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August 31, 2012


"General" Activities at the Bethesda Morgue, 22 November 1963

Posthumous words of an eyewitness lead to a new theory

by James V. Rinnovatore & Allan Eaglesham


Information recently brought to our attention [1] suggests that Air Force General Godfrey McHugh, military aide to President Kennedy, was complicit in the chicanery [2] at the Bethesda Naval Hospital on the evening of the autopsy on the president's body.

Our assertion is based on accounts that appeared in the Danville, Illinois, Commercial-News, about and by ex-Hospital Corpsman Roger P. Annan (who died April 24, 2007 [3]):

  • An article about Mr. Annan dated November 20, 1988 (first page here, second page here).
  • A letter to the editor by Mr. Annan dated March 14, 1993 (here). (The first part of the March 1, 1993, article in the Commercial-News that prompted him to write to the editor is here, the second part is here).

Roger P. Annan
The key words in the 1988 article about Mr. Annan—"City sailor helped carry Kennedy's body"—are as follows:
On Nov. 22, 1963, Danville's Roger Annan played a part in a drama that shook the nation to its bones...Annan was one of the Navy corpsmen who carried the body of President John. F. Kennedy to the morgue at Bethesda Naval Hospital...six hours after the assassination...Annan and his friends were watching the gripping news on television when, at about 4 p.m., they were called to the main hospital building. "We were put out in front of the building because they knew a big crowd would gather there, and we were told to keep the reporters out."...At about 7 p.m., Annan and about five other corpsmen were ordered to the morgue entrance, at the rear of the hospital. There they waited in the cold for the gray Navy ambulance to bring the body. Their assignment was to guard the door...The ambulance pulled up, then backed in. An elderly general and three Secret Service men struggled to get the 1,000-pound casket out of the vehicle. The corpsmen grabbed the handles and carried it up a flight of steps then into the autopsy room...The enlisted men were ordered out of the white-tiled room when the examination began.

The key words in Mr. Annan's 1993 letter to the editor are as follows:

I had duty that night and was in back of the hospital by the morgue doors. I was with three other hospital corpsmen, when a Navy grey ambulance backed in toward the ramp...Four Secret Service men and one elderly Army general attempted to remove the heavy casket from the ambulance and carry it up the steps to the morgue. The casket was obviously very heavy so I and the other corpsmen grabbed on and helped carry that casket into the first section of the morgue area. Once inside, we were ordered to lay the casket on the floor.

In Mr. Annan's own words, he helped carry the casket "into the first section of the morgue area," a "white-tiled room." These descriptions define this location as the anteroom adjacent to the autopsy room [4]. In the article, Annan is stated to have said that three Secret Service men struggled to remove the casket from the ambulance, and in the letter he said that four Secret Service men attempted to remove the casket. Both accounts state that "an elderly general" participated; the letter describes this man as "army."

Annan's stated time of arrival of the ambulance of after 7 PM coincides with a time of approximately 7:17 PM when FBI Agents James Sibert and Francis O'Neill and Secret Service Agent William Greer arrived with the ambulance at the morgue entrance at the rear of the hospital and were helped by Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman to remove the heavy bronze casket from the ambulance and to move it into the morgue anteroom [2]. Annan's observation of three or four "secret service agents" is consistent with the likelihood that he took Sibert and O'Neill to be from the Secret Service. The question is: Who was the "elderly (army) general" whom Annan described in his letter to, and interview with, the Commercial-News? We believe that it was Air Force General Godfrey McHugh for two reasons. McHugh, as military aide to President Kennedy, rode in the navy ambulance—with Mrs. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Secret Service Agents William Greer, Roy Kellerman and Paul Landis, and Admiral George Burkley [5, p. 390]—in which the bronze casket was transported from Andrews Air Force Base to Bethesda. In this capacity, it would be expected that McHugh would continue to accompany the navy ambulance containing the bronze casket whenever and wherever it was moved from the entrance of the hospital. On arrival at the Naval Hospital, Mrs. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Landis entered the building, leaving Greer, Kellerman and McHugh outside [5, p. 395]. Kellerman then entered the building, and made his way internally to the morgue entrance at the rear [2]. After some delay, the navy ambulance, still carrying the bronze casket, with Greer at the wheel and now accompanied by FBI Agents Sibert and O'Neill as guides, was driven to the loading dock outside the morgue, arriving there at about 7:17 PM [2]. We propose that McHugh accompanied Greer, Sibert and O'Neil in the ambulance, and helped to off-load the casket.

Our second reason for thinking that General McHugh accompanied the casket to the morgue at 7:17 is more sinister. As will be discussed below, he may have had a role to play in a critically important scenario orchestrated by Admiral Calvin Galloway, commanding officer of the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) (of which the Naval Hospital is part).

If General McHugh assisted in carrying the bronze casket into the morgue anteroom at 7:17 PM, then he did so twice that evening. At 8:00 PM he assisted the joint-service casket team in taking the same bronze casket into the morgue [6, p. 3].

It is inconceivable that McHugh participated in a scenario that involved taking the president's body into the morgue twice without raising holy hell, unless he was aware of the ongoing chicanery [2].

A plausible scenario: When he arrived at the Naval Hospital with the motorcade, McHugh was informed by Admiral Galloway that the joint-service casket team would have to be prevented from taking the casket into the morgue at that time because it did not contain the president's body. Galloway, as commanding officer of the NNMC, certainly was aware that the president's body was already in the autopsy room prior to the arrival of the motorcade [2]. It is likely that Galloway informed McHugh that the joint-service casket team would be tricked into following a decoy ambulance, driven by him (Galloway), which the team would "lose" during their ride to the rear of the hospital building. If this scenario is accurate, Galloway probably informed McHugh that the casket had to be taken into the morgue before it could be "found" by the honor guard. It would be McHugh's job to ensure that that happened, to delay the formal carriage of the body into the morgue by the honor guard until 8:00 PM.

