William Greer

William Greer

William Greer was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1910. His family emigrated to the United States. Greer worked as a farm labourer before moving to Boston where he became a chauffeur. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Greer joined the US Navy. He was assigned to the presidential yacht in May 1944.

At the end of the Second World War Greer joined the U.S. Secret Service. He joined the staff of the White House in November, 1950. Over the next thirteen years he worked as a chauffeur for Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.

On the 22nd November, 1963, Greer was assigned to drive the presidential car in the motorcade through Dallas. Several witnesses said that Greer stopped the car after the first shot was fired. This included Jean Hill, who was the closest witness to the car when Kennedy was hot: According to Hill "the motorcade came to almost a halt at the time the shots rang out". James Chaney (one of the four Presidential motorcyclists) - stated that the limousine "after the shooting, from the time the first shot rang out, the car stopped completely, pulled to the left and stopped." Mary Woodward, a journalist with the Dallas Morning News wrote: "Instead of speeding up the car, the car came to a halt... after the first shot".

Kenneth O'Donnell (special assistant to Kennedy), who was riding in the motorcade, later wrote: "If the Secret Service men in the front had reacted quicker to the first two shots at the President's car, if the driver had stepped on the gas before instead of after the fatal third shot was fired, would President Kennedy be alive today? He added "Greer had been remorseful all day, feeling that he could have saved President Kennedy's life by swerving the car or speeding suddenly after the first shots."

William Manchester claims that Greer told Jackie Kennedy at Parkland Hospital: "Oh, Mrs. Kennedy, oh my God, oh my God. I didn't mean to do it, I didn't hear, I should have swerved the car, I couldn't help it. Oh, Mrs. Kennedy, as soon as I saw it I swerved. If only I'd seen it in time!"

Senator Ralph Yarborough, who was riding with Lyndon B. Johnson, was highly critical of the actions of Greer: "When the noise of the shot was heard, the motorcade slowed to what seemed to me a complete stop... After the third shot was fired, but only after the third shot was fired, the cavalcade speeded up, gained speed rapidly, and roared away to the Parkland Hospital... The cars all stopped... 'I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings but for the protection of future Presidents, they (the Secret Service) should be trained to take off when a shot is fired."

It has been estimated that 59 witnesses and the Zapruder Film indicated that Greer stopped after the first shot was fired. However, when interviewed by the Warren Commission, Greer claimed: "I heard this noise. And I thought that is what it was. And then I heard it again. And I glanced over my shoulder. And I saw Governor Connally like he was starting to fall. Then I realized there was something wrong. I tramped on the accelerator, and at the same time Mr. Kellerman said to me, "Get out of here fast." And I cannot remember even the other shots or noises that was. I cannot quite remember any more. I did not see anything happen behind me any more, because I was occupied with getting away."

Greer also testified that he heard three shots and they all came from behind him. His testimony on Kennedy's head wound did suggest that a conspiracy had taken place. He claimed that when he got to Parkland Hospital he noticed Kennedy's "head was all shot, this whole part was all a matter of blood... it looked like that (his head) was all blown off." This contradicts the pictures of Kennedy's head that were published sometime after his death.

There is evidence that Greer also believed that John F. Kennedy had been a victim of a conspiracy. The daughter of Roy Kellerman, the Secret Agent in Kennedy's car, told Harold Weisberg in the 1970's that "I hope the day will come when these men (Kellerman and Greer) will be able to say what they've told their families".

William Greer died on 23rd February, 1985. His son, Richard Greer, was interviewed in 1991. When asked, "What did your father think of JFK," Richard did not respond the first time. When asked a second time, he responded: "Well, we're Methodists... and JFK was Catholic..."

Primary Sources

(1) William Manchester, The Death of a President (1967)

There was a sudden, sharp, shattering sound. Various individuals heard it differently. Jacqueline Kennedy believed it was a motorcycle noise. Curry was under the impression that someone had fired a railroad torpedo. Ronald Fischer and Bob Edwards, assuming that it was a backfire, chuckled. Most of the hunters in the motorcade - Sorrels, Connally, Yarborough, Gonzalez, Albert Thomas - instinctively identified it as rifle fire.

