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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

"JFK: Destiny Betrayed" Misleads on General Curtis LeMay, Part Two

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

Screen shot from JFK: Destiny Betrayed

Oliver Stone's so-called documentary series, JFK: Destiny Betrayed, alleges that General Curtis LeMay was at JFK's autopsy. Here is an excerpt from a transcript: (56:27 in episode 3)

Douglas Horne: There were a lot of people at the Bethesda morgue. The latest count by all the researchers that I know of is about 33 people. There was a gallery, bleachers. Apparently all three rows were filled with people. Both Dr. Humes has complained after the fact and Tom Robinson, the mortician from Gawler's Funeral Home. They both equated it to a three-ring circus.

Dr. Gary Aguilar: But these three autopsy pathologists who are not really credentialed to do that kind of an autopsy, were given the body, told ‘here’s the body, he was shot from behind, he fell forward,’ which they wrote in their autopsy report, ‘figure out how the wounds fit the known circumstances of the shooting.' But what this really speaks to is the fact that the autopsy was not in the control of the surgeons that were charged with doing it, it was in the control of people who were there who were telling them what they could do and what they couldn’t do.

Douglas Horne; Paul O’Connor was a Navy Corpsman helping the pathologists. He told me in 1999, he told others this in 1992, he's told several people, that Dr. Humes, during the autopsy, complained that somebody was smoking a cigar, ‘tell him to put the damn thing out.’ So O’Connor, he went over to the gallery, the three rows of bleachers, and there was General LeMay, sitting in his uniform, with a big fat cigar in his hand, and LeMay looked at him after he asked him to put it out, and promptly blew smoke in his face.

Douglas Horne: Did LeMay go to the autopsy to gloat over the death of his nemesis?

Was General LeMay at JFK's autopsy?

Douglas Horne writes in Volume V of his book series, Inside the Assassination Records Review Board, that a certain 'deep throat' told him LeMay was at the autopsy:

I later came to distrust the mystery witness, who I decided to refer to as "JFK Deep Throat" and to conclude that he could not possibly be who he said he was. Because Deep Throat turned out not to be who he said he was, everything he told me was, of course, suspect.

In JFK: Destiny Betrayed, Horne avoids the details of the story about LeMay's "gloating" and other intentions and reduces it to a question he himself is posing: "Did LeMay go to the autopsy to gloat over the death of his nemesis?" Horne doesn't tell us that this comes from a very suspect source.

The only support for the allegation that General LeMay was at JFK's autopsy comes from Paul O'Connor, who, at the time, was a young (22 years old) medical corpsman stationed at Bethesda. As you will see, the story about LeMay keeps changing.

He was interviewed by William Matson Law for his book, In the Eye of History: Disclosures in the JFK Assassination Medical Evidence: (page 195 from the revised 2015 edition)

O'Connor: I remember one general who was sitting in the gallery. It was a teaching morgue and we had a big gallery. I remember Curtis LeMay sitting there with a big cigar in his hand.

Law: How did you know it was Curtis LeMay?

O'Connor: I knew Curtis LeMay by seeing him before and by the big cigar he smoked all the time.

Law: What was his manner when you saw him?

O'Connor: Nonchalant. Kind of, "well, let's get this show on the road."

Law: You didn't see him nervous, upset?

O'Connor: No. He was just --

Law: Just there in the gallery smoking a cigar.

O'Connor: Right.

O'Connor told the story to James DiEugenio in 1991: (page 302 of the second edition of Destiny Betrayed)

When this author interviewed the late Paul O'Connor, who was at the autopsy that night, he related an unforgettable story. He said that there were dozens of military brass in the gallery, the likes of which he had never seen. Someone was smoking a cigar. Dr. Humes called him over and said, "Please go tell this man to stop smoking." O'Connor went over, and as he approached him, he saw it was LeMay. Needless to say, he was not going to tell the Air Force Chief to stop anything.

And here is how Douglas Horne tells the story from Volume 2 of his book, Inside the Assassination Records Review Board:

The story got better from time to time.

