Testimony Of James Robert Underwood

The testimony of James Robert Underwood was taken at 11:25 a.m., on April 1, 1964, in the office of the U.S. attorney, 301 Post Office Building, Bryan and Ervay Streets, Dallas, Tex., by Mr. Joseph A. Ball, assistant counsel of the President's Commission.

Mr. BALL. Mr. Underwood, will you stand up and be sworn?


Mr. BALL. Do you solemnly swear the testimony you are about to give before this Commission shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Mr. BALL. Will you state your name, please?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. My name is James Robert Underwood.
Mr. BALL. Your occupation?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. I am the assistant news director of KRLD-TV and radio in Dallas.
Mr. BALL. On November 22, 1963, you were in the motorcade, the Presidential motorcade?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes, sir; I was three cars behind the President.
Mr. BALL. Who was in the car with you?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. There was a photographer from channel 5, WBAP-TV, whose name is James Darnell, and a photographer from the Dallas Morning News--- I know his name but I can't think of it right now----
Mr. BALL. Tom Dillard?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes; Tom Dillard, and a photographer from the Dallas Times-Herald whose name is Bob Jackson, also a photographer from WFAA-TV and I do not know his name. I heard it but I don't remember it.
Mr. BALL. There was a driver, also?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes; the driver I later found out was a member of the department of public safety.
Mr. BALL. You are a photographer, also?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes, sir; I wear many hats in my business but one of which is news photographer.
Mr. BALL. Did you have your camera with you that day?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes, sir; I did.
Mr. BALL. What is your experience; where were you born; where did you go to school; how did you get to get the experience that fit you for your present job? Just in your own. words, tell me something about yourself.
Mr. UNDERWOOD. I was born in Oklahoma City, Okla., in 1922; I served in the Marine Corps from 1940 until 1943, almost 4 years, and after that I attended the University of Tulsa and after that I worked---I began working in radio as an announcer while I was going to college. When I got out of college, I went to Corpus Christi, Tex. That was about 1947 and I became program director and news director of a radio station in Corpus Christi and I stayed there until 1950 when I went to a station in Jacksonville, Fla., where I was also program director and news director, and in 1953, I came to Dallas, and I worked for a year and a half for WFAA-TV as an announcer, then I freelanced in television and radio from September of 1954 until November---and I have to count for a minute 6 years this November that would be until November 1958 when I went to work for KRLD-TV and Radio News and shortly thereafter I became assistant news director but I earned part of my living, I still freelance in television which is all freelance in televisi on and I have a regular job which entails every type of reporting, including photography which I enjoy doing.
Mr. BALL. On the day of the assassination, you were in the motorcade with these men you mentioned and you think your car was third behind the Presidential car?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes; and I thought it was six or seven. I shot sound on film of the President's arrival and Vice President's arrival at Dallas Love Field the morning he came in on the 22d and then I took off the rather cumbersome sound on film equipment and took my hand camera because I had an assigned place in the motorcade and I could not tell out there because of the many people I could not tell what position we were in. I could not see that far ahead to determine exactly where we were in the motorcade, although I knew we were in the front of it. The motorcade stopped once on the way downtown, this was briefly, and I jumped over this side---we were in a---convertible and ran toward the President's car and I was aware of the crowd and the motorcade immediately started and I ran back to the convertible, not wanting to be left, and looking afterward at the films that I took there, I could then count the cars there. I realized we were three behind him, according to my movies we took. When we turned onto Main Street downto wn and headed west toward the scene of where the assassination took place, either the regulator or the mainspring in my camera broke and I was without a camera. I knew that we had two men, at least two men on the parade route who were on the street and would be filming the motorcade as we came by and I hoped to exchange my broken camera for one of theirs because I knew I could make more use of the one that would operate. The only problem was we went down Main Street so rapidly it would have been impossible to get anything from someone standing on the street and at Main and Record one of our men was stationed and I tried to holier at him my camera was broken and I wanted to switch and I started to and there was no point in it because we passed there that rapidly. I thought it was the fastest motorcade that passed through a crowd; this was really moving, as far as I was concerned. Then, we came to the scene where the shots were fired. Do you want me to go on?
Mr. BALL. From the time you turned, tell me what you observed after you made the turn at Main and Houston to drive north on Houston.
Mr. UNDERWOOD. After we turned onto Houston Street, the car I was in was about, as far as I can remember, about in the middle of the block or a little bit north of the center of the block, which is a short block, when I heard the first shot.
Mr. BALL. Between Main and Elm?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes; between Main and Elm, closer to the Elm intersection, Elm and Houston intersection, when I heard the first shot fired. I thought it was an explosion. I have heard many rifles fired but it did not sound like a rifle to me. Evidently must have been a reverberation from the buildings .or something. I believe I said to one of the other fellows it sounds like a giant firecracker and the car I was in was about in the intersection of Elm and Houston when I heard a second shot fired and moments later a third shot fired and I realized that they were by that time, the last two shots, I realized they were coming from overhead.
Mr. BALL. You realized they were coming from overhead and that would be from what source?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. That would be from the Texas School Book Depository Building.
Mr. BALL. It sounded like they were coming from that direction?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes, sir; the last two. Now, the first was just a loud explosion but it sounded like a giant firecracker or something had gone off. By the time the third shot was fired, the car I was in stopped almost through the intersection in front of the Texas School Book Depository Building and I leaped out of the car before the car stopped. Bob Jackson from the Herald said he thought he saw a rifle in the window and I looked where he pointed and I saw nothing. Below the window he was pointing at, I saw two colored men leaning out there with their heads turned toward the top of the building, trying, I suppose, to determine where the shots were coming from.
