James Tague: Unintended Victim in Dealey Plaza

By: William M. Goggins

Marquette University

November 22, 1963 is a day James Tague will never forget. Driving through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas on that day, Mr. Tague was unexpectedly thrust into one of the most earth shattering, examined and theorized assassinations in history: the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.

Interestingly, most sources, including Crossfire by Jim Marrs, Case Closed, Pictures of the Pain and Groden's The Killing of a President make the mistake of claiming his wound was on Tague's left cheek. In an interview, Tague himself told the author that it was his right cheek, and the scratch seen in most photos was entirely unrelated, and a week old by that time. Most people agree that a stray bullet or fragment of a stray bullet hit a nearby curb, of which some concrete cut Tague's cheek. The FBI also proved that it was probably was a bullet which hit the curb.

Conjecture and conflicting theories have clouded the true events of what happened in Dealey Plaza that day. People theorize that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Others claim there were more shooters and/or conspirators involved. Like the various conflicting assassination theories, there are several conflicting theories explaining how Tague was wounded in Dealey Plaza. An in-depth and unbiased analysis of all of the possible scenarios involving James Tague being wounded in Dealey Plaza is one of many requisites for reaching a conclusion about what actually happened during the assassination of John Kennedy.

Unlike Jean Hill and Mary Moorman, James Tague was not planning to see Kennedy (Marrs, 60). Tague had planned to drive downtown to meet his girlfriend (and future wife) for lunch. He was driving east on Commerce street, the southernmost of the three streets which go under the triple underpass. Nearing Dealey Plaza, Tague came upon traffic caused by the presidential motorcade, and was forced to stop his car halfway under the triple underpass. He soon "got out of his car and stood by the bridge abutment" (Testimony of James Tague - Warren Commission, 553).

With such a vantage point, Tague was able to view the presidential motorcade which was traveling west on Elm Street from his right side to his left. It was at this time the assassination of Kennedy took place.

Once the first shot rang out, Tague claimed he thought someone had lit a very loud firecracker. "It certainly didn't sound like a rifle shot. It was a loud cannon-type sound" (Testimony - Warren Commission, 553). In an interview with the author, Tague explained that it was a "flat sound", whereas the other two were sharp "cracks" which sounded like a true rifle shot. In his testimony for the Warren Commission, Tague claims that he next "turned his head away from the motorcade and, of course, two more shots" (553). In his testimony, it is somewhat unclear what Tague did between the first shot and the third shot, after which, he claims to have then ducked behind the abutment to the triple underpass for a moment. He claims he next glanced around the abutment just in time to see the presidential limousine accelerate out of Dealey Plaza, toward the Stemmons Freeway. He told the author he "did what anyone would do. I scanned the area to see what was going on" (Interview with James Tague, 5/6/97).

Tague had been wounded by the time the third shot was fired. He reported feeling a slight sting which he initially ignored, being "consumed by what was transpiring in front of him" (Trask, 459). It later became the focus of attention when Tague mentioned it to Dallas police officer Buddy Walthers who then noticed blood on his cheek. The most important issue with Tague's wound is the question of which shot caused it. This information will have to coincide with a larger scenario of a shot either missing the presidential limousine or fragmenting after going through the presidential limousine (particularly through Kennedy's head) and going on to hit the curb near Tague.

Immediately after the shooting before meeting with Walthers, Tague claims to next see a motorcycle policeman stop, draw his gun and run up the embankment (or grassy knoll) toward the railroad tracks after parking his cycle on the north curb of Elm. This was Clyde Haygood, the officer reported to be first to the grassy knoll after the shooting. Like many in Dealey Plaza, Tague moved toward the activity until reaching Haygood who had by that time, returned to his motorcycle. While with Haygood, another witness reported to Haygood that a shot had come from the Texas School Book Depository. Haygood radioed the Dallas Police dispatcher and asked that the Depository be sealed off, using the code number "142." While reporting to dispatch, he also mentioned a man (Tague) who had been wounded by flying concrete (Marrs, 61).

After reporting to dispatch, Haygood and Tague encountered an hysterical man who was sobbing and said, "his head exploded!" Although James Tague cannot remember the man's name, Jim Marrs and other assassination researchers claim it was probably Charles Brehm.