  • LeMay was there.

  • He had a cigar in his hand.

  • He was smoking it.

  • Humes instructed O'Connor to get it put out, but O'Connor couldn't tell a general what to do.

  • O'Connor did instruct LeMay, who then blew smoke in his face.

It won't be long until this story morphs into an exploding cigar!

But wait, there's more!

JAMA {Journal of the American Medical Association], claiming to have interviewed the autopsy doctors, quoted them as ridiculing the idea that generals and admirals were present at the autopsy. In fact, the Assassinations Committee published a list of numerous flag officers present, and some of these men who assisted at the autopsy told the story at my press conference a week after JAMA's that General Curtis LeMay and "the entire Joint Chiefs were there." In fact, that is the most reasonable assumption, because enlisted men certainly would not have filled up the large gallery viewing the autopsy.
Yes, it was funny. He was smoking a big cigar without his dress blouse on and Humes told me to go tell him to put that damned thing out in 'his' morgue. So I went up to him, saw who it was and beat a hasty retreat. I told Humes who it was and he turned white as a sheet. That was the funniest thing that happened that terrible night.

What is most telling about that article is this O'Connor statement:

Kim, there were a lot of strange things that happened that night -- that's why I can recall quite a few things that other people have forgotten -- or lied about!
I talked to Paul about that, over a beer at the hotel bar in Dallas and then again on the phone at length.
Paul said he remembers a four star general in the room with a cigar, and one of the doctors telling an aide to have whoever is smoking a cigar removed from the room, but when told who it was negated that order.
Paul was suspicious that it was LeMay but wasn't sure.

He wasn't sure?

In fact, there is absolutely no corroborative evidence that General Curtis LeMay was at JFK's autopsy.

In addition, William Matson Law interviewed Francis O'Neill for his book:

Law: I've been told that there were officers of high rank in the autopsy room that night. Is that true?

O'Neill: There was the commanding officer of the hospital. There was a rear admiral. There was General Godfrey McHugh, who was on the airplane with Kennedy and was his military attaché; he was a one-star general. And there was a Major General Wehle who tried to enter and I kicked him out and he came back in and told me he was there to get another casket because the other one was broken. There was no one else.

So, was Paul O'Connor a credible witness?

In his first interview with the HSCA, he said nothing about General LeMay. He also said several things which were unusual. For instance, he maintained that JFK was in a body bag when the casket arrived:

But other witnesses said JFK was not in a body bag. Sibert and O'Neill's FBI report says that Kennedy was wrapped in a sheet:

In fact, JFK's brain was removed by the autopsy doctors and was photographed by John Stringer. Vincent Bugliosi spoke to Stringer in September of 2000: (page 1,069 in Reclaiming History)

Dr. Humes took the brain out of the president's head and put it in a jar of formalin. I personally saw this. I don't know how anyone could say that the president had no brain, except for money.

Of course, the Bay of Pigs invasion took place in 1961.

Might there be some connection between O'Connor's faulty memory and his emotional issues after the autopsy?

And have a look at Paul O'Connor's claim about the back wound of Kennedy. It's an implausibly precise recollection of details. Supposedly Humes or Boswell told O'Connor to leave the autopsy room while they took x-rays of the body. O'Connor "recalls that Jenkins or someone else told him that the doctors have " ... found a fragment of a bullet lodged in the intercostal muscle on the right rear side ..." of the President's body.

Here is a diagram O'Connor prepared for William Matson Law's book:

Here is a comment from his interview with Law about the back wound:

Now, I had this picture made at the University of Florida showing his back wound and this is exactly what happened (photo 10). The bullet struck him in the back as shown in the previous photograph. It passed through the outer layer of muscle and through the inner layer of muscle between the vertebrae. These are the intercostal muscles and they connect the spinal column together. This bullet came in, arched downward, and bulged against what they called the pleural cavity, which is a protective cavity around both lungs. It did not penetrate that lung area. It just bruised it real badly. I had it highlighted showing there was bruising on the right lung. The back of the right lung was bruised, but wasn’t torn. It was bruised badly enough to hemorrhage in the tissues, but not enough to tear the lung or the cavity. As I said before, during the X-ray procedure after the photographs were taken, X-ray technician Jerrol Custer was turning the body over and this bullet or bullet fragment fell out on the table and was retrieved. I didn’t see that because I was out of the room when they were taking X-rays.

