Historian and journalist James Reston Jr. has questioned whether JFK was the actual target of Lee Harvey Oswald in his infamous assassination of the President 53 years ago last week. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Reston suggests that Texas Governor John Connally, who was riding in the car with President, was in fact the real target for Oswald’s bullet. The Governor was seriously wounded in the chest, wrist and thigh during the attack but survived.
As proof, Reston says that a Secret Service agent Mike Howard found in Oswald’s apartment a notebook in which he had written in block capitals “I WILL KILL” and the names of four men: former Vice President Richard Nixon, FBI agent James Hosty, General Edwin Walker and Texas Gov. John Connally. Besides Connally’s name he had also drawn a bloodied dagger.
Whilst Special Agent Howard turned the book over to the Warren Commission – the ten month inquiry into the President’s death – it was only after the Commission’s conclusions were published that he realized that the list had been torn out of the notebook and no mentions had been made of it.
Reston argued in his book about the assassination, “The Accidental Victim,” that Oswald had long harbored a deep grudge against the Texas Governor; Oswald's attempt to defect to the Soviet Union had led to his discharge from the Marines being downgraded to undesirable and he knew that when he returned to the United States he would struggle to find work because of it. He appealed to Connally, then Secretary of the Navy and a fellow Texan, only to be rebuffed with a letter embossed with the Secretary’s smiling face and a campaign leaflet urging him to support his candidacy for Governor. This, Reston believes, was the root of Oswald’s hatred and ultimately lead him to plot the politician’s assassination.
He adds that in the testimony of Oswald’s wife, Maria, to Congress’s Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 she categorically named Connally as the real target of the assassination, not JFK. Other people who knew Oswald are alleged to have corroborated this view, saying that he in fact admired JFK for his efforts to engage with the USSR.
If so, why is this theory not more widely accepted? Reston suggests that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover would not have wanted the agency to have been implicated in any way with the blame for the assassination. The FBI had interrogated Marina Oswald about her immigration status only a few weeks prior to the assassination and Oswald fired off an angry letter to the Dallas FBI. Agent Hosty testified before Congress that on orders from his superiors he destroyed the letter, something that Reston suggests might have come from President Johnson, trying to protect his close friend Gov. Connally.
Ultimately, whether he was Oswald’s real target or not, the assassination did Connally’s career little harm. He served for a further five years as Governor of Texas before returning to Washington for a brief stint as Secretary of the Treasury under Richard Nixon. He switched parties in in 1973 and was even shortlisted as a potential Vice President for Nixon after the resignation of Spiro Agnew. Although he was passed over in favor of Gerald Ford, that did not mark the end of his interest in electoral politics. He announced in January 1979 his intention to run for the Republican nomination for President. Initially he seemed to have momentum, he raised more money than any of his rivals, but he was unable to match the soaring popularity of Ronald Reagan among the party’s conservative base. He died in 1993 of pulmonary fibrosis.