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JFK's death is often focus of his research

Monday, January 26, 1998

By Mary Anne Lewis, Free-lance Writer

Vince Palamara wasn't alive the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and he's never thought seriously of becoming a Secret Service agent.

But this 31-year-old's intense fascination with these people and this pivotal event has made the Castle Shannon man a nationally known expert on the agents' reactions that day. He's often asked to speak at conferences on the assassination, sharing billing with another local Kennedy expert, Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, a dogged critic of the Warren Commission's single-bullet assassination theory.

Palamara has interviewed nearly three dozen agents from the Kennedy administration, including nine who were in Dallas that day. He has written and published his own book on the assassination. He is quoted in several Kennedy books. And he has given numerous presentations about the Secret Service actions during the assassination.

Tapes of some of his interviews with agents are in the National Archives, after they were requested by the Assassination Records Review Board.

"I hear from people all over the world," says Palamara. "I'm sort of on my own in this area, so whenever anything comes up remotely connected to the Secret Service, it usually comes my way."

Palamara first became interested in the assassination when he was 12, watching a 1960s TV drama focusing on the Secret Service agents of the American frontier.

Watching the show, Palamara realized Secret Service agents were merely human beings. He also realized how little was said or written about the modern-day agency.

But it wasn't until he was an adult that his research became so focused, and he really began to question how effectively the Secret Service had protected the president. Once again, he was watching television, the Zapruder assassination film, for the umpteenth time.

"I started to notice the action of the agents in President Kennedy's limousine," says Palamara. "The driver turned back twice, and was looking at Kennedy when the fatal shot arrived."

By this time, Palamara had amassed a formidable cache of documents, books, tapes and videos about the assassination. In an obscure book, he found an interview with a Secret Service agent who claimed the driver of the presidential limousine disobeyed his direct order to speed away the moment the first shot was fired.

"At that point, I realized, conspiracy or no conspiracy, the Secret Service was at the very least, negligent," he says, adding that he never interviewed either of the two agents involved in the exchange described above, both of whom are now dead.

Palamara, who works for the Federal Reserve in Pittsburgh, said his research keeps him busy.

"But (my research) is mainly done in my spare time on the weekends. I have a wife and a job," he says. "My interest in all this stuff is 10-plus, but I try to remain detached."

Detachment, though, was difficult while interviewing Sam Kinney, the Secret Service agent who drove the limousine directly behind the president's the day of the assassination.

He said Kinney, who died last year, helped him further his main aim: to disprove popular folklore propagated by the Secret Service in the immediate aftermath of the assassination.

"The 'official' history (is) that President Kennedy was one of the most difficult presidents to protect," says Palamara.

But Kinney maintained that Kennedy did not make the Secret Service's job any harder. He said Kennedy did not tell agents to take the bubble top off the limousine in Dallas, did not order agents off his limousine and did not reduce the number of Secret Service motorcyles in the motorcade. All those actions have been attributed to the president.

It was the Secret Service, according to Palamara, that was responsible for other changes in standard procedure which may have jeopardized the president's safety.

He said agents decided to alter the traditional parade route in Dallas, slowing down the procession and taking the motorcade around sharp corners. Overpasses were not cleared of spectators, and no orders were given to police sharpshooters to monitor high-rise windows.

"The buck stops with the Secret Service," says Palamara. "Some take a sinister look and say the Secret Service was involved. Others say they're just covering their behinds."

Palamara knows he has rankled some in the service. An officer of a retired agents group once contacted Palamara, ordering him to "cease and desist," he says.

"That scared me for about a month," he says, but then other agents reassured him his research was worthwhile.

Palamara has earned little money from appearances, or his book, "Survivor's Guilt: The Secret Service and the JFK Murder," published by JFK Lancer Productions & Publications last year.

"This is no witch hunt," he says. "In one respect, I have tremendous admiration for (the Secret Service). In another respect, I am tremendously disappointed with their conduct and behavior in Dallas. If they had done their job, we'd be in a different world today."

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