Below is the unedited transcript from an interview with Mrs. Nellie Connally, former first lady of Texas and witness to the Kennedy assassination. Interviewed by Joe Nick Patoski
Texas Monthly: Mrs. Connally, where were you on Novemberember22, 1963?
Nellie Connally: You know where I was. I was in that assassination car with the president. With the president, Mrs. Kennedy, and my husband Governor John Connally.
TM: And is it vivid in your mind, every detail in your mind as you're going through the parade?
Nellie: Every detail is very vivid in my mind.
TM: When you replay this, what goes through your mind? You were riding in the limousine next to your husband, and behind you were the Kennedys.
Nellie: What do I think about?
Nellie: All right. What was happening, and not believing it really.
TM: The horror. Is there a defining moment when all of a sudden things went wrong?
Nellie: The first shot and then on.
TM: You remember hearing it?
Nellie: I remember hearing it.
TM: And what was your immediate reaction?
Nellie: I looked toward the sound which is where the president was.
Nellie: And I saw his hands fly up to his face, and I saw him sink down, shot number one.
TM: And then?
Nellie: John Connally was trying to see him. He looked to his right and he couldn't see the president. He knew it was a gun shot. I just heard a loud noise. And John was afraid they were shooting at the president and he turned to see if he could see him on this other side and he couldn't see him there and in the process of turning back John was shot. Second shot.
TM: Second shot. You've never wavered from this, by the way?
Nellie: I never will. I pulled him down in my lap because I didn't want him to hurt him anymore. I didn't want him to shoot at him anymore. And while I had him in my lap there was another shot. And my reaction to that was matter all over the car, blew up, we were in front of the Kennedys, it blew up all over us. Third shot.
TM: And you're covering your husband at this time.
Nellie: And he also, he has... he has... his hat in his hand. He always had that hat somewhere. He had the hat in his hand when I pulled him over and crouched him down and he was holding that hat up against him. He closed up that wound that would've killed him before we got to the hospital.
TM: So it was by circumstance that he was in the right position.
Nellie: It was not anything planned because I was just trying to get him down so they wouldn't hurt him. I didn't know we were saving his life.
TM: And you remained in that position all the way to Parkland Hospital?
Nellie: Yes, I never looked back after John was hit.
TM: What was going through your mind at the time? I mean the dilemma of speeding and you heard these gunshots, your husband's been injured, something happened behind.
Nellie: Well, it's so unreal that, you know, I didn't know what was happening. I couldn't understand it all. And I knew the president was in bad shape, I knew John was in bad shape, and I don't know how Jackie and I were spared. It was a terrible ride, but I sure was glad to get to a hospital.
TM: Did it seem to take forever?
Nellie: I don't know. No it didn't seem to take so long because with John in my lap I could see out the right side as we flew by the people that were standing on the side of the road and it looked like we were whizzing along.
TM: Do you remember seeing the expressions of people around you?
TM: I'm curious. Your husband's been hit and you pull him down. Was this just an impulse or instinct or...?
Nellie: We just tried to get him out of the way of being hurt anymore. And by getting him down I thought whatever or whoever was shooting couldn't shoot him anymore. I never thought they might shoot me. That never occurred to me, I just wanted to get him down.
TM: I know it affects everyone profoundly -- It does me, and I think my flirtation with history is that I was living in Fort Worth and I remember coming to the Hotel Texas that morning and that ya'll were there, and then this terrible event, but for you it's so much more personal.
Nellie: Yes, but it's as unbelievable to me now as it was then.
TM: Can you make any sense of it?
Nellie: No. Why would anybody assassinate the young President of the United States? For what reason? And this fellow, they told us, didn't care for Governor Connally so he would've been happy if he'd gotten Governor Connally too.
TM: Now you mention that you still speak quite frequently in front of groups, civic organizations and such. And what' s the message there? What do you tell them?
Nellie: Just what happened.
TM: Why do you think they want to know so much?
Nellie: I don't know whether they want to know or not. They don't make a sound while I speak, until I finish. And I have no finish. I just stop. I don't look up at them while I speak. I just read what I wrote. Because it's history if I read what I wrote. If I add things and take things away, and it's been 35 years now, then it's not history.
TM: Explain what you wrote when you wrote it, and why you wrote it.
Nellie: I just brought Governor Connally back from the hospital. Settled him in the mansion. Checked the refrigerators like all women do, even though I figured the mansion had full refrigerators, but I checked and settled him in and then I gathered up a bunch of tablets and pencils and I just went off in a quiet place. It takes me 25 minutes to read the notes. Which [is] everything [that] happened in the car as I saw it and as I will always remember it. And then I just, what I did is, I took these notes, I put them in a file drawer. I closed the file drawer. Never thought of them or saw them again for 30 some-odd years, [then] I found them.
TM: And then you pulled them out and...
Nellie: Read them.
TM: What's the status of these notes? You've mentioned that you donated them.
Nellie: No. No. They have been preserved and the notes are in the LBJ library right now. We copied the notes. I just read from the script. I had 14 interviews the first year. Three were overseas.
TM: The thing with this story is that it never ends.
Nellie: And it ought to end. I think that they ought to let him rest in peace.
TM: Do you think we'll ever be able to do that?
Nellie: I don't think so. I don't think it ever will. And they still think, they want to argue about a lot of things. John said, 'You know, in this country no one could have kept a secret like this all these years.' And they couldn't.