“If the assassination had to happen, I’m glad that I was here to see it. This way I don’t have to depend on other people, like the rest of the world does, as to what happened in those six or eight seconds…”
A veteran of the Second World War in the Ranger battalions, Brehm is one of the very few to have witnessed two of the epic events of the twentieth century: the D-Day invasion and the John F. Kennedy assassination. At the time of the assassination, Brehm was a carpet salesman for Montgomery Ward at the Wynnewood Shopping Center in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas.
The closest place that I could see the President was here in Dealey
Plaza. Also, I was off work that Friday. I was out at the Knights of Columbus
preparing a buffet for the following night where I was cooking beef which we
would later cool and slice. From my house at that time, it took no more than
five minutes to get here.
I parked up on the I-35 freeway, which was not completely developed at that time, and walked down with my five year old boy to the northwest corner of Main and Houston Streets. Main is a two way street as it was then. As the parade approached on Main about two blocks away, the police stopped all traffic, and we were able to move right out in the middle of the street. I had a wonderful view; the first time I had ever seen the President of the United States.
As he turned the corner at Main onto Houston, I looked over toward the Texas School Book Depository and realized that the turn onto Elm would be a difficult one as it was more than ninety degrees, and each and every car would have to make the same turn. I realized, with the slow turn, that I would have time to move down across the grassy median and get another look across from what is now known as the grassy knoll. So, with my five year old boy, and twenty-five years younger and that many pounds lighter, I was able to grab him and run across the plaza to the south side of Elm Street across from the steps on the grassy knoll and probably still see the Presidential parade turn the corner up by the School Book Depository. I ran as fast as I could and, in fact, did beat the motorcade and was down on the curb before he made the turn onto Elm.
As I was standing there, then the parade came around that corner with a wide curve toward the School Book Depository. After the car passed the building coming toward us, I heard a noise, and I say noise. If I wanted to recreate what happened, there was no shot that I could say, “God, there was a shot!” or something like that. There was a surprising noise, and he reached with both hands up to the side of his throat and kind of stiffened out, and you could see as he approached us that he had been hit. Of course, it became obvious immediately after the surprise noise that it was a shot and that he was hurt. And when he got down in the area just past me, the second shot hit which damaged, considerably damaged, the top of his head. Realizing that he was hit in the head, and from what I could see of the damage, it just didn’t seem like there was any chance in the world that he could have lived through it. That car took off in an evasive motion, back and forth, and was just beyond me when a third shot went off. The third shot really frightened me! It had a completely different sound to it because it had really passed me, as anybody knows who has been down under targets in the Army or been shot at like I had been many times. You know when a bullet passes over you, the cracking sound it makes, and that bullet had an absolute crack to it. I do believe that that shot was wild. It didn’t hit anybody. I don’t think it could have hit anybody. But it was a frightening thing to me because here was one shot that hit him, obviously; here was another that destroyed his head, and what was the reason for the third shot? That third shot frightened me more than the other two, and I grabbed the boy and threw him on the ground because I didn’t know if we were going to have a “shoot’em-up” in this area.
After I hit the ground and smothered the boy, it was all over. The people were running helter-skelter here and there. They were running up to the top of that hill it seemed to me in an almost sheep-like fashion following somebody running up those steps. There was a policeman who ran up those steps also. Apparently people thought he was chasing something, which he certainly wasn’t. There were no shots from that area, but some of the people followed him anyway.
In the meantime, I became surrounded with newspeople from the two buses. They selected me to talk. In that group, I was telling them that there were rifle shots and that they came from up in the corner of the School Book Depository or up in the corner of the building across from it. One of them asked how I knew they were rifle shots; was I ever in the Army? And I slid the jacket up and showed them my damaged arm here from bullet wounds and told them that I had been in the Ranger battalions. I had been in Europe from early morning on D-Day till September 16th when I was wounded, had seen considerable combat, that there had been a lot of rifle firing around me and that it wasn’t a matter of figuring it out; it was a matter of second nature that the rifle shots came from that area up there.
