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JFK Assassination Witness Linda Willis in Dealey Plaza

Jim Ruddy

Sound | c. 1991

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  •  Jim Ruddy: We're rolling. First of all can you go ahead and tell me the name, you've got three names. Do you want to use- how would you like the name spelled on television.
    Linda Willis: Okay, Linda Willis. W-I-L-L-I-S.
    Ruddy: Okay. And Linda, where were you on November 22, 1963? 
  •  Willis: On November 22, 1963 my family and I came to Dealey Plaza to see President Kennedy in his parade. We started at the corner of Houston and Elm Street, watched the motorcade come forward. As they turned to the right on Houston Street, my father and I followed the limousine. My father had a 35mm slide camera. He did not have power-wind, so he was snapping and winding just as fast as he could. We followed approximately the speed of the limousine, so we were pretty much running. So as the limousine turned from Houston Street back onto Elm and came by the Grassy Knoll area we were still following the limousine. Then we got to a point and stopped probably within 100 feet of the limousine as the shots rang out, and then we saw the whole thing unfold before out eyes. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of where we are standing at, how close are we now to where you were when the shots starting coming out.
    Willis: I'm probably a little closer now than I was the day of the assassination, but I had a full view. The crowd was not very great at this point in the parade. Further up Main Street there were a lot of people that were probably, you know, 10 deep from the curb back, but at this point in Dealey Plaza the crowd was pretty thin so we had a good view of the President's limousine. So I was very close and could see everything. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of what you saw, what did you see? I'm sure this is something you've seen before you describe it. What did you see?
    Willis: Well first of all at age 14, the day that the assassination occurred, I was very aware of what was going on around me, and I had my full attention trained in on the President in his limousine. I really didn't watch anything else. It was a big deal for a girl my age then to the see the President, so I really didn't watch anyone else, and so as the motorcade proceeded I never took my eyes away from the President, and he was waving, and you know, in a great mood, glad to be in Texas, probably trying to repair some political problems going on, but I was really glad to see him, waving like everyone else and having my eyes totally trained in on him I saw all the things that happened within the limousine: the reactions from the shots, and when he was hit he grabbed for his throat. The most important thing I remember of course is the head shot. When the head shot occurred his brain matter just blew out the back of his head. It was a sunshiny day like it is right now, and when the sunlight hit the brain matter it just illuminated. There was an orange aura around his head, and you know you'll never forget that kind of sight. 
  •  Ruddy: You described it as being- what was it like to witness something like that.
    Willis: Probably that question is the thing that's asked most often of me, and my initial reaction and the thing I remember the most: it's like watching a film in slow motion, frame by frame. I feel like it's probably a protective mechanism in looking back that I didn't go into shock, but I just couldn't believe my eyes. I knew what I was seeing, but I was still in disbelief. You know, it was very unreal. It was like watching a movie, but you realize you're there. 
  •  Ruddy: What was the- what was the mood like that day? What kind of- what was the feeling down here before in the afternoon?
    Willis: Well I think in anticipation of the motorcade people were glad to see him. The people who probably didn't like Kennedy at that time didn't bother to come see him. So the people who were here were glad to see him. The reason my family came, my father was in Texas politics in 1947 and '49. He served in the Texas legislature in the House of Representatives and Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, Sam Rayburn, Ralph Yarborough, these were all personal friends of my father's, and he had Democratic ties. He had been to fundraisers for President Kennedy and had met him, so my father was bringing my sister and myself, and my mother, to see his friends so that's why we were here. We were here to see my dad's friends, so it was a little more important to us than just the average bystander. And so it was really a great shock to my father to see this kind of thing going on with people that he knew. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of your reactions, what was your reaction that day?
    Willis: Well I think I was glad to see the motorcade first of all. It was exciting to see a President. That was a big deal for a girl of 14, but when the shots occurred, my first react- with the first shot I really thought firecrackers just in celebration, but as soon as the second and third, maybe subsequent shots, I have no idea how many. I know there were at least three, maybe more. When that occurred you know I was just in... well shock is not the right word, I was in total disbelief, you know very frightened actually because the crowd around us, many people fell to the ground. They were afraid they would be hit, but I was frozen. I didn't hit the ground, and I never took my eyes away from the President. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of people reacting to you, what kind of reactions do you get when you tell people that you witnessed this? How do they- how would you categorize the reactions you get?  I'm sure there's a range of them. 
