserved brain.

(4) Harris Wofford, Of Kennedy and Kings (1980)

Judith Campbell Exner's story cannot simply be taken at face value. By the time she told it, the President and the two Mafia men had all been murdered, so no one could readily disprove her allegations. She could have concocted all or most of the tale in order to make her book a best seller. Claims of sexual adventures (especially those made by one of the avowed adventurers) should at least be substantially discounted.

The President's friend and aide David Powers said, "The only Campbell I know is chunky vegetable soup." And Kennedy's long-time secretary, Evelvn Lincoln, denied arranging the meetings, as Mrs. Exner had alleged, and ridiculed her as a campaign worker who pestered Kennedv, but whose calls were not put through.