Bobby Joe Dale
Solo Motorcycle Officer
“I caught up to the limousine on Stemmons somewhere around Continental... Your mind runs wild at a time like that. Maybe he's hit; if he is, maybe it's an impersonator. Maybe it's not really happening... Your mind just runs loose...!”
Born and raised in Dallas, Bobby Joe Dale served in the Navy as a boilerman during the Korean Conflict. Following his discharge in 1953, Dale considered working in boilershops, but remembering the heat involved with the job, he instead joined the Dallas Police Department in 1954 as a patrolman. By 1960 he transferred to solo motorcycles and was part of the motorcycle escort for President Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
or three days prior to the President's visit we'd ridden with the Secret
Service checking to see where the turns and problem areas might be. We had three
possible routes, but we didn't know which one we were going to take, and we were
not briefed on it. But by riding during the week, I kept hearing the phrase
"escape routes," which dawned on me later that should something happen
to any part of the motorcade we had an escape route to either Baylor or Parkland
Hospitals. I was impressed with the details in covering all emergencies should
I assume the assignments were drawn up in a joint meeting of the sergeants, lieutenants, and captains. We had our assignments prior to the 22nd. It was to be a routine escort with experienced riders. At the time, I didn't consider it an honor to be included since I had been on VIP escorts several times in the past. To me it was just another assignment.
That particular morning it was raining and everybody had on their rain gear, so it really didn't matter whether your boots were polished or shined. Everybody was either assigned to the escort or at Market Center whether you were working late nights, evenings, or whatever. We all assembled at the motorcycle shed at the police department downtown; those of us who were in the escort were to meet at Love Field at a particular time.
We rode casually out to Love Field in groups of four or five together riding slowly since it was raining and we were being careful. While we were waiting in the restricted area at Love Field for the plane to arrive, it cleared off, the streets dried, and everybody came out of their rain gear.
Once we were assembled and the President was ready to go, we started the motorcade by going out a gate at the far end. At that time, we didn't know which route we were taking; we had three: right, straight, or left. As we were leaving, the word came over the radio that we would use the particular route that went left. As soon as we heard that, we knew where we were going. That meant that we would hit Mockingbird at the entrance to Love Field, make a left and go up to Lemmon Avenue, then turn right to Cedar Springs, which then changes to Turtle Creek, then Harwood to Main.
They seemed to be concerned with the timing element in this motorcade more so than in others I had been in. Time was given continually over the radio to check the progress of the motorcade. We'd give a certain check point and time was given. We were held up a little as we got to Lemmon and Loma Alto, and after this was cleared, we were told that we were running forty-five seconds to a minute behind, so we picked it up a little to be on schedule. There was no reason given for the concern about time but, in retrospect, probably what they were doing was trying to shuffle those with multiple assignments so they could cover those assignments.
Nothing was noteworthy about the motorcade; it was jovial and everybody seemed happy till we got to Lemmon and Loma Alto. There the crowd was lining the sidewalks and seemed to move in, narrowing the street, creating congestion. People ran to the car to greet the President once it slowed down which created a nuisance for us because we had a schedule to keep. It was about that time it dawned on me just how important he was.
My particular assignment was behind the President's car where the motorcade had the VIP's and press buses. I was at the end of the car just in front of the press buses.
Our job specifically was to keep intervals, to keep the motorcade all together including the press buses and cars behind: no lagging, no gaps, certain distances between each vehicle. If they began to lag, we were to speed them up. This could be done usually by looking at the driver and telling him or giving him some indication. Normally the indication would be through hand signals since the Harleys we were riding made quite a bit of noise. When crowds moved in, you could usually engage the clutch so it would slip, race the engine and create more noise. We'd use that as a psychological method to move the crowds back. You could even cause them to backfire if you retarded the spark. Mine was a '62 model which was relatively new since the average lifespan on the police department of the Harleys was between thirty and forty thousand miles, or three years.
I noticed as we started on Harwood that the crowds became heavier and, by the time we got to town, the streets were full, much like a parade, with everybody upbeat, hollering, and a great deal of enthusiasm.