But the White House Detail was confused. Their experience in outdoor shooting was limited to two qualification courses a year on a range in Washington's National Arboretum. There they heard only their own weapons, and they were unaccustomed to the bizarre effects that are created when small-arms fire echoes among unfamiliar structures - in this case, the buildings of Dealey Plaza. Emory Roberts recognized Oswald's first shot as a shot. So did Youngblood, whose alert response may have saved Lyndon Johnson's life. They were exceptions. The men in Halfback were bewildered. They glanced around uncertainly. Lawson, Kellerman, Greer, Ready, and Hill all thought that a firecracker had been exploded. The fact that this was a common reaction is no mitigation. It was the responsibility of James J. Rowley, Chief of the Secret Service, and Jerry Behn, Head of the White House Detail, to see that their agents were trained to cope with precisely this sort of emergency. They were supposed to be picked men, honed to a matchless edge. It was comprehensible that Roy Truly should dismiss the first shot as a cherry bomb. It was even fathomable that Patrolman James M. Chaney, mounted on a motorcycle six feet from the Lincoln, should think that another machine had backfired. Chaney was an ordinary policeman, not a Presidential bodyguard. The protection of the Chief Executive, on the other hand, was the profession of Secret Service agents. They existed for no other reason. Apart from Clint Hill - and perhaps Jack Ready, who started to step off the right running board and was ordered back by Roberts - the behaviour of the men in the follow-up car was unresponsive. Even more tragic was the perplexity of Roy Kellerman, the ranking agent in Dallas, and Bill Greer, who was under Kellerman's supervision. Kellerman and Greer were in a position to take swift evasive action, and for five terrible seconds they were immobilized.

(2) William Greer interviewed by Arlen Specter on behalf of the Warren Commission (9th March, 1964)

Arlen Specter: After turning off Main onto Houston, did you have any opportunity to take a look at the building which you have since identified as the Texas School Book Depository Building?

William Greer: No, sir. I had not any chance to look much at that building at all. When I made the turn into Elm Street, I was watching the overpass expressway - the overpass, or what was ahead of me. I always look at any - where I go underneath anything, I always watch above, so if there is anyone up there that I can move so that I won't go over the top of anyone, if they are unidentified to me, unless it is a policeman or something like that. We try to avoid going under them...

Arlen Specter: And as you turned onto Elm Street, how far, to the best of your ability to estimate, was your automobile from the overpass which you have just described?

William Greer: I wouldn't have a distance recollection at all on how far it was. It wasn't too far. I just could not give you the distance.

Arlen Specter: At that time, did you make a conscious effort to observe what was present, if anything, on that overpass?

William Greer: Yes, sir. I was making sure that I could not see anyone that might be standing there, and I didn't see anything that I was afraid of on the overpass.

Arlen Specter: Did you see anything at all on the overpass?

William Greer: Not that I can now remember.

Arlen Specter: What is your best recollection of the speed at which you were traveling as you turned left off of Houston onto Elm?

William Greer: My best recollection would be between 12 and 15 miles per hour.

Arlen Specter: And how far were you at that time behind the police car which was in front of you?

William Greer: Probably 50 feet maybe approximately. I will say approximately 50 feet.

Arlen Specter: As you turned onto Elm, did you have any opportunity to observe how far behind you the President's follow-up car was?

William Greer: No, sir. I was not looking in my mirror; I could not say how far it was behind me at the time.

Arlen Specter: And what was the nature of the crowd as you made the turn onto Elm Street, if you recall?

William Greer: To the best of my memory, the crowd had thinned out a great deal, and there was not too many people in front of that building... When we were going down Elm Street, I heard a noise that I thought was a backfire of one of the motorcycle policemen. And I didn't - it did not affect me like anything else. I just thought that it is what it was. We had had so many motorcycles around us. So I heard this noise. And I thought that is what it was. And then I heard it again. And I glanced over my shoulder. And I saw Governor Connally like he was starting to fall. Then I realized there was something wrong. I tramped on the accelerator, and at the same time Mr. Kellerman said to me, "Get out of here fast." And I cannot remember even the other shots or noises that was. I cannot quite remember any more. I did not see anything happen behind me any more, because I was occupied with getting away.

Arlen Specter: Now, how many shots, or how many noises have you just described that you heard?

William Greer: I know there was three that I heard - three. But I cannot remember any more than probably three. I know there was three anyway that I heard.

Arlen Specter: Do you have an independent recollection at this moment of having heard three shots at that time?

William Greer: I knew that after I heard the second one, that is when I looked over my shoulder, and I was conscious that there was something wrong, because that is when I saw Governor Connally. And when I turned around again, to the best of my recollection there was another one, right immediately after.

Arlen Specter: To the best of your ability to recollect and estimate, how much time elapsed from the first noise which you have described as being similar to the backfire of a motor vehicle until you heard the second noise?

William Greer: It seems a matter of seconds, I really couldn't say. Three or four seconds.

