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Interview With Nellie Connally

Aired November 22, 2003 - 21:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade.


LARRY KING, HOST: Forty years ago, today, America's innocence was shattered by a single bullet.


WALTER CRONKITE, NEWS ANCHOR: President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time.


KING: Tonight, Nellie Connally, the sole surviving passenger from John F. Kennedy's blood-stained presidential vehicle...


KING: ...tragic day in Dallas. Nellie Connally for the hour, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It's a pleasure to welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE for, I guess, her fourth or fifth visit, Nellie Connally, the widow of the former Texas governor and former Secretary of the Navy, John Connally. She was riding in the car with JFK and Jackie, and her husband the day that JFK was assassinated. We are approaching the 40th anniversary of that date. She is the last surviving passenger of that car, the author of a terrific new book, "From Love Field: Our Final Hours With President John F. Kennedy".

Nice seeing you again, Nellie. You look younger every time I see you.


KING: Give me the genesis of the book. And I understand somehow this show is involved.

CONNALLY: Well, because you had me on about a year ago, then suddenly we began getting all these requests for me to do a book -- do a book. And so, our mutual friend, Bill Adner (ph), won the toss.

KING: My agent. My book agent and...

CONNALLY: And John's too. So Mickey did his.

KING: So Mickey Herskowitz, he...


KING: Bill hooked up with Mickey Herskowitz with him to write the book?


KING: Now, tell me about this -- what, you kept a diary?

CONNALLY: No, I didn't. No, I didn't. But I wrote -- as soon as I brought John home...

KING: From the hospital?

CONNALLY: ... from the hospital and got him settled in, it took me a couple of days. And then I went off with a yellow tablet and pencils and pens, and I sat down in a quiet place. And imagine -- and I'm still in partial shock, I guess -- and I wrote what happened in that car for my little grandchildren that I will never see, little Connallys that'll be born, in case they have an interest in what happened to their grandparents.

KING: So what...


KING: So you had a sense of history?

CONNALLY: I don't know.

KING: Do you know that Hubert Humphrey, when he heard Kennedy was shot, and then finally died, went to a room and dictated all his memories...


KING: ... to John Kennedy? So he wanted it fresh in his mind.

CONNALLY: You don't mean it? Well, I just wanted to write this story for these children not for the world, not for you, not because I thought I was a liar, but I certainly had never written anything before. And I just wanted a record for those children in case they were interested.

KING: Did you brush up on those notes when you appeared on this show?

CONNALLY: I did not find those notes until -- for 33 years. I put them in an old file cabinet, closed the door. See, I had done what I wanted to do.

KING: That's right. It wasn't for publication.

CONNALLY: No. And I didn't think about them. I didn't -- oh, I might have thought about them, but I never looked for them.

KING: So when did you go look for them?

CONNALLY: I was just going through that old file cabinet for I don't know what and here was this pile of yellow tablet paper. And I thought, what in the world. And I read it and I thought they were good. And -- but I knew if they had asked me to do it 33 years before, I would have said, "I'm sorry. Thank you, but I can't."

KING: All right, let's go back. Kennedy first went to Fort Worth, right?

CONNALLY: No. We went to San Antonio and...

KING: You were with him through the whole Texas trip?


KING: The significance of that trip was to clear up problems in political Texas, right, between...

CONNALLY: For him.

KING: ... Yarboro, and your husband, and...

CONNALLY: No. No, that's what everybody thought and that's what they let them think. But see, he hadn't been to Texas since his election. And you know we worked hard to get him elected. And now, he wanted to -- he was not doing too well in the polls and he wanted to garner votes and raise money. And so they argued about it back and forth.

KING: So they said it was about a Yarboro conflict dispute?

CONNALLY: Yes, but they could have settled that -- Yarboro Johnson.

KING: Yarboro Johnson Dispute.

CONNALLY: But they could have settled that easier in Washington than making a trip down to Texas.

KING: Now a lot of it was involved in that trip. Adelai Stevenson...

CONNALLY: Had been hit...

KING: ... had been hit?

CONNALLY: ... with a sign or something. Johnson had been spit upon.

KING: Adelai had warned him not to go. CONNALLY: Well, we -- that was our only concern. We didn't want anything unpleasant to happen, you know, on the trip. Something unpleasant did.

KING: Yes. But Adelai did forewarn him, right?

CONNALLY: I guess. I don't know.

KING: It was generally said that...

CONNALLY: I think so, yes.

KING: ... Stevenson said, "Don't go."

CONNALLY: Probably did. And you know John wasn't sure because he wanted to have four fundraisers. And John said, you know, "You just -- you can't do that. But we'll have one huge fundraiser in Austin and we'll have all the wonderful receptions and things where people can get to know you" because John thought...

KING: So there was going to be a luncheon in Dallas?

