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5. Later life and death
In December 1992, while demonstrating how L. C. Graves grabbed Ruby’s gun in an attempt to stop him from firing, Leavelle accidentally shot researcher and photographer Bob Porter in the arm, using the same model gun Ruby had used. Porter recovered at Parkland Hospital, the same facility where Kennedy, Oswald, and Ruby either died or were pronounced dead.
In a 2006 interview, Leavelle said that he was the first to interrogate Oswald after his arrest he said that he joked with Oswald before the transfer, saying "Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope theyre as good a shot as you are," meaning that the person would hit Oswald instead of Leavelle. Oswald smiled and said, "Youre being melodramatic. Nobodys going to shoot at me."
In an interview with author Joseph McBride, Leavelle said he had different views on the murder of President Kennedy and Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit, describing the presidents assassination as "no different than a south Dallas nigger killing.it was just another murder inside the city limits of Dallas. I’ve handled hundreds of them." Leavelle told McBride about Tippit, "What some people don’t realize is that when a police officer gets killed, that takes precedence over the shooting of the president, because that’s close to home."
Dr. Robert McClelland, who treated Oswald at Parkland Hospital, has said that while at Parkland, he noticed that Leavelle was waiting outside the hospital room and said that Leavelle told him that after Oswald was shot, he claimed to have "leaned over Oswald and said, Son, youre hurt real bad. Do you wanna say anything? He looked at me for a second. He waited like he was thinking. Then he shook his head back and forth just as wide as he could. Then he closed his eyes."
In November 2011, Leavelle lost an eye after a serious fall, after which he wore a glass eye.
In 2013, Leavelle the Dallas Police Departments Detective of the Year Award was named in his honor.
After Leavelles wife Taimi died in 2014, he lived in Garland, Texas. Leavelle died from a heart attack following hip surgery on August 29, 2019.
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Jim Leavelle, detective in historic photo of Lee Harvey Oswald's shooting, dies at 99
8:39 PM on Aug 29, 2019 CDT
A fraction of a second stands out from all the other notable experiences in James Robert Leavelle's long, notable life.
He was among the first sailors at Pearl Harbor to see Japanese Zeros attacking the U.S. fleet. He was a Dallas detective who solved all but two of the multitude of cases he handled. (He was pretty sure what happened in the two unsolved ones.)
But on Nov. 24, 1963, he was the cowboy-hatted man in the light-colored suit handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald as Jack Ruby fired his fatal shot on live TV. That moment became one of the most recognizable images of the 20th century.
Leavelle died Thursday, his daughter Karla Leavelle confirmed. He was 99.
Both Pearl Harbor and Oswald's shooting were imprinted in Leavelle's mind.
"It's kind of like a camera, once you took it in, you never got rid of it," he said in February 2014.
Oswald's shooting wasn't an incident he discussed easily in its aftermath. For Leavelle and others linked to the events that colored national perceptions of Dallas, it was years before they felt comfortable opening up.
"Particularly as he got older, he felt an obligation to tell what he knew, to dispel the conspiracy theories," said daughter Tanya Evers of San Antonio. "He felt like he had a responsibility."
Just last week, Leavelle had celebrated his 99th birthday in Dallas with about 50 friends.
"We have a photo of him blowing out all 99 candles," Karla Leavelle said.
She and Evers remember Leavelle as a devoted father who believed in discipline and conviction, and as a compassionate and loyal man who maintained lifelong friendships.
"If you became his friend, you were his friend forever," Evers said.
Among those friends was a radio newsman who had reported on the shooting he and Leavelle regularly visited each other even after the reporter moved to South Texas. Another was a woman who had been in middle school when she wrote a letter to Leavelle, seeking information about the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath.
"He wrote her back, and they'd been corresponding ever since," Evers said. "Now she's grown with two kids of her own, and I don't know if he influenced her, but she's in law enforcement in West Texas. That's the kind of guy he was."
Born in the country in Red River County near Detroit, Texas, Leavelle seemed destined to live an exciting life. A Detroit High School classmate predicted in the 1939 yearbook that Leavelle would become a big-city detective.
"I don't know how the others fared, but he hit me right on the head," Leavelle said.
He joined the Navy immediately after graduating from high school but had to wait for enough other men to enlist to form a training company in early 1940.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Leavelle was on the deck of the USS Whitney, a destroyer tender, about two miles from Pearl Harbor. He was talking to a boatswain's mate when the officer spotted the enemy planes attacking Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor. The boatswain blew his whistle, signaling the call to the battle stations into the intercom.
"He closed it off by saying, 'This is no bulls--- either,' " Leavelle said.
Leavelle went to his battle station, but the 6-inch gun he was assigned to was too big for the close-up fighting.
"It was designed to shoot 30 or 40 miles," he said. "I didn't fire a shot that day, because if they'd fired that one, they would have killed somebody . on the other side of the islands."
After the air attacks ended, the sailors were on edge about a possible land invasion.
"It kept us on our toes for the rest of that day and night," he said.
Leavelle's days at sea ended when the Whitney was trapped in a typhoon for three days. He was tossed off a stairwell and fell about 10 feet to the steel deck when a large wave jolted the ship.
He landed on his knees, which he said swelled to the size of footballs. He became ambulatory again after treatment stateside, but his request to return to sea duty was denied. He took a civilian assignment with a military warehouse.
After the war, Leavelle came to Dallas, where he worked a number of jobs before he became a police officer in April 1950.
Leavelle was a patrolman when he had his first encounters with Ruby at his dance hall on South Ervay Street. At the time, officers were often assigned to shake down beer joints near closing time to check for rowdy customers who might create disturbances.
He recalled in his Sixth Floor Museum oral history that Ruby made a prophetic comment during one such shakedown.
"He told me, 'You know, I've always wanted to see two police officers in a death struggle with somebody about to lose their life, and I could jump in and save them,' " Leavelle said.
The morning after Oswald was shot, Leavelle recalled Ruby's statement about wanting to be a hero.
"I told him, 'You know you didn't do us any favor by shooting Oswald,' " Leavelle said. "He said, 'All I wanted to do was to be a hero, and it looks like all I did was foul things up. . '
"And I said, 'Well, you can say that again.' "
Leavelle found himself in several life-threatening situations during his police career, and he easily recalled details of the events more than a half-century later.
In May 1959, Leavelle responded to a hostage situation in southwest Dallas. A man who wanted revenge on former Texas Gov. W. Lee O'Daniel was holding four people hostage and already had killed a man who tried to escape.
Leavelle and another officer were trying to rescue the homeowner through a window when the suspect opened fire with an automatic rifle.
"He cut down on me, and he put four bullets in the window frame just about four inches from my head," Leavelle said. "The splinters flew off and hit me in the face and everything."
The gunman then turned and fired on another officer at the window.
"He didn't want to hit the old lady, because that was the only hostage he had left," Leavelle said. "He was shooting to the side, that's what saved us."
When all the hostages were out of the house, homicide Capt. Will Fritz made a final appeal to the gunman to surrender.
"He said, 'I'm going to lace that wall with this Thompson [submachine gun]. I'm going down to the end and back with it. Then you go and kick that door in.'
"I said, 'Have at it.' He cut that Thompson loose like a sewing machine."
Leavelle kicked the door in and found the gunman dead, apparently by suicide.
In April 1972, Leavelle had another close call when he and two other detectives were ambushed by a fugitive they were arresting at an East Dallas apartment.
A woman answered the door at the apartment after the detectives knocked and identified themselves. The suspect — wanted on narcotics and forgery charges — fired at the detectives as Leavelle opened the door wider.
"That gun wasn't more than eight to 10 inches from my head when he fired it," Leavelle said. "It missed me, but I got powder burns on the left side of my face."
Realizing that he didn't have time to draw his weapon, Leavelle grabbed the man by his hair and jerked him out of his chair.
"Fortunately, he had a good head of hair," he said.
The man fell spread-eagle on the floor but still had his weapon. As he freed the weapon, Leavelle noticed that a third detective had wounded the suspect.
The suspect was later convicted as part of a forgery ring.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Leavelle was assigned to be available in case something came up, he said in a 2002 oral history interview for The Sixth Floor Museum.
Leavelle made an arrest that morning, after an armed robbery suspect he was after was spotted in North Dallas.
"It was always interesting to solve some kind of mystery," Leavelle said in 2014. "I only had two unsolved murder mysteries when I left. One of them I don't think was a murder, it was an accident."
Leavelle and a patrolman arrested the man and took the suspect to the city jail. The motorcade was nearly through downtown Dallas when he arrived at the jail. When they reached the third floor of the jail, Leavelle learned the president had been shot.
He went to the Texas School Book Depository, where other detectives were investigating the crime scene. Leavelle organized other officers to take witness statements.
Leavelle then learned an officer had been shot in Oak Cliff. He arrived at the scene after Officer J. D. Tippit's body had been removed.
"They called me on the air to tell me that they . had arrested a suspect at the Texas Theatre," Leavelle said in his Sixth Floor history.
Leavelle instructed the dispatcher to have the arresting officers take the suspect to his office. Oswald was alone in an interrogation room when Leavelle arrived downtown.
"I sat down and started talking to him strictly about the shooting of Tippit," Leavelle said in his oral history. "I had no clue that he was going to be the suspect in the presidential assassination. That was the farthest thing from my mind."
About this time, Capt. Fritz returned from the book depository and asked Leavelle the name of his suspect.
"So I lost my prisoner in that case," he said. "They took him to Capt. Fritz's office . so I never did any more questioning of him."
Leavelle was handcuffed to Oswald for the Sunday morning transfer from City Hall to the county jail. Threats had been made to take the prisoner away from officials and do all sorts of harm.
"So if they took him, they had to take me, too, and that wouldn't be easy," Leavelle said in his oral history.
Leavelle thought someone might try to shoot Oswald once they left City Hall. But as the transfer car was being maneuvered into the basement, Leavelle caught Ruby and his gun in his peripheral vision.
"I tried to pull . [Oswald] behind me, but all I succeeded in doing was turning his body, so that instead of hitting him dead center, it hit him just about four inches to the left of the navel," Leavelle said.
The detective later timed video recordings of the shooting to better understand what happened.
"From the time that I saw him in the center of that driveway to the time he pulled the trigger on that .38 pistol that he had, it took just a little over one second, like 1,000 and one, one."
Leavelle retired in 1975 but was often sought for interviews about his role in history. But he deferred to his granddaughter, Kate Griendling, when it came to granting access for a documentary about the assassination's 50th anniversary.
"He had plenty of other offers," said Griendling, a filmmaker who had enjoyed a close relationship with her grandfather. "He's the reason people spoke to me who had never spoken to the press."
That documentary, Capturing Oswald, premiered in 2013.
On Sunday, Griendling recorded her last interview with her grandfather.
"It was really important for him to emphasize that what mattered most to him were the times that he helped people," she said. For instance, the time that he was called to a store where a woman had been caught shoplifting toys for her kids he ended up buying them gifts for the holidays.
"I just feel really lucky," Griendling said, "because a lot of people loved my grandpa. But I feel fortunate to have known him in a way that had nothing to do with JFK."
His wife, Taimi Sneima Leavelle, died Oct. 1, 2014.
In addition to his two daughters, Leavelle is survived by Griendling, two other grandchildren and a great-grandson. Services are pending but are expected to be in Dallas.
The Oswald Club
Leavelle also revealed that a small group of people from the Dallas police department — many of whom were on duty on November 22 — stayed in frequent touch with him and that some would meet over the course of many years every Wednesday at Leavelle’s house and go to lunch and recount events.
This group included several other former DPD officers, plus Marie Tippit, the widow of Officer J.D. Tippit — whose shooting shortly after Kennedy’s was pinned on Oswald, and used as proof of Oswald’s capacity for violence (which was never proven with regard to the shooting of Kennedy himself). Leavelle was actually in charge of the investigation into Tippit’s murder. The group also included the motorcycle cops who participated in Kennedy’s motorcade. Many have died in recent years.
Although the murder of J.D. Tippit has been blamed on Oswald, several witnesses to the shooting raised serious doubts as to whether Oswald was involved. Thus, the certitude professed by the unified lunch group as to Oswald’s guilt stands in stark contrast to the mounting doubts of others over who actually killed Tippit.
Efforts to proffer Tippit’s widow as a focal point of public fury directed at — and implicitly blaming — Oswald began in the immediate aftermath of November 22. At that time, Eugene M. Locke — of the prominent Dallas law firm Locke, Purnell, Boren, Laney & Neely — stepped forward to provide the widow with advice.
A former president of TIPRO — a Texas oil and gas advocacy group — Locke was connected at the highest levels of Texas politics, and very close to Lyndon Johnson, who became president after Kennedy’s death. Locke had run the successful gubernatorial campaign of LBJ protégé John Connally in 1962, then served as chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee of Texas.
A fateful meeting concerning the motorcade route for Kennedy’s trip to Dallas was held in Locke’s office on November 14, 1963. Johnson would later name Locke ambassador to Pakistan and then deputy ambassador to South Vietnam.
The continuing JFK police officer luncheon group was organized by a younger retired officer, Rick Janich, who has been working for years to create a Dallas Police Museum in hopes of rehabilitating the image of the department, which has been under a cloud ever since the tragic events. All of the luncheon group members insisted that no conspiracy was involved in Kennedy’s death, and that Oswald was the sole gunman. The net effect was to create a circle of “true believers” whose meetups would reinforce each other’s beliefs.
