Advisory: This article is based on a firsthand account of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, including graphic descriptions of the shooting. Discretion is advised.

Paul Landis shares his memories of the John F. Kennedy assassination | Nov. 22, 2023

It was about 30 minutes after President John F. Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22, 1963. Secret Service agent Paul Landis was with first lady Jacqueline Kennedy at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

Landis had seen the shooting, the disruption of the bright and cheery day in Dallas marred by political violence. He was on Jacqueline Kennedy’s security detail, accompanying her in a car behind the presidential limousine.

At the hospital, he said, Jacqueline Kennedy would not let go of her husband. She did not want anyone to see his fatal wound, he said. Another Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, put his coat over the president’s head and persuaded her to let go of her husband so he could be taken into a hospital room.

And as she got up, Landis said, he noticed something on the seat.

“As soon as Mrs. Kennedy stood up, I noticed a fully intact bullet on the back of the rear seat where she had been sitting. And there was no damage to it,” Landis told GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Paris Alston.

He picked up the bullet and placed it on the side of the president’s gurney, he said, figuring that doctors would notice it during an autopsy.

Landis is now sharing his memories publicly in a book, “The Final Witness: A Kennedy Secret Service Agent Breaks His Silence After Sixty Years.”

As investigations came and went and conspiracy theories sprouted up, he said, he avoided the subject.

Even now, he said he does not believe his memories contradict the findings of the Warren Commission, which determined that one shooter fired three bullets. The commission did not interview him.

“I think the Warren Commission got that right,” he said. “But if I had been interviewed, which I fully expected to be — and I was worried about it because I knew I would break down, and that wasn't the kind of image I wanted to represent to the Secret Service — I think there would not have been so many conspiracy theories and all the confusion and everything around the assassination.”

“If I had been interviewed ... I think there would not have been so many conspiracy theories and all the confusion and everything around the assassination.”
Paul Landis

The commission did interview Secret Service agent Hill, as well as Roy Kellerman, who was riding in the Kennedys’ limousine.

“Other than that, none of the eyewitnesses were interviewed,” Landis said. “Who knows what would have been settled upon or agreed upon at the time.”

Landis stayed on Jacqueline Kennedy’s security detail for another six months, after which his nightmares and post-traumatic symptoms got to be too much, he said.

A black-and-white photo of a man in a suit lifting a toddler into the air.
John F. Kennedy Jr. with Secret Service agent Paul Landis on the South Lawn of the White House on May 17, 1962.
Cecil Stoughton John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

“The trauma and everything at the time, I had this constant loop going through my head,” he said. “I had never read the Warren Commission report, and I purposely did not read any of the conspiracy theories and reports that were out there. I had figured I was there, I knew what happened. I saw it, I didn't need to read anything.”

Then, decades after the assassination, a police chief in Shaker Heights, Ohio, gave him a copy of Josiah Thompson's book “Six Seconds in Dallas.”

“It sat on my nightstand for three months before I could open it,” he said.

When he finally read it, he said, he saw a picture of what people called a “pristine bullet” or a “magic bullet,” and a note saying it was found on Texas Gov. John Connally's gurney.

“I recognized it as the bullet that I had placed on the side of Kennedy's gurney, it was like, 'Wow, this is wrong. What do I do? Who do I call and talk about it?' There weren't many people I would trust to call.”

It was 2014 when he called Hill, he said, and shared his memories of that day.

“I just kept all my feelings and thoughts to myself up to then,” he said. “I thought that I was over everything, and that all those events wouldn't bother me.”

In the years since he started writing his memoir, and found an unburdening in the writing process. He remembers typing the final passage of the book and suddenly feeling tears streaming down his face.

“I hope the public learns the truth,” he said. “There's so much that we don't know. And I know the situation the government must be at in not wanting to release this, the information that they've been withholding. But I think we need to know the truth. Let's get it out, get it over with, and move on.”