Then I was taken to and put in a police car up to the front door of the School Book Depository. Being put in that police car was the most hazardous thing that happened to me all day long because the police took me because of my knowledge of what went on and wanted to put me in there so I wouldn’t get away. This was misinterpreted by many people on the scene as they had caught the culprit. So, with myself and my five year old boy in the police car right in front of the School Book Depository, people started beating on the car and called me everything but a nice guy.
With the traffic in and out of the Book Depository, I can understand easily, without even being critical of anybody, how Oswald could have walked out of there. I was up there in a matter of minutes after the assassination and people were moving in and out of there. You didn’t know the cops from the robbers: people with all types of arms from shotguns to pistols in their hands. It was like a gun show with people moving in and out of the place. From there I was taken over to the jail and kept for a couple of hours so I could answer their questions.
At this time, I might say that I did not stand there, basically, and count shots. There were events that were accompanied by shots, and the events are lodged in my mind more so than the shots because of the President’s motion when he was hit, with the shot in the head and the wild shot that was going away from the place; everything that stands out in my mind was a consequence of the shots. I never thought of them as “There was a shot! What did it do?” It was always, “What happened?” and it was because of the shot fired from up there.
Because the car was a short distance beyond me when it happened and it was moving away, I heard nothing from inside the car. I have to say this: I had tunnel vision at that time. I had never seen a President of the United States. I would not make a very good witness as to what Mrs. Kennedy was wearing or how and when Governor Connally was hit because I was concentrating on the President. He was the center of my attention. That night, when I finally got to the club I was going to, people asked me how in the world Connally could have gotten hurt. Within hours after the knowledge was given to me that Connally was also wounded, I said the only thing that I could think of was that a bullet that went through the President had also obviously hit Connally because there were only three shots fired: one went wild and two hit the President. The question then was how could it have happened? At that time, it was very easy for me to open up my shirt and show the bullet wound in what was the solar plexus, to come over here and show the exit wound where it passed through my body and came out between my ribs; then the second part of the bullet, the damage, because the bullet was softened and out of shape, tore my arm apart.
One bullet did that to me! Any questions that night about what a single bullet can do, my God, I was living proof of it that day!
I didn’t see anything isolated when the President was hit. There was just an explosion. It was almost like a pond hit with water and water flew up. Something happened and something flew up, but identification of fragments, I couldn’t be certain. I thought at one time that something hit the ground over nearby, but it was proved to be wrong, at least as far as I was concerned. It was proved to be wrong because I never saw anything.
Mrs. Kennedy, the poor woman, and God bless her, she was trying to get out of that car because she was scared to death. She wasn’t trying to pull anybody in. She was trying to get out of it, which is to say nothing bad about her because, my God, there’s her husband mortally wounded, with fragments of his body all over her, and if she wasn’t frightened to death, I can’t see how she could have been otherwise.
There is something else I want to mention. Since I have a history of using firearms, people have asked me what my opinion was regarding the ability to fire those shots. I have no doubt in my mind that almost anybody who had basic training like I had in the Ranger battalions would have no difficulty at all. And especially the fellow was in the Marines, who are ordinarily cracker jack people with firearms, would have no problem at all. And I understand that he had a full sling which actually melds the rifle to your body. You become one so that your re-aiming is not necessary. You have the rifle in your arms in the same position. So there’s no doubt in my mind that he could have gotten off those shots.
And then you take the matter of the first shot. What happened after the first shot? After raising seven kids, I know that when one of them would act up in the backseat of the car, you turn and your foot automatically comes off the gas pedal; and the fact that when that shot went off, the chauffeur turned and his foot absolutely must have come off the accelerator, which is further proved by the fact that a Secret Service man ran from the car behind and caught up to it. So, the car absolutely must have had a momentary lull while he looked back. But he did not come to a complete stop. No, not at all! I don’t even begin to think that. I think that there was just a moment where he might have taken his foot off the gas which was probably the reason why Clint Hill, I think his name was, was able to catch up with the car in front of him. Other than that, those cars move at a pretty steady pace in a parade. You’re not going to run and catch up with a car very easily. So, I feel that that had a marked difference in his ability to shoot a second time without that car speeding up or getting that much of an acceleration. It was only with the third shot that he really had to prove his mettle, and he could not do it. The third shot missed because of the evasive action of the car and the speed that it had gathered.