Janich, Leavelle, and others in this circle did not appear to closely follow investigative developments or the vast body of research that has been done in the ensuing years.
“I don’t read the books,” Janich said over lunch. “Jim and Marie are the books.” Nonetheless, Janich has been involved in public discussions of the assasination, including a Military Channel special, Capturing Oswald, which was written and developed by Leavelle’s granddaughter Janich is listed in the credits.
Leavelle’s claim that he took notes on his own interrogation of Oswald — and turned them in — is quite confounding, since the authorities have insisted that no notes or recordings of Oswald being questioned ever existed. Detectives Captain Will Fritz, Leavelle’s boss, dictated some notes from memory several days after the assassination. However, US Postal Inspector Harry Holmes, who was present during Oswald’s interrogation Sunday morning, recorded the following comment made by Oswald when Fritz asked the former Marine about an ID card with the name A.J. Hidell: “I’ve told you all I’m going to about that card. You took notes, just read them for yourself, if you want to refresh your memory.”
FBI agent James P. Hosty, who was present at the department’s interrogation of Oswald on November 22, did supposedly write down what he heard and then prepared a formal report based on those notes. He told the Warren Commission that he destroyed them, as was customary for FBI agents once the notes are used for a formal report.
However, many years later, Hosty claimed to have discovered that he actually did not destroy the notes. He produced pictures of them in his book, Assignment Oswald, and they were turned over to a 1990s investigative panel, the Assassination Records Review Board. In addition, he disputed Oswald’s claim that Fritz had taken pen in hand:
While I had been furiously scribbling on what Oswald was reporting, I had noticed that I was the only one doing so. But then, that would be what I’d expect. Captain Fritz was an experienced homicide interrogator. The fact that he wasn’t taking notes was standard operating procedure. Fritz was conducting his first run-through with Oswald, and the object was to keep a suspect talking. Note-taking by an interrogator can be inhibiting. I was enough in the background during the interrogation so that note-taking seemed appropriate to me.
Oswald famously denied that he was the shooter, saying that he had been framed as a “patsy.” This adamant denial has always stood out to skeptics because of the many high-profile killers motivated by a desire for notoriety. In fact, a frequently cited study on high-profile assassinations, including political ones — the Secret Service Exception Case Study Project — found a primary motive to be that assassins felt invisible and wanted to be known.
Oswald’s detailed accounting of his actions and movements are of course central to this spectacular case of the murder of the president. So Leavelle’s revelation that contemporaneous notes existed — and still likely exist somewhere in police records — is of more than mere historical interest:
Baker: Why didn’t they take any notes when they had Oswald in there?
Leavelle: What made you think we didn’t?
Baker: Did you take any notes?
Leavelle: I did. I had some. Yeah.
Baker: And what happened to the notes?
Leavelle: They’re probably still in the area down there somewhere.
WhoWhatWhy reached out to City Archivist John H. Slate of the Dallas Municipal Archives, where all of the Dallas Police Department’s records on the assassination have been stored since 1989. Slate said that he was not aware of any notes Leavelle may have written down during Oswald’s interrogations.
Thus, this perplexing matter of what Lee Harvey Oswald said to substantiate his claim of having not shot Kennedy remains unresolved.
Interview with James R. Leavelle [n.d.]
Yeah, an officer in my days, and I tell 'em [UNINTEL] and I told 'em that wasn't an 8-hour day. It was a 10-hour day.
Uh, Mr. Leavelle, could you just introduce yourself? Uh, tell us your first and last name.
My name is James R. Leavelle.
Um, could you, uh, introduce yourself, say your first and last name and how old you are?
I'm James R. Leavelle and I'm 96 years old.
Um, could you do--introduce yourself saying your first and last name and your age at Pearl Harbor in 1941?
I'm James R. Leavelle and I was 19 years old in 1941.
[UNINTEL PHRASE]? Wouldn't it have been 21?
Well, I don't know. You caught me. You should've given me something so I so I could've added that up.
So I think that would make you 21.
21? Okay. Well, yeah, you're right, because, uh, I, I remember now that when I enlisted, uh, I, I was 19 I think when I enlisted. That's, that's what that was.
Yeah. That's what I had in mind, yeah. I was 21 21 would be correct. [TECH TALK]
So, Mr. Leavelle, could you just introduce yourself one last time using your first and last name and telling us how old you were at, uh, Pearl Harbor, which I believe is 21?
My name is James Leavelle and I was, uh, 21 years old during the, uh, Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. [TECH TALK]
I was talking when you answered that question, so if you could do that one more time, just to introduce yourself and let me know that you were 21 at the time of Pearl Harbor?
My name is James Leavelle and I was 21 years old at the time of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Um, what ship did you serve on and what was your, your job on that ship at Pearl Harbor?
I was on the U.S.S. Whitney and it's a destroy, uh, destroyer tender. In other words, we carried supplies for destroyers. There was, there was two other, and maybe three other tenders in the harbor that day. Uh, but we about a half a mile or a mile from the, from Ford Island, and that's where all those other ships were tied up.
Do you think you could, uh, say one more time, I, I, was on the U.S.S.-- [TECH TALK]
Uh, if you, if you could just tell me one more time that you were on the U.S.S. Whitney, that'd be great.
All right. Let's see if this can't be the last time. All right. My name is James Leavelle and I was on the U.S.S. Whitney in 1941 and I was 21 years of age.
Great. Thank you. That was perfect. Um, when did you enlist? When did you enlist in the Navy?
In, uh, spring--I think it was in, uh, April of 1940.
Uh, approximately when did you, were you discharged?
Uh, in, in, uh, October of 1942.
Um, what, what prompted you to enlist in the Navy in the first place?
Well, uh, I had graduated from high school, uh, in, in 1937, when I become 17. Roosevelt had, uh, brought out the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, for people like me. And, uh, so I dropped out of school and spent one year in the, uh, Civilian Conservation Corps in New Mexico. And then I came back in, in December of, uh, of '38 and went back to school and got out and graduated out in, in, uh, '39. But there wasn't any work to do and so, uh, I decided to join the Navy.
So it was sort of just, uh, a lack of other opportunities with, that, that, brought you there?
Correct. There wasn't any, uh--they, there wasn't any jobs to be had for 17, 18-year-old, thing like I was. And, uh, so, a lot of, a lot of the young, younger men my age, they joined the service in one way or the other.
Um, were you excited to go see the, the world and, and travel a bit, things like that?
That wasn't the--uh, seeing the world was in the back of my mind, but, uh, you don't join the Navy, the, to see the world because you don't know where it's going to take you. It might not take you where you think you're going. So, uh, but that--I enjoy, I enjoyed, uh, my service in the Navy, and uh, we went to many different ports and so forth and, and everything, everything was there. We stopped at one, at one island that had--I think it had one restaurant on it and I--it must've had something, something else. We just had a few hours stay there. And they--I went into this little restaurant and, uh, ordered something, and I needed a fork to use and they--and they had to look all over before they found a fork. They finally found one, rusted, and they cleaned it up a little bit and brought it to me. So I had, I used a fork to eat with. So they weren't up to date at all and then all eight places that we stopped.
Now, in, in 1940, in 19--in early 1941, for Americans today, what was going on in, in the world? What was happening in Europe?
Well, they would, they was having the, uh, problems, uh, most of the--several of the countries was having trouble with Germany and they just kept--was expecting the war to break out. And, uh, and when we came back in, uh, into the harbor, uh, they were, they were--had an alert on and every ship was, uh, alerted, uh, and they'd, they'd have an alert for maybe a week or so and then they'd call it off because they was thinking Ja, Japan was going to come in and attack us. And then that would last for the, for a little while, then they'd--we'd have another alert. And this went on all, starting at about May, I'd say, April or May of, uh, 1941. And we'd go out on alert and be on alert for a week or two and then we'd be off for a week. And then somebody'd get the word that they was going to be attacked, so we'd go back on the alert. Everybody would be, uh, ready to man their battle station and everything at the moment's notice. So that went all the rest of the year. The bad part about it was we were not on the alert the day they decided to attack, so caught us by surprise.
Do you think that the American public thought there would be a war, um, with, with Nazi Germany and Europe or with Japan in the Pacific? Do you think the American public was thinking along those lines?
Oh, yeah, no doubt about it that. And when I would write to my family at home, they'd, uh--when they wrote back to me they would always have something to say about, well, I hope the war don't start while you're in the Navy and so forth. But they--yeah, everybody was thinking about it and of course there was a lot of the World War I veterans still alive at that time. So, uh, uh, it was, it was, uh--of course, when I left in, uh, '40, I had, I never made it back to home to visit any until I was discharged.
So, with the Nazis taking over Europe and then, you know, Japan making all kinds of aggressive moves in the Pacific, did, was there a feeling that a war was inevitable or still something that could be avoided?
Well, of course, I don't know what the politicians and the other people and that was thinking, but, uh, we--and the--in the Navy, in the Navy personnel, we felt like certainly it was gonna happen, but we didn't have any idea of when it was gonna happen. So because they said--well, all we got is what the higher-ups gave us. We, we didn't have any--we didn't have no televisions and the radios and stuff like that to listen to all the time to see what the other--rest of the world was thinking. And, uh, so consequently, we just had to take what they gave us.
Still, in 1941, the United States was the only major power that wasn't involved, you know, in an armed conflict. To the--in today's world, you know, if there's a war or anything significant happening, you know, America's typically right in the middle of things.
Is there a way to kind of explain it for people today who might not understand why the United States wouldn't be involved?
Well, we thought we were gonna have to--I'd say the power that be that controls in the Army and Navy and so forth, the word that we were getting in the trenches was that we was gonna have to go over there and help England out and so forth with, uh, with Germany. We thought that was coming, but we didn't know when. And, uh, of course, when it did break out, we--that's one of the first places they sent us, ships over there as well as trying to battle at--make ready for Japan.
What was it like being a young man from Texas and knowing that this was gonna happen, that you were gonna have to go to war? I mean were you, were you worried, were you excited, was it just a job you had to do?
Well, and that--actually we were, uh, I'd, I'd say most of the feelings was that they was hoping that we'd go ahead and get it over with, get in with it and get over with, and we thought it might be exciting. And of course, we had never had a ship, another ship fire, fire at us. So we didn't know what that was like until it happened. And it wasn't what we thought it was like, so what--and it--what that--and with that--and most of the--I wanna say most of the personnel and maybe in the Air, in the Air Force and the Army too, probably had the same idea. Well, let's get it on and get it over with and--but we was expecting a declar--we were expecting a declaration of war is what we was expecting. We never thought about a, about a surprise attack. We, we figured we'd be--a war would be declared like the good old country boys, will, will let you know you're gonna have a fight. So on certain days, you be there and get ready. And we figured that's the way it was gonna work. Uh, we never thought about it happening by surprise attack.
I mean the Japanese government had officials in Washington DC negotiating, you know, nego, negotiating an agreement at the time of the attack, didn't they?
They sure did. They come over there--I forgot. And I used to know the date that they showed up. But see, uh, they, they, those two officials made an appointment with, uh, the Secretary of State, uh--what's his name? Uh, can't think of his name now. They made an appointment for to see him on, uh, on December the 7th at, uh, at uh, 8:00 in the morning. And so when they, uh, when they met with the Secretary and talked to him and--well, what, what they, what they asked was, uh, they said if the Roosevelt had stopped everything going to it, that they'd cut off the--so they was getting 90 per, 80 percent of their fuel oil from the United States. So when they cut--when Roosevelt cut that off and then we were shipping them, uh, tons of scrap metal over there, which they melted and fired back at us later. But, uh, and they stopped that. They stopped everything. And also, Roosevelt put a hold on it, everything that Japan had in the United States. He, uh, put a [UNINTEL], and so they told him, their words to the Secretary, if you will renew the oil shipment to us and the other thing that you've been giving us, uh, we won't attack the U.S. or the Pearl Harbor. Of course, uh, the Secretary of State turned that down right away and, uh, he probably with Roosevelt. I don't know about that. But then they handed him a declaration of war signed by the Emperor of Japan. They had that in their pockets when they went in. So I'm all--uh, we've always wondered whether they had it when they went over there, or did it come to the baggage mail that nobody can open at, uh, for, from one country to the ne, next. And but they had that and they handed that to the Secretary of State at that morning, and this--and this, this attack started ov, over in Ja, over there. But they had that in their pocket when they went in.
It's sort of, uh, a dirty trick Japan played. I mean what were they hoping to accomplish with the attack on Pearl Harbor and doing it in such a fashion?
