In 236 years of American history only four presidents have been assassinated while in office. Forty-nine years ago on Nov. 22, 1963, Charles Comer, then a Dallas police officer assigned to duty at Love Field, welcomed Air Force One and its passengers to Dallas on a fateful last trip for President John F. Kennedy.
“I was probably about 30 or 40 feet from the president,” he said. “It was exhilarating. I had never met a president. I had never been that close or even in the vicinity of one in the same city. I was a young man and that was exciting.”
Comer was working the day shift that Friday.
“I just went to work,” he said. “We knew the president was coming in, and that he was going to Fort Worth first, then to Dallas. I don’t recall, but I think we even knew the time he would be there.”
After escaping the Texas School Book Depository, Lee Harvey Oswald, the presidents assassin, shot and killed a colleague of Comer’s.
“Well first I received a call from our Love Field Office that one of our patrol men had been killed,” he said. “That was when I was first notified about Officer John Tippit’s murder. President Kennedy’s assassination was secondary thing.”
Comer stood duty that night with Tippit’s body.
“I knew him and his wife Marie both,” he said. “Oswald shot him in the Oak Cliff neighborhood near Dudley Hughes funeral home. John had heard about the assassination and the description of the shooter. He pulled up to question Oswald, but Oswald shot him three times. I stayed with his body that night at Dudley Hughes. It looked like a gunshot wound here [pointing to his neck], his head, and one under his right arm.”
Losing a fellow officer in the line of duty leaves a permanent mark, Comer said.
“After a while, you don’t have the same emotions as people who don’t work in that area,” he said. “You don’t break down, but it hurts inside, sure. It still hurts. I met him because we both worked at the same substation. We had meetings every shift with a lieutenant and sergeant and they would give you areas you needed to look after. He was always in there with us. We played dominoes in the back when we came off shift.”
While driving the president’s aide to Parkland Hospital where the president was taken after being shot, Comer and the aide heard the biggest news of the day.
“We turned around on the way to the hospital after it was determined the president was dead,” he said. “The aide had to get back to the plane so they could get another president sworn in. A state trooper had Connolly’s aide.”
Another character that Comer was familiar with was Jack Ruby, the man who murdered Oswald
“Before we had substations we worked in a central station in Dallas,” he said. “Jack Ruby used to hang around the locker room. He liked to be around police men and they allowed him in there.”
Yet another important player in the drama Comer was familiar with was Officer Nick McDonald, the office who captured Oswald in the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff.
“We were friends and we’ve visited with Officer McDonald,” he said. “He gave us a lot of information about that day. I have a copy of the autopsy for Oswald and the homicide report for him and President Kennedy in my collection.”
Comer’s wife, Beth, was at home that Friday with their children.
“I knew the president was coming in, but I wasn’t all that interested,” she said. “I was watching the news and I remember them coming on saying that the president had been shot and they weren’t sure where it came from. At that time they didn’t say he had been killed.”
Only a week later Comer experienced another dangerous situation while at work.
“An airliner with several state governors and John Glenn landed at the airport,” he said. “They had received a bomb threat mid-air and had landed and deplaned. I went up the ramp to look in the plane and I noticed someone behind me. Well later Beth’s aunt later said she had noticed John Glenn and me going on the plane. He and I were going back and forth looking in the seats. I wasn’t even thinking about John Glenn.”
Despite the numerous theories regarding the assassination, Comer said he relies on facts for the basis of his decisions.
“Well of course a policeman goes by whatever definite evidence comes-in,” he said. “As far as the rifle he used and the cartridges he spent and the marks and the fragments found in the car, well they all matched. Oswald’s prints were on the rifle and the people in the school depository knew him. There was a place cleaned-out up there on the sixth floor. I concluded that it was him. He of course killed Tippet, too.”
In addition to working for ten years with the Dallas Police Department, Comer served in the United States Army as a military policeman with the 7th Infantry Division.
“I joined when I was 17-years old,” he said. “I was the youngest in my division. Gen. Trudeau required that military police serve two weeks on the front line. When we first arrived in Korea we landed in Inchon which is not very far from Seoul and the 38th parallel where they were fighting. We landed right at dusk; you could see the artillery and flares for awhile until we got closer and then we could hear them, too.”
After serving in Korea for 14 months, and completing his enlistment stateside, Comer said he began college while working in Dallas. He attended both TCU and Arlington State, now UT Arlington, before beginning work for Dallas PD.
“One of the Dallas newspapers had an article about the Dallas PD giving civil service exams,” he said. “It was steady income and benefits. I passed the test and worked there for ten years.”
Comer and his wife moved from Dallas to Fairplay in 1982. The couple later moved to Pennsylvania where Comer retired from Northwest Truck Lines in 1996. In 1995 Comer was asked to speak to students at a Pennsylvania high school. That speech was recorded and televised by CSPAN
Comer summed up his feelings about the day of the assassination.
“Well it was real stressful for awhile because there were theorist and things coming out in the paper about several people doing it, or gangs or even the mob,” he said. “We just wished it had never happened. It was a sad time in Dallas. Tippet and the president being killed was a stigma on the city. The president had just left Fort Worth where he got a rousing reception. I wish it hadn’t happened in Dallas.”