Jan. 6, 1963, was the day it all started. The commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the event is taking place in D.C. today, but that isn’t the only big event going on. Details on events will be coming out this week. But, in the meantime, here’s a bit from a profile of Johnny E. Ferguson Jr., an informant who successfully infiltrated the Kennedy administration and helped lead the city’s conspiracy to stop the assassination of the president and his wife.
Manila, Aug. 4, 2013: FBI agent Johnny E. Ferguson Jr. recently came home to Foggy Bottom to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Ferguson, a former informant for the Washington field office of the F.B.I., had never been to the capital.
Not long after the president was killed, Ferguson admitted his role in a Washington City Paper article (yes, back when I was running the crime blog, it was a daily activity). This couldn’t have been more awkward. Ferguson had only agreed to answer questions about his actions after his life had been threatened by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his associates. He’d never met the man who threatened him, let alone shook his hand, let alone discussed what he had witnessed in the Capitol basement.
After a lot of thought, he decided to come home and attend the commemoration of the event, the first large-scale civil disturbance, or mob, Ferguson observed. He planned to tell his story for those gathered, including a large group of Capitol Police officers, with perhaps 50 or so agents of the F.B.I. providing security. Then he was to introduce himself to a close friend and former hostage, Medal of Honor recipient John K. Gallatin.
Finally, Ferguson was to make sure his identification was accounted for in the Capitol. Ferguson didn’t want to jeopardize the personal relationship he’d cultivated with Gallatin by looking at him. Gallatin had been a fellow member of the Bataan Death March, which held Ferguson as a hostage before coming home to Washington. Ferguson wasn’t going to attempt to retrieve Gallatin’s medal, not because he hated him, but because he didn’t want to risk putting Gallatin in a compromising position by making the routine scene to gather identification.
He wanted to remember the occasion, but not himself. He also didn’t want to be scrutinized by FBI agents or Capitol Police officers.
“I hope I didn’t need to come,” he told me during his morning preparations. “I just want to leave.” He, Gallatin and I were the only ones representing the evidence team at the celebration. However, thanks to Ferguson, I was able to celebrate again in person for the third time as it were, a few months after the January, 1963 anniversary, on November 21, 1963, the 15th anniversary of my father’s death.
Nov. 21, 1963: American patriot Patrick C. McCarthy was on Capitol Hill that day, celebrating with friends. Then in his office, he saw five uniformed Capitol Police officers yelling and rushing toward a huge crowd of people, including him. His first instinct was to jump, unaware that they were responding to the “Park51,” that was the full-scale civil disturbance that resulted in the deaths of 2,000 people.
I distinctly remember how McCarthy stood up and looked around, unwilling to believe what he had just witnessed and the countless other people doing the same. It was only when it had passed that McCarthy looked back and realized the president of the United States had been killed. As he walked to his office, still breaking down, he learned that his best friend, John K. Gallatin, had lost his life. McCarthy had sacrificed his life so he could help protect others, as well.
Neither Ferguson nor Gallatin had the chance to tell the president what had happened or what role they had played in the tragedy, but that wasn’t going to stop them from attending today’s commemoration.