I have no idea what they thought they would accomplish by it, but they, uh, they dropped--uh, they didn't drop anchor--they sto, they launched almost 300 miles out. And they was hoping--and, and, this I got from, uh, uh, a Japanese pilot in '06, that they had recruited to come back to Pearl to--for the celebration of December the 7th. And he was the only living pilot that they could find in Japan that was in the raid on Pearl itself. They had some other pilots that came along with him that was in the war, but they didn't--were not--they didn't participate in the Pearl Harbor bombing. But, I found, and listening, he--and he spoke just ahead of me and, uh, he sa, he threw away something that, uh, was kind of interesting. In his speech he said when--of course, I, I had already done some research on it--they started, uh, forming that, uh, flotilla in January of 1941. But Tito did not give his okay on it until, um, April, I believe. He finally okayed it, said go ahead and, and put it together. But they had started on it in January. The, this pilot that they had there when I was there in '06, he said that he, they never did tell him what they was building for when they was putting it all together. And they were out for two days before they knew where they were headed. And, uh, then they gave him the message that they were going to bomb Pearl. And he said we all looked at each other in astonishment and we just couldn't believe that they was heading out to bomb Pearl. And then he said, then we kind of shook our shoulders, said, well, I guess that's what we've been training for. So, and I got to thinking, that is about what we did, 'cause a lot of times when we left port, uh, us peons didn't know where we were going. I'm sure the captain and them knew, but, uh, they didn't tell us where we were going. And the same thing could've happened to us. So, it, it surprised me but I was glad to know that. But the reason they didn't tell them until two days out is because if they us do, you know, [UNINTEL] was gonna [UNINTEL] them off, they couldn't contact spa, stateside and tip them off. That's the reason they didn't let them know. And which was understandable, but.
Still, I mean, you know, they probably--theyve been in a--they've had a 10-year with China, they probably thought they were gonna go hit a, you know, a Chinese target or some other Asian [UNINTEL]--
--and now they're told no, you're gonna, you're gonna take on the, you know, the great United States.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, well, sailors have got great imagination and they're waiting to take off. We'd--of course some of them say we were headed here, and some of say, ah, I bet we're going so and so. And a couple days later, why they'd probably let us in on where we were headed. And usually it wasn't any place we wanted to go, actually, so.
So when did you first hear you were going to Hawaii and what was your reaction?
You mean when I first entered?
When we--when I, when, when, uh, we finished recruit school and they put me on a, the USS Hammond, it was a brand new destroyer, the 412. And, uh, until we pulled out where we were escorting a carrier because every time a carrier went out, he'd--they usually had two destroyers with him, one on either side. And, uh, the reason for that is that, uh, when they got out to sea, a lot of those pilots would like to practice taking off and landing on that, uh, uh, carrier. And so we all was on either side in case they missed and hit the water, where we were there to pick them up. And we had, uh, three or four that missed it there on our side. But we didn't ever--we lost one ship, uh, one of the aircraft, but we didn't lose a pilot. We--see we were right alongside of them and as soon as they missed, when they come in they missed the hangar, uh, that hook, uh, and saw--sometimes they could control it and stop it, but sometimes they couldn't. And it'd either go off on one side or the other. And during the year that--nearly a year that I was with them, the--we had several, about three or four that went over on our side. But we had a grab hook hanging out and we had a, uh, boat swung over the side and, uh, with a motor on it and you could hear the, could hear the switch in that motor crank right away and they'd drop it. And within 10, 15 seconds it'd hit the water. And they had two--we had two sailors in it and they'd go over to where the plan, plane hit the water and get the pilot and pick him up. And then the destroyer would move in with this long crane and pick up, uh, latch onto the top of the plane and hang onto it. And the whole side of that, uh, carrier would open up and, and they'd scoot it right in there and they'd take it in and overhaul it and put it back in service.
That's amazing. Did you know anything about Hawaii before you got there?
Not a thing. All we heard was there's a bunch of hula girls. We thought we'd just see them all up and down the street anything. But there wasn't that many of them [UNINTEL PHRASE].
Could you tell me that one more time and could you, could you use the words Hawaii in your answer?
Yeah. Well, when, uh, I first got into the, uh, Navy and we ended up after some, uh, travelling around, we ended up in Pearl Harbor, and of course, being new, I was expecting to see some, uh, hula girls in the, in Pearl, in Hawaii, because that's all us country boys ever heard that ran around in skirts, in short skirts and stuff. So we were peeling our eyes to try to see one and it took us a long time before we got to see one because you didn't see them from the ship. You had to get off and go downtown area and you could find them down there putting on shows or something.
So the hula girls didn't meet you at the dock, um, but what, what other things did you find in Hawaii? What was it life like there?
Well, it, uh--I don't know how to explain it, but it was--we just had everyday duties on the ship that we had to, had to take care of and [UNINTEL PHRASE] stations on there that, that's what you can tie it to, uh, for, and other areas. They mostly made--he'd take us recruits and I think I painted the same post about 10 times. And, uh, they'd, they'd make work for you and they'd have you doing something. And you didn't get to lay around in, in the sun and all of that as some people would--led us to believe. But he had us doing something, if it wasn't scrubbing the deck or painting or doing something all the time. And then, of course, you had your liberty time that you could take off. And when we first got over there, you could spend the night, uh, overnight on the weekend if you let them know you wouldn't be--you wasn't gonna be back. So, uh, but then when they, when those alerts started, they stopped everybody from spending the night. Everybody had to come back except the chiefs and above. They, they could spend the night, uh, over in Pearl. But the rest of them had to--all the rest of us had to come back aboard ship.
What did you do with your free time, with your liberty time?
Well, like I said, uh, there wasn't a whole lot to do except, uh, go over there and go to, go to, down to Honolulu and go to a movie or, uh, go swimming at, uh, Waikiki if you wanted to. And of course some of the boys was fortunate enough to make contact with some girls and they could go visit with them. But if you wouldn't have, uh, man that would court the girls well you'd have a look, and I was in that, in that boat, so I didn't, I didn't have a girlfriend.
What about surfing? How'd you do with the surfing?
Well, I tried that for many times and I did most of my surfing underwater because I, I might get up from, uh, I wouldn't go--didn't seem like I went 10 feet until I went on the water again. So I finally just gave that up.
They say cowboys don't make natural surfers.
Well, this one didn't, because I tried it many times and I never did make it. But I did go swimming a lot at the Waikiki beach.
It must have been beautiful there.
Oh, it was, it was. And, and like I said, the, the--they had a hotel right off the beach there and, uh, uh, I think it was only about three or--three stories high and I, and I think it was about the tallest building there at that time. But when I went back in, uh, after I got out--but, well, I've been back before but, uh, uh, they, they started building more buildings and it had, had become a modern type city with a lot of large business buildings and so forth. [TECH TALK]
So the surfing, your surfing answer was pretty interesting. Maybe you could just re, restate it again, but say, uh, I tried surfing and then, um, you know, the, the little story that you had about it.
All right. When I would go ashore or quite often I tried to do surfing over on Waikiki beach and, uh, I was never able to, uh, is success added. Many people try to show me how and balanced me on that, but for some reason or other, I couldn't stand up and when I--I never could make it more than about 10 feet and then I'd be at, be underwater again. So I just never did learn surfing while I was there.
Now, um, tell me about the typhoon that you are injured in.
Uh, basically when it happened and, and what took place and how you were hurt.
We were in the South, uh, Pacific somewhere--and don't ask me where because there is no street signs out there, so I couldn't tell you where it was--but, uh, we, uh, got into a typhoon. And a lot of people don't understand that those things, how big they are. They reach for miles across the, across the sea and they get, and they get pretty rough. The ones that we got--this one we got caught in where I got injured was the, uh--we were, we were tied up in it for three days and we had to eat bologna sandwiches three times a day because the cooks could not cook. The only thing they could make was coffee. So we were very happy to get out of that, and I quit eating bologna sandwiches for a long time. But, uh--
And what--how did you get injured?
I, I was, uh, still trying to carry on my duty with--I was a storekeeper and ha, handling supplies and when I started some stairwell that, uh, was fairly steep, and one of those waves hit the ship. It was about over 100 feet tall and it rocked the ship. And of course, with my hands full, I couldn't grab the railing and I went over it and I hit, fell about a little better than 12 feet I think. And I hit on my knees on a, on a solid steel deck all the ships were made up with. And, uh, of course, when I--and next day or two, my, I had, I had four knees really from the size of them. Both, both knees were swollen and I had trouble standing up on them. And so they put me in the sick bay for, for a good while. And I was still in--I was still having trouble with it when Pearl Harbor come along. But I was able to, uh, through sheer determination, to get up and walk a little bit with them. And I made it up, up to the main deck and through the mess hall area on, uh, Sunday morning and had had breakfast. And I just walked out on the main, uh, the deck and, uh, and, uh, on the front end of the ship and was talking with the boatsman mate, who had also been to breakfast, when the first planes came in. There was a--they had a plane lead, leading ahead of the group and when it come in, the boatsman he had spotted that red fly, ball--see the planes have a sun ball underneath their wings--and he said look at that plane with the red ball on it. They must have been using it for target practice, which was common for the destroyers and other ships that wanted to practice their targetry. They would have a plane pulling a, uh, target behind them. They're flying across country, across there, and you, they could use their guns, long guns, and shoot at them and so forth. And he thought that might be what it was until just as he finished that com, uh, that word, that they must be using it for a target, they dropped their bombs on, uh, Ford Island, the float plane docking place. And that, that opened up like a, like a firecracker. And so he said, oh, hell, that's, uh, Japanese. And he grabbed the phone that was nearby and blew the, uh, battle stations for everybody to get on, go to their battle stations. Of course, a lot of them were already dressed to go. It was just a little bit before 8:00 and they was ready, dressed to catch the shore boat to go out and to shore. And, uh, of course, they all made their battle stations and what have. The shore boat did not leave until 8:00 sharp from the boat in the, on the morning. And, uh, so they--
Can you recall what went through your head at that exact moment when you realized this is not a drill, that this was an actual attack?
Well, more or less I remember that I felt, is this what it's like? And, uh, and of course, I started, headed to try to get to my battle station, which I did. And, uh, of course, I, I was a loader on a 5-inch gun that had a barrel about, uh, 30 feet, 30 feet long. It was made to shoot 35, or 25 to 35 miles, and it was made for shooting it in battle at sea. And so I didn't fire a shot that day because if I, if we'd have pulled the trigger on that thing, we'd have killed somebody over in the city of Honolulu. And, uh, but all of--we had four destroyers tied up by us and, uh, the--one of them had their guns broke down. They couldn't, uh, they wasn't able to shoot. But the other three, I think, all got their guns to work and they did some shooting. Of course, they cut loose from us too as quick as they could and got out on their own. And oh, they were--ship's captain got an order to, to, uh, get out of the harbor because they--in fact they had that order a minute--there was a standing order for them if anything happened for them to get out because of the channel leading in there was shallow and if they could--anybody sunk a ship in the, in that channel, then any other ships in the harbor couldn't get out because they couldn't crossover. So, uh--
Now, the Whitney was able to get some of the smaller guns going. Could you tell me about that? Did you see guys returning fire? What was, what was that like?
The, we had three 3-inch antiaircraft guns up there and, uh, the men assigned to those did get in, get, get, uh, to those and get them in operation. And they fired many shells. I don't know that they hit anybody because our total, uh, shoot, uh, target, that they was very poor. I think there was only 20-something that actually shot down, 20 planes or something that was brought down of the group that flew over. And that was a bunch of them. I don't recall exactly how many, but it was very few that they hit. And, of course, I, my [PLANE?], we didn't fire anything because it was all ranged, lilke I said, 30 miles, and we'd have killed people over in Honolulu because that's the way it would have been fired, so.
What was it like dealing with this serious injury that you had during the attack? I mean it.
Well, I, I was just in one spot all the time. I didn't have to move around and, because of the pla, the shells was brought up on a, on a, uh, on a hoist to the top and then they put on a, uh, they were moving them along another line right down to me. And, uh, all I had to do was reach over and pick it up and put it into the, shove it into the magazine. And that magazine come up and hit my arm and knocked it out of the way. And if you got to, and if--I don't know how come the boatsman makes his--picked me to be the loader because I think he was afraid the other people the way saw him loading they was afraid they'd get his fingers in there because if you got your hand or any part of it, it would just cut it off, just like that. And so you had to take that shell and balance it and then shove it in and it would hit into the magazine and lock in, and the magazine would go down like that and lock.
Just so people kind of understand at home when they see this, do you think you could tell me, yeah, my legs were injured and I was hurt, but my job only required my arms to load the am, ammunition, something along those lines in your own words?
Mm hmm. Well, uh, I, I was assigned to the, as a loader on this gun. Uh, but several people had been tried out for it but, uh, they--the boatsman mate that had me, or assigned me to it, I guess I did a little better job than anybody else. But even though I was injured and I was, I was still able to stand up, uh, for awhile. After a bit, uh, my knees would give out me but standing--but I was standing up and loading this 5-inch gun. But, uh. Anyway, af, after I load it and while--and I picked--they had another shell there, it took five people to run this--shoot this thing. We, we had, uh, two men up higher on a, on a [UNINTEL PHRASE] and each of them had a, uh, wheel in front of them like a steering wheel that they'd drive. One would move a barrel of that gun sideways like this. The other would move it up and down. We had a lieutenant standing there by us, uh, with the radar and he would zero in on the ship or whatever we were shooting at, and he'd give them the coordinates for it and, and they'd bring that barrel into that deal with their, with--and then they'd--when they call fire, they had another man that pulled the st, deal, that set, fired the thing. So it took several people to run, uh, fire this big gun.
I see. And, um, just so we have kind of a, a, clear setup for this story, story that you just told us for Sep, September 11, could you just say, uh, I woke up in the morning of, uh [UNINTEL PHRASE]. I woke up on the morning of December 7 and I went above board or something like that?