CONNALLY: Yes, but John thought if they'd just see him, they'd vote for him.

KING: He did?

CONNALLY: Yes, he did. He said, "If they could just see you."

KING: All right, the Kennedys leave Washington to come to Texas. You met them in Texas?

CONNALLY: We met them at -- in San Antonio. And the Johnsons were there first. I arrived from wherever I was. John came in from some place else and then the big Air Force One landed and off stepped...

KING: And you did the event in San Antonio. You did an event in Houston. Were you with them in Fort Worth?

CONNALLY: We were everywhere with them.

KING: The historic breakfast?

CONNALLY: We were everywhere with them.

KING: He was very eloquent...

CONNALLY: And he was so cute. Well, he was so cute too. You know she was very late.


JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Two years ago I said that -- I introduced myself in Paris by saying that I was the man who had accompanied Mrs. Kennedy to Paris. I'm getting that -- somewhat that same sensation as I travel around Texas.


KENNEDY: Nobody wonders what Lyndon and I wear.


CONNALLY: He said it takes her a lot longer and she looks a lot better when she gets here. I thought that was funny.

KING: She was wearing that famous outfit?

CONNALLY: That pink suit and I had on a pink suit.

KING: Oh my God.

CONNALLY: Accident, accident. They gave me no messages about what she was going to wear. And that morning, it was a rainy kind of day and I had a white suit to wear and I thought I can't wear that white suit. I had this pink one. I'll wear it.

KING: Also true that Texas was very enthusiastic, right? He had big crowds.

CONNALLY: Oh, they loved him. And they were responding just the way I hoped they would. Even Jackie got right into it.

KING: So he was greeted warmly everywhere he went?

CONNALLY: Yes, and especially Dallas. They just -- were just eating him up, you know. And that's when I couldn't restrain myself any longer and turned to him and said, "Mr. President, you can't Dallas doesn't love you."

KING: That's the last thing he heard, right?

CONNALLY: They think that might have been...

KING: May have been the last thing...

CONNALLY: ... the last thing he ever heard.

KING: Right. Let's go back again. Now, why did he fly from Fort Worth to Dallas, which I think is 33 miles?


KING: Right? He flew to Love Field. Why didn't you just make that drive right in?

CONNALLY: I don't know. Why are asking me questions...

KING: Because it always bugged me.

CONNALLY: I didn't set it up. I just went along.

KING: So you were on that flight?

CONNALLY: Yes, I was with him. We -- John and I were with him the entire trip. And see, remember, it was rainy and ugly...

KING: Then it got beautiful in Dallas.

CONNALLY: ... but by the time he put his foot on the ground in Dallas, it was a beautiful day, a beautiful day.

KING: And we're reliving it 40 years. It's hard to believe 40 years...

CONNALLY: Isn't that something?

KING: By the way, this is -- this side note -- Richard Nixon flew out of Dallas that day, having attended a Pepsi Cola convention. His law firm represented Pepsi Cola. He flew out of Love Field an hour before the Kennedys arrived.

We'll be right back with Nellie Connally. The book is "From Love Field" available everywhere. Don't go away.


ANNOUNCER: There's Mrs. Kennedy and the crowd yells, and the president of the United States. And I can see his suntan all the way from here. Shaking hands now with the Dallas people, Governor and Mrs. Connally.



KING: We're back with Nellie Connally. Her book, "From Love Field: Our Final Hours With President John Kennedy" now available as we approach the 40th anniversary of that tragic day where anyone who's over, I guess, now 30 years old.

CONNALLY: Well, and see, even young...

KING: Over 40 is old. You're over 45 years old.

CONNALLY: Even young people who were not even born have a vital interest in this story and they want to know about it. And that makes me feel really good because I know everybody our age or -- that -- you know that knew about it were interested. But I didn't know these young people who weren't even born would have the interest they had.

KING: You arrived at Love Field. The roses. The...

CONNALLY: Yes, they...

KING: ... tremendous crowd at the airport.

CONNALLY: The roses, I -- they gave her a beautiful arrangement of red roses. And they gave me a beautiful arrangement of yellow roses. What else would I get?

KING: How were the four of you getting along?

CONNALLY: Just couldn't have gotten along better. And the way we sat in this car -- Jack said on the right in the back and Jackie was on the left. They had a plank seat. John and I were in front of them. John was in front of the president and I was in front of Ms. Kennedy and we were on jump seats with a space between the seats. So we didn't really have too much room. And the back seat could be raised or lowered...

KING: So he could wave...

CONNALLY: ... to get up higher or lower.

KING: What's the thing? Lincoln Convertible, right?


KING: Right? Yes. All right, so you land at the airport. Their route was all planned for, right?

CONNALLY: Yes, yes. And there were people there. And it was just good...

KING: Lyndon Johnson, the vice president, was in two cars back, right?

