By BRAD KELLAR
About 50 miles separates downtown Greenville and downtown Dallas.
But a tragic series of events which occurred in downtown Dallas 50 years ago has a surprising number of connections to Hunt County.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the murder of Dallas Police Officer JD Tippitt on Nov. 22, 1963 continue to fascinate the world. Both incidents also remain linked to several of Hunt County’s current or former residents.
— Lee Harvey Oswald was alleged to have allegedly killed Kennedy and Tippitt. Tippitt’s widow, Marie, is a member of the Gasway family of Greenville. Her two brothers, Dwight and N.L. Gasway, were officers with the Greenville Police Department.
— The late Charles Truman (CT) Walker, who once lived in southern Hunt County, was one of the police officers who took Oswald into custody inside the Texan Theater in Dallas following Tippitt’s murder.
— Hunt County Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 Hershey Barnett was a motorcycle patrolman for the Dallas Police Department and on that fateful day was among the law enforcement officers who helped guard Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy, First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson were taken after the shooting.
— Russ Vandeveerdonk, who lives in Dallas and maintains a home on Lake Tawakoni, has relived that day countless times from a unique perspective, most notably as Kennedy, having played the president in Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” Each year around the first of November, Vandeveerdonk begins receiving calls from people wanting him to appear at fundraisers as Kennedy, to talk about his experience in the film or to ask his thoughts on the conspiracy theories on the shooting itself. Vandeveerdonk is often asked to sit in as Kennedy in recreations of the fateful motorcade through downtown Dallas.
— Former Hunt County District Attorney Cameron McKinney had no connection to the Kennedy assassination. But Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins highlighted a letter written by McKinney during a nationally televised press conference in February 2008, which had been billed as an event to release information, in part, regarding a purported transcript between Oswald and Oswald’s killer, nightclub owner Jack Ruby. The event was held to detail a list of items and documents, which once belonged to former Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade and related to the assassination, which Watkins’ office was making public for the first time. Among the items were several letters written by McKinney to Wade from the early 1960s. Watkins told the Herald-Banner that the letters written by McKinney held no connection to the assassination, including one letter upon which Watkins focused during the conference. Watkins said he highlighted the letter because he believed it exemplified the racial attitudes in America at the time of the assassination. The particular letter from McKinney was written on the Hunt County letterhead of the time, which included the famous — some would say infamous — slogan which also used to grace the former sign which once rose above Lee Street; “The Blackest Land, The Whitest People.”
The letter in question included a congratulations from McKinney to Wade for something not mentioned during the press conference. Watkins said that the letters, while not having anything to do with the assassination, also contained the type of language and dialogue which revealed the “negative view of African Americans” held by many prosecutors of the time. McKinney served as Hunt County District Attorney between 1961 and 1969.
Where were you when JFK was assassinated? Do you remember what happened that day? How did his death affect you? Comment on this story or visit our Facebook or Twitter site to let us know.