Arlen Specter: How much time elapsed, to the best of your ability to estimate and recollect, between the time of the second noise and the time of the third noise?

William Greer: The last two seemed to be just simultaneously, one behind the other, but I don't recollect just how much, how many seconds were between the two. I couldn't really say.

Arlen Specter: Describe as best you can the types of sound of the second report, as distinguished from the first noise which you said was similar to a motorcycle backfire?

William Greer: The second one didn't sound any different much than the first one but I kind of got, by turning around, I don't know whether I got a little concussion of it, maybe when it hit something or not, I may have gotten a little concussion that made me think there was something different to it. But so far as the noise is concerned, I haven't got any memory of any difference in them at all...

Arlen Specter: Did you step on the accelerator before, simultaneously or after Mr. Kellerman instructed you to accelerate?

William Greer: It was about simultaneously.

Arlen Specter: So that it was your reaction to accelerate prior to the time...

William Greer: Yes, sir.

Arlen Specter: You had gotten that instruction?

William Greer: Yes, sir; it was my reaction that caused me to accelerate.

Arlen Specter: Do you recollect whether you accelerated before or at the same time or after the third shot?

William Greer: I couldn't really say. Just as soon as I turned my head back from the second shot, right away I accelerated right then. It was a matter of my reflexes to the accelerator.

Arlen Specter: Was it at about that time that you heard the third shot?

William Greer: Yes, sir; just as soon as I turned my head.

Arlen Specter: What is your best estimate of the speed of the car at the time of the first, second, or third shots?

William Greer: I would estimate my speed was between 12 and 15 miles per hour.

(3) William Greer interviewed by Arlen Specter and Thomas H. Boggs on behalf of the Warren Commission (9th March, 1964)

Arlen Specter: I hand you Commission Exhibit 350 and ask you if you are able to state what that depicts?

William Greer: That depicts a break or a shatter in the windshield of it.

Arlen Specter: Does that picture accurately represent the status of the windshield on the President's car at sometime?

William Greer: Yes, sir; that windshield looks real familiar to me on the way it...

Arlen Specter: At what time, based on your observation, did the windshield of the President's car look like that picture?

William Greer: I had never seen that until the following day after it came back from Dallas.

Arlen Specter: But on November 23, did the President's car windshield look like that?

William Greer: Yes, sir; it looked like there was a break that had a diamond, in the windshield whenever I was shown that at the garage, the White House garage.

Arlen Specter: Was the size and scope of the crack the same as that which is shown on that exhibit?

William Greer: That I wouldn't remember whether it was quite that large or not. I don't believe it was that big. It might not have been but I wouldn't say for sure.

Arlen Specter: Did you observe any crack on the windshield after the time of the shooting on November 22?

William Greer: No, sir; I didn't see it at all. I didn't know anything about it until I came back, until the car came back and I was shown that.

Arlen Specter: Did you have any occasion on November 22, after the shooting, to observe closely the windshield?

William Greer: No, sir. The only time I was in the car was going to the hospital and I never - I didn't see the car any more. It was just from the shooting until we got to Parkland that I was with the car. I left the car there and never did see it until it was back at the White House garage.

Arlen Specter: Are you able to state with certainty there was no crack in that windshield prior to the shooting on November 22?

William Greer: Yes, sir; I am sure there was nothing wrong with that windshield prior to that because I would have it was almost in front of me and I examined the car, I looked it all over when I got there, I saw it was clean and everything, the windshield. I didn't see this ever at any time previous...

Arlen Specter: Give me your best estimate on the diameter of the cracking of the windshield as it existed on November 23?

William Greer: To the best of my estimate it would be these little stars that are here, the little shatters that are here.

Arlen Specter: Would it be fair to say that you are indicating a circle with a circumference or diameter of approximately an inch to an inch and a half?

William Greer: I don't think - it probably would be an inch. The whole diameter.

Arlen Specter: Approximately 1 inch as you estimate it?

William Greer: Yes, sir.

Thomas Boggs: Excuse me, did you say you did not notice this crack from the time that you drove the car after the shooting to the hospital?

William Greer: No, sir; I had flags on the car and you know they were waving at a high rate of speed and you have the Presidential flag and the American flag in front of you there; you know when you are going at a fast speed you get a lot of, well, I don't know how you would say it, it attracts you so much that I didn't have any recollection of what happened on the windshield.

Thomas Boggs: There was no glass or anything that spattered on you in any way?

William Greer: I was kind of shocked at the time, I guess anything could have and I wouldn't have known what hit me. You are tense, I was pretty tense, and naturally my thoughts were the hospital, and how fast I could get there, and probably I could have been injured and not even known I was injured. I was in that position.