CONNALLY: Yes. Well, see, the Secret Service had to follow the presidential car. So there was a Secret Service car behind us that had eight Secret Service men in it, four in the car and two on each running board.

KING: They were running along -- oh, they were on the running board.

CONNALLY: No, they were just driving right behind us.

KING: Were you surprised at the greeting he got in Dallas?

CONNALLY: Pleased. I just didn't want anything to happen like it happened a time or two. And it just didn't. It was...

KING: Was John pleased?

CONNALLY: Oh, he was happy. I was happy. They were happy. We were just really -- it's so sad because we were having such a good time. Four people in the prime of their lives. We were all the same age, all in our 40's.

KING: Yes, all in the early 40's.

CONNALLY: And you know we didn't expect the world owed us a living. We thought we owed the world, and we were ready to charge. And I think they might have done some good things.

KING: Who knows what they would have done. John had been Kennedy's secretary of the Navy...


KING: ... had run for governor and was now governor.

CONNALLY: Well -- and did you know that Lee Harvey Oswald was given a dishonorable discharge from the Navy? It was signed by John Connally.

KING: Oh, that's in the book. Whoa! I didn't know that story.

CONNALLY: Well, so maybe he got -- and they think he could have -- the bullet that he -- that he put into John might have been what caused him to have this pulmonary fibrosis. It was a bad lung. And maybe he got them both.

KING: John, eventually, would die of that?


KING: OK. You're coming down the street. You make that turn onto Elm, right?

CONNALLY: Elm. And we can see...

KING: The Texas Book Depository.

CONNALLY: We slithered by that. But we could see that triple underpass, which meant the end of our cavalcade.

KING: You were going where for the luncheon? The Convention Center? The luncheon was supposed to be at a convention center right underneath there, right?

CONNALLY: I don't know.


CONNALLY: We didn't make it.

KING: All right. You make that turn onto Elm. There's the big Hertz Rent-a-Car sign on the Texas Book Depository. What's the first thing you -- after you said...

CONNALLY: All right. Now, I told you how we were seated.

KING: Right.


KING: And you turned to him and you say, "You can't say they don't love you."

CONNALLY: Yes. And he grinned that wonderful grin. And he was happy too. And I don't know whether it was seconds or a minute or two, and I heard this noise. KING: Was it a crack?

CONNALLY: Yes. And I wasn't sure that it was a gunshot because the motorcycles had been, you know, backfiring all around us. But I knew it was something and I turned and looked just in time to see his hands fly up to his face. And he just sunk down into the car. Said not a word. He just had a strange look in his eyes and said nothing.

KING: Did you know immediately?

CONNALLY: Well, I felt like then that it was -- John sitting right in front of him knew it was a shot.

KING: He did?

CONNALLY: Well, he's a hunter and a shooter, you know. So he turned quick...

KING: To his right?

CONNALLY: ... to his right and he couldn't see him because he was directly in front of him. And he said, "No, no, no" and turned to his left.

KING: He visibly said that?

CONNALLY: Yes. And turned to his left and he still couldn't see him. Now this is a second or two. Then, as he whirled back, the second shot hit John and...

KING: Where did it enter him?

CONNALLY: It went under his shoulder, out through -- under the nipple. It went through -- it took out five inches of his fifth rib and went through one of his lungs. He would -- which had all of that...

KING: I thought it hit his wrist.

CONNALLY: His -- he's turning back and his hand is on his thigh. It crushed this wrist and you know, shot the cufflink off.

KING: And you see him shot?

CONNALLY: Yes. And then it landed in his leg. Now, that bullet did all of that. John said, "My God, they're going to kill us all," and just fell over. Blood everywhere.

KING: Was there a third shot?

CONNALLY: There was a third shot.

KING: That's disputed, right?

CONNALLY: No. There's no dispute. You can't argue with me. You can argue with the Warren Commission. You can argue with anybody else, but they weren't in the car. And I was in that car. There were three shots. I have a recollection of all three. The third shot...

KING: What did the third one do?

CONNALLY: Well, I couldn't see it because I had the weight -- I had pulled John over in my lap to get him out of the line of fire. And I couldn't move. But I heard the third shot and then, bloody matter, like buck shot, little pieces were all over the interior of the car, all over our clothes.

KING: Was that Kennedy's brain?

CONNALLY: That was his head and I guess, his brain. And she said, "They've killed my husband. I have his brains in my hand."

KING: You heard her say that?

CONNALLY: I heard her say that.

KING: So you're hearing everything?

CONNALLY: Yes. But I -- but I was -- we were not saying anything. I was whispering to John, "Be still. It'll be all right."

KING: We'll be right back with Nellie Connally. The book is "From Love Field: Our Final Hours With President John F. Kennedy." Our guest is the former first lady of Texas, Nellie Connally. Don't go away.