  •  Willis: Well I think most people I talk to are amazed that I was here because there was such a small crowd that day. There were very few people who actually saw the assassination. There were people around the corner that didn't see it. They had already taken their eyes away from him because they were facing Houston Street, and so really just a handful of people actually saw what happened compared to the number of people who attended the whole parade, and, you know, there were just a few people watching, and we were all in shock, disarray, you know people were falling to the ground. There are many people who feel like shots came from the area where the railroad yards are, and people ran across the street that day to see what happened. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of today if someone doesn't know you, and they find out that you were there, what kind of reaction-
    Willis: I think they probably react to me as somewhat of a celebrity, you know, I'm unusual because I was one of the few people here that day and the fact that I remember it so well.  You know, there were children younger than I was that day who probably don't remember as well. You know, if you were like 5 or 6 or younger, chances are you're running around not paying attention, but I paid attention, and so I remember it well, and people feel like it's unusual that I can recount everything specifically. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of- would you say people are still fascinated with this?
    Willis: Oh, very fascinated.
    Ruddy: If you met 10 people or 100 people who found out about this, what kind kind of percentage of them might be fascinated versus what percentage of them might go "Oh, isn't that nice for you" or something like that?
    Willis: I would say 80 to 90 percent are fascinated. I attended a symposium at the Hyatt Regency here in Dallas November the 14 through 16. People from all over the country paid money to come and talk about it for three days. These are individuals, school teachers, you know, people from all walks of life, they are strictly interested in the assassination, and my mother and I were there. My dad was in the hospital at the time, and now he's home doing well, but we were somewhat of celebrities. We were signing autographs and people wanted to see my dad's pictures, and they were amazed that we were there and had the pictures of it. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of the why, it's been 28 years. Why do you think people continue to be drawn to this moment, fascinated by it. 
  •  Willis: Well it's probably one of the most important things that's happened in history, in recorded history, and the thing has not really been solved. We don't know all the details of why Kennedy was killed and who did it, and we may never know, and I think a lot of people are upset that the Warren Commission tried to sweep it under the rug and in short order. You know they did it very quickly and handed us a bit of information, and most people are not satisfied with that. 
  •  Ruddy: When you were here - before we were on camera you talked about it - in your opinion where did the shots come from, what did they look like, did you see Oswald in the Schoolbook Depository? 
  •  Willis: Okay, I never looked at the Schoolbook Depository because I was totally entranced with the President, but I feel like some of the shots came from the depository, but it may have been part of a plan to maybe take attention away from the person who fired the fatal shots. I feel like the shots came from more than one area, possibly the railroad area or the triple underpass area.
    Ruddy: But definitely from the front?
    Willis: I think there was at least one fatal shot that was fired from the front of the President's limousine.
    Ruddy: Let's say that again without that crummy diesel...car, pardon me. Where do you think the fatal shot came from and why? 
  •  Willis: I feel like the fatal shot came from in front of the President's limousine because I saw the President's head blow up and all of the brain matter went out of the back of his head. The sunlight hit the brain matter. There was an orange aura around his head, and it all flew out the back of his head, so it doesn't make sense to be hit from the back and have the brain matter fly out the back. 
  •  Ruddy: Your dad was a hunter, so this was something you discussed with him? 
  •  Willis: That's correct. My dad is a hunter. He was in World War II. He has some knowledge of firearms and the sounds that they make and especially with hunting what kind of an entrance wound you have and what happens when a bullet exits and he has never felt like it all occurred from the Schoolbook Depository. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of conspiracy, what would be your conclusion that, what do you think- do you think there was a conspiracy or not? 
  •  Willis: Oh I think there must have been. I think first of all security-
    Ruddy: There must have been a conspiracy?
    Willis: I think there must have been a conspiracy. The Schoolbook Depository was probably a perfect place to hide someone among other places, and the security was not tight that day. The crowd was sparse, and it was just too easy to walk up to the President's limousine, as it were, and there were areas  around here where a gunman could hide that day, and so I feel like there was help especially because I saw the headshot. I feel like there was more than one gunman involved. 
  •  Ruddy: In the movie, how did it come about that you got to play, I mean- first of all how did it come about?