(4) William Greer interviewed by Arlen Specter on behalf of the Warren Commission (9th March, 1964)

Arlen Specter: What did you observe with respect to President Kennedy's condition on arrival at the Parkland Hospital?

William Greer: To the best of my knowledge he was laying, it seemed across Mrs. Kennedy, looked like laying across her lap or in front of her, I am not too sure which, I opened the doors - the doors were opened before I got to it, someone else had opened the doors and they were trying to get Connally out, and Mrs. Connally out of the seats so they could get to the President.

Arlen Specter: What did you observe about the President with respect to his wounds?

William Greer: His head was all shot, this whole part was all a matter of blood like he had been hit.

Arlen Specter: Indicating the top and right rear side of the head?

William Greer: Yes, sir; it looked like that was all blown off.

Arlen Specter: Yes.

William Greer: . I run around the front of the car and got hold of a stretcher or thing and I got hold of it to keep it steady while they lifted the President's body onto it and then I helped pull the front end of it into the emergency room.

Arlen Specter: Who was first removed from the automobile?

William Greer: Governor Connally was first removed. He was on the jump seats.

Arlen Specter: And what, if anything, did you observe as to Governor Connally's condition on arrival at Parkland Hospital?

William Greer: The best of my recollection he was lying across the seat toward Mrs. Connally when they picked him up and got him out of the car. And he was rushed in first into the hospital. That is when I got the stretcher to bring it, to hold it until they would get the President on it, on the right side of the car. They took him out on the side he was sitting on, that side of the car.

Arlen Specter: Were you able to make any personal observation about Governor Connally's specific wound?

William Greer: No, sir. I didn't know how badly anyone really was injured. I had great thoughts the President was still living and that was the only thing I was thinking about was to get them in quick.

Arlen Specter: Going back to the shots themselves, Mr. Greer, do you have any reaction as to the direction from which the shots came?

William Greer: They sounded like they were behind me, to the right rear of me.

Arlen Specter: Would that be as to all three shots?

William Greer: Yes, sir. They sounded, everything sounded, behind me, to me. That was my thought, train of thought, that they were behind me.

Arlen Specter: Have you ever had any reaction or thought at any time since the assassination that the shots came from the front of the car?

William Greer: . No, sir; I had never even the least thought that they could come. There was no thought in my mind other than that they were behind me.

(5) Michael L. Kurtz, Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination From a Historians Perspective (1982)

The Zapruder and other films and photographs of the assassination clearly reveal the utter lack of response by Secret Service agents Roy Kellerman and James Greer, who were in the front seat of the presidential limousine. After the first two shots, Greer actually slowed the vehicle to less than five miles an hour. Kellerman merely sat in the front seat, seemingly oblivious to the shooting. In contrast, Secret Service Agent Rufus Youngblood responded instantly to the first shot, and before the head shots were fired, had covered Vice-President Lyndon Johnson with his body.

Trained to react instantaneously, as in the attempted assassinations of President Gerald Ford by Lynette Fromme and Sara Jane Moore and of President Ronald Reagan by JohnWarnock Hinckley, the Secret Service agents assigned to protect President Kennedy simply neglected their duty. The reason for their neglect remains one of the more intriguing mysteries of the assassination.

(6) Judyth Baker, Deadly Alliance (1999)

Lee (Harvey Oswald) told me that the driver’s habits (William Greer) had been studied, and a shot going off would cause him to brake, which would slow the vehicle down. This was desired because even this cabal feared Aristotle Onassis, who would send killers out to track down anyone who killed Jackie Kennedy, or so the rumor went – and besides, everybody liked Jackie and orders were out not to hit her. It was to spare Jackie that some very expert marksmen missed or delayed their shots that day in Dealey Plaza: she was in their line of sight a great deal of the time, according to David Ferrie, who got the report from Marcello's henchmen as soon as he arrived in the Houston area.

(7) House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979)

Findings of the Select Committee on Assassinations in the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963.

The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy....

Agencies and departments of the U.S. Government performed with varying degrees of competency in the fulfillment of their duties. President John F. Kennedy did not receive adequate protection. A thorough and reliable investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was conducted. The investigation into the possibility of conspiracy in the assassination was inadequate. The conclusions of the investigations were arrived at in good faith, but presented in a fashion that was too definitive.

The Secret Service was deficient in the performance of its duties.

The Secret Service possessed information that was not properly analyzed, investigated or used by the Secret Service in connection with the President's trip to Dallas; in addition, Secret Service agents in the motorcade were inadequately prepared to protect the President from a sniper.