Never-before-seen personal documents and correspondence preserved for fifty years from my journal and collection of original Warren Commission documents. I have used these documents and my journal as a primary source in my book about the Warren Commission.


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Spending the summer on our farm in Western New York has provided the opportunity – between chores – to reflect on my book tour during the past year to discuss my book about President Kennedy’s assassination, “History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Investigation into the Assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Lee Harvey Oswald with the Dallas Police

Lee Harvey Oswald with the Dallas Police

The most unanswerable question from the audiences at my 26 events in 11 states?  What was Lee Harvey Oswald’s motive in killing President Kennedy?  In all the time the Warren Commission and its staff spent investigating the assassination, and even with the assistance of three expert psychiatrists, we never could get to a conclusion about motive that we could support with evidence.  Some of us speculated one way or another; but no one could be sure.  Oswald never explained himself, even to his wife, and his meandering comments in his “Historic Diary” provided clues that simply prompted more debate.

The second most unanswerable question?  Why couldn’t the Secret Service agents in the motorcade see the shooter at the window of the Texas Book Depository when bystanders on the parade route saw him clearly enough while he was aiming (and shooting) his rifle to describe him for the police?  Based on this description Officer Tippit stopped Oswald on the street shortly after the shooting, and Oswald pulled his revolver and shot Tippit before fleeing to the movie theater where he was arrested.  One of the most difficult investigative tasks our Warren Commission staff faced was prying information from the Treasury Department where the Secret Service was located in those days.  They were determined to protect their agents from blame for the President’s death and never shared the detailed internal report (about what went wrong and what remedies were required) with the Commission. Without this information, the Commission’s recommendations about Presidential protection lacked the hard-hitting specifics that might have led to meaningful recommendations to reform the organization. People would ask me about one or more of the better-known conspiracy theories, and these are readily resolved by reference to scientific and investigative facts.  I would tell them what I thought. Only a few conspiracy advocates took the occasion to challenge me in person. For the most part, I think, this was due to the fact that those who came to hear me tended to be older than 50; and most of these had some personal recollections of the day on which President Kennedy was assassinated. As for those younger people who heard me speak, I had the sense that they were surprised by the attention being given to this historical event

Howard Willens Signing copies of "History Will Prove Us Right"

Howard Willens signing copies of “History Will Prove Us Right”

after 50 years and appeared to have no preconceptions about the assassination. The audiences seemed eager to hear from someone who had personally participated in the work of the Commission. They seemed to enjoy the opportunity to question me about aspects of my experience on the Commission staff and I, in turn, enjoyed the opportunity to respond. The fact that I am still alive – and prepared to defend the Commission’s work – appeared to win me at least the initial support of many listeners. My reference to the subsequent and impressive careers of my colleagues on the Commission staff also seemed to support my assertion that we were all committed to a thorough and independent examination of the assassination. I found that my audiences were generally unaware of the extent to which the Commission’s principal conclusions had been revisited over the last several decades and, without exception, have been reaffirmed. I described the last chapter of my book, where I summarized the many investigations since 1964 examining one or more aspects of our investigation – in particular the work of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978-79 – and the confirmation of the Commission’s conclusions that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin and there was no credible evidence of any conspiracy. I pointed out that the critics of the Warren Commission’s conclusions typically ignore these subsequent investigations, which I believe does more to impeach their credibility than anything I might say.

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Howard Willens

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