H. B. McLain
Dallas Police Department
“Unfortunately all their accusations that it was my microphone that was stuck open and the shots were heard on it were printed in the newspapers, and it’ll be that way from now on. They’ll never be convinced otherwise, regardless of what I say…”
Born in the piney woods of East Texas in Nacogdoches County, H. B. McLain moved to Dallas in 1942, attended high school for six weeks, then joined the Merchant Marines during the Second World War. After joining the Dallas Police Department in 1953, he worked in the Patrol and Burglary and Theft Divisions until he became a solo motorcycle officer in November 1955. McLain was one of the escort officers in the motorcade on November 22, 1963.
It was a hazy morning as we went out to Love Field to wait for the
President to come in. When we arrived, we parked our motorcycles on the outside
of the fenced area until he arrived. Then, as the motorcade began, we met it at
the gate and came on out.
The escort route had been picked out for him by the Tactical Group. Normally we had done our own scheduling, but they took it upon themselves this time. It was rather unusual because they had people working in positions they didn’t normally work. We usually rode side by side with the senior man riding on the left and the junior man on the right. In this case, they had it reversed.
My assignment was to ride alongside the procession mostly behind the President’s car and the press buses five or six cars behind the President on the left side. There was nothing extra special about the escort as we had done many of them. It was routine.
Our job was to keep the pedestrians back out of the way so they didn’t get run over. We’d just ride alongside, and if anybody was too close, we’d tell them to move back. If that didn’t work, we might bump them.
There were a lot of people along the motorcade route, especially in the downtown area from Akard to Houston Streets. When I made the turn onto Houston on the left side, we had caught up with the cars in front of us, and I had stopped right by the side of the entrance to the old jail, which is about midway between Main and Elm Streets on Houston. I heard one very clear shot. Evidently I must have felt like it was coming from straight ahead because at that instant I was looking down, and when I heard the shot, threw my head up and it appeared that about 5,000 pigeons flew out from behind that building (the Texas School Book Depository) straight ahead. In fact, I thought to myself, “Somebody’s shooting at the pigeons!” But I could see the limousine off to my left on Elm and saw Mrs. Kennedy crawling on the back of the car. I had a good idea that somebody had been shot at but didn’t know which one.
About that time the chief came on the radio and said, “Get to Parkland Hospital!” and the race was on.
As I sped through Dealey Plaza, the only thing I noticed was Hargis with his motorcycle laid down crawling on his hands and knees across the grassy knoll. I didn’t have any idea what he was doing. You think maybe he might have fallen or that he lost his footing when he stepped off and slipped on the grass.
In any case, I caught up with and got in front of the limousine on Stemmons somewhere around Continental. The ride was wild! You know in your mind that you’re going way too fast, but if you slow down or fall, the cars behind are going to run over you. But you don’t think about those things, though, at the time; it’s all instinct.
We had to slow down when we got off Stemmons at Industrial. Along Industrial there was a railroad track which was located on a small incline some twenty to thirty feet before we were to hit Harry Hines Boulevard. Chaney, myself and another officer went airborne up the incline, hit the ground, and made the sharp left onto Hines.
When we arrived at the hospital, I parked my motorcycle and came back to the limousine about fifteen feet away. As the hospital orderlies approached to take him out of the car, Mrs. Kennedy was still laying over him, covering his head, and wouldn’t get up. So I took it upon myself, reached over and caught her by the shoulder, pulled her and said, “Come on, let them take him out.” Somebody threw a coat over him just as she raised up, and they took him out on the right side of the car. She then stepped out on the left, stunned, and walked with me in a daze into the emergency room.
I figured at the time that the wound was fatal. Part of the skull was laying on the floorboard. Blood and brain material was splattered all over as if a ripe watermelon had been dropped. It was a pretty gory scene.
As I left the emergency room and was walking down the hall, one of the Secret Service agents told an FBI agent to get out of the building. “I’m with the FBI,” and he started to ask him something. “I want you to get out of here!”
“But I’m with the FBI,” he said.
“I don’t give a goddamn who you’re with! Get out of here!” The Secret Service agent then grabbed him by the nape of the neck, carried him to the door, and told the officer on the door, “Don’t let this man back in here!” As a result, the FBI agent became belligerent. He seemed to think that because he was with the FBI that he could butt in and do whatever he wanted. Other than that and with everybody moaning and crying, the general scene at the hospital was under control. Later the motorcycle officers were then assigned to City Hall to control the turmoil there while Oswald was in custody. All I did was to stand in front of Homicide’s door and keep people out. The following days, Saturday and Sunday, all of the solo motorcycle officers were off duty.
We tried to put most of this behind us as much as possible until it all came up again in 1977 when the House Select Committee on Assassinations began re-investigating all of this. The best I can figure is that the people doing it didn’t know what the hell they were doing. They were jumping to conclusions. They sent one investigator down here to talk with us, and he began telling us what had happened and how it happened. We said, “To hell with you; we ain’t telling you anything!” So he left and the next thing we knew the acoustics stuff was coming out.
The police department recorded on tape all radio transmissions on the two channels operating that day. We used Channel 2 for special assignments such as the motorcade and Channel 1 for regular assignments. We were all tuned in to Channel 2. At the time of the assassination, a mike on one of the motorcycles was stuck in the on position on Channel 1. Somehow the investigators concluded that one of our mikes was stuck, even though we weren’t on that channel, and therefore the sound and number of shots would be recorded on the tape.