Well, how far do you want me to go with that? Do I repeat that whole thing again--
No, no, no, no. Just to, just what--that beginning sentence, that's all--
I woke up on the morning of December 7 and.
I'm gonna strike on you hear in a minute if you keep running over that [UNINTEL]. Ah, you ready? Well, I was, my bed was in the sick bay area and I woke up that morning and I got up and rolled over and tried out my knees to see if I could stand. And I was able to stand up. So I had crutches to move on if I needed them. So I got up and, uh, went upstairs to--up on the main deck where the, uh, uh, dining room was and went in and had breakfast that morning. And then after I ate breakfast I came out and was standing on the--
So let's start--yeah, we don't have to make you retell the whole story. But I just need to hear, um, you say, on the morning of December 7th. Just those words to me so we could--we can use--
On the morning of December the 7th of 1941. [TECH TALK] LEAVELLET2
And the, uh, British Embassy in Washington called me and wanted me to come over and talk to them. So I went over-- [TECH TALK]
So I went over to, uh, to talk, talk with them and, uh, they--I got a picture of me sitting in their, their assembly room. It's one of those deals where the seat starts about a little further than you are from where I'm sitting here and they go up like this and spread out as they go around. And they put a couple hundred or so people in there I imagine, but I'd never been to a place where the audience was up over me.
And then I think you'd probably feel the same way and that's the reason why you do interviews like this. But it's important for today's generation to understand the sacrifices made on their behalf and also kind of understand history, you know, so they don't, they don't repeat it.
Repeat the same mistakes. That's how the saying goes.
Well, I've, I've had that happen too. I've talked to schools, colleges, hospitals and doctors, and, uh, you name it and I, I've been out and talked to them at one time or another, I think.
Well, we appreciate you doing it once again with us today. Um, so during the attack--you said something interesting at the start of the interview. Um, uh, when you were, you know, a young Navy guy expecting combat, actual combat turned out to be very different. Could you explain that to me a little bit? What did you think it was going to be like and what did it end up being like?
Well, yeah, I think, uh, in my feeble mind and ignorant mind in the one, one respect, not knowing what to expect on it, uh, uh, I thought that, uh, they'd be shooting at us and we'd be shooting at them, but they would miss and we would hit. So, but that's not the way it works. So, uh, you can be hit--your ship can get it too. So, uh, in my case, we never got hit, hit, uh--we didn't get hit but, uh, other than the, the, uh deal on the, on the [UNINTEL PHRASE] of the ship, which was made of solid steel and that would've just bounced off. But, uh, we, uh, we, we thought--well, the only thing we knew about it is what we saw in the movie from some time, that's what, uh. And of course, the good man win--good people win in, in the movies. But that's not the way it is an actual combats and the, the good guys may not win all the time.
What's going through your--I mean I'm sure people have asked you this question over the years--what's going through your mind du, during combat? I mean are--is anything? Are you just scared, uh, adrenaline, um, anger? Are you just relying on your training?
Well, I've been asked that question many times and I've been asked the same thing when, uh, when I was almost shot, what's going through your mind. I don't know what people think was going to your mind when, when you're involved in something like that. Uh, in both cases, I didn't really, wasn't thinking of anything except to get my job done if I was called on to do it. And I was--that's all I had in my mind all, and of course, I was--at the same time, from where I was, I could see, uh, the ships getting hit over in Pearl, Ford Island. But, uh, it's--but you really don't--I can't say that I had any particular thing going through my mind other than what I was intending to do when, when the time come. But I also knew that we wasn't gonna fire, fire that 6-inch, uh, 5-inch gun at, there in the harbor, because, since it's geared to shoot 30 miles. I knew they wasn't gonna fire that.
Yeah, what's that like? I mean you sustained this injury, uh, the weapon that you're trained to use is inoperable because the range isn't right. Well, what's, what's that feeling? I mean do you feel vulnerable or.
Well, you know, you don't think about those kind of things. You think a, what, if, uh, was thinking about I could see those ships being hit and, and catching fire across from us and I was thinking about the safety of those sailors aboard those over that as much as anything. Because I knew that some of them was gonna be killed, but I had no idea what, how many. And of course that went through, goes through your mind when you see what's happening to somebody on other ships. And we could see all of them just about from where we were.
Yeah, just to set it up a little bit, uh, describe the, um, where the Whitney is and what you're looking out on, what you're seeing happening on Battleship Row.
Well, it was, uh, we were, we were tied up--well, I, I think at least a mile and maybe further from Ford Island. And of course that's where the other ships were ganged around Ford Island, the, um, destroyers and battleships and stuff. And we were all anchored out and--but there was some other ships anchored out there also. But we had a clear shot from where we were to you could see it. And of course, from the water, you can see three or four miles and it don't look like it's half a mile away from you because you, there's nothing to mar your vision. And it makes it very easy to look for a mile or two. [COUGHS] Somebody's cake getting in my throat. [TECH TALK] LEAVELLET3 [TECH TALK]
So youre--describe to me, the carnage youre seeing on, on Battleship Row. Where, where is the, the U.S.S. Whitney, and what are you seeing?
Well, the Whitney, as I [UNINTEL], as I think, at least a mile off, off of the Ford Island, and its on the, uh, northeast side of the bay, to the best of my knowledge. It could be--I never did figure out what the directions are for sue while I was in Pearl. But, uh, we would--and I said, in the harbor like that, you could see as though it was just right up in front of you, and you could see what was happening. And I couldnt--after they got started, I could not distinguish one ship from the other, except, unless I knew about where they were sitting, and I did not know that, because I could--I never did make it a habit of trying to spot the other ship and where they were. But many of them were clustered around Ford Island. And, uh, and of course, and they were coming in from the uh, uh, the south, the southwest, I guess it is, or northwest, maybe northwest. And, and hes coming right over the, the channel that leads in to, uh, uh, Pearl, where all the ships had to come and out. They were coming in over there, at that angle. And they, usually when they dropped their bombs, uh, they made a curve to the right, and went, went, went on their way. And of course, we were on the left side of that. They, they wasnt circling over us, they were circling back the other way. Thats the reason that they hit, uh, the, uh, uh, place where they repair the ships. They, they--the Pennsylvania was in there, and the Shaw, and another Destroyer. And they tore that up so bad that, well, they did, they used the Shaw and the other Destroyer for parts. They didnt even try to recover that. The Pennsylvania they did put back together and put it back to sea. [TECH TALK]
Um, what happened to the U.S.S. Arizona that day?
Well, it, uh, it got hit several times by the, by the torpedoes, that hit, hit it, and, and it went down, uh, just like the Oklahoma, it got, got hit too. Uh, the Oklahoma, uh, because I didnt time it, but I, I was told, we were, I was told later that it didnt take about three minutes for that to hit, and it to go down. And of course, it took a lot of men down with it when it went. And, uh--
Did you see the Arizona explode?
Oh, yeah, you could see that. You, we could see all of that explosions when they happen.
Could you, uh, could you describe that to me and say, "The U.S.S. Arizona" in your answer?
When it, when the, when the torpedoes hit the, uh, hit the Arizona, it exploded, and they, it went straight up, and [UNINTEL] on the Oklahoma, they hit the magazine, where their, where their, where their, uh, ammunition, everything was stored, and it went straight up, and it took it just only, uh, two or three minutes for it to sink. But it, it was a big plume of smoke and stuff went straight up in the air, any, any time they hit a ship like that, and hit it, got a good, solid hit on it.
What were you thinking about, um, when you saw that? Were you thinking of the men, and what was happening to them?
Yeah, if I was thinking about anything at all, my mind was on the men aboard that and, and hoping they could escape. Because I knew some of the people on the other ships, and, uh, I was concerned about them. And so I--in fact, uh, my oldest brother, uh, the wife that he married, her brother was on, on the ship there, on the, on a Destroyer. Of course, he went down at Midway, his, he, he got, his ship went down at Midway, him along with it, and hes still with it, uh, out there.
Did you have friends or people that you knew who were, uh, killed or wounded in the Pearl Harbor attack?
I dont think any of--I think one or two of them got, uh, was injured, but, uh, I dont think any that I knew personally was killed.
Um, so was there a point, um, you know, either later that day or the next day where the kind of gravity of what just happened hit you?
Well, it, uh, it hit me about that day. Uh, of course, I say we, our captain got orders to up anchor and move out, but then, then they sent an order back for us to stay hitched. So the next morning, we up anchor, and we pulled up by one of the, uh, other ships, uh, I cant think of the name of it now. Its named after a town in Missouri. But, uh, we pulled up beside it. All of its power was cut. And, but we still had full power, so we run a line over their power lines, over, and they were able to get all of their stuff hooked up and going. And as soon as they got that, got theirs going, we moved on to another ship. And thats what we did for the next couple days, helped the other ships get back in, in order that was, that was capable of getting back in order.
Was this attack the start of World War II?
Yes, it was. For us, it was, yeah. Of course, the war in Europe was already going at the time.
Um, could you tell me what it was like to kind of realize that now the war was on, that day? If you could kind of set it up, and tell me what that realization was like as a young man.
Well, when, uh, after we, after the bombing run was over with, I realized that what I had been thinking about war was we were in it, and we were going to be in it until the finish, and I was wondering what was going to happen to me, where I was going to go, where the, they picked me off of that ship, and put me on one that would go into battle. See, as a, as a tender and supply ship, we didnt have to get into that, move into the fighting area. Only, only time we would fire would be when someone was tack, attacking us. And of course, as I said, we always had Destroyers protecting us too, pretty well. But I was thinking, "Well, this is it, Im going to, Im going to get to witness what Id seen in the movies, and its going to be for real. Its not going to be pictures this time."
Did that thought scare you? Or again, you were excited to kind of get the fight going? Or maybe a little bit of both, I dont know.
Well, I dont think I was frightened by it, but I was certainly concerned by it.
So what happened, uh, after that? I know you, you ended up in, in San Diego to, to convalesce from, from injuries, is that correct?
Correct. Well, the doctor finally told me, the ship doctor, he said, under the circumstances, he said, "I cant do any, any more for you, and, uh, Im going to have to send you, Im going to send you back to the States." And, uh, so I got back to the States in, uh, uh, oh, sometime after the middle of January. And then I imagine in February, something like that, the, the Navy had bought a, uh, a country club down close to San Bernardino, California, and made a Naval recruiting, uh, uh, hospital out of it. And, uh, so they, they sent me down there. When I got down, got down to, uh, the hospital, it was so new, they had a full quota of doctors, ad a full quota of nurses and corpsmen, but they didnt have many patients. I think I was about the 20th patient they had took in there. And they were, they were bringing them in almost daily from, from, uh, wounds that they had gathered at sea or somewhere, and sent them in there. And, uh--
Were you frustrated to be taking, being taken out of the fight?
Well, yeah, but I could understand the reason. After, uh, I was there for a good long while, uh, I got to where I could around and everything, of course they had therapists and what have you working on me daily, and--
Why, why was it frustrating for you to be taken off the ship at that particular moment?
Well, I wanted, I wanted to be in the action. I wanted to be into the action, and I, and I, and I, I couldnt get there. And, uh, I hadnt had enough of it, that little bit Id had, and I guess didnt satisfy me. I thought I wanted, I wanted, I want to get out there and get with the other men and, and get mixed up with it. So I, I, anyway, he, uh, the doctor wouldnt [UNINTEL] even after I got to where I could get up and around pretty good. Id go talk to him, the head doctor, and hed pick up a file, look at it, and I got to wondering later on if that was even my file he was looking at. But he, uh, he would say, "Well, youre not ready yet." And finally one day he told me, he said, "Ill tell you why," he says, "I think youll break down." And he said, "I dont want to send you out to sea on a ship, and then get involved in a battle, and you break down, so then they got to take care of you plus the battle." He said, "I dont want to give them some extra work to do. Thats the reason Im not authorizing you to go." He said, "Ill let you go for shore duty," because that way Id be available to a hospital if I broke down.
So you were eager to fight. What were your feelings towards the Japanese after that happened, after Pearl Harbor?
Well, um, thats been asked several times. I never really give them a, a thought of hatred--
If you could say "The Japanese" instead of "them", or "they", so the viewer knows what youre talking about. Im going to stop talking so Im not talking over you.
Uh, when I, when I thought about the Japanese, I didnt really think of them as, as hating them or something, but I certainly wanted to get into battle with them, because I, of what they had done in, in, in, uh, Pearl Harbor. But, uh, I didnt dwell on, on them and never did. But, uh, I never did, uh, even in, uh, 㢪, when I went back over, over to Pearl to, to talk to the group, and they had, they had, uh, the, the one pilot that was in the Pearl Harbor raid, but they had brought some other pilots that was fought in the, in the war, but they wasnt in the Pearl Harbor raid. And they had them, they had five of them, I think, and they had them line up, and, uh, and then they had the Americans, uh, sailors walk to them face to face and shake hands and say sorry, or something. I dont remember what it was, but I didnt, I couldnt bring myself to get into that, that group. I still have a little resentment about, about it, and, uh, so I--but later on, I had, Ive had several Japanese friends who turned out real good friends, and we got along fine, but it, its the way you work your mind on those things. You cant, uh, you cant dwell on it. If you do, youre going to, youre going to be the worse for wear.
Now when you were at Coronado, you met someone very special, is that correct?