Mr. BALL. What words did you hear Bob Jackson say?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. I don't know that I can remember exactly except I did hear him say words to the effect that "I saw a rifle" and I looked at that instant and I saw nothing myself. If he saw a rifle, I did not.
Mr. BALL. At that point when you looked, where was your car?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Our car was in the intersection, in the intersection of Elm and Houston Street.
Mr. BALL. Had it made the turn yet?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. It had partially made the turn or had just begun to make the turn. Frankly, I was looking up and around and I saw at the same time people falling on the ground down the street toward the underpass and my first impression was some of these people falling to the ground had been shot.
Mr. BALL. Did your car stop?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Our car stopped and the minute it stopped I leaped out of the car.
Mr. BALL. Where was your car when it stopped?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Right in the intersection, perhaps just past the intersection, turned onto Elm.
Mr. BALL. Did you get out before the car parked along the curb?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes, sir; the minute it stopped, I leaped over the side.
Mr. BALL. What did you do?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. I left my camera in the car, the camera that was broken, and ran as fast as I could back toward the man we had at Record and Main in order to get a camera. There I was without a camera; the only thought I had was to get a camera.
Mr. BALL. Did you get one?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes; I ran the full block back to Main Street and our man there, name of Sanderson, was running down Main toward Houston. He was running to meet me, although he didn't know what was happening and that my camera was broke. Suddenly, motorcycles and sirens had been turned on police cars and were all headed toward Main. I met him just around the corner on Main past Houston and grabbed his camera and said, "Someone had been shooting at the President." I didn't know this but I assumed it happened. I took his camera and got back to the scene. When I got back to the scene, most of the people in the area were running up the grassy slope toward the railway yards just behind the Texas School Book Depository Building. Actually, I assumed, which is the only thing I could do, I assumed perhaps who had fired the shots had run in that direction. I recognized at least a dozen deputy sheriffs running also in that area--it seems to me that many, and I ran up there and took some films and they were running through the railr oad yard and they very quickly found nothing and I was having, frankly, a hard time breathing because I had done more running in those few minutes than I am used to doing. I gasped out to a couple people--I don't know who they are that I thought the shots came from that building and one of the fellows in the car with me said they had seen a rifle barrel in the building.
Mr. BALL. This group of men were deputy sheriffs?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. For the most part, yes; I don't think I could recall--Lemmy Lewis I see in my mind, but I am not sure Lemmy was there. This was a kaleidoscope of things happening. In my business, you need to make a quick appraisal of what is happening if you are going to shoot pictures of it. I was confused and out of breath and unbelieving of what happened.
Mr. BALL. Where did you go from the grassy slopes?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. I went from the railroad yards--actually, I was back in the track area---I went immediately with these men at a run to the Texas School Depository.
Mr. BALL. Which entrance?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. The front entrance.
Mr. BALL. On Elm?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes; and I ran down there and I think I took some pictures of some men--yes, I know I did, going in and out of the building. By that time there was one police officer there and he was a three-wheeled motorcycle officer and a little colored boy whose last name I remember as Eunice.
Mr. BALL. Euins?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. It may have been Euins. It was difficult to understand when he said his name. He was telling the motorcycle officer he had seen a colored man lean out of the window upstairs and he had a rifle. He was telling this to the officer and the officer took him over and put him in a squad car. By that time, motorcycle officers were arriving, homicide officers were arriving and I went over and asked this boy if he had seen someone with a rifle and he said "Yes, sir." I said, "Were they white or black?" He said, "It was a colored man." I said, "Are you sure it was a colored man?" He said, "Yes, sir" and I asked him his name and the only thing I could understand was what I thought his name was Eunice.
Mr. BALL. Was he about 15?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. I couldn't tell his age; looked to me to be younger. I would have expected him to be about 10 or 11 years old.
Mr. BALL. Then what did you do?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. I stayed in front of the building; actually, I stayed in the intersection of Elm and Houston and took movies of police arriving and fire--- and I think some fire equipment arrived on the scene, one firetruck or two fire-trucks, I'm not sure, and I just shot some general film on the area. I have since searched that film to see if I could see any face in it that would have been important to this.
Mr. BALL. Leaving the building?
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Yes; but I haven't found any except that of officers arriving and just people generally in the area; none of it, though, that you could---I spent several days at this, I guess during January when things had calmed down. I was on the side street of the building, around the front of the building and in the intersection for the next 10 minutes, then I went across the street to the courthouse and phoned several news reports to C.B.S. in New York and described what was taking place in the building at that time. There were firemen with ladders in front of the building and officers running in and out and they cordoned off the building and kept the spectators out of the building, but there was quite a time lapse between the time the shots were fired and the time anyone checked the building. The main effort was to run to the railroad yards instead of the School Book Depository.
Mr. BALL. I think that's all. Mr. Underwood, this will be typed up and you can waive signature if you wish or you can sign it if you wish.
Mr. UNDERWOOD. I don't have to sign it. I will waive signature.