    Willis: Oh that's interesting. Okay. I was reading about the making of the JFK film in the Dallas Morning News and I thought "Boy, wouldn't it be interesting to be in the film" because I was really an eye witness, and so as I read two or three articles about it my interest became greater. I saw a telephone number in the paper one day, and I called that number and got the casting director on the telephone, and as soon as I identified  myself as Linda Willis he asked me to come be in the film before I had a chance to ask if I could be in the film, and so I was thrilled. I just said "Tell me what time, what day and where, and I'll be there." 
  •  Ruddy: And what part did you play?
    Willis: Okay, I played my mother's part. I was Mrs. Willis in the film, and I'm the same age now that my mother was the day that Kennedy was killed so that worked out nicely.  
  •  Ruddy: And how is Oliver Stone to work with?
    Willis: Pardon me?
    Ruddy: How is Oliver Stone to work with?
    Willis: He is a very serious individual. He had a big budget and short time to do the film within, and it was strictly business. He hurried everybody through, but he was very thorough. We did the assassination scene hundreds of times, but he's, I think, an artist and wanting to recreated the assassination scene as closely as possible, and I think he did a fine job. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of interfacing with him, did he- did you get to meet him and talk with him?
    Willis: I did.
    Ruddy: Did he direct you?
    Willis: Well he has a lot of people helping him, so he didn't direct me personally, but I did get to visit with him about my father's slides, and I have an autographed set by Oliver Stone of my father's slides, and so we talked at length about what I thought happened that day. He was very interested in the fact that I was an eye witness and that I was in his film. 
  •  Ruddy: And in terms of your mother, does her recollection of this event differ significantly in any way from yours?
    Willis: Not at all. We all stood very close that day, and we all feel like we saw and heard the same things. The consensus of opinion was the same.
    Ruddy: What was it like playing your mom? 
  •  Willis: Oh, I don't think that was terribly important. It was just nice to be in the film because of the fact that I was an eye witness, and I think it was special that I got to play her part. I really liked that. That was nice, but it was more important to me to be here because they were investigating the assassination itself. 
  •  Ruddy: In terms of of your life, how much of your life is still taken up or involved with the assassination, people calling you and wanting to hear yet again what your story was and all that.
    Willis: Well I get a lot of mail. I get a lot of inquiries as to how it felt that day, just like you're asking me now. People are still very interested. I've done several interviews just as the interview I'm doing with you now, and it has just by accident become an important part of my life. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the right time, whichever way you want to look at it, and so it has affected my life.  
  •  Ruddy: And in terms of the movie, what impact do you think the movie is going to have on what I guess is really an ongoing debate. What do you see as the good points and the bad points of having a fictionalized account of this come out I suppose. 
  •  Willis: Well I think first of all Oliver Stone's movie makes people stop and think that maybe the Warren Commission did not tell us all of the truth or any of the truth and that we ought to question more and not take things at face value. I think it's an insult to the American intelligence to try to sweep the thing under the rug. That's what I think they've done. They set out to give us a certain piece of information and accept it at face value, and I don't think that was the right way to do things. Also the Stone movie brought a certain amount of business to Dallas-
    Ruddy: Hang on one second... I hope he can hear.
    Willis: Pardon me.
    Ruddy: I hope he's not deaf when he's 20. I'm sorry. You were talking about the benefits and the drawbacks if any in this film. 
  •  Willis: Okay, I think the Stone film added a certain amount of money to the Dallas economy, which we needed at this point of time. There were some people that thought it was inconvenient to have the streets blocked off during the filming of the movie, but anything that adds to the commerce of the area is good, and I think that making people stop and take notice of what's going on in our government is important. I think we should not accept things at face value, and Stone's movie makes us question I think. 
  •  Ruddy: There will be critics who might say that he's going to make a fictionalized account of this because he's got to make it dramatic and yet people who are young enough not to remember this are going to look at this film and think "Oh, that's exactly the way it happened." Do you think there's a danger that people will accept whatever he puts in his movie as (intelligible) 
  •  Willis: Not really because the way I understand the making of the film, there may be two or three premises presented and you can draw your own conclusion. 
  •  Ruddy: Is there anything I'm not asking you because I'm not good enough to do so. I don't have the right information that you think is important to say about your role and watching this, the movie or- 
  •  Willis: No, I think you're doing nicely, no. I enjoyed making the film because of the fact that I was here the day Kennedy was killed, and that was important to me. I think that the film is going to make people stop and think about what may have happened, and I just enjoyed doing it very much. I was glad to be a part of it.
    Ruddy: Do you think we're ever going to know? 