I don’t think there was any echo pattern down there where I was standing. I think if the shots would have been fired from an adjacent building up on Houston where you had an echo factor, back and forth, you might. From that spot, it’s one dimensional to that window. From where I was, there was none that I could recognize. If somebody went up there now and fired a shot, maybe there would be an echo factor but it was not apparent to me at that time.
People have mentioned seeing puffs of smoke at the time of the assassination. I saw none whatsoever. The smoke that I created through years of cigar smoking would probably account for a puff of smoke here and a puff of smoke there as I went through life. But I sure didn’t see any puffs of smoke anywhere; nothing other than the three shots from the same area, and that has been identified to me as that particular window as to where they came from. I would agree with it because of the sound factor. But if they told me today that I was all wrong, that they came from the fourth floor, or the seventh floor, I’d have to believe them. But there’s no question in my mind that there were three shots from one source, the Texas School Book Depository, and nothing else from any of the other buildings.
There were no shots from sewers, no shots from the grassy knoll. There were no people hiding around with silencers, which in itself is laughable, because why should this person have a silencer and that person not have a silencer? And if there were nine people, as somebody advocates, why eight people with silencers shooting and only one without one. No, I feel comfortable with myself. I was very uncomfortable until the Warren Report came out because I stood by myself on November 22nd, that night. I came up with the original thought of the single bullet. I said at that time that there were three bullets, and they all came from the same place.
Then all the controversy starts. You don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for in a deal like this. The controversy starts about this or that extra gunman coming from here, coming from there. All of these things go on and you start to doubt yourself. You say, “Hey, am I right on this thing or what?” People are going to show me movies and tapes and things like that of what I said and they’re going to cast doubts. But everything I said was what the Warren Commission said, so I felt that I was clean on it. I felt that they printed the truth of what happened. Conspiracy, before or after, I have no idea. All I know is about those few seconds where I was standing, and that I’m sure of.
I’ve had one experience with Mark Lane where he did the interview by asking the questions off camera. I saw his movie, “Rush to Judgment,” once, and this was less than a year ago. It seems to me that he might have taken poetic justice with some of the questions that he asked or fit my answers to his questions rather than the opposite way of me answering the questions. But that was an unpleasantness because he was the type of person who made you believe that you were helping him when all he was looking for was one piece of junk in that whole new car showroom so he could say, “Ha! Ha! Here’s what! The whole thing is wrong because of this!” And that’s what he was! He was looking for that junk in some shining place so that he could destroy everything that was worthwhile.
I’ve had people, because they were from my home state, Pennsylvania, ask to please do it for me, and I came down, met a guy here, and this was just two years after it happened; he showed me a mark over there in the concrete where the third bullet hit and told me how wrong I was…some nineteen year old kid. I had a lot of fun with him because I had taken a job which gave me a new Lincoln Continental every year selling furniture, which is what I was doing all the time, traveling, etc. And I had moved to a different home, which was nice, and I was able to afford. So I told him, “Oh, you have got me! You have got me real good! Now, come on and I’ll show you what kind of car I used to drive, and I’ll show you where I live.” My God, that guy ran back up to one of those tabloids up there in the East and that became the story. He believed it! Unfortunately, a lot of other people did, too.
I’ve had kids that have said, “Dad, I’m sorry you ever got into this” because somebody would get on the phone and ask if I was around and they’d say, no.
They’d say, “Well, who is this?”
“Well, this is his daughter.”