Evidence that Admiral Galloway did, in fact, drive an ambulance away from the front entrance of the hospital is provided by an article published in the Washington Post on November 23, 1963, which stated, "Adm. Calvin B. Galloway, commandant of the medical center, pushed into the front seat and drove to the rear of the Hospital, where the body was taken inside" [5, p. 416]. Undoubtedly, the reporter who wrote this believed the bronze casket was in the ambulance driven by Galloway. The authors believe otherwise—Galloway had driven away in a decoy ambulance which the joint-service casket team followed and lost, leaving the ambulance containing the empty bronze casket behind with McHugh in attendance.

There should be no doubt that Galloway was familiar with the Bethesda grounds and could easily have led the casket team astray. During the ambulance chase involving the joint-service casket team, the gray navy ambulance containing the bronze casket was driven to the morgue entrance by Secret Service Agent Greer [7, pp. 43-45; 8, p. 4]. Roger Annan's accounts indicate that McHugh accompanied the agents on this trip, unbeknownst to the joint-service casket team, and helped carry the empty casket into the morgue anteroom. Subsequently, at approximately 8:00 PM, the joint-service casket team "found" this ambulance—now containing the casket with the body [2]—and carried the casket into the morgue, with McHugh again assisting [6, pp. 1,3].

Based on FBI Agent Sibert's deposition to the ARRB, in which he stated, "...and there were some others [who assisted him, O'Neill, Greer and Kellerman]" in taking the casket in the morgue anteroom [7, pp. 44-45], we believe that the "others" who assisted were Roger Annan and his fellow corpsmen. And the time of that event must have been at 7:17 PM because neither Sibert nor O'Neill observed the 8:00 PM entry of the casket brought in by the honor guard [7, p. 54]; neither did they see McHugh assisting the honor guard at 8:00 PM [7, p. 56].

In his book, Best Evidence, author David Lifton provides the details of the "ambulance chase" based on conversations with the members of the joint-service casket team [5, pp. 389-422]. It is clear that the team's first trip to the morgue involved following a decoy ambulance, which they lost [5, pp. 402-410]. Two team members, James Felder and Hubert Clark, recalled the existence of a decoy ambulance. Moreover, confirmation of a decoy ambulance was provided to Lifton by Lt. Richard Lipsey, an aide to General Philip Wehle. Lipsey told Lifton he was "absolutely" certain of a "decoy ambulance" [5, p. 419].

In summary, we suggest that General McHugh, upon arriving with the motorcade at Bethesda Hospital at about 7:00 PM, was informed by Admiral Galloway of the chicanery that was planned to prevent the joint-service casket team from taking the bronze casket into the morgue at that time. This was necessary because the president's body was already in the morgue, having arrived there at about 6:35/6:45 PM [2].

Based on Lt. Samuel Bird's report, McHugh definitely assisted the joint-service team carry the bronze casket, containing the president's body, into the morgue at approximately 8:00 PM [6, p. 3]. And because McHugh, as military aide to President Kennedy, would not have let the bronze casket out of his sight, we propose that he was the "army general," who assisted Roger Annan and his fellow corpsmen in taking the empty casket into the anteroom of the morgue at approximately 7:17 PM. As a young navy man, Mr. Annan may have been unfamiliar with uniform differences delineating air force and army.

Acknowledgments We thank Dennis David for providing the November 20, 1988, article on Roger Annan in the Danville Commercial-News and Roger Annan's March 14, 1993, letter to the Danville Commercial-News. And we thank Roberta Allen, Danville Public Library, for providing the March 1, 1993, article in the Commercial-News on request. Ms. Allen also kindly provided a March 1, 1981, article on Best Evidence [5] (first part here, second part here).

Sources and Notes
[1] The information by and about Roger P. Annan was provided by Dennis David who, at 6:35/6:45 PM on the evening of 11/22/63, was witness to the entry of a plain shipping casket at Bethesda Naval Hospital containing President Kennedy's body, prior to the arrival of a navy ambulance from Andrews Air Force Base carrying a bronze ornamental casket into which President Kennedy's body had been placed at Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas [2].
[2] James Rinnovatore (2011) JFK 11/22/63: Body/Casket Chicanery at the Bethesda Morgue, here.
[3] Roger Annan's obituary is here. Recent contact with a member of the family, and with a close friend, failed to reveal further information on Mr. Annan's recollections of the events of the evening of 11/22/63.
[4] Harold Rydberg, who was in the morgue on numerous occasions told AE in a telephone conversation on April 10, 2012, that the anteroom, or "cooler room," adjacent to the autopsy room was completely tiled in white, whereas the floor of the autopsy room had gray tiles.
[5] David S. Lifton (1988) Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. New York. Carroll & Graf.
[6] ARRB MD 163 - Cover Sheet Titled - "Joint Casket Bearer Team" (unsigned and undated) containing timeline of events, with report titled, "After Action Report, Joint Casket Team - State Funeral, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy" dated 10 December 1963, and signed by 1st Lt. Samuel L. Bird, OIC - Joint Service Casket Team, attached, here.
[7] Deposition of James W. Sibert to the ARRB, here.
[8] ARRB MD 189 - Document provided to ARRB by Francis X. O'Neill, Jr., here.

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