After this exchange, Tague claims some time elapsed before Haygood said to Tague "Well, I saw something fly off back on the street" (Testimony - Warren Commission, 553). Soon after this, Tague and Haygood were greeted by a Dallas Deputy Sheriff. Again, Tague was unable to remember his name in the testimony he gave to the Warren Commission, but it is apparent that it was Buddy Walthers, the officer who was looking in the grass for an indication of a bullet strike (Trask, 459). It was at this time when attention was drawn to Tague's cheek wound. In Pictures of the Pain, Walthers repeats what Tague told him: "'Are you looking to see where some bullets may have struck?' and I said, 'Yes.' He says, 'I was standing over by the bank here, right there where my car is parked when those shots happened,' and he said, 'I don't know where they came from or if they were shots, but something struck me on the face'" (Trask, 460).

After Tague reported that he recalled that something "struck him on the face" while standing by the triple underpass, Walthers looked up and said, "Yes; you have blood there on your cheek" (Testimony - Warren Commission, 553). The two were then headed back to the location where Tague was wounded. About fifteen feet from the location where Tague had been standing under the triple underpass, Walthers noticed fresh damage to the curb, that looked like it was caused by a bullet. In his Warren Commission testimony, Tague said there was a mark that "quite obviously (was made by) a bullet, and it was very fresh" (553). "To Walthers, it was most obvious that the projectile either came from the School Book Depository or the Dal-Tex Building due to the angle with which it struck the curb" (Trask, 460). He even stated to another deputy "From the looks of it, it's probably going to be in the school book building" (Trask, 460).

After spotting the mark, Tague testifies that both he and Walthers "turned around and looked toward the School Book Depository...We said maybe this is where they (the shots) came from" (Testimony-Warren Commission, 553). Later in the questioning, Tague was asked if he had any idea from where the shots came when he heard them. Tague said "Yes; I thought they were coming from my left" He further specified by saying that his first impression was that the shots were coming from (as he explained) "the monument or whatever it was--" (which was the general area between the grassy knoll and the Book Depository where Abraham Zapruder was filming. Tague later explained that his assumption was based on the heightened activity in the area after the shooting (i.e. Clyde Haygood et. al. converging in that area toward the railroad tracks, etc.) When asked what he saw during the shooting, he said he saw no evidence of someone shooting from the railroad tracks. He claims that during the shooting to have "looked at the complete area to try to find out where the disturbance was" before ducking behind the abutment. This further clarifies what he was doing after the first shot, and before he ducked behind the abutment.

When presuming Tague's left cheek was wounded in Dealey Plaza, as shown in the Willie Allen photo, such an important issue would link only the first shot to Tague's wound. Unfortunately, this theoretical path is a mistake. Tague claimed to be looking to his left, and up at the grassy knoll for activity after hearing the first shot. This would obscure the left side of his face, making it impossible to scratch that side after he turned, excluding the second and third shots from causing the wound (if on the left cheek). The many researchers who rely on the Allen photo make this drastic mistake. It is a mistake because Tague actually was wounded on the right cheek in Dealey Plaza that day. The scratch on his left cheek shown in the Allen photo was a week old.

Due to the fact that he was wounded on his right cheek in Dealey Plaza, any of the three shots could possibly have caused the wound. Therefore, Tague's claim that it wasn't the first shot that wounded him could be plausible.

For the Warren Commission, Tague was asked "Do you think that it is consistent with what you heard and saw that day, that the shots could have come from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository?" He responded "Yes."

The most important issue regarding James Tague's wound is from which shot did a bullet or part of a bullet strike the curb, causing his wound. There have been several theories explaining which bullet caused the wound to Tague's cheek. The two most common theories involve either the first or third bullets causing the wound. Although some claim it was hasty, even the Warren Commission concludes, "The mark on the south curb of Main Street cannot be identified conclusively with any of the three shots fired. Under the circumstances it might have come from the bullet which hit the President's head, or it might have been a product of fragmentation of the missed shot upon hitting some other object in the area" (Warren Report, 117.)

The first of the theories which corroborated with the Warren Commission's conclusion is found in the 1967 book Six Seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson, and is alluded to in the book Crossfire, by Jim Marrs. When referring to the "copper jacketless" bullet fragment which hit the curb near Tague, Marrs writes: "The only one that could have lost such an amount of lead is the final head shot" (Marrs, 63). This theory suggests that the bullet which caused the fatal wound to Kennedy's head fragmented and then continued on where it hit the curb near Tague. Marrs claims this is improbable because the fragment would have to travel 200 feet after exiting Kennedy's head. There was a considerable dent in the chrome strip near the front visor of the limousine, possibly illustrating how much velocity such fragments could carry (assuming it was caused by such a fragment). Weakening this theory, further analysis of the angles show that the visor may actually have been in the way of such a stray fragment anyway.

