For those of us over 50 years of age, a question that may have arisen over the past few weeks leading up to today’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, is “Where were you when President Kennedy was shot and killed?” Most of us can remember some details of where we were, or what we were doing, when President Kennedy was shot.
But for Thomaston native Jerry McDonald, the events of November 22, 1963 will forever remain a vivid memory. Jerry, 26 at the time, was working for an insurance company in Dallas, and watched the presidential motorcade pass by just a few streets away from Elm Street, where the shooting took place. To this day, Jerry remembers the sound of three gunshots a few minutes after the motorcade had passed where he was standing.
For today’s issue, on November 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Jerry McDonald recalls that fateful day:
“I’m from Thomaston, but I’m one those guys who went up to Atlanta and threw himself at the mercy of the job market. An insurance company, always looking to pay the lowest possible price, hired me and I went to work in 1957. In 1960, they told me to go to Dallas, Texas. I actually went in 1961. While I was there, they got a computer. I was a claims person, but they gave these computer programmer tryouts. I didn’t even have a clue what they were talking about, but it turned out that I have that computer mind, that element of logic, so they made me a programmer.
“While I was programming on November 22, 1963, all of the office got up and left. They said, ‘Come on, Jerry, the President’s coming.’ Our building was at Elm and Irbay. I walked downstairs and we lined up to watch the motorcade. We were not on the main parade route, we were on the route coming from Love Field with the President. So they came down by my station, and everybody said ‘Rah rah.’ Jackie Kennedy was there, ‘Miss Jackie.’ Jack was more like ‘Why am I here?’ The way they came in from Love Field was they made a straight turn and go down to Pacific. When they got to the end of Pacific, they did a quick right, covered two street, then made a left onto Elm.
“There was an outdoor barbecue stand near us. You could go over and order a barbecue sandwich and stand around or sit around it. I was fixing my jalapenos and getting them in order and I heard a ‘Whoomp! Whoomp! Whoomp!’ That’s what I heard. My first thinking was that someone was going to get in trouble with these firecrackers. That’s the only thought I gave to these sounds. It sounded like throwing a firecracker into a hollow pipe or drain, that resonating sound is the way it sounded to me. So I finished my sandwich and went back to my office. My wife was on the phone and said, ‘They shot the President!’ I never made that connection at the time with those noises I heard. I had a radio, and everybody in the office came in and listened to the news. At that point, he had not been declared dead, and all we knew was that the President had been shot. We sat there and sat there.
“The thing that triggered my biggest concern that day was we heard a police officer had been killed trying to arrest the assassin of Kennedy over my radio, and I’m hearing that there is trouble in the ‘burbs, and hey, I live in the ‘burbs, too, so I said to my office friends that I’m out of there. At that time, Kennedy had still not been declared dead. (Kennedy was declared dead at 1:33 p.m. central time.) I got in my vehicle, and all of Dallas was just one big siren wail. There were police cars going this way and that way, everybody was going somewhere at max speed and max volume. I weaseled my way onto the central expressway, because all of the side streets were covered with police vehicles. I hit the freeway and headed north out of Dallas. As I passed Love Field, I saw the presidential plane take off. I didn’t realize at that point that they had Kennedy’s body onboard.”
Jerry made the news at home himself a few days later when The Free Press mentioned that he was in Dallas at the time of the shooting.
“My mother, walking down the street, ran into Leon Smith, and he said, ‘Don’t you have a son in Dallas?’ and she said yes, and that’s how the article about me got into The Free Press. I kept the article in my billfold for a long time.”
Jerry worked in Dallas from 1961 to 1965, was transferred first to Houston, then San Jose, California, then over to Denver, Colorado, then came back to Dallas in 1967 and worked there until 1970. He came home to Thomaston in 1971 to support his mother after his father died. He said he had planned to eventually move back to Dallas after the family estate was settled, but when he told his bosses of his plans, he was told he was needed more in Georgia than in Dallas. He continued to work for the insurance company as its eastern representative until his retirement.
Seven days after Kennedy’s death, the Warren Commission was formed to investigate the assassination. It’s conclusion that Oswald acted alone has since been disputed and supported as all kinds of theories about the assassination have come out over the last 50 years. Jerry said all he knows is what he heard that fateful day.
“Every year there is a brand new theory coming out, and every year it gets a little more imaginative. They say now they found a bullet at Parkland Hospital. And the multiple gunshots, there were two, there were three, there were eight, it was multiple warfare, and on and on. “All I can say is ‘Whoomp, whoomp, whoomp. The crack of doom as far as I know.”
But that doesn’t mean that Jerry doesn’t also have what he laughingly calls the “Jerry Theory.”
“I think everybody in Texas expected Lyndon Johnson to kill Kennedy anyway. He would have never given up his role as Speaker of the House unless he had some political advantage. I think he conspired with the mob, with Cuba, and with (then-Russian Premier Nikita) Khrushchev. That is the ‘Jerry Theory,’ which is as good as anybody’s. It fits in with Kevin Costner and his stuff in the JFK movie. You remember Jack Ruby came in and shot Oswald, and Jack Ruby himself died in prison not long after that of a cancer, the same cancer that Margaret Mitchell died of during Watergate because she was John Mitchell’s wife. And she said up to her dying day that the CIA infected her with that. So my theory continues. I did say, if that was proved true, we are honor bound to go to war with Russia or Cuba. Anyway, that is my story.”