“Well, your dad is a goddamn liar!” And this has gone on time and again. People call up and tell you how nuts you are, that this never happened or that never happened. I had nightmares after the things of the war but nothing related to this. I had some psychiatric care, but I think that’s because I’m a little flakey to begin with and not because of anything that happened here. I got discharged from that hospital and got a piece of paper that says I’m sane. I’m one of the few people that’s got one that says they’re sane.
If the assassination had to happen, I’m glad that I was here to see it. This way I don’t have to depend on other people, like the rest of the world does, as to what happened in those six or eight seconds. It’s a very unpleasant thing to think of but, like anything else, it diminishes in how terrible it was over a period of time. I’ve seen people shot in the head beside me who died in a war that we thought was worthwhile. It’s always hard to see those just shot, their bodies and personalities destroyed, the pleasure that they could have brought somebody is gone and the unhappiness it causes. But these are just fleeting thoughts that I get when I’m reminded like at this time. Other than that, I drive by the spot many times; I have to. For years, I passed this area twice a day on the way to work and almost got to the point where we forgot where we were passing until you see, almost any hour of the day or night, year in and year out, somebody here. The interest is still here for the tourists.
Our company has been acquired twice, not commercial-wise, but by Ragoo Foods Spaghetti Company, which is a part of Cheeseborough Hahns, Inc. After the first acquisition, those people were all interested in coming down here after they looked at our plant and had their meetings. This is what they wanted to see. The same happened with the second acquisition. They wanted to see this. We were later acquired by Unilever which is out of Holland, and they, too, wanted to see this place. So I would think that, forever, this site, the same thing will be going on; people will be talking. When all of us old goats are dead and gone, there will be somebody here with some theory abut the shot from up there, or the shot from up there, or over in the sewer. They’ll still come up with those things, but there won’t be anybody around who was here to say, “No, you’re wrong on that.”
At the time of the assassination, I was working at Montgomery Ward in the Wynnewood Shopping Center over in the Oak Cliff section. By golly, there was no rest! I had to have some rest because, when it came out that I was an eyewitness, people weren’t looking to buy carpet, which I was selling; they were looking to talk with me. It was really bad over there for awhile.
I hate to say this, but I made money out of this thing a few years ago when they were making a film over in London. They took my wife and myself and flew us over there in style, put us up in a nice hotel and gave us $75 a day for meals with a nice cash stipend. It only took me about three hours from makeup until the time I left the studio, which was on the day of the Prince and Fergie’s wedding. I didn’t get to see it, but my wife did. But it was a very, very nice first class trip. They didn’t attempt to coach me for that movie. [Brehm is referring to the docudrama, “On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald,” produced in London in 1986 by LWT International.] All they asked was to tell what I saw and how it was. And in this particular case, they had an adversary there who was going to try to prove me wrong. This was the first time anybody had directly confronted me, and it really frightened me because he wasn’t about to take what I said. It wasn’t that he had anything that he could disprove what I said, but it was to try to knock down my credibility.
Officially, I was never interviewed by the Warren Commission. I was surprised, especially after I saw all the people that were. I gave only a deposition. Two FBI people came out to my house on the Sunday after the assassination. One of them I happened to know, Joe Hanley. His son and my daughter were keeping company at the time. The Hanley interview was a friendly situation. It wasn’t that he was going to try to brow beat me or that I was going to try to fool him. We sat down as people who knew one another and went to the same church, so it was done thoroughly and in good hands. I don’t know how I could have covered any more. I was satisfied that I didn’t have to go before the Warren Commission. I think possibly some people have been critical of them because I didn’t, but I really don’t know how I could have helped them further in any way. Despite all those who have criticized the Warren Commission, I do know this: I was here, and it happened the way I’ve said, and you can take that to the bank!
Soon after the interview was conducted in Dealey Plaza in the summer of 1988, Brehm retired and remained active in veterans activities for many years. In 1984, he was among the honored Ranger battalion members who met with President Reagan at the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landings at Pont-Du-Hoc in Normandy, France and again in 1994 with President Clinton at the 50th anniversary. He and his wife Evelyn continued to live in Carrollton, Texas until his death in 1996.
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