Well, I, yeah, I met several special people there. But, uh, I met, uh, uh, become acquainted with several of the nurses, but the one in particular, he, uh, she was dating a corpsman at the time, which was a violation of the rules, because an enlisted man date, cant associate with a, an officer, of course. As a nurse, she was a lieutenant, and, uh, but they violated that a little bit. And, later, later--
Who was she, and, and what was, what was her name?
Her name was Taimi Trast, thats T-A-I-M-I, Trast, T-R-A-S-T. She was born and raised in Minnesota, and, uh, she had graduated from medical school in, uh, Minnesota, and just about the time, uh, Pearl Harbor broke out, and they sent her to San Diego, first off, and then when they opened this one, they sent her, brought, sent her up there.
This is your, your future wife.
Yeah. Well, uh, she became that later on, uh, mind that, one time--
Do you think you could just tell us, um, uh, that when you were, you know, when you were in the hospital, uh, you met a nurse, and she became your future wife. And I think you were married for 70, 72 years?
So, uh, "When I was in the hospital, I met her--"
Well, theres, [UNINTEL] theres a little bit of story to that, if you want to get the rest of it.
Yeah, no, thatd be, thatd be great, but, um, since theyre not going to hear my voice, just to have kind of the setup before the story.
Well, uh, I got acquainted with, if youre ready, I got acquainted with this nurse, and we, uh, called ourselves dating, I guess, but there-- She had no automobile, I had not one, and that golf club was several miles out in the country. But they did run a bus from the city in about two or three times a day down there, so people could ride it to town if they wanted to. And, uh, so after I could, I found out that I was not going to be able to go back to sea, my doctor told me that he would okay me for, uh, shore duty. And, uh, when I told him I didnt want that, but the, the Air Force, United States Air Force, this has to be in there, or it wont make sense. So the Air Force comes to San Bernardino, and was going to big, build a bit warehouse, it seems that, uh, the Air Force, their fighting planes in Samoa, they broke apart and needed a part, they had to fish for it across the United States because they didnt have one where they could get it, and so they decided to build one big warehouse and handle the parts that every one of their planes handled. But what they didnt think about was all the young men had gone to war around San then, and they had trouble finding somebody to work, and especially somebody with, with, uh, experience in, uh, supplies, which I had. So he came over and talked to the doctor, and asked him if he had anybody that was, uh, had any experience with supplies that might be getting discharged. Well, that was a ready-made deal for my, the head doctor. He sicced him on me. So he come to me and talk to me, and of course the doctor said that Leavelle is eligible for a discharge if he wants it, if he asks for a discharge, wed let him have it. So this man asked me about taking a discharge and coming over, working for him. Well, I was making all of $38 a month, then. And, uh, so he told me when he talked to me about what he was doing, and so forth, and he found out that I had a couple years experience with the supply line, and itd be the same as the Navy, just about. And he said, "If youll take your discharge and come to work for me, Ill give you $124 a month, or $125 a month. Well, Im not too good at arithmetic, but I could sure figure the difference between 38 and 125, and since they wasnt going to let me go to sea, then working for them, in their supply line is about the same difference. So I told my nurse friend that, uh, one time when we was walking back from the lake, they have a lake there, and boats on it that you can get in and paddle around-- I said, "You know, Im thinking about taking him up on that deal." And I, of course I came from a little town down in Red River County called Deport, and, uh, so I said, uh, "Im going to go work for him. If I dont like it, Ill quit and Ill go back home." And I asked her, I said, "Do you think youd like to go to Red River County and see Deport?" And she took about three steps and said, "Yeah, I believe I would." So thats how we got engaged, and so I--of course, she had to resign, uh, at that time, married nurses were not permitted in the, in the service. And, uh, so she, she resigned, and I took my discharge, and I went to work for them. And, and, uh, we, uh, we got married when she, she went to see her family and came back, then we got married. And after I worked about a year for the Air Force, and then the California Power & Light offered me a job up in the High Sierra Mountains, and, uh, paid a little more. And, and I thought, "Well, Id like the mountains," and she thought she would do, so I quit and moved up there. And the doctor was right, I, I got in nearly a year there before my knees give way again, and I had to go back to the hospital, but--
How long were you married for?
We were married for, uh, 72 years.
Its kind of a really lovely wartime love story of how it all turned out. Do you ever think that perhaps it Pearl Harbor didnt--if Pearl Harbor hadnt happened, you wouldnt have met her?
Well, yeah, I have, mm-hmm. And if I hadnt have been sent there, if theyd have just kept me in another hospital, Id have been--Id never met her. But I, but she and I had a real good marriage. We had three good kids, and uh, two girls and a boy. Ive lost the boy, but, uh, and I lost him in 2010. And, uh, uh--
So Pearl Harbor, in a way, you know, it played a role in delivering the love of your life to you. I mean, she--put her at your bedside.
Well, that, that is correct. If I hadnt, uh, been injured and sent down there to recuperate, I would not have met her. And, I think itd have been a very sad deal for me, because no telling who I would have ended up with. Uh, so many people get divorced and what have you, but that never crossed our path anywhere along the line. In fact, we never had any real, uh, serious argument problems. The few little disagreements that we had, when we had them, one or the other of us would back down, and, and go with, go with the other one. I might win one time, and then shed lose the next, but we never really had any, uh, fights like, uh, a lot I hear about a lot of people having.
Thats great. Um, so just so--its such a lovely story, if we could just have kind of a short line to set it up, something along the lines of where you say-- "When I was in the hospital, I met a nurse, and she became--she was my future wife, and we were married for 70, 72 years."
All right. When I was injured and in, in the hospital, I met one of the nurses there, and we fell in love with each other, and we got married, and we lived 72 years together.
Um, so, uh, you know, weve been talking about Pearl Harbor. Youre more known for your law enforcement career.
Which is, you know, the, the Dallas Police Department named their detective, Detective of the Year award after you. Obviously, you had a long and distinguished career with them. Could you tell us, what was your favorite thing about being a detective?
Well, I was--of course when you went, went to work with the police department in 1950, in January of 1950, at that time, you had to be in the patrol division for five years before you could take a promotional exam. Theyve cut that down now. But, uh, when I--as soon as my five years was up, I took a promotional exam, and got promoted to detective. And I went into the burglary and theft division, first off, and then I didnt stay there long, until the captain, Will Fritz, in, uh, homicide division, put in a bid for me to come work for him, which was an honor, because nobody got into his division unless he asked for them. So--and I didnt know him at the time, so I was surprised that, uh--but I was wearing a hat like this when I was working there, and he, uh, he was raised in, in the, in the ranching country, and wore a hat all the time like this. And so a lot of people would say, "Well, the reason you got in there is because you wore a hat like he did. That, he liked you because you wore the hat. I dont really know why he did it, but Im glad that he did it, because I fell in love with the work in the homicide division, and I never, ever took another promotional exam.
What, that did you like so much about being a detective?
Well, it, it, uh, it, uh, put me up against a criminal, uh, our minds against each other, and I had to dig out of him what he had done, and it, it become a contest to see, uh, who could win, whether I could break him down and make him confess to me, or I had to let him go with his story. So its quite an interesting battle to think of, and I had some good ones, and, uh, I think thats the reason the captain, uh, uh, took a liking to me, and he would, uh, assign me things that, uh, he should have had--they had a lot of older officers than me and working in the bureau, but, uh, just an example, for a quick deal-- We had five hijackers on the run one night, and, uh, in fact, I was supposed to get off at 3:00 and go on vacation. But we started after them around 1:30 in the afternoon, trying to chase them down, and he had three squads of us on it. And the other two, my partner was senior to me, and so was, uh, all of them but one on the other, not the other two squads that they assigned, was senior to me. My call number was, was, uh, 403. And so he was sitting in the office, he had a way of running people down on the telephone, doing, finding, finding out a lot of information. And so he would--every once in a while, little while hed call, he had us out. Hed, hed give us assignments, which way he wanted us to go, and little while, 403, call your office. See, we didnt have cell phones and all that kind of stuff back then. Call your office. And Id call and hed ask me where we were, and he said, "Well, I want you to send, uh, Sims and them one place, and, uh, Doherty and them another, and you and your partner take this area, and run it out. And, uh, so wed work on that for a while, and then a call would come out, "403, call your office." So he was making a supervisor out of me over all of those men that were senior to me. So I, I think he kind of liked what I did, or he wouldnt be doing that. It was quite strange, when you think about it, looking back, because he should have been calling some of the older men, giving it to them. But he was calling me, "403, call your office." And, uh--
Uh, how long were you, uh, a Dallas detective?
Oh, well, uh, 20, well, lets see, I spent a little over 25 years, and, uh, except for the five years I was in patrol, the rest I was a detective. I didnt take any promotional exams because we had three lieutenants in there, and--
So you singed up in about 1950, and then retired in early 1975?
Early, yeah, in January of 1950.
So do you think you could just say to me, "I was a, a, a Dallas detective from 1950 to 1975."?
Well, I was, uh, a detective from 19, uh, 㣜-- See, I had that five years of, uh, patrol that I had to do before I could take an exam back then. So it was from 19--Id say 1955 to, to 1970.
Uh, so "I was a member of the Dallas Police Department from 1950 to 1975," could you say something like that to me?
Yeah. I was--I signed up in January of 1950, and was, from 1950 to 1975, I was a member of the Dallas Police Department.
And now they--you, you were such a good detective, uh, they named an award after you, right?
Yes, Uh, in the latter years, uh, they--I was honored with an award, uh, called Homicide of the Year Award, and they now give that out every year to some officer, uh, as, as, uh, an award each year.
The best detective of the year in the Dallas Police Department receives something called the Jim Leavelle Award?
Thats what it called. Its called the James. R. Leavelle, uh, Homicide of the Year award.
And they give that to who?
Yeah, give that to me, and they now give it out annual to some officer in the homicide division.
Um, what happened in, uh, in the fall of 1963?
Well, we had a--the president of the United States was making a visit to Dallas in 1963, and, uh, as a result of that, he was assassinated, which threw us in quite a bind for a while. Unfortunately, the--he was, Lee Harvey Oswald, the one that committed it, he, uh, killed, uh, one of our police officers, and I did not have an assignment that day because my partner was on vacation. But, uh, when that police officer was murdered, I was assigned to that, to his murder. And when you go out on a case like that, while the case is assigned to you. As a result of, um, me going out and being assigned the murder of Officer Tippit, any prisoners that was arrested connected with his murder was also assigned to me. Uh, in fact, one of the first ones was brought in was Lee Harvey Oswald. He was brought in for the murder of J.D. Tippit, and so he automatically assigned to me. There was three or four others arrested as suspects in it--and they too was assigned to me. But, uh, I didnt talk to any of them, I sent my partner up to talk to them, and the three tramps, which made, got a lot of, uh, publicity, people made up stories about them, about how they were [UNINTEL], they were a lot of CIA agents, and all this, and that, and the other. They was called just about anything in the book, but they was supposed to have some connection with the president, assassin the president, but they didnt. And, uh, they turned out to be, uh, uh, just tramps, tramping around.
Where were you when you heard that President Kennedy had been killed?
I was--my lieutenant told me that, when I, I had been out, I--I did not have an assignment that day, uh, when the president, because my partner was on vacation, and my captain would not have given us assignment unless there was two of us there, because he didnt believe working it by himself, because you never know when youre going to need two people on something. So I borrowed a, I had the information for a robbery suspect, because I had a warrant for [UNINTEL]. So I borrowed a man from the patrol division, and he and I went out to check this out, and lo and behold he was there, we arrested him, and we drove back in. And on the way back in to the jail, the--we were listening to the dispatcher, because hes giving the motorcades location block by block as it traveled from Love Field, uh, downtown. And when we pulled into the basement, where Oswald was later shot, they were just approaching the Houston Street where they had to make the sharp drop half a block back to the right, to get on Elm Street, to go on out, so they could get on 35, to go out to the, where the luncheon was going to be held. So, but they hadnt made that turn, when we got on the elevator and started upstairs. And, uh, when I got up there, my lieutenant said, "Well, they shot the president." Well I thought, I said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," I didnt believe him, because I had just listened to him, and he was all right. And then, but the dispatcher was carrying on about it, and barking, uh, direction and what have you. So I realize hes telling me the truth. And back then, like I said, we did not have the cell phones, or walkie-talkies and stuff, the, all that [UNINTEL] they got today. And the lieutenant said, "Im getting calls", of course, as the homicide office, "about this assassination," and he says, "I dont know whats going on down there," said, "Get down there, put that prisoner up, and get down there, and find out whats happening, and call me, and let me know what it is." And so we did that. And I couldnt get all the way down there. I got blocked up. Elm Street is one way, and they had it blocked solid with traffic, car--
It must have been an incredible shock, though, just to hear those words, "The presidents been, been shot." What was your reaction? I mean, was it similar to the surprise you had on the morning of December 7th, when you saw those planes?