CONNALLY: All I thought about is -- and I gave it a great deal of thought then...



ANNOUNCER: Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first report to say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by the shooting.




GARY MACK, TEXAS RESEARCHER: Abraham Zapruder stood right here and his office receptionist, Marilyn Sitzman, stood behind him, and held onto him on the waist because -- so he -- to steady him. And he was an amateur photographer and a big fan of President Kennedy. And he watched the motorcade coming up Houston Street and saw some of the cars turning the corner. He started to fill that. And then he realized the president had not arrived there yet, so he stopped filming a few seconds. Then, when he recognized the president, after his car turned onto Elm Street, he started filming and did this. Meanwhile, the shots are being fired from the Book Depository. And somehow, he just kept on filming. I mean it's amazing to consider that he had the presents of mind to keep his finger pressed down on the shutter of the camera.


KING: We're back with Nellie Connally, the widow of the former Texas governor and we're reliving that tragic day, a gorgeous in Dallas. Beautiful weather.

CONNALLY: A beautiful day but horrible happenings.

KING: Were the crowds cheering?

CONNALLY: Just -- really, you would have been so excited.

KING: Now, Jackie starts to try to leave the car?


KING: What was that about?

CONNALLY: We get -- oh, oh, you mean on the back of the car?

KING: Yes.

CONNALLY: See, I didn't really know that until they showed us the Zapruder films...

KING: You didn't see that?

CONNALLY: ... saying that -- well, I couldn't turn around, see. I couldn't -- I was weighted down with John. I couldn't turn around. But you might have tried to leave that car yourself if you had been in there.

Let me tell you what it looked like. It looked like red and yellow roses all over the car, covered in blood and matter. Would you have wanted to stay in there? I couldn't move.

KING: You're couldn't think of another shots coming?

CONNALLY: No. We could, you know.

KING: But you got to -- you got to get out.

CONNALLY: And you know when John said, "They're going to kill" -- "My God, they're going to kill us all." Then they wanted to know who they was. And then, all these other stories began cropping up.

KING: Did the Secret Service guy jump into the car?

CONNALLY: Yes, he -- what he did, he pushed back into the car and pushed them both down and got on top of them.

KING: And you sped to the hospital?

CONNALLY: Yes, the...

KING: Do you remember that drive?

CONNALLY: Yes. The Secret Service man said, "Pull out of the motorcade." And the driver turned out so fast John almost fell off my lap. And...

KING: His head was in your lap?

CONNALLY: His head was in my lap. He was looking up.

KING: Eyes open?

CONNALLY: Well, he would be in and out of consciousness. And he had that Stetson that he always had. And he put his hand up over his -- there was a baseball-sized wound on John. Blood just gushing. He put his hand on it and I put mine over his just to -- I just wanted to keep him down. And the doctor said it's called a sucking wound and the -- if we hadn't covered it, John might not have lived to the hospital.

KING: Did you think he was going to die?

CONNALLY: Well, I didn't know, you know. I was...

KING: Did you know Kennedy was gone?

CONNALLY: ... terrified. I thought he was gone, yes. With all that matter all over us...

KING: All right. And now we've got sirens rolling. You're speeding to that hospital.

CONNALLY: Just fast. And I'm thinking how awful it must be for these people on the side to see this car just racing down with these two women holding their dying husbands because you see, I didn't know I was the only woman holding my dying husband because I had not seen the film and I didn't know they were down in the bottom of the car.

KING: You don't know anything but hold onto John and get to the hospital.

CONNALLY: And getting where they can't hurt him anymore.

KING: Did you know Parkland Hospital was at a hustle?

CONNALLY: I knew nothing about Parkland Hospital. We flew in there. We -- the car drove in. The Secret Service were all around the car. And they were crying and saying, "Mr. President, Mr. President." They were trying to get Jackie out of the car, but she didn't really want to get out of the car.

Now, John is in and out of consciousness, but he can...

KING: You're talking about Connally now?

CONNALLY: I'm talking about...

KING: We have two Johns here.

CONNALLY: Yes, OK, John Connally. But he could hear stuff every now and then. And so, while they're trying to get her out, suddenly -- and I'm holding him thinking the president is dead. He's got to be dead. John is still alive. How long, out of deference to my husband -- I mean to my president -- must I sit here quietly and hold him when he might die in my arms. Well, about that time John just -- he eased himself up out of my arms and fell over toward the door. I asked him later, I said, "What were you doing?" And he said, "I knew the door was on my right and I thought they had to get me out before they could get the president out."

Well, they took the president, I found out later, over the side.

KING: Yes.

CONNALLY: And this man just opened the door and picked John up and put him on a gurney and took off. And I just ran along after that.

KING: Did you see...

CONNALLY: It was hard.

KING: ... Jackie running with John Kennedy?



CONNALLY: But I could hear John Connally saying, "It hurts. It hurts." So I just ran harder because I knew he was still alive.

