The lawman survived that attack, too.
There were other brave and now frail heroes honored that day, but the lawman’s story was hard to fathom. He was at a battle station aboard the USS Whitney on a day that has lived in infamy. And he was nearly killed while attached to a man who assassinated a president. The photo of that moment is one of the most memorable images in American history.
On Thursday, it ended. The lawman was 99.
Jim Leavelle, Dallas detective handcuffed to history, dies at 99
Before the World War II Memorial ceremony, the lawman visited Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. I asked him to reflect on the moment — the Navy band performance, the wreaths laid with the help of Boy Scouts, the life he so fully lived.
“It was certainly different than anything I’ve seen before, and I’ve enjoyed it," he told me. “And that’s about all I can say.”
Yep, that was it. Heck, it was too cold to hang around telling old tales anyway.
Maybe he would have spoken about growing up in middle-of-nowhere Texas — in a town called Detroit, where his parents were farmers. The lawman’s Dallas Morning News obituary had this gem:
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.
The lawman joined the Navy after high school. The USS Whitney was a mile away from Pearl Harbor when enemy planes appeared.
Twenty-two years later, he sat across from Oswald in a Dallas interrogation room as the nation reeled from Kennedy’s assassination. Then, he was handcuffed to Oswald while he was being transferred to the jail.
Lee Harvey Oswald’s chilling final hours before killing Kennedy
“From the time that I saw him,” the lawman later said, “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.”
There was a lot more to his life and career. His wife, Taimi, a nurse. Their three children. Their grandchildren. The other stories of survival — like a scuffle with an armed suspect who opened fire 10 inches from his head.
“It missed me,” the lawman said, “but I got powder burns on the left side of my face.”
The lawman was tough to the end. His daughter, Karla Leavelle, told the Morning News that her father celebrated his 99th birthday last week in Dallas.
“We have a photo of him blowing out all 99 candles,” she said.
Another image for the ages.
Read more Retropolis:
JFK assassination conspiracy theories: The grassy knoll, Umbrella Man, LBJ and Ted Cruz’s dad
JFK’s last birthday: Gifts, champagne and wandering hands on the presidential yacht
Jackie Kennedy’s fairy-tale wedding was a nightmare for her African American dress designer
“How could you?” The day Jackie Kennedy became Jackie Onassis