No, it, yeah, it was a different situation altogether. I, uh, first thing, I wondered how in the world did he get shot, and where was he when he was shot? And, uh, as an officer, your, your mind dont work like it does on a, on a regular person. You got, your, your mind flashes to what, what are we going to do now? We got to do this or that. So you dont really just stop and think of something. It, it just goes right on through your mind, you know what you got to do. Uh, if I may finish that now, that I couldnt get down to there because of the, of the traffic, so I parked on the side of the road and went on to the Book Depository, and, uh, they had inspector police on the front door. And I asked him, I said, "Is the place covered off front and back, so nobody can get in or out?" He said, "Yeah, weve got it covered." He said, "Your men is upstairs." Hes talking about, talking about homicide officers, he said, "Theyre upstairs checking the floor now." My patrolman and I got, he went on upstairs, but the inspector told me that, he said thered be a lot of people come, told him they saw this, or that, and the other, and he said, "I didnt know what to do with them, so I sent them over the sheriffs office." And, uh, so I went over there, and the sheriff chief deputy, he threw his hand up, said, "I got only witnesses here, what do you want me to do with them?" I said, "Well, I need statements from them. Can you call your people in to take these statements?" And he said, "Oh yeah, I can do that." So he got on the phone with his dispatcher to call people in. But about that time, six, well, uh, experienced burglary and theft detectives walked him and said, "Jim, we were sent down here to help you. What do you need?" I said, "Youre just exactly what I need," I said, "All these people saw something, and they want to talk about it." I said, "Take them, and sit down, and take everything down that they say, and have them sign them, date it, and put the name on it." And I was going to run back over to the Book Depository, but about that time he had his [UNINTEL] box on, the sheriffs department, and they reported the officer being shot in Oak Cliff. Well, we have to go, Homicide has to go when an officer gets shot. And, uh, so I called my lieutenant, I said, "Who you got covering that officer?" And he says, "I dont have anybody." I tell him, I said, "Well, Ill take it." So I turned to one of the officers that I knew, I said, "Where is your car?" Because I knew if anybody had him, he would. He said, "Its right in the middle of Houston Street." So I said, "Well, let me have your key. I cant get to mine, so I need to go to this officer shooting." So anyway, to make a long story short, I went out there, and gathered some evidence and so forth, and then they, then they cornered Oswald in the theater, and they called me on that, and, uh, and I tried to go up there, uh, to the theater, but I couldnt get there, the traffic was so thick. So I called a dispatcher and I told him, I said, "Tell him to put him--take him to my office, and Ill meet him there," so they did. And of course, he was in a marked car, and I was in a plain one, so they [UNINTEL] at me. So I went in, and sit down, started talking to him. And so, and then he was assigned to me, because anytime you make the call on a murder, its automatically assigned to you. And so [UNINTEL] was assigned to me, and so was the other people that was arrested that they--
Could you use, uh, Lee Harvey Oswalds name? So you walk into the room, and theres this man there. What did you say to him and what did he say to you?
Well, I told him--when I walked in, I told him--
Could you stay, uh, instead of him, uh, "Lee Harvey Oswald"?
When I walked into the interrogation room where Lee Harvey Oswald was, I told him my name, and I asked him what his name was, and, uh, and his, where he lived, how old he was. So I wrote all of that down, and, uh, then I started talking to him, and he answered me very, uh very politely, uh, every question I asked him. He, he didnt answer truthfully always, but then, uh, he didnt, he wasnt smart [UNINTEL] or anything. He was very polite, and answered my questions, and he answered one question that I, that I kind of jarred me for a second, but because, when I asked him about shooting Tippit, why, he said, "I dont shoot anybody." Well, I thought that was unusual, because I worked two other officers murder, and when Im working their murders, uh, when I was talking to the suspects, they would say, "I didnt shot the policeman," or "I didnt shoot the officer." But he says, "I didnt shoot anybody." So that didnt make sense to me. But I just let it ride, and then a little later when I found out that he was going to be a suspect in the--at that time, I didnt know he was going to be a suspect in the presidential shooting, I just talked to him about the officer only. And I said, uh, uh, anyway, I knew when he told me that, uh, he hadnt shot anybody, then after, when I found out that that he going to be charged with the, or a suspect in the presidential murder, I found you why he said nobody, he hadnt shot anybody, because he [UNINTEL], he knew we was going to rap him with that sooner or later-- And he wanted to get his denial in, he hadnt shot anybody. So it made sense to me then why he answered it that way.
In your conversations in Oswald, at any point did you, um, ask him about Kennedy? Were you involved in that line of questioning?
I didnt, I didnt ask him--all my questions, because Kennedys murder hadnt come up between us. I had no idea that he was going to be a suspect in that. There was no reason for me to ask him about the Kennedy death.
Uh, later, once he was, once that was established, were you--any interrogations where you talk about President Kennedy, and the role he might have played in that.
I never did question him about the Kennedys at all, when I--
So what happened--tell me about November 24th-- [TECH TALK] LEAVELLET4 [TECH TALK]
Tell me about the, the kind of, the setup, the, the information you were talking about thats needed for the story.
Well, on the--starting on Friday night, we had so many threats called in, they was going to take Oswald away from us, and do all sorts of bad things to him. And, and all anonymous. And of course, when the time comes for the transfer, uh, they said they was going to, uh, take him away from us, do all sorts of thing. Well, uh, then, uh, somebody with--it wasnt, wasnt my idea or the captains, but somebody got the idea that wed move him in an armored motor vehicle. But no sooner had that information come down than they announced--the call started coming in that we going to blockade the street, and turn that over, and set it afire. And I told captain, I said, "Well, I may burn someday, but I dont want to start it today." And that, I dont like that part of it. And he said, "I dont either." But fortunately, they couldnt get that, uh, armored motor down there because of the overhang in the air duct, duct. So they changed it then, they send it out on a wild goose chase with a car in front of it, and we would go ahead and move him like we wanted to start do in the beginning. So when we, uh, when I come down with him, uh, and, and when captain and I talk about it, I said, "If they try and take him away from us,"-- I said, "What Im going to do is handcuff myself to him, so if they take him, they got to take me, and Im not going to go willingly, so theyre going to have a problem with that. And, uh, so thats how I was handcuffed to him. And a lot of people asked me why I was handcuffed to him. Remember, he was assigned to me, he was my prisoner, so its my responsibility to transfer him, and thats how come I was, uh, handcuffed to him. And so when we walked, walked down, uh, or just as we was getting ready to go down, he wanted to put that dark sweater on that he had on, and I told him, rather facetiously, I said, "Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope hes a good a shot as a you are." Meaning theyd hit him and not me. He kind of laughed and he said, "Oh, nobodys going to shoot at me." Famous last words, so. And, uh, we, we got, got down there, we walked into the basement, I saw Jack Ruby, and he was standing, standing in the crowd of reporters and police officers. He had the pistol in his left hand, pressed against his leg like this, and I knew immediately--I was about as far as I am from you to him, and, uh, to Lee, I mean, to, to, to, uh--
To Ruby. And, uh, and I, we took two more steps, and he took two more to us, I was able to reach across and catch him by the shoulder. Uh, along about the same time, he pulled the trigger, he switched the gun over to his right hand, and, uh, pulled the trigger, and I looked over, and I saw that L.C. Greaves had grabbed-- The officer on the other side had grabbed his gun hand with his left hand on the wrist, and his right hand caught the revolver. And, uh, if youre familiar with revolvers like that, you cant, if that cylinder dont turn, you cant fire it. And I knew as long as Graves had ahold of that cylinder, he wasnt going to shoot anymore. But he was still moving that, because I had jerked on Oswald, trying to pull him behind me, and I was pulling him toward me, and, and Ruby was following him with his pistol like this. And if hed have got--if Graves had not grabbed him, he could have got off one shot, maybe too, and if he had, Id have probably got one of them, or both of them right in here. So, uh, but Graves held on to him, and of course, other police dropped on top of him, crushed him to the floor, and then I turned my attention to Oswald. Oswald, uh, hollered, groaned "Oh", when he hit, and the bullet went in here on his left side. It went through the stomach, and cut the vena cava in the back, and crossed over, and took a chunk out of the liver, and then it, uh, hit up one of the main arteries on the right side, and then hit the end of the seventh rib over on the right side, and it caused the bullet to bounce off, and it ended up about here on him, right under the skin. And I could just roll it around, just like that, underneath the skin, because if it had a little more power, it have come on through. But at the same, when I was looking at, looking over him, I could see Rubys hand flexing on the pistol, he was trying to fire it, but he couldnt fire it because L.C. had the cylinder in his hand. Uh, uh, then I turned my attention back to him and, and they summoned an ambulance, and they took him out to Parkland Hospital, and when I got to Parkland Hospital, on the stretcher, I rolled him into the operating room. They had called ahead, and the, the doctors was waiting for him. So as I rolled him in there, they started stripping him, and I told him, I said, "Before you do anything else, I want that bullet out of him here." So they, they just, doctor just pinched it up with his thumb and finger and hit it with a scalpel, and it just popped out on a tray the nurse was holding. So, uh, I wiped it off, and, and I gave it, gave it back, the bullet back to the nurse, and I handed her my pocketknife what had a real sharp point on it. I said, "I want you to scratch your initials on the body end of that bullet, because you and I are going to be testifying somewhere down the line that this is the bullet that come out of him." And, uh, she did, and we both, I testified two or three times about the bullet. But the fact that I had her initials on it, I could identify it, say, "Yeah, this is the bullet that come out of him." [TECH TALK]
So when you realized that Oswald had been mortally wounded, um, supposedly Ive read, you asked him a question. What was that, and what was his reply?
Well, I thought I covered that, uh, because I ask him if, uh-- One of the, the question I ask him, if he had, by shooting Tippit, if thats what you want to get on that, [UNINTEL]--I asked him about shooting Tippit, and he said, "I didnt shoot anybody." And then later, uh, when I was moving him, I told him that, uh, "Lee, anybody shoots at you, I hope theyre as good a shot as you are," meaning of course, theyd hit him and not me. Of course, he realized what I was saying, and he kind of laughed. Its the only time he laughed during the entire time he was in custody. And he said, "Oh, nobodys going to shoot at me."
Uh, maybe this is in, inaccurate. Uh, did you, did you lean over once he was wounded and say, "Son, youre hurt real bad, do you want to say anything?"
That is a lie that, uh, an officer started, and I know who the officer is, but, uh, they, uh, I didnt ask him anything.
When he was hit, uh, bad, and I could see that, and the only thing he said was "Oh" as he went down. But, uh, that statement youre talking about got out, and I couldnt figure out who, who said that. But one of the, uh, doctors said, uh, uh-- One of the deputies told me that after he was hit and lay dying on the curb, on the floor, I stooped over and told him, "Son, uh, youre hit real bad. Is there anything you want to say before you pass away?" And, uh, his story is he opened his eyes and looked at me, opened his, opened his mouth as though to say something, and then he closed his mouth, and his eyes, and he just slumped over. Well, thats a lie. Nobody touched him but me after he was shot, and the officer that, uh, uh--
Lets, lets strike that from the historical record, then, [UNINTEL].
No, it, uh, [UNINTEL] it from the historical record.
Um, so just to set up that incredible story, um, could you just say it was November-- It was Sunday, November--it was, it was Sunday, November 24th, 1963. Um, can you just say it was Sunday, November 24th, 1963, and let me know you were doing escorting Lee Harvey Oswald, and what your task was that day. And if you--whenever you, [UNINTEL].
Well, Ill tell you, Ill just say we, we started the transfer from the Dallas Police Department to the County Jail for safekeeping when, uh, uh, and uh, and I, I can go ahead and pick it up from there, that--
No, um, just so we have the date, and the fact it happened on a Sunday is what Im, really what Im looking for.
All right, Ill see if it can get it right for you, boss. Do it again.
You ready? On a Sunday, the 24th, we were getting ready to transfer Lee Harvey Oswald to Dallas County Jail, and, uh, as we came down the stairs to, into the basement, uh, I saw Jack Ruby in the crowd, of police officers and, uh, reporters, and he had a pistol in his left hand. But, uh--
So when you saw the pistol, did you react immediately?
I started, yeah. But then it happened so fast [UNINTEL], from that on. [CHUCKLES] In fact, the Secret Service agents that were working on it, they didnt, nobody believed that I could see the pistol. And, uh, so the secret agent, service agent come and said, "Jim, youre right." He says, "I went back and took that tape and played it, and you can see that pistol in his hand." I said, I said, "Lee, or Jerry, you dont think Id lie to you, do you?" So I dont know if you want to straighten that up, and get it into, critics--
No, what Im going to ask you next, obviously theres all kinds of conspiracy theories and just for years and years, people have discussed what may or may not have happened to, to President Kennedy, to [UNINTEL], what, what, what are your thoughts? Who killed President Kennedy and why?
Well, Lee Harvey Oswald shot, uh, President Kennedy, and had I gone to trial with it, I had enough evidence that I could prove to anybodys satisfaction that it, that he was the lone shooter. But with so many people making up stories about it, uh, it was useless to try to explain it, so we didnt go into it. But if I had been able to go, go to trial I could have proved it beyond anybodys doubt that he was the only one involved. And I did not stop working on it, even after all was said and done. I did background checks on him and, uh, theres a, quite a Russian, uh, settlement between Dallas and Fort Worth. And a lot of those Russians knew him, and they liked Marina, but they didnt care for him, because he always had his hand out for something, and, uh, they, when they give him something, he said, "I dont [UNINTEL]," but he always kept whatever they gave him. And so they didnt like, they didnt like, like him at all, but they thought a lot of her. But I found all of this out later by going by talking to those people. And there was uh, one man in the group--a lot of those Russians had been here for many years, and they had learned the language, and gotten jobs, made useful citizens of themselves. And, uh, theres one man in the group that when a new Russian come to town, he would take him under his wing, and, uh, teach him, take him down to the [UNINTEL] Tech High School, where they taught languages, uh, in the evenings, and got him, had him learn English. He told me, said, "You cant make it here unless you, uh, learn the language, and get you a job. And he was, uh, and he really helped a lot of those Russians out, and made, made, made them--
Um, tell me about the photo that was taken that day. Describe it to me. What does it depict?