KING: Back to the bullet scene, did you ever think the bullet came from the front?


KING: And you never thought the Grassy Knoll?

CONNALLY: I never did. I thought...

KING: All three from behind.

CONNALLY: Yes, I thought -- and see, John didn't hear the one that hit him. You know if you're hit by a bullet, you don't hear it. He heard the first bullet. He didn't hear the one that hit him. And he heard the third.

KING: Now, Kennedy's head, when you see the Zapruder film, shunts back first. That what caused people to think he was shot from the front. But the other explanation was that was a reaction. CONNALLY: Well, it must have been. They told them this was too. This wasn't just a jerk, a reaction...


CONNALLY: ... and not -- he had not put his own hands up there.

KING: Now, in the hospital, where do they take the president? Where do they take...

CONNALLY: They took John -- they took John in first to something they call a Trauma Room 2.

KING: John Connally?

CONNALLY: John Connally, I'm sorry. And they took the president at -- a little while -- you know, a few minutes after John into Trauma Room 1. And the hall was full of police and Secret Service, guns all at the ready. They were just...

KING: Because no on knew what was going...

CONNALLY: ... running around. They didn't know what was happening. There was a lot of commotion.

KING: Did you see Lyndon Johnson come in at any time?



CONNALLY: I didn't. And you know I didn't pay much attention but that room where John was. And they would -- they closed the door in my face when he got in. And that's, I guess, as alone as I've ever been in my life. And I would push that door open and just look in. And if anything moved on him or if he made any noise I'd go sick back down in my chair because I knew he was still alive. Then, they took him out. And he was in surgery for five-and-a-half hours, and...

KING: When did you know that John Kennedy was officially dead?

CONNALLY: Well, I didn't know officially until the world knew officially. I just knew when he was in that car.


CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.


KING: Who told you the president's dead?

CONNALLY: Nobody told me, but they announced it and I guess we heard it in the... KING: In the hospital?

CONNALLY: Yes. And see, Jackie had the chair too. We were sitting across the hall from each other. And do you know what...

KING: Oh, he's in Trauma 1. You're in Trauma 2.

CONNALLY: Yes. And some people, I don't -- oh, one funny thing, right in the middle of the most traumatic of that time, the hospital sent somebody to me to say I had to fill out a card on John Connally.

KING: Insurance?

CONNALLY: I don't know what. I just -- I thought if I'd had a gun there might have been one more in trouble.

KING: So you and Jackie are sitting opposite each other?

CONNALLY: Yes. They want to know what we were talking about. And I said, "We didn't say a word." We'd look at each other. I knew what she was going through. She knew what I was going through.

KING: She had blood all over her?

CONNALLY: Yes, we both had pink suits with red blood all over them.

KING: We'll be right back with Nellie Connally. The book is "From Love Field: Our Final Hours With President John F. Kennedy." What a read, what a lady. Don't go away.


DR. RONALD JONES, PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S PHYSICIAN: We would have come in this door right here. There would have been on door there. It would have been an open space. And the stretcher with President Kennedy would have been in this direction. His head would have been toward the wall, the feet facing toward the door. And Mrs. Kennedy would have been standing right here as we entered the door.

We knew within 10 minutes from the -- from the time we came into the room until Dr. Perry had the tracheoscopy tube in, assisted by Dr. Baxter and Dr. McClellan, and I had to cut down in and we had two chest tubes in place. We then rolled in a portable EKG machine, hooked that up, and it was a straight line. And so, would say that within 10 to 11 minutes we had completed everything and we knew that he was dead.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was the scene at Dallas' Parkland Hospital as the body of President Kennedy was brought out and taken to Dallas' Love Field to be flown to Washington. The body is now en route, by plane, to Washington. Also, en route to Washington is the 36th president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson.


KING: We're back with Nellie Connally. The book, "From Love Field: Our Final Hours With President John Kennedy" as we approach the 40th -- and it's hard to believe, 40 years...


KING: ... since he's died.

CONNALLY: It's also hard to believe I'm the last one living.

KING: OK. Were you award of what -- that's right you are. Were you aware that -- what was going on, that would remove Kennedy's body -- that could have been illegal to remove the body...

CONNALLY: You're not supposed to.

KING: That was a Dallas murder. That was no federal crime.

CONNALLY: But they did. They did it and I don't guess anybody said -- it was such a horrible thing...

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) medical examiner chasing the car, except he turned out to be right.


KING: That's where -- the autopsy should have been in Dallas. Of course, there was no federal crime murders on presidents.

CONNALLY: But you know everything was wrong about everything, you know. It was just a mess, a horrible thing.

KING: You sat there for the whole five hours of the surgery?


KING: Did you see Jackie leave?