The issue of memory is an important one throughout the JFK assassination controversy, And it's an issue that JFK: Destiny Betrayed is determined to avoid. In particular, the ARRB thought that the memory of the medical witnesses was important enough to comment on:

The deposition transcripts and other medical evidence that were released by the Review Board should be evaluated cautiously by the public. Often the witnesses contradict not only each other, but sometimes themselves. For events that transpired almost 35 years ago, all persons are likely to have failures of memory. It would be more prudent to weigh all of the evidence, with due concern for human error, rather than take single statements as "proof" for one theory or another.
The last thing I wanted to mention, just in terms of how we understand the evidence and how we deal with what we have, is what I will call is the profound - underscore profound - unreliability of eyewitness testimony. You just cannot believe it. And I can tell you something else that is even worse than eyewitness testimony and that is 35 year old eyewitness testimony.

And even Paul O'Connor understood the issue of memory. He was interviewed in 1990 by Harrison Livingstone for his book High Treason 2 and he said nothing about LeMay. But he did say that JFK was in a body bag when the casket arrived at Bethesda: (page 268)

Yeah. We opened it up, unzipped the body bag. Which is another thing everybody is going crazy about, too. The body bag. Seems like I'm the only one who remembers that. They brought him in and opened his body bag. He was nude except for a bed sheet wrapped around his head. Which was totally soaked with blood.

Yes, he is the only one who remembers it that way.

Livingstone tried hard to get O'Connor to recant his belief about the body bag, and here is what O'Connor said: (page 272)

You know something, it could, because I thought I remember him being in it and having him zipped in it, but sure -- to my mind -- it was. But it has been so many years and so much has happened, I kind of doubt my own ability to remember the fine details.

I am certain Paul O'Connor told the truth when I interviewed him in August, 1979. At that time, he told me three things about the JFK autopsy:

1) The body arrived in a shipping casket

2) Inside the casket, the body was inside a body bag

3) The cranium was empty.

He noted that:

Harry Livingstone once tried to twist O'Connor's words around, and attempt to misrepresent what he experienced that night, and what he said about it. After that experience, O'Connor and I had a phone conversation, in which he expressed his own dismay at Livingstone's antics.
He remembered exactly how it was, and repeated it all over again—the same basic facts--just as described in the HSCA document, and as related to me in August 1979, on the phone; and then again on camera in October 1980.
Paul O'Connor is a truth teller. It is others who are attempting to twist his account around, and pretend it is all false. It is they, not O'Connor, who are promoting an urban legend.

Here is what is extremely relevant:

ABOUT THE "Later" Interviews of O'Connor:
I caution anyone reading these posts to tread carefully in evaluating what O'Connor says in these later interviews because, by that time, he was no longer in the mode of genuinely recollecting, for the first time, what resided in his memory; but rather, was repeating--again and again--what he had already said before, and also, and perhaps more important--was reading various books on the assassination.
On this point: I know for a fact--from speaking directly to Paul in 1990-1992--that Harrison Livingstone was calling him up and attempting to talk him out of the fact that the body arrived in a body bag. Another person engaged in that sort of behavior was James Jenkins, who was trying to tell him that there really was a brain, and that he removed it (when Jenkins had said completely different things to me, when I interviewed him in 1979, and then on camera in 1980).
So "beware," is all that I'm saying.

'Beware' is also good advice when it comes to JFK: Destiny Betrayed.


Thank You: Paul Hoch provided important research for this blog post. Larry Happanen improved the blog post with relevant feedback.

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