I talked to them several times to pinpoint where I was sitting, where the mike was on my motorcycle, and which way I was headed. I was surprised that I was being accused of being the one with the stuck mike because if mine was stuck, I couldn’t have heard any of the other stuff that was going on.
To operate the radio, you had to press the button to talk on it. As a result, you couldn’t hear anything and most of the others couldn’t hear anything either other than what you were saying. Once you let off the button the channel was open again. But you wouldn’t necessarily know if your mike was stuck open until you began to notice that you were hearing nothing on the radio. You could still transmit but you couldn’t hear anything.
Eventually I was called to Washington. When I got up there in the late afternoon, they whisked me over to the hotel and asked me a bunch of questions. They told me what they were going to do, what they were going to ask, and what they were trying to prove. Something was said about the tapes and they said, “No, you don’t need to hear the tapes.”
The questions they asked couldn’t be answered with a yes or no answer. They worded the questions so that the answers I gave fit their way of thinking because they were trying to reopen the investigation. The questions were hypothetical like: “Could this have happened?” or “Is it possible?” The only way I could answer was, “It’s possible. Anything’s possible.” But I don’t think I answered them with a yes or no. In fact, I really didn’t know at the time what they were getting at.
When I got back from Washington, J. C. Bowles, who was the chief dispatcher and who had studied the tapes, called me and asked if I’d heard the tapes. When I told him no, he said, “Can you come by my office when you get off work?” So I went by there and was told to take two tapes into the other room. He set up a cassette recorder and told me, “Play this one; listen to it; then play this other one and listen to it.” When I came out, he asked, “Is that your mike that’s stuck?” and I replied that it wasn’t. “Why?”
I told him, “It’s a three-wheeler that’s stuck.”
You can tell very clearly the difference between the sound of a solo motorcycle that we rode and a three-wheel motorcycle; it’s like daylight and dark. The solo engine has kind of a thump to it: CHUKE.. CHUKE.. CHUKE.., while the three-wheeler has more of a thrashing sound.. AAANG.. AAANG.. AAANG! You could hear this all on the tapes, but the people in Washington didn’t listen. They were trying to tell us what it was.
While in Washington, they commenced to ask all kinds of questions: “Well, did you hear Curry say this, or did you hear that?”
‘Yeah, I heard it!” I said.
“Well, how can you hear it if your mike’s stuck?”
“My mike ain’t stuck,” I responded. If they’d have let me listen to the tapes before I went up there, I could have told them right quick that it wasn’t my motorcycle but that it was a three-wheeler. In fact, that three-wheeler was three miles away at the Trade Mart, thus they didn’t hear any shots on the tapes and their theory was not valid.
The noise they heard was the radio popping. Those old radios popped all the time. Sometimes it sounded like a gun going off. But their investigator didn’t listen to any of that; he didn’t listen to the motors running.
Basically I didn’t think they were honest with the whole situation. They sent some guy down here to investigate something, and he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. You don’t start investigating by telling people how it happened; you ask them how it happened. We tried to tell him but he said, “No, it happened this way!”
So we told him, “To hell with you! We ain’t telling you anything!”
Unfortunately all their accusations that it was my microphone that was stuck open and the shots were heard on it were printed in the newspapers, and it’ll be that way from now on. They’ll never be convinced otherwise, regardless of what I say. “Well, sure that’s the first thing he’s going to say; he’s going to deny it.” To hell with them!
Bowles, who is now the sheriff of Dallas County, and I have met several times and talked about it. On the tapes, some investigators have made a big deal out of a sound that they claim is a church bell. It wasn’t anything but a loose manhole cover in the street. One day when I’d left his office and was walking across the street, just as I stepped up on the curb on the other side of the street, I heard a BONG… BONG sound. I turned around and noticed a pickup truck making a left turn onto Jackson Street. The front wheel ran over the manhole cover, then the back wheel. It was loose: BONG… BONG! So I went back to Bowles and told him what I’d heard, and he said, “That sounds logical.” After a period of time, we figured out where the motorcycle with the stuck mike was and who was on it because the tapes indicate the rider whistled. We only knew one officer who whistled all the time that rode motorcycles. After doing some checking, we found that he was assigned to the Trade Mart at that time, three miles from Dealey Plaza. Also you could hear the sheriff’s car radio on the tapes. There was only one sheriff’s car radio, and it was also assigned to the Trade Mart, so the stuck mike couldn’t have been anywhere else. So, if the investigator from Washington would have listened to us, the whole matter would have been cleared up without all the controversy.
As a result of adverse experiences like that, most of the motorcycle officers don’t want to get involved any further in the subject. I don’t dwell on it; I just let it go and keep going. It’s similar to someone in your family dying: you grieve for a while, then eventually you get to where it gets a little further back in time. It’s always still there, but you don’t think about it near as much as you do the first two or three years.
Officer McLain, after 27 years, retired from the police department in 1980. The following year, after J. C. Bowles was elected sheriff, McLain then joined the sheriff’s department and eventually was promoted to sergeant in the Warrant’s Division. H. B. McLain retired from the sheriff’s department in 1996.
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