CONNALLY: No, but I was in this little room by myself. There was a knock on the door and I said, "Come in." And Lady Bird was there. And Lady Bird opened her arms and I just flew into them. And I cried and cried and cried and cried, which I had not done until then. And she said, "Nellie, I'd like to stay with you, but they want Lyndon back in Washington as soon as we can get him there." And I said, "Well, go on. You've got to do what you have to do."

KING: When did you -- did you -- after the two of you were sitting opposite each other, when did you see -- did you see Jackie leave?

CONNALLY: No. KING: I mean how did the two of you part?

CONNALLY: I think maybe I went to follow John to surgery before they moved her. I don't know.

KING: Did you say anything to her?

CONNALLY: No. We sent our son, John, to the funeral because I wouldn't leave John. And he took a note to her from me. And then she wrote me the sweetest letter back.

KING: Saying?

CONNALLY: Well, one thing she said was -- well, she said this to John, our son, John, when he gave her this letter from me, she said -- he said, "I have this letter from my mother. It was very hard for her to write." And she took his hand in hers and she said, "John, the only good thing that has come out of this is that your father will live." Well, my son was 17 years old and thought that was the most wonderful lady he had ever had exposure to.

KING: Were you surprised to learn that she had confided to a priest that she considered suicide?

CONNALLY: No, I didn't. Yes, I didn't know anything about that and I just can't believe she'd do that. She was a strong woman. You know, we were both strong women and if we hadn't been strong women, I don't think either one of us could have made it.

KING: Did you think what's going on? Is this some universal plot?

CONNALLY: No, I didn't think any of that. I thought I don't want them to hurt John Connally anymore. I've got to get him out of the line of fire. That was what I was thinking.

KING: So what about during the surgery? You're only thinking about the surgery? You weren't thinking about what's going on in the world?

CONNALLY: No, I was just wanting to get...

KING: Is that plane going to Japan turning around...

CONNALLY: I was just wanting him to get out from under this maybe dying.

KING: When did you know that John Connally would be -- would make it?

CONNALLY: Well, after about five hours of the five-and-a-half, the doctors sent somebody out to tell me that he thought he'd make it. He said he was very strong and it had missed vital things.

KING: The first time you got to talk with him was when, your husband? CONNALLY: I guess it must have been a day or two because President Johnson called a half an hour out from Washington when he was on his way back...

KING: After he had been sworn in?

CONNALLY: ... to see how John was doing. And he said, "How's he doing, honey?" And I said, "We think he's going to make it." And he said, "Well, give me a hug and a kiss for me." So it was all quick, you know, everything happening.

KING: When you talked to John finally...

CONNALLY: I went in and I almost fainted when I went in because, you know, he had -- he was in -- his arm was in a sling. He fingers were wired. He had tubes coming out of the front of him, tubes coming out of the back of him, a leg -- you know, I -- it just didn't look like he could -- he could make it. And I went over and gave him that kiss for President Johnson. And that was a very special moment for John and me because we could have missed that moment. So this was going to stick with me for the rest of my life. If I had -- if he died, I at least knew that he cared.

KING: When you and your husband were on this show together, there were differences of opinion of the shots. And you and your husband...

CONNALLY: Yes, we argued, but he never read my notes. So he...

KING: He thought there were, what, two shots?

CONNALLY: No, he just didn't hear the...

KING: Third shot?

CONNALLY: ... the shot that hit him. No.


CONNALLY: He saw the...

KING: So he thought there were two shots. He didn't know there were three.

CONNALLY: No, because he didn't hear the one that hit him.

KING: Yes, so...

CONNALLY: But he knew he was hit.

KING: Yes.

CONNALLY: So he knew there were three shots. We never...

KING: There was a time they thought the same bullet that hit Kennedy went through him, right? CONNALLY: Well, let me ask you this, do you think a bullet that went through the president's neck can hang there in air between the two seats while John turned to the right, turned to the left and came back. That's what I asked the Warren Commission. I said, "I don't believe a bullet could do that." That bullet -- the same bullet did not hit both of them.

KING: The Warren Commission says what?

CONNALLY: Well, they were -- you know, they wanted to argue with me, but...

KING: They said the same bullet, right?

CONNALLY: But they weren't in the car.

KING: No, they weren't.

CONNALLY: And I wish I -- I'm glad I was, but I wish I hadn't had to go through it.

KING: Did you watch the funeral with your husband?

CONNALLY: Yes, we watched.

KING: In the hospital?


KING: What was that like?

CONNALLY: Very strange, dipteral, unbelievable, like something that couldn't have happened, just couldn't have happened.

KING: What were your husband's thoughts about Dallas, the killing there, the place...

CONNALLY: Did you -- did you hear the little speech I made? They finally got me to -- they didn't think we were giving them the truth about...

KING: And you came out and spoke, I remember that.