I had just made a right turn off of Main and was probably about forty feet onto Houston in the right hand lane as the President's car turned left onto Elm when a round went off, but it didn't dawn on me that it was a shot. I noticed the crowd looking and moving and becoming congested. At first I thought it was a backfire, but then I heard rapid succession. I didn't pay much attention to counting them because you couldn't tell where they were coming from in that low area, bouncing off all the walls and buildings. It just wasn't possible to tell where they were coming from!
After the shots were fired, the whole motorcade came to a stop. I stood and looked through the plaza, noticed that there was commotion, and saw people running around his car. It started to move, then it slowed again; that's when I saw Mrs. Kennedy coming back on the trunk and another guy pushing her back into the car. I didn't know what she was doing. At that time, I figured that she was fleeing rather than helping. It looked like a camera out of focus or the film jumping its track. I had no idea what had happened.
About that time it was on the radio that he'd been hit. If I'd speeded up, the press buses and everything else would have gone with me, so I got the driver's attention of the bus behind me and told him to stop, then I accelerated to catch up to the limousine. As I turned onto Elm, a motorcycle which had fallen over caught my attention, and Hargis was going up the grass. Other than the general commotion, that was all that I noticed since my attention was focused on catching up to the motorcade. I caught up to the limousine on Stemmons somewhere around Continental. From there it was north on Stemmons to the Industrial exit running fast. I wasn't paying any attention to speed, but by the way the motor was acting, I'd say it was doing 70.
Your mind runs wild at a time like that. Maybe he's hit; if he is, maybe it's an impersonator. Maybe it's not really happening. Even when we got to Parkland, while he's being taken out of the vehicle, you're thinking maybe it wasn't really him; it was an impersonator riding in the parade. Your mind just runs loose!
As we passed Market Center, one of the officers, Sergeant Striegel, thinking the motorcade had arrived, came out to direct us in, but we sped on by at a high rate of speed. It was hectic! Looking back, it didn't seem like it took that long. After passing Market Center, I knew there was a railroad up ahead and was hoping a train wouldn't be coming by. I had no sense of the speed we were making until I hit the incline at the railroad. At that point, the motor left the ground and I said to myself, "Hey, don't lose it." Of course, if I'd lost it, then probably I would have been run over by somebody behind me; that occupies your mind! I'd been airborne before on a motorcycle, but it was intentional; this was unintentional. There's a big difference!
Apparently, we'd beaten the news there when we arrived at Parkland. Just as I pulled up and parked my motor the President was on the gurney beside the car, and they were wheeling him in. At that time, it was obvious that nobody could have survived a wound like that. As I recall, Mrs. Kennedy had already gone into the entrance of the emergency room prior to them bringing him in. There were quite a few people that went in ahead of him either clearing the way or getting him ready.
It was a fairly routine operation for us. We knew to keep the crowd away, that the sooner we could block off the entrance to Parkland up to Harry Hines about half a block away the better off we'd be. The problem was clearing the emergency entrance. Everybody began showing up as the news got out while we were trying to gain control of the scene. It was hectic there for two or three minutes! At that time, some three-wheelers arrived and helped clear it all the way to the street. Meanwhile, it was hard to tell somebody that needed to go into the emergency room that was sick or injured that the hospital was closed.
It was so hectic I can't remember everything in sequence. I went over to the limousine and saw a Secret Service man starting to put the top up. "Help me secure this," he said, since it was heavy and in sections. Blood and matter was everywhere inside the car including a bone fragment which was oblong shaped, probably an inch to an inch and a half long by three-quarters of an inch wide. As I turned it over and looked at it, I determined that it came from some part of the forehead because there was hair on it which appeared to be near the hairline. There were other fragments around , but that was the largest piece that grabbed my attention. What stood out in my mind was that there was makeup up to the hairline. Apparently he had used makeup for the cameras to knock down the glare. It was fairly distinct where it stopped and the wrap or skin took up. Other than that, nobody messed with anything inside the car in any manner, shape, or form. Nobody said, "Clean this up!" We then put the top up and secured it.
After that Chief Curry came back out and said that he wanted me to monitor the radio from my motor sitting right outside the emergency entrance. My job then was to relay information to him and then from him back to the dispatcher's office. Later he told me to advise the people at Market Hall that he would not be there. When they inquired why, I just repeated what he told me. I wouldn't tell them that the President had been hit.