The photo? Oh, well, as I came into the basement, uh, Bob Jackson, a [UNINTEL] photographer was on, on the scene, and he snapped a photo-- Bob Jackson snapped a photo of Lee Harvey Oswald and myself, which won a Pulitzer Prize, and has been noted--in fact, a search done on it a few years ago, and it has been printed more than any other picture ever made, any, any other Pulitzer Prize picture has never been printed as much as it has.
Whats it like to be a part of one of the most famous photos in history?
Well, it gets me a lot of, uh, having, having my picture made, Bob, and circulated like it is. Uh, I get more attention about that. I still get, uh, over 400 requests for autographs a year today. And they come from all over the country, and Europe, and they, everywhere, but this one, the last time I tried to keep track of them, theres well over 400 autographs that I write, sign every year.
So, I mean, whats it like to be made famous for just a photograph? I mean, is this something--did, did, did you--were you surprised by the thing, um, are you annoyed by it? I mean, you signed autographs, it seems like you, youre gracious enough to, to kind of grant these requests.
Well, its, it gets annoying sometimes, because, uh, I get all the time, I get people asking dumb questions about it, and, uh, Id just as soon not hear any more about it, but I know Im going to. But I started out signing those pictures and, uh, and going, making talks in schools, to grade schools on up through college. And I found out that those kids are really, really interested in that, and they take a [UNINTEL]. And Ill tell you something thats very, that surprised me. The fifth and sixth graders will ask more intelligent questions than the college students, and they, and theyre really sincere, and they really want to know, and, uh, whether theyre asking a dumb question or not, but I think that the college kids dont ask the questions simply because, uh, theyre afraid theyll ask a dumb question and be kind of ridiculed. Uh, a good example of that, if I might add it is I was in in the largest high school in San Antonio, Texas, where they had, uh, filled the auditorium twice. And the question, uh, one of the things that I say in my talks is that had I gone to trial with him, I would have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he acted alone. But since I didnt get to go to trial with him, why the, all these conspiracy things popped up. So after talking to these, uh, high schoolers in San Antonio, one young girl raised her hand, asked a question, and she said, "Well, Mr. Leavelle, if you had all that information," she says, "Why didnt yall try him?" And I said, "Well, since he was already did, we didnt there was much more we could do to him, so we decided to just to forget the trial." I was told the next day by some of the teachers that that girl caught pure hell the rest of the day for asking such a dumb question. But I think that college students are afraid of the same, same thing.
Now, theres something special when an individual like you shows up to kind of talk about their experiences, and teach kids about history. Why is it so valuable for them to hear about history from those who experienced it?
Well, what they say is when they come to talk to me, weve heard a lot of stories of, and about different stories and everything. But wed love to talk to somebody was there and know what happened. So we, thats [UNINTEL] to come to me. And I have--[UNINTEL] there have been hundreds come to visit me, and a lot of times I dont know theyre coming. One time I had a knock on the door, and I, I started out, and I looked, and there was, uh, two men standing there, and it turned out to be a father and son. And they said, "Uh, Mr. Leavelle, we have driven 600 miles to talk to you. Can we come in and talk with you for a little bit?" And I said, "Well, since you drove that far, you might as well come on in." But that was not an unusual thing. Ive had families come to talk to me, and they dont tell me theyre coming. I appreciate it when they call me, and, and I dont ever turn anybody down, if I could help it. I know, I know its important to them. Its not important to me, but I know its important to them, to the people who ask it, and I dont want to disappoint them. And, uh, so consequently I just put myself out, and go ahead and, and Ive had him sit there for hours, at my place, that little house you was in, and then the place where I moved there. So, uh, so its not unusual at all to have that, to have that to happen. And like I said, I had families come. They will, some of them will have the youngsters along, "We want, we want them, uh, to meet you, and shake your hand," and, and maybe they brought me a picture to sign for them, put their name on it and sign it, of that picture that youre talking about, so--
What were the two historical events that you witnessed, and what day of the week did you witness them on?
Well, Sunday was one, and uh, lord have mercy, historical?
Um, so the, the, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald occurred on a Sunday.
And, uh, Pearl Harbor, of course, uh, occurred on a Sunday.
So I was hoping you could tell me--I mean, youre a witness to two, two of the greatest events in American history in the 20th century.
Well, thats the only two that I would--Ive been involved in otherwise, [UNINTEL].
So those two events, um, if I could just hear you say that in your own words, and also point out the fact they both occurred on a Sunday.
Yeah, okay. Well, you know, I never give it a thought that theyre both on Sunday, but they were. Ive been, Ive been involved in two, uh, historical events that, that people still remember and, uh, and celebrate every year. And that is, and they both happened on a Sunday. And one of them was the shooting of Oswald in the basement of the police, and the other was the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.
Um, as a, as a Pearl Harbor vet, how would you like that day to be remembered by future generations?
Id like for it to be remembered more, more or less just like it is as, as they do right now. They, uh, they celebrate it, they go--a lot of people go out to Pearl Harbor to be there and walk through the area, walk through the Arizona and so forth. Uh, so Id like for them just to keep the memory as they, as they are right now.
Why is it so important that that continues?
I think that the main reason that thats important is the fact that the, Japan surprised us, got in on us, hit us by surprise. And that should teach us to be on the alert at all time, and not let that happen again.
Um, how are you going to spend this December 7th, the 75th anniversary?
Ill probably remember this, uh, anniversary of Pearl Harbor just like I do the rest of them. Ill be around the home, there. May go somewhere and I may not. A lot of times Ill be at home all day, and if Im lucky, Im by myself, I dont have to--when the wife was alive, she would be with me, but I didnt have to put up with a lot of questions and so forth. So that was, uh, best thing for me. I, I could remember the day in my own silence and everything.
As a 21-year-old sailor witnessing this battle that was happening in December 1941, did you ever think that you might be here 75 years later, looking back on that event?
Well, if anyone had asked me if I was going to be here on the 75th anniversary, Id have told you I probably wont even make it to the 35th, let alone the 25th, 75th. So, uh, Im real surprised that Im here, so.
Do you look at the events that day, and their historical significance any differently now that, that youre this age, opposed to back then?
I think, I look at the, uh, the bombing of Pearl Harbor back in 㣍 today just about like I did, as I did the day it happened. I dont--it, uh, dont change. I can still see the, the planes coming across. I can still see the battleships blowing up. So, when I close my eyes, I can see all of that, just plain, so I think itll be, remain with me until the day I die.
If you could describe Pearl Harbor in just one word or phrase, what might that be?
Well, what Id say is one hell of a raid, thats all I can say, by the Japanese, so thats, thats a large, uh, battle, in the beginning of uh, World War II. So I dont know, Ive never even given it a thought in that line of field.
Uh, the word "survivor", uh, people use that word a lot in reference to, to Pearl Harbor, you know, a Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
And, what does the word "survivor" mean to you, really?
Well, when I think of that, I think of how many, uh, servicemen we lost that day. We had, uh, over 3000, uh, 3300, I believe it was, killed and wounded that day. Thats 20--2100, I believe, killed, and the other, rest of them was wounded. So I think of it in that terms of how many was killed and how many was wounded that day. So that, the number there goes through my mind quite a bit, 33.
Could you just say to me, um, "I think of the word survivor", just that sentence, so we could set it up?
Uh, "When I think of the word survivor," uh, if you could just repeat that sentence back to me, "When I think of the word, word survivor."
And you want me to [UNINTEL] the other part of it?
No, then well just put it on front.
Okay. When I think of the survivor of Pearl Harbor--
Oh, when I think of the word "survivor"--
Oh, yeah, all right. When I think of the word "survivor"--
Um, now people--you know, I think youre a hero, I think all the men up there, were there, uh, at Pearl Harbor were, were heroes. Uh, do you think of yourself as a hero? Why or why not?
I do not think of myself as a hero, and, uh, I just think of, uh, I, if it ever comes up, I think of, I was lucky to be a survivor, but, uh, hero never entered my mind. I was not a hero then. I was not a hero anywhere else, when anything took place. I was just doing a job in both places.
Now, uh, been talking to you for a while, badgering you with all kinds of questions, kind of near the end of things. Um, could you say to me what, uh, your last word is, regarding Pearl Harbor, if you were to have one?
Yeah, my, my last word on Pearl Harbor is--and if you could use "my last word" in your answer.
Well, my last, uh, word or comments on Pearl Harbor is I fervently hope that it never happens again.
What do these events have in common?
After all, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of violent days both in the 1920s and in the 1970s in Ireland. What makes these four so special?
Firstly, the fact that they took place on Sunday is significant in terms of popular memory. Sunday, especially in the early 20th century, was a day of rest. It was the only day of the week when most people did not have to work and it was for this reason that events like the rallies in Dublin in 1913 and Derry in 1972, as well as the football match in 1920 took place on that day. Irish society was also still extremely religiously observant at all of these junctures.
Violence on a Sunday was a particularly jarring disruption of everyday life
So the introduction of brutal violence into everyday life on a Sunday was a particularly jarring disruption of normal life – shattering people’s sense of security and mental balance. If the peace of God on Sunday could be violated, when was it safe?
Secondly, three of the four incidents, 1913, 1920 and 1972, were, in whole or in part, acts of violence committed by British state forces on Irish civilians. For this reason, the term “Bloody Sunday” carries with it an air of reproach on the British state in Ireland, which could be characterized as brutal and tyrannical as a result.
The Croke Park shootings in 1920 helped the Irish Republic to broadcast itself as an outraged victim of British imperialism across the world. The Paras’ shooting spree in the Bogside in 1972 made the Provisional Republicans’ argument – that armed struggle against the British presence in Ireland was the only worthwhile course of action – a lot more credible to young northern Catholics.
Even the 1913 version, which, being less bloody and concerning a much more limited constituency (that of trade unionists specifically) is less well remembered than 1920 or 1972, it retains its power in certain labour circles as a symbol of the suffering undergone for the establishment of that movement.
The Bloody Sunday of 1921, on the other hand is all but completely forgotten. In one way this is strange, as the number of fatal victims is second only to 1920 and the extent of material damage was much greater than any of the other incidents. And yet, Belfast’s Bloody Sunday does not fit so well into a story anyone wants to remember.
Factional butchery in west Belfast suits no one. Not republicans – who see their century-long struggle as being against British imperialism and would prefer not to concentrate on Catholics fighting Protestants. Not unionists – who would rather not be reminded of collective loyalist reprisals on Catholics. Not even the British, for whom the incident could perhaps be used to frame the 1920s as a sectarian bloodbath with itself as neutral arbiter.
The power of the various Bloody Sundays as memories depends on how easily they can be retold as part of someone’s narrative of Irish history.
In the end we can see that the power of the various Bloody Sundays as memories and as spurs to action depends not only on how bloody they were, or how obscenely the Sabbath was violated, but on how easily such events can be retold as part of someone’s own narrative of Irish history.
First Person: James Leavelle’s Extraordinary Timing
On Sunday, November 24, 1963, as Dallas Police Detective James Leavelle was conveying murder suspect Lee Harvey Oswald through the basement at department headquarters, a familiar figure approached. Jack Ruby pulled a pistol and shot Oswald in the stomach. Still and motion cameras captured Leavelle’s horrified reaction, which became an iconic image of one of the American Century’s two most notorious events: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Japanese attack that catapulted the United States into World War II. Against all odds, Leavelle had been at Pearl Harbor, too—as a sailor aboard a U.S. Navy supply ship. Leavelle, 95, still lives in Dallas, where he spoke by phone about his unusual brushes with history and tragedy.
Tell us about your upbringing.
My folks were farmers. When I was little we lived in east Texas, near the town of Detroit, until we moved to west Texas. I was the next to last of six boys. Besides farming, my daddy and my older brothers worked on rural electrification, installing poles. For some years my parents rented a 160-acre farm near Lubbock. We moved further west, to Anton, where my daddy kept stock and also hired out with his team of horses to pave the roads with caliche rock. I worked on the farm into my teenage years.
You participated in one of the New Deal’s legendary programs.
In 1937 President Roosevelt started up the Civilian Conservation Corps to help the people. I was 17—old enough, so I joined. I spent a year in New Mexico, doing whatever needed doing. We worked on a pretty big spread—90 sections, each a mile square. We built roads and fences, put in stock water tanks for the animals. I got promoted to driving a truck I’d drive up a mountain to where fellows had broken up rock and they would load it. I’d drive down to where crews were filling in wetlands, and in would go the rock as fill to make farmland. In I came back to Detroit and started my last year of school at Detroit High.
How did you come to be at Pearl Harbor?
I decided to join the U.S. Navy in late 1939, and started basic training at San Diego in 1940. I was an ordinary seaman, assigned to a new destroyer. We ran protection for the carriers in and out of Pearl Harbor. I was making $25 a month when I heard about openings on the destroyer tender USS Whitney. On the Whitney I could make $36 a month. I struck for that job, as we put it, and was taken on.
What is a destroyer tender?
