The Kennedy Assassination's Accidental Victim

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Above: A photograph, signed for a fan, shows Tague standing beneath the underpass near the grassy knoll minutes before the bullets fired.

People of a certain age remember exactly where they were on November 22, 1963, when they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. James Tague remembers the day better than most. At the moment of the shooting, Tague was standing in Dallas's Dealey Plaza, and was struck on the right cheek by fragments from a ricocheting bullet meant for Kennedy. Tague suffered only a superficial wound that day, but in a way, the injury is still fresh, 47 years later. 

"I can't forget November 22nd," Tague says. "Everybody reminds me of it. I've probably told the story two or three hundred times. And the closer it gets to November 22nd, the more people ask me to tell it."

These days, Tague, now 74 and retired from a career as a car salesman and dealer, lives outside Bonham, Texas, not far from the Oklahoma border. The JFK assassination is still part of Tague's daily life, in part because he runs a store on eBay that's stocked with hundreds of books about Kennedy's killing.

"It started out as a hobby and turned into a little ol' business," says Tague in his honey-thick Texas drawl. "What happened is when I wrote Truth Withheld (his 2003 book about the Kennedy assassination), a couple months later someone says, 'You know, your book's bringing $60 on eBay. And I said, 'What's eBay?'"

As soon as Tague figured out the online auction business, he started doing a brisk trade in JFK assassination books, some drawn from his vast personal collection. The store features rarities like a $400 first edition of Forgive My Grief IV by Penn Jones Jr., the assassination researcher who brought to light the now discredited notion that witnesses to the assassination were being knocked off by a shadowy murder squad. Other books in the 500-plus item store include The Killing of a President by Robert J. Groden, which contains shocking autopsy photos of JFK, the original 1964 Warren Commission Report, the director's cut of Oliver Stone's film JFK, and Tague's own Truth Withheld, signed by the author. Tague's eBay store is, if nothing else, a testament to the remarkable life of JFK's death.

"The main thing is keeping those books available to the younger generation," Tague says. "What fascinates me is that not a day goes by that I don't get one or two requests for autographs. I hit a record about three months ago with 19 requests in one day. It's usually young kids, high school or college age. It blows my mind."

Tague says it was "a pure accident" that he was close enough to JFK in Dealey Plaza to be hit by a bullet meant for the president. On that November day, Tague was only vaguely aware that Kennedy was visiting Dallas, and had no interest in viewing the motorcade. He had a noon luncheon date in downtown Dallas with the woman who would later become his wife and was running late. Just before 12:30, he hurriedly pulled off of Stemmons Freeway onto Commerce Street, driving under a triple underpass. Just as he emerged from the underpass, there was a line of cars stopped directly in front of him. Tague put his vehicle into park, walked out of the car and stepped into history.

"I first thought it was an automobile accident," says Tague. "So I got out of my car and walked three or four steps and I looked up and saw a car coming towards me with two flags on each fender. And I remembered at that point that the president was in town and this was evidently his motorcade."

Just then, Tague heard a pop--what sounded like a loud firecracker exploding--followed a few seconds later by two sharp cracks. Tague felt something sting him on the right cheek. Seeing the crowd begin to scatter, Tague ducked behind a concrete abutment under the triple underpass and saw Kennedy's car blur by as it picked up speed headed for Parkland Hospital. After the presidential limousine passed, Tague scurried over to the sidewalk near the now-infamous grassy knoll.

"I got there just in time to hear a man sobbing, 'His head exploded, his head exploded,'" recalls Tague. "And the policeman asked, 'Whose head?' And the man said, 'The president's.'"

Tague told Dallas Deputy Sheriff Buddy Walthers, who was standing nearby, that something had stung him during the shooting, and Walthers noticed that Tague had two or three drops of blood on his right cheek. When Tague showed Walthers exactly where he was standing at the time of the shooting, the deputy sheriff saw that a curb about 15 feet away bore what seemed like a fresh mark. Walthers surmised that Tague had been hit by a spray of concrete kicked up by a bullet fired at the president.

The chipped curb would soon become part of assassination lore, along with the "mysterious" deaths of eyewitnesses, the "altered" autopsy photographs, the "planted" stretcher bullet, Lee Harvey Oswald's "double," and the "missing" brain of JFK. In August 1964, the FBI cut out a section of the curb for analysis. Later, conspiracy theorists (including Tague) would contend that someone--probably the FBI--patched the curb in order to hide the mark and cover up possible evidence of multiple shooters. 

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Tom McNichol, a frequent contributor to TheAtlantic.com, is a San Francisco writer whose work has also appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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