CONNALLY: Well, but I had just a little bitty thing and I read it. But when I finished, I said, "I have one more thing I'd like to say. I want everybody within the sound of my voice, whoever can see this telecast or hear me to know that Dallas had nothing to do with this and should not be blamed." And then I -- oh, and I had a word from Miss Tippett, you know, whose husband was killed. And I just turned and went back to John.

KING: And Lee Harvey Oswald would later shoot a cop on the way to the...

CONNALLY: Yes, and we watched that. We were watching that on television. KING: Hiding in a movie theater.

CONNALLY: Well, he -- that was Mr. Tippett. We didn't see that. But then, we saw the guy kill Oswald.


ANNOUNCER: This is the basement floor of the Dallas City Hall. And that's a scuffle on the basement floor. It seems to have concerned photographers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has been shot. Oswald has been shot.


KING: I, eventually, interviewed the cop who arrested him.

CONNALLY: Did you?

KING: You know the only thing that he said in the car...


KING: ... in the squad car? "I'm a Patsy." He didn't say I didn't do it. He didn't say I'm innocent, didn't say I'm guilty.


KING: He said, "I'm a Patsy." What a choice of words. I'll ask you in a minute if you still have doubts about conspiracy and the like.

Nellie Connally is the guest. The book is "From Love Field." You can tell I'm old. I lived through all of this from doing interviews. I did interviews with people associated with John Kennedy that night.

CONNALLY: You are not old. I am old.

KING: We'll be right back. Don't go away.



CONNALLY: Governor Connally has asked me to convey to the people of Texas, the nation, and the world, our deep sorrow of the sickening tragedy, which struck at one of President Kennedy's most triumphant hours. Words cannot fully express to Mrs. Kennedy and to the president's family our feelings, which we know all Texans share.



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN CONNALLY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: My really first conscious thoughts are still my same conscious thoughts that my God, what a horrible, horrible tragedy, and how, in the space of a fleeting moment, things can change.


KING: We're back with Nellie Connally.

Do you have any thoughts about the conspiratorial nature?

CONNALLY: No, because I don't really know anything about conspiracy, you know. I know what I saw. I know what I heard. I know what happened in that car.

KING: What was the hospital like after Kennedy's body was removed; John had been operated on, the day after at Parkland?

CONNALLY: They moved us into -- the moved John into two rooms. They put a big three-inch piece of steel over the window. They put me in two rooms across the hall from John and they painted the windows black in my room because there was a roof outside and they didn't want any more targets, I guess.

There was guard in the first room with John. Everybody had to go through there, including me, to see John. And I don't know...

KING: What a buzz there must have been, the talk, and...

CONNALLY: Well, well...

KING: ... nurses, interns...

CONNALLY: ... see, when he came in to the very hospital where my husband is trying to recover from the wound he gave him and the doctor that worked on him was the doctor that tried to revive President Kennedy.


ANNOUNCER: His ambulance comes to the same emergency entrance to which President Kennedy was brought on Friday. Through the same entrance now, goes the man accused of assassinating the president.


CONNALLY: They asked me, they said, "Are you said about Oswald being killed?" I said, no, I'm glad Oswald was killed, but I am sad that we didn't have a chance to interrogate him and get whatever other information there might have been before he was killed.

KING: All right. Did you keep in touch with Jackie over the years?

CONNALLY: Not too much, you know. We -- if we were in Washington, I would call her. And she... KING: Did you talk to her any time before she died?

CONNALLY: No. See, we were not -- the closest we ever were was this horrible time.

KING: Sure, brought together...

CONNALLY: I think we could have been good friends.

KING: When you watched the funeral together, do you remember some of the things you said, John said...


KING: That incredible funeral, that walk...


KING: ... on that beautiful day, cold.

CONNALLY: Wasn't that unbelievable?

KING: ... walk all the way up Constitution Avenue...

CONNALLY: And that horse...

KING: ... across the bridge...

CONNALLY: The horse with the stirrups...

KING: Charles de Gaulle.

CONNALLY: And see -- and our son was there. This 17-year-old boy stayed with the Johnsons and went to his president's funeral.

KING: What was testifying before the Commission like?

CONNALLY: Well, you know, they wanted...

KING: They're all gone now except Gerald Ford.

CONNALLY: They wanted to have the magic bullet and one miss and one come from the front, you know, all that. And you know, I -- all I could say was I was there. This is what I saw. This is what I know. That's all I could say.

KING: Did you read the report?

CONNALLY: No, but John read every word of it. See, when he was appointed secretary of the Treasury, all this security stuff was under him. So he had it all sent over to him and he read everything and we never changed our mind about anything.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Nellie Connally. The book, "From Love Field: Our Final Hours With President John Kennedy," terrific book published by Rugged Land. CONNALLY: And you see -- you know I've gotten all my Christmas presents now for my family. That's it.


KING: And you'll actually see printings from the...

