Ex-CIA contract pilot had front row view of the JFK assassination, served on team to prevent itBy Diana Washington Valdez
Border Cafe/El Paso Times
Robert "Tosh" Plumlee had a unique front-row view of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago.
Plumee, a contract pilot for the Central Intelligence Agency, said he was part of a special team sent to Dallas to "abort" an assassination attempt on the president.
Rumors were rampant that Kennedy had become a target for assassination, but U.S. intelligence agencies did not know when and where exactly this would occur, and several groups were deployed to likely places.
Kennedy's use of a convertible sedan, or his public appearances in other venues, made almost any city a likely place. Plumlee, who was 25 years old at the time, said the hot rumor network in intelligence circles mentioned Austin, Texas, as a strong possibility, along with Dallas and Miami.
"There had been many assassination reports circulating around Miami and Texas," Plumlee said Thursday. "However, to see and hear the event actually happen was unbelievably stunning, numbing. It was an event beyond words."
Plumlee was on the team which focused its surveillance on the Dealey Plaza vicinity, where in fact Kennedy was mortally wounded by gunfire that day. Plumlee said he and the rest of the surveillance team experienced extreme grief and dejection over the failure to detect the shooter or shooters in time to save Kennedy.
Plumlee said he was installed on the south knoll, about 150 yards east of the triple underpass. He said he heard between four and five gunshots.
"That's when I knew the team had failed and the president was dead," Plumlee said. "It was something that if you saw it, you knew it, and didn't have to wait for a hospital doctor to tell you. It was a professional, solid hit. We knew in that moment, as it happened - we knew that we had failed, also."
Plumlee's team was supposed to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement to prevent an attempted assassination. But, many things went wrong with the wider coordination, he said, and the shots caught the team off guard.
"The flight out of Dallas that day was a somber occasion," Plumlee said. "There was very little chatter. Nobody looked the other in the eye. There were tears and red eyes, sniffles ... minutes were hours, and hours days."
Plumlee provided testimony and other information about that day's events to Congressional and law enforcement investigators.
Every year since Nov. 22, 1963, Plumlee, who until recently lived in the Las Cruces, N.M., area, relives the moment that many scholars say changed the fate of the nation in a very deep way. Some have gone further, contending that the assassination was a coup d'état orchestrated by sinister forces operating in the shadows.
"It was afterwards, the "what if's" come on, and each year around this time ... the questions are still as haunting today as they were that day. The loudness of the gun shoots with their reverberating echo has faded over the years, but have never died. That vision is what I see. The vision and the last moment of a man's life is frozen in time."
"Today, as time goes on, there are more questions I ask," Plumlee said. "What would it be like if the man had lived? What would America be like if we had not failed that day? Each year more and more questions."
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6140.