  •  Willis: No, I don't think we're ever going to know. Probably the only thing I have not mentioned that I think is really important is the fact that my dad's films viewed by the Secret Service the day of the assassination. My family went to the Eastman-Kodak plant near Love Field that afternoon, and my dad was in the lab with Secret Service and the lab technicians watching the film be developed, and so in viewing the slides taken that day-
    Ruddy: Hang on one second- I'm sure this is important.
    Willis: This is important.
    Ruddy: The most traffic and the most airplanes we've had so far.
    Willis: Right. I'm sorry.
    Ruddy: It sounded important to me.
    Willis: This is important. Okay.
    Ruddy: See I knew there was something I didn't know. There's so much I don't know.
    Larry: More of that film they ignored, right?
    Ruddy: No no. Larry, don't jump to conclusions.
    Willis: Okay, you don't know what I'm going to tell you.
    Ruddy: Tell the story about your dad. Your dad took a lot of pictures. Tell us about what happened afterwards. 
  •  Willis: Okay, the day of the assassination my father volunteered to have his film turned over to the Secret Service. My family went to the Eastman-Kodak plant near Love Field, and my dad was in the lab with the Secret Service and the lab technicians while the film was being developed. Okay, my dad saw the film, and behind the grassy knoll area there were trains that day. Okay, my dad had the trains in his film. He turned his film over to the Secret Service, and the pictures were in Washington for maybe two to three weeks time. When he received his original film back the trains were not in one or two frames of the film, so I feel like something important showed in that film that the Secret Service did not want known.  
  •  Ruddy: So they either- they didn't give you all the film back, there were frames missing, or did they physically alter the frames?
    Willis: We feel like, I feel like, the frame was physically altered. It was just whited out. Now in an issue of life magazine another amateur photographer... sound? Okay. Say when.
    Ruddy: Go ahead.
    Willis: In one of the issues of Life magazine another amateur photographer had a shot taken approximately.
    Ruddy: You're fine.
    Willis: Too much sound. I'm sorry.
    Ruddy: They get you to speak in t.v. quick sound bites. That's how we do it out here. They make you speak in thirteen seconds.
    Willis: Right.
    Ruddy: Okay. 
  •  Willis: Okay. In one issue of Life magazine another amateur photographer had a picture published taken approximately within seconds of one of my dad's slides. The other photographer's picture shows the train. My dad's picture taken at, I think, closer range does not show the train because it's been altered. 
  •  Ruddy: And that was, he saw it, and then it went to Washington and came back.
    Willis: It was gone.
    Larry: Why don't you do it again... (unintelligible)
    Ruddy: Oh okay. Yeah just- to sum this up then, what was the deal with dad's photographs? 
  •  Willis: Okay, I feel like at least one frame of my dad's film has been altered while it was in Washington being viewed by the Secret Service or the FBI or both. 
  •  Ruddy: Okay, we'll look at that. Ouch. 
  •  Willis describes her day on November 22, 1963 and gives her theories on the assassination 
  •  Willis tells the story of being in Oliver Stone’s “JFK” 
  •  Willis talks about her father’s film and the Secret Service 
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This unedited interview footage features Linda Willis, a woman who was present at the JFK assassination as a child, standing in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, describing the scene as she heard and saw it that day. Willis also discusses her cameo role in Oliver Stone’s film about the assassination, “JFK”, as well her father’s film slides that were taken that day. Willis’ father turned his slides over to the Secret Service, and Willis believes that the film returned from Washington D.C. altered, presumably by the Secret Service.
Dallas County
November 22, 1963
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Dallas County
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy
Kennedy, John F.
Kennedy, John Fitzgerald
President of the United States
Dealey Plaza
Lee Harvey Oswald
Oswald, Lee Harvey
Houston Street
Elm Street
Houston St.
Elm St.
Dealey Plaza
Texas School Book Depository
conspiracy theory
conspiracy theories
grassy knoll
railroad tracks
Oliver Stone
Stone, Oliver
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Johnson, Lyndon
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Lyndon B. Johnson
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Raryburn, Samuel Taliaferro
Sam Rayburn
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Speaker Sam Rayburn
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Ralph Yarborough
Yarborough, Ralph
Ralph Webster Yarborough
Yarborough, Ralph Webster
Senator Ralph Yarborough
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Warren Commission
Secret Service
Eastman Kodak
amateur photography
Linda Willis
Willis, Linda
Linda Kay Willis
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