Later on Curry told me that he was going to back his car up and move LBJ back to Love Field and for me to get somebody else to help escort him but not to use sirens. We were to pull the escort at a steady speed, use red lights and whistles and not to attract any more attention than was necessary. He said, "When you see us load, I'll give you a signal and we'll leave. Go through the crowd!" He didn't want to have to stop. So I got Brewer and told him that we were fixing to take some people back to Air Force One and that it was to be a guide escort only, braking at intersections with whistles and no sirens.
We started up, took the entrance to Mockingbird and about that time Striegel showed up. He saw what we were doing and ran off ahead using his siren. When Curry heard that, he said, "Motorcycle officer using his siren. Tell him to discontinue!" It took about a three-block chase trying to get him to shut his siren off. I guess he was embarrassed because he made a right turn, and that's the last I saw of him.
As I recall, there were two vehicles that went back to Love Field: Curry's and another. Somewhere in the time between Parkland and Love Field the U.S. borders had been closed, and then it dawned on me: Why have they not said the president was dead? It was obvious; we knew what had happened. But then it all came to me as to why things are done that way. If there had been a conspiracy, the United States was vulnerable to attack and there would be nobody to order retaliation. I guess I didn't realize the magnitude of all this until that time.
We went back into the same entrance we'd exited earlier and pulled onto the tarmac. Air Force One had pulled right up to the ramp. Brewer and I stayed there at the bottom of the ramp as an ambulance pulled up and unloaded while they went up. Then the driver got back into the ambulance and backed it over next to the fence and just left it. I realized then that the owner of the vehicle was not driving; it was the Secret Service. About that time there was a DPS trooper taking pictures, and the Secret Service hollered at him to get his camera out of there.
We didn't know what we were waiting for, and about that time another car drove up carrying Judge [Sarah T.] Hughes. They had found her and escorted her up into the plane for the swearing in. All the while I kept wondering who was going to come and get the ambulance. After the plane took off, we were then sent downtown to City Hall.
During the time I was monitoring the chief's radio at Parkland, it had come in that an officer had been shot in Oak Cliff. The chief was saddened and wanted to know who it was. I ascertained that it was Tippit, but at that time we didn't make a connection between the shooting and that of the President.
When I arrived at City Hall, Oswald had already been arrested and brought in. I was told that they needed help up in the homicide office on the third floor, so I went upstairs to help clear the halls.
You plan for the motorcade and everybody's on assignments; you plan the visit and covering the hospital; everything's covered with the exception that you don't anticipate an arrest being made or the third floor being a problem. Everybody else is on assignment; the only thing that's left free is the motorcycle officers. They're no longer on assignment, so that's the reason we ended up up there. It was strictly that there was no other manpower allocated or preplanned to be up there.
At that time, Oswald was a suspect in the killing of the police officer. They hadn't made the connection with the President at that time. When that connection was made shortly thereafter, it became rather hectic. Generally it was fairly orderly with the exception of the reporters, and we didn't have the right to keep them out. We tried to stop them, but the press was pretty innovative. Being frank, they made an ass out of themselves! We had more problems with the press and the reporters than we did bystanders or civilians.
When Oswald would come out of the office and down the hall, what I observed was that he seemed to be toying with everybody. He was way ahead of everybody else. He knew what he was doing and seemed very confident. He acted like he was in charge and, as it turned out, he probably was.
I was off the following day, as I had already made arrangements to attend the wedding of a friend of mine in Oklahoma. In fact many of the motorcycle officers were off duty.
About the only time this subject came up with the motorcycle officers after this was when an officer was asked to come to the Warren Commission or be questioned elsewhere. It wasn't something that we sat around and talked about. I guess we thought about it, but we didn't talk about it unless somebody like Baker was called to Washington. Coincidentally, on one of those flights, my wife, who was a stewardess for American, ran into P.T. Dean, who was also going to Washington to testify. Since American had a policy about stewardesses not being married, she passed him a note saying, "I'm Shirley Weir, but I'm not supposed to be married." She figured that he would say something since we all knew each other. Before we were married, she also lived in an apartment at Thornton and Ewing above Jack Ruby, though she didn't really know him
Regarding the assassination, I didn't think the police department was treated fairly by the press or the writers for at least a year after it happened simply because there was too much "Monday morning quarterbacking." Certainly you could find a lot of things that should have been done differently, but that was after the fact; you can cut it all kinds of ways. In living an incident, you don't think about all these things. Policemen very seldom act; they always react. That's their training. You play the hand you're dealt. That's what the Dallas Police Department did, and they reacted in a normal manner.