CONNALLY: That's from the notes.

KING: ... notes she kept. We'll be back with our remaining moments right after this.


MACK: This is the approximate location where a bystander named Jim Tagg stood. And while he watching the motorcade approach him on Elm Street, when the shots started, one of the shots struck this curb near here and splattered and cut him on his right cheek. The single bullet theory explains the shooting in light of the fact that a bystander was also wounded. Investigators found three empty shells up in the Book Depository and presumed only three shots were fired. One shot at President Kennedy in the head. That's very visible in the Zapruder film. Another shot, missed and struck the curb here and wounded the bystander. Therefore, one bullet must -- the remaining bullet must have done all of the other damage, which was through Kennedy's upper back, out his throat, into Texas Governor John Connelly, through the top of his wrist, out the bottom of his wrist and into his left thigh.



KING: We're back with our remaining moments. You just said it's hard, what you're going through now.

CONNALLY: Well, it's easier to write the book than it is to do this. And...

KING: To talk about it again?

CONNALLY: Well, I don't mind talking about it. It's just -- it's been pushed back in my head for a while and now, it's so obvious, everything. And you know, I see so many friends and people who are just wonderful about coming. And the one thing that does please me is that as many young people that were not born then buy this book as our age people.

KING: Well, it's...

CONNALLY: They are interested in the history.

KING: When did John Connally die?

CONNALLY: Ten years ago.


CONNALLY: Pulmonary Fibrosis.

KING: How old was he?

CONNALLY: Seventy...

KING: Seventy-six?


KING: Did he think about that day a lot?

CONNALLY: If he did, he kept it to himself. I didn't -- we didn't discuss it much. You know we have a strange deal between us. We do all these things. We have bad things. We get through them and then we move on. We don't really look back and just let it eat us.

KING: Because he sure had a lot of ups and downs.

CONNALLY: He did. Yes, we both did. And if you can -- if you can do that, you can handle it better than if you just feel sorry for yourself.

KING: Why do you think this country retains, despite what ever it learns about John Kennedy, women, illnesses, hiding things from them, no matter what they learn, John Kennedy remains...


KING: ... the most popular of all presidents.

CONNALLY: Very popular man, very.

KING: Why?

CONNALLY: Well, I don't know. Maybe because he didn't have a chance to show us what he really could do. He didn't -- you know, he was only president three years. No telling what he could have done or might have screwed up. I don't know.

KING: Barry Goldwater did admit to me, in an interview, in retrospect, to see the reaction of the public to his death, he would have been reelected. He was more popular than we knew.

CONNALLY: Well, he wasn't...

KING: And Goldwater would have run against him.

CONNALLY: ... in Texas, see. That's why he was coming.

KING: But look how popular he -- we eventually learned he was.

CONNALLY: Oh yes, they would have just eaten him with a spoon. John said, "If they could just see him, they'll vote for him, Nellie."

KING: What's life like for you now, Nellie?


KING: Where do you live?

CONNALLY: I live in Houston. I don't like it as much when I lived with John. But I think I'm getting along OK.

KING: And do you make the social world?

CONNALLY: Not as much as I did -- you know, I did for -- Houston just opened her arms to me, took me in after John died, kept me -- I was chairman, co-chairman, honorary chairman of everything a lady could be in Houston. They kept me so busy that I couldn't just feel so sorry for myself all day long.

KING: Did you get to see Lyndon much?

CONNALLY: Well, you know, he -- no, not after John died. Well, he was already dead, wasn't he?

KING: Yes, but I mean after Vietnam, after he gave up the presidency and came back home to visit.

CONNALLY: Oh yes, yes. And we'd go visit him at the ranch and...

KING: He died sad, didn't he?

CONNALLY: Yes, he was sad. I think he resigned sad.

KING: Yes.

CONNALLY: And I had seen him when he was so upset over what was happening to those boys that I thought I wouldn't have been surprised if he had resigned much earlier.

KING: Vietnam killed him.

CONNALLY: Yes, I think it did.

KING: Are you in good health?

CONNALLY: Well, I'm hanging in. I graduated from making soda and aspirin to about eight pills, but I'm doing fine.

KING: Nellie, you're a doll.

CONNALLY: You ain't so bad yourself.


KING: Nellie Connally, the book, "From Love Field: Our Final Hours With President John F. Kennedy," approaching 40 years ago. I'll be right back.


CONNALLY: And when we arrived in Dallas in the long motorcade, the people couldn't have been friendlier; the crowds couldn't have been more wonderful, more generous in their reaction to the president. And I just had such a good feeling about the way they had received him in this city. I had just turned around and said to him, "You can't say Dallas doesn't love you, Mr. President." That was it.



KING: Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE with Nellie Connally. Stay tuned now for news around the clock on your most trusted name in news, CNN. See you tomorrow night. Good night.



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