A destroyer tender is the supply ship for a group of destroyers. We carried everything from toilet paper to torpedoes, and we had people aboard with knowledge about everything that might need to be repaired. Say your ship had a problem with its electrical system you could tie up alongside the tender and use its auxiliary power while someone aboard fixed your ship’s problem. I worked on torpedoes and got to where I could tear apart that gyroscope real easy, but I was 10 or 12 feet below the waterline, and I wanted to be topside. I struck for storekeeper—managing supplies—and moved to that.
Where was the Whitney based?
The Whitney had no permanent base. We would follow the fleet.
You had a piece of bad luck on one mission.
The ship got caught in a typhoon. The waves were more than 100 feet, enough to rock even a ship as big as a tender. I was on a stairs with my hands full when a wave threw me over the rail. I fell 12 or 15 feet and landed on my knees on the steel deck. Didn’t break anything, but my knees swole up like footballs. The doctor said I’d have to go stateside for care.
Did that happen right away?
We came back to Pearl Harbor in early December 1941. We anchored off Ford Island, with five destroyers tied up alongside. Early Sunday morning, December 7, I was on deck talking with a boatswain’s mate. At 8 a.m., shore boat crews would be ferrying sailors from the ships to the shore for leave if the Japanese had waited a few minutes to attack they would have had a bay full of shore boats loaded with sailors for targets. The bosun’s mate noticed the planes first. He saw the red balls on their wings. “Look at that!” he said. “They must have been up there for target practice.” One of the Jap pilots dropped a bomb on Ford Island. The bosun’s mate grabbed a microphone for the public address system and told everyone to get to their battle stations. My station was as a loader on the ship’s 5-inch gun, but that gun fired a round that traveled a far distance, so my crew didn’t fire a shot. Our 3-inch guns got into action a little.
After the attack the navy sent you stateside.
I wound up at the Hotel del Coronado, near San Diego, which the navy had taken over as a convalescent facility. I was one of the first patients—there weren’t many then—and I got to know the doctors and nurses. I got to where I could get around without crutches. I wanted to go back to sea but the doctors said in combat I would be more of a liability than an asset. They suggested I take shore duty, but I didn’t want that.
How did this standoff resolve itself?
The head doctor knew a fellow from the Army Air Forces, which was building a big warehouse for airplane parts at San Bernardino. They needed a manager for the warehouse, and the doctor sicced them on me. The man asked what I made as a storekeeper. $36 a month, I told him. He said if I took a discharge and came to work at the warehouse as a civilian, he would pay me $125 a month.
Was that how you spent the duration?
I had taken up with Taimi Trast, a nurse from Minnesota. She was an officer. We were out on one of the trails around the hotel when I asked her if I was to move to San Bernardino, would she come with me. She said yes. She resigned her commission and I took a discharge and we went to San Bernardino. We got married in 1942. I worked at the parts warehouse for a year and then took a job with California Power. After a while my legs broke down again and I had to go to the VA hospital. We returned to Texas for my rehab. In 1950 I saw a classified ad in the Dallas paper recruiting for the police department. I joined up and worked homicide for 12 or 15 years. I had a little polygraph business on the side that I kept going part-time.
What’s your take on the amazing coincidences of your life?
People ask me about that Sunday in the basement in November 1963 when Jack Ruby shot Lee Oswald. I don’t know what they expect me to say. I did my best to protect my prisoner, tried to get him behind me. In 2006, Tom Brokaw interviewed me. He said something about one man being fortunate or unfortunate enough to be at both of the places associated with the most notorious events in America in the 20th century, but to tell you the truth I don’t much think about it.
Right after the assassination, I couldn’t go out but people would recognize me and come up to me. I couldn’t walk around. I stopped wearing my white hat, which helped a little. But after about three weeks I put the hat back on, and sure enough, I couldn’t get across the police department parking lot. Folks would ask for my autograph. Some years I’d get 400 letters. It’s dropped off a good bit, but I still get asked. I travel around and give speeches. Recently I was in Washington, DC, to speak.
How long were you with the Dallas police?
I retired in 1975 and went full-time for a few years with the polygraph business. I had good rapport with the district attorneys, and they relied on me. If I reported a subject guilty they would pursue the case but if the subject came up innocent, they’d drop the charges. I had private lawyers as clients, and Braniff Airways. For relaxation I watched sports, and did some hunting and fishing.
Did those bum knees ever get better?
My knees still bother me the right one is half again as big as the left, but really, what bothers me more is my back. Taimi died October 1, 2014. We were married 72 years. I miss her terribly.
James R. Leavelle, Detective at Lee Harvey Oswald’s Side, Dies at 99
James R. Leavelle, the big man in the white Stetson who epitomized the horrors of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in one of the most famous photographs of all time — the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby — died on Thursday at a hospital in Denver. He was 99.
His death was confirmed by his daughter, Karla Leavelle.
Mr. Leavelle, a veteran Dallas homicide detective who had survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, was handcuffed to Mr. Oswald and was leading him through a police station basement on Nov. 24, 1963, when Mr. Ruby, a nightclub owner, stepped out of the crowd and pumped a fatal bullet into the prisoner. The shooting, with Mr. Oswald’s pained grimace and Detective Leavelle’s stricken glower, was chillingly captured by Robert H. Jackson of The Dallas Times Herald in an iconic photograph that won the Pulitzer Prize the following year.
Moments earlier, he and Mr. Oswald had had an eerie exchange, Mr. Leavelle often later recounted. “Lee,” he recalled saying, “if anybody shoots at you, I hope they are as good a shot as you.”
To which, he said, Mr. Oswald replied: “You’re being melodramatic.”
At the time, two days after President Kennedy had been gunned down in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, Mr. Oswald was a suspect in the killing of a Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippit, and had yet to be conclusively tied to the assassination. But after Detective Leavelle asked him whether he had shot the police officer, Mr. Oswald aroused the detective’s suspicions by insisting, “I didn’t shoot anybody,” as if, Mr. Leavelle later recounted, there had been another shooting as well.
In the decades that followed, Mr. Leavelle was in constant demand as a speaker, invariably asked to recall the fateful moment. “I saw him, he was standing in the middle of the driveway,” he said of Mr. Ruby in an interview with The New York Times in 2006.
“He had a pistol by his side, I saw out of the corner of my eye,” Mr. Leavelle continued. “I jerked back on Oswald to get him behind me. I had my hand through his belt. All I succeeded in doing, I turned him so instead of dead center the bullet hit four inches to the left of his navel and two inches above.”
Another detective, L.C. Graves, on Mr. Oswald’s other side, grabbed Mr. Ruby’s pistol around the cylinder, preventing another shot, Mr. Leavelle recalled. “I could see Ruby’s fingers flexing on the trigger, trying to fire,” he said. He knocked Mr. Oswald to the floor, removed the handcuffs and got him loaded into an ambulance. “I tried to take his pulse but I never could detect any pulse,” Mr. Leavelle said. He remembered hearing a groan and sigh in the ambulance, which he said he later took as the moment of Mr. Oswald’s expiration, although he was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital, where President Kennedy had been pronounced dead two days earlier.
Mr. Leavelle joined the Dallas Police Department in 1950, but his life had hardly lacked drama before then. The son of farm parents, James Robert Leavelle was born on Aug. 23, 1920, and grew up in northeast Texas near Texarkana. He joined the Navy out of high school in 1939 and was stationed at Pearl Harbor. He was on a destroyer tender that carried supplies to other ships when the Japanese bombed the fleet about a mile away on Dec. 7, 1941. He was unhurt in the attack, but while at sea in the Pacific during a severe storm in 1942, he fell off a ship’s ladder and had to be evacuated to a naval hospital in California.
There he met a nurse who became his wife, Taimi, who died in 2014. They had three children, Karla, Tanya Evers and James Craig. His son died in 2009. He is survived by his daughters, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Unable to return to the fighting, Mr. Leavelle became a civilian employee of the Army Air Force, running a military warehouse in Riverside, Calif. He then became an auditor for the federal government, investigating colleges receiving money under the G.I. Bill.
He spent his first six years on the Dallas force in patrol before making detective in 1956, and worked his way up from the burglary and theft squad to homicide, where he was working when President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Mr. Leavelle retired in 1976 and founded a polygraph business, which he turned over to his daughter Karla in 1980. He underwent triple-bypass heart surgery in 2004.
Mr. Leavelle, who remained active into his late 90s, traveled with the help of a Dallas police officer to the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington in late 2018 to rerecord an oral history he had made several years earlier before the museum’s opening in October.
In his last years Mr. Leavelle served on the board of the Crime Stoppers organization in Garland, Tex., and continued giving talks to police and school groups, usually around the Nov. 22 commemorations. He was still making occasional appearances as late as 2018. He said that he received about 500 requests a year for his autograph — “more than I need” — and in a phone interview in December said he had “four or five on my desk” at the moment. He was particularly proud, he said, of an invitation to address the F.B.I.’s graduation of its October 2006 agent training class at Quantico, Va.
As late as January he lived alone and unassisted. At 98½, he fell while he was doing errands in Garland, but he got himself home and planned to see a doctor a few days later. “It’ll quit hurting in a little while,” he told a Times reporter by phone.
For years, the light-colored suit that Mr. Leavelle wore in the famous photo gathered dust in his closet. He later lent it to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, in the former Texas School Book Depository, from where Mr. Oswald is believed to have fired the fatal shots. It is displayed behind glass with his original hat, tie and handcuffs.
The boots on display are a later addition. He had thrown out the pair he was wearing on Nov. 22, 1963.
Two Sundays in History: James Leavelle - HISTORY
Scroll down to see images of the item below the description
Beautiful cacheted first day cover honoring President John F. Kennedy
signed by the Dallas, Texas, homicide detective handcuffed to Kennedy&rsquos assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald,
when Oswald was himself murdered by Jack Ruby
James Robert Leavelle, 1920&ndash. Detective, Dallas Police Department. Cacheted First Day of Issue airmail letter sheet inscribed and signed, James R. Leavelle, Detective Dallas Police Dept, and hand dated 9/4/91.
This first-day cover is a pristine, outstanding association piece. It is postmarked first day of issue in Chicago on May 29, 1967, which would have been President John F. Kennedy&rsquos 50th birthday. This cover bears a cachet showing a portrait of President Kennedy, the presidential seal, and an image of the 1943 collision in which PT-109, the patrol torpedo boat that Kennedy commanded during World War II, was split in two by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri in the Solomon Islands. The cachet identifies Kennedy as the 35th President of the United States and as the &ldquoNaval Hero of PT Boat 109.&rdquo
Leavelle was the Dallas homicide detective who was handcuffed to President Kennedy&rsquos assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, when Oswald himself was shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas Police Department. Leavelle and another detective, L. C. Graves, were escorting Oswald to a waiting armored car for transfer to the Dallas County Jail when Ruby stepped out of the crowd and fired a single round from a snub-nosed Colt Cobra .38 revolver into Oswaldʼs abdomen at 11:21 a.m. Because the national networks covered Oswald&rsquos transfer on live television, the shooting was immediately broadcast nationwide. Oswald, unconscious, died at 1:07 p.m. at Parkland Hospital, where President Kennedy had died almost exactly two days before.
In this questionnaire that we sold several years ago, Leavelle recounted that he spoke with Oswald first about the shooting of Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit, not realizing that Oswald was also a suspect in the Kennedy assassination. &ldquoDuring the time I talked with him,&rdquo he writes, &ldquohe was polite and answered my questions even though he did not answer some of them truthfully.&rdquo Later, Leavelle said, he talked with Oswald briefly as he prepared to move him from the Dallas Police Department to the Dallas County Jail. &ldquoAbout the only conversation I had with Oswald on Sunday was to say to him &lsquoLee if any one shoots at you I hope that they are as good a shot as you are&rsquo meaning of course that they would hit him and not me. He gave a short laugh and said &lsquono one is going to shoot at me.&rsquo&rdquo But, Leavelle wrote, when Ruby stepped from the crowd and fired the fatal shot, &ldquoI knew exactly what was happening. As did Oswald.&rdquo Oswald, he said, &ldquowas unconscious almost immediately after the shot and never said a word afterwards[.] I was with him the entire time until he was pronounced dead.&rdquo
As a naval lieutenant junior grade during World War II, Kennedy commanded PT-109, patrolling the waters in the Blackett Strait for Japanese destoyers. Around 2 a.m. on August 2, 1943, PT-109 was rammed broadside by the Amagiri. PT-109 was cut in two, and two seamen on Kennedy&rsquos crew were killed and two others badly injured. The survivors clung to the forward hull, which remained afloat. When it began to sink, Kennedy and the others who were able to swim, taking the injured along, swam about 3½ miles to small Plum Pudding Island. Kennedy held a life jacket strap between his teeth to tow a badly burned crewmate. He later swam 2½ miles round trip in search of help and food and led his crew to Olasana Island, which had coconut trees and potable water. The men survived on coconuts until they were rescued six days later. Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the highest non-combat decoration that the Navy awards for heroism, and the Purple Heart for injuries that he sustained in the collision.
This piece is in extra fine condition. It is folded in typical style, allowing the user to write on the inside, seal the flap, and address the outside. It has never been used, however, and the flap, which has never been sealed, retains the original glue. Leavelle has inscribed and signed it in the address space in black ballpoint pen.