We also don't put much stock in speculation or theory. In the late '70's, there was speculation that a stuck microphone on one of the motorcycle radios in Dealey Plaza picked up the sounds of the shots. At that time, we had two channels on the radio: one channel was for Oak Cliff and the other for the rest of Dallas. But that day, they cleared one channel for those events pertaining to the motorcade. We were on that channel, but you could flip the switch and go to the other channel.
At the time, what I was thinking was that there was a mike stuck on that particular channel which garbled other transmissions from other vehicles, but the dispatcher could override it. In fact, I think he said two or three times that there was a mike stuck open and to check it. You could pretty well identify what the sound was on the radio. It seemed at the time, and it's still in my mind, that it was a three-wheeler. They had a flat-head engine with a distinctive noise, so you could tell them from a solo motorcycle. Stuck mikes were a fairly common occurrence, especially among three-wheelers. With the solo, you didn't turn on your transmitter until you got ready to talk; three-wheelers left theirs on all the time due to the fact that they had bigger batteries.
Under ordinary circumstances if your mike became stuck, you had officers close to each other all the time and it could be cleared up quicker by somebody saying, "If your mike's stuck, you can't hear anything. Check your mike! Check your mike!" Usually the problem would be located and quickly corrected if it were a solo motorcycle. However, had a three-wheeler been on assignment in a parking area with his mike stuck, he might go an hour with it stuck. Of course, he'd have no knowledge of this unless somebody told him to check his mike. Again, if your mike's stuck, you don't hear it.
In 1975 I became an instructor at the Police Academy at the pistol range. By coincidence, that's when the acoustical test was being run to check for shot noises on the tapes. The pistol range personnel reenacted it with one of the instructors using the same type weapon firing the same distance into sandbags. It was sort of interesting just sitting there watching the technicians and so-called brains attempting this reenactment. It was half funny and half absurd to come by fifteen years later firing the gun with the same sounds without taking into consideration that all the trees in the area had grown during those fifteen years and would absorb more sound, thus the sound's going to be different. It was absurd because, in my mind, the stuck mike was never anywhere in the area of the assassination, so they were basing all these tests on a false assumption.
I've heard the tapes of the radio traffic and could even hear a train which was in the vicinity of Market Center. You can hear the motorcade with the sirens going by the stuck mike which indicates that the mike was on a stationary vehicle, most likely a three-wheeler at Market Center. If you listen past where the "experts" checked the tapes, you can hear the motorcade with sirens in the background, and you can hear them pass the mike. The time element was two or three minutes after we would have left Dealey Plaza.
Several of the TV people came by at the time of the acoustics' tests and even said that they had heard that the stuck mike was mine. I knew that wasn't true! I could hear the mike stuck. I could hear all those sounds coming over the mike and therefore I concluded at that time that it was a three-wheeler at Market Center. Had my mike been stuck, I wouldn't have heard anything. If your mike's stuck, your radio's dead. There's no doubt in my mind that mine wasn't stuck!
You tell them it wasn't, then they continue talking like it was. To me, once you say it wasn't my mike, that it wasn't stuck because I could hear the mike stuck and could hear all the background noises over my radio, then it wasn't stuck! At that time, whoever it was that I was talking to, the conversation should have been over, but they persisted! I resented that! They should have concluded that it wasn't mine and gone about their business to find out whose it was. But that was typical.
People who have written about the assassination voice their opinion, and they'll include just enough truth to give it credibility. A lot of these people who are gifted with words have made quite a bit of money on their ideas and theories, not the facts of the case. I don't think there's a whole lot of truth in their books. They seem to interview only those that will give credibility to their theories. It bothers me that some of these people are so far out in left field. It's a little upsetting when you look at what kind of following they have for their theories. You just want to grab and shake them and say, "Hey, don't you know better than that?"
Bobby Joe Dale retired from the Dallas Police Department in January 1981. With the election of Don Byrd as sheriff of Dallas County, Dale became one of his assistant chiefs. He remained in that role until 1985 after Byrd lost his bid for reelection. Dale is now retired, living in Cedar Hill, Texas.
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