A second common theory is illustrated in the book Case Closed, by assassination researcher Gerald Posner. For the sake of background, Posner believes there were three shots, all of which originated from the Depository, and all of which were shot by Lee Harvey Oswald from the sixth floor window. This theory has the first shot at the presidential limousine being obscured by the branches of a tree. The bullet would have hit a branch, fragmented, and gone towards the area where Tague was standing where it hit the curb. This is supported with several pieces of evidence and testimony. Two relatively large fragments of the bullet from the head shot were found in the limousine. The odds of having another sizable fragment travel 200 feet and chip concrete then decreases. Also, Tague himself claims "he thinks he heard the third shot after he was hit in the face" (Warren Report, 116). Although he believed that it was the second shot which caused his wound, it is quite clear that the second shot had gone through Kennedy and Governor Connally, ending in Connally's thigh after analysis of film footage shot by Abraham Zapruder.

Analysis of the footage of the Zapruder film of the assassination best correlates with this theory. Posner shows how the first shot (at Z-frame 160) is being deflected by a branch of the oak tree between Oswald and the limousine. The second shot hit both the President and Governor Connally just as their limousine emerged into Zapruder's view from behind a freeway sign. Careful analysis points to the second and third shots causing all of the wounds to Kennedy and Connally.

It is possible that Tague was hit with the first bullet and didn't immediately feel the sting because of his assumably shocked state throughout the situation. It would correlate with his insistence that it sounded different as well (hitting a tree and concrete near him rather than landing in the limousine).

After personally interviewing James Tague, he made it aware to me that he was misquoted in Posner's book. Tague told me that it was not the first shot that caused his wound. He told the author in an interview that "something made me jump back behind the abutment, and that's why I think it was the second one (shot)." Despite Tague's feeling that it was the second shot which hit him, it appears possible that he merely didn't feel any pain right away. Tague explained his wound as a "very minor scratch." It only created a few drops of blood. This supports the idea that he may not have felt the pain immediately.

Various theories suggest other shooters and other reasons for a missed shot. Some of them involve a second shooter, as illustrated in the book Crossfire. This theory posits a second shooter firing a bullet and missing the limousine, hitting the curb. The bullet would have had to already had the copper jacket stripped from the bullet in order to explain the lack of copper found in the curb sample. The question then arises, "why would one strip off the jacket in the first place?" The majority of theories such as this seem far more implausible and based in conjecture more than based in fact.

To illustrate this, Mr. Marrs also incorrectly credits Tague's testimony to be the compelling force behind the Warren Commission's development of the single bullet theory (Marrs, 63). This is simply an incorrect assumption. The development of the single bullet theory is described in several memoranda written in late April of 1964 by Melvin A. Eisenberg and Norman Redlich to other members of the President's Commission. These prove the Commission had developed the theory even before Tague had given his testimony nearly three months later. Mistakes like this are found in many theories which are based on quick assumptions and little to no detailed research of facts.

When asked what overall theory he believes explains how he was wounded, Tague was very ambiguous and unclear. He did state that he felt there was more than just one shooter. He also seemed very suspicious of the government and how the FBI handled him and the pieces of related evidence around Dealey Plaza. He is amidst writing a book accounting his place in the Dealey Plaza assassination. He was considering the title "Wake Up America." It became quite clear that Tague distrusts the government.

Every theory has its strengths and its weaknesses. Regardless, not one theory can explain how James Tague's cheek was wounded while completely discrediting every other theory. It is this characteristic of the issue of Tague's wound that is illustrative of the entire assassination. Although one theory is more sound and believable than another, there seems to be an unending source of criticism from various fronts which can provide conflicting evidence. His case also showed how a simple photograph can be misinterpreted, greatly affecting one's theoretical approach to the assassination. With the sheer number of people theorizing exactly what happened in Dealey Plaza, consensus will never be achieved. In light of this, I feel it is important to be able to examine all of the theories and boil them down to the most plausible and logical explanation of Kennedy's death. James Tague is a link in the very long chain of such explanation.

Cited Works and Interviews

Groden, Robert J. The Killing of a President: The Complete Photographic Record of the JFK Assassination, the Conspiracy, and the Cover-Up. Viking Studio Books, New York, NY. 1993.

Marrs, Jim. Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1989.

Posner, Gerald. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. Anchor Books, New York, NY. 1993.

Tague, James T. The Testimony given for the Warren Commission to Mr. Wesley J. Liebeler, assistant counsel of the President's Commission. July 23, 1964.

Tague, James T. Personal Interview with the author. February 25, 1997 and May 6, 1997.

Trask, Richard B. Pictures of the Pain: Photography and the Assassination of President Kennedy. Yeoman Press, Danvers, MA. 1994.

Warren Report. Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. St. Martin's Press, New York, NY. 1964.

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