OWU Alum Recounts His Secret Service Work During Kennedy's Assassination

BBC News. CNN. The New York Times. People. Vanity Fair. And the list goes on.

Paul Landis '57 is making headlines around the world for his new book, The Final Witness: A Kennedy Secret Service Agent Breaks His Silence After Sixty Years. The 240-page book recounts the time of President John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Landis, then 28, was a Secret Service agent riding in the car behind the president's limousine when Kennedy was shot.

"I knew my book would create a little stir, but I didn't think it would be this much," Paul said during a recent telephone interview from his home in Shaker Heights, Ohio. "I'm hoping people believe me. My book is the truth. It's what I saw. It's what I did."

In the book, Paul recounts picking up an intact bullet from Kennedy's car after the shooting and placing it on a hospital gurney. Landis was not questioned by the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination, and he never talked about the bullet and how it changes history—until now.

"I finally decided to tell my story," he said, noting that the book took three years to complete. "It needed to be told."

Even before the book's Oct. 10 release, it was ranked on Amazon. com's best-sellers list for all books and in the categories of U.S. Biographies, U.S. State and Local History, and Law Enforcement Biographies. Landis credited Ohio Wesleyan classmate and friend Evan Corns '59 with helping to connect him with the literary agent who helped to make this success possible.

Of the tome, award-winning journalist and author Matthew Algeo proclaims: "If you think there's nothing left to be said about the Kennedy assassination, think again: former Secret Service agent Paul Landis's gripping, second-by-second eyewitness account is an indispensable addition to the canon. A fascinating peek behind the curtain of the Kennedy White House and the Secret Service, The Final Witness will surely stand as the final revealed inside account of Camelot and the tragic events in Dallas six decades ago."

Before he became a Secret Service agent, Paul was a geology major at Ohio Wesleyan whose favorite professor was George Crowl, a 28-year member of OWU's geology department and his academic adviser.

Paul describes himself as "an average student," whom Crowl occasionally urged to work a little harder. During his four years as a Bishop, Landis also pledged the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, played varsity golf as a first-year student, and was a member of the ROTC drill team.

"I have a lot of good memories, a lot of fond memories of Ohio Wesleyan and Delaware," he said. "I love Ohio Wesleyan."

After graduating, Landis served in the Ohio Air National Guard for two years. And then he heard a friend of his sister talking about his job as a Secret Service agent helping to protect President Dwight D. Eisenhower. "The more he talked, it just sparked an interest in me," Paul said. "I thought, 'Hey, this is the greatest job in the world. I want to do this.'"

He said his work with the Kennedys began with "kiddie detail" in August 1961, working to ensure the protection of 9-month-old John Jr. and nearly 4-year-old Caroline. In October 1962, he was assigned to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's security during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Although he witnessed Kennedy's horrific shooting and was in the trauma room at Parkland Memorial Hospital when the president was declared dead, Landis also has many happy memories of his time with the First Family. One of his most vivid memories, Paul said, is "taking Caroline and Macaroni (her pony) into the Oval Office."

"She wanted to go see Daddy," Landis recalled, "and I'm thinking this is not a good idea." Still, he relented and went with Caroline and her pony to Kennedy's office. "The screen door was open, and the president was busy writing … and I thought, 'Why not?'" Paul recalled with a chuckle. "The look on President Kennedy's face, I'll never forget. His jaw dropped and then he smiled."

In hindsight, Paul said, "It was the best job I could ever have had."

Cole Hatcher