Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Etiology of the Red Bird Getaway Plane Story

Researched and written
by Linda Minor

D.H. Byrd's CAP outfit flew from Red Bird.
This post is a sidenote to research I've been doing previously, but it relates only tangentially to the DC-3 plane which Wayne January was selling at the time he was told in advance about the assassination of President Kennedy. January himself had no knowledge of or connection to the group planning the assassination, but the story he revealed to author Matthew Smith sheds light on one small piece in the puzzle as a whole. Possibly the reason so many of us "conspiracy buffs" spend so many years of our lives digging into the 1963 Kennedy assassination is that we can dedicate years of study to it and never solve the puzzle to anyone's satisfaction. It is my opinion that we may be trying to solve the wrong puzzle. We have to broaden our context.

The FAA Report to FBI--1967

I began delving into a simple question asked me by a reader about the Wayne January incident, not remembering that Daniel Hopsicker had dealt with one aspect of that question in his book Barry & 'the Boys', originally published in 2001. Daniel has also mentioned what has been referred to as the "getaway plane" at Red Bird Airport at his website, The MadCowNews, under the subheading, "Three men in suits at Redbird Airport," dated November 20, 2013. Keep in mind, however, he was not talking about N-17888, but a different aircraft from the one we have been investigating. Nevertheless, the "getaway plane" was also part of what had been of interest to Matthew Smith in describing events that took place at Red Bird Airport in 1963.

Ferrie's mugshot
Garrison's New Orleans investigation had zeroed in on David Ferrie, and he sent an employee to Dallas with Ferrie's photograph (possibly his mugshot) to inquire whether anyone at Red Bird Airport had seen him there in November 1963. Louis Gaudin had not seen Ferrie, but he did disclose a separate suspicious incident he witnessed the afternoon of the assassination. Three men in suits boarded a "Comanche-type aircraft" just over an hour after President Kennedy had been gunned down. Gaudin had not called the FBI at the time because by then Lee Harvey Oswald was in custody, with officials claiming he was the "lone" assassin. Why did Gaudin and Bowles wait to contact the FBI until two weeks after Ferrie's dead body had been found on February 22?

Daniel Hopsicker tracked down Gaudin, 37 years after the FBI report (dated March 10, 1967), and recounted in his book what the FAA air traffic controller told him:
“The FAA had its general aviation headquarters there, said Gaudin. “Howard Hughes had a huge old WWII hanger there, with heavy security. People from Wackenhut all over the place. And there were the Porter planes from General Harry Byrd’s outfit.”
General D. Harry Byrd’s links to the Kennedy assassination begin with the fact that he owned the building, the Texas School Book Depository, from which Kennedy was supposedly gunned down.

Then, too, he founded an aircraft company that became one of the largest U.S. defense contractors during the Vietnam War, Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV), which also—and perhaps not coincidentally?—tested missiles at the Venice Airport in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

“What had happened was this,” he continued. “I was an air traffic controller working in the tower at Redbird [sic] that day. When I came on shift at 2 PM, we received a bulletin to report any suspicious activity immediately to an FAA Security number. And we kept calling that number all afternoon, but got nothing but a busy signal. And then, after we heard they had caught the ‘lone gunman,’ I guess they called it, we stopped calling, and let the matter drop.”
From his perch atop the control tower, Mr. Gaudin, between handling twenty or thirty flights into and out of the airport an hour, had noticed something suspicious about three well-dressed men in business suits standing, along with several suitcase, beside a Comanche painted green-and-white.

So suspicious was he, Mr. Gaudin related, that when the plane took off on runway 17, he asked the pilot if he needed any assistance. The pilot said no. Gaudin asked which way the plane was heading. The pilot stated south.

Gaudin watched as the plane flew south for two miles, then made a hard left, and then flew north to Love Field.

The pilot had lied.

Suspicions aroused, Gaudin went over to the control tower’s receiver and listened as the plane made an approach and landed at Love Field, eight miles north of Redbird.

An hour later, the plane was back at Redbird. This time only two people were aboard. The third passenger—let’s call him the shooter–had been left at Love Field.

And that’s where the matter rested until Garrison’s investigator’s came calling.

Then, after Gaudin became alarmed at the death of a man whose picture he had just recently been shown, he called the FBI, and filed the report which, he said, became something of a burden to him for the rest of his life.

“There was no Freedom of Information Act back then,” he says today. “That’s what’s created some problems for me.”

This would be just a ‘suspicious sighting’ except for something that happened later, which clearly indicated to Gaudin that he was a witness to something he had no business seeing.

From the control tower, he says, he was too far away to be able to identify anyone who boarded the plane. But there was one person who could: Merrit Goble, who ran the fixed-wing operation, TexAir, at Redbird Field.

“Merrit and I were friends,” Gaudin relates. “So one day, after filing the FBI report, I went down to see if the FBI had been by to visit him as well. They hadn’t, he told me. So I asked him if he had anything, any gas receipts, any record of the fueling of the plane in question. And Merit acted very strangely. He told me, in effect, that it was none of my business. He said, ‘I will only answer questions from a bonafide law enforcement authority.’”

“I always thought that was strange: ‘I will only answer questions from a bonafide law enforcement authority.’ Because like I said, we were friends.”

Merrit Goble died last year, taking any secrets he possessed about the suspicious plane to his grave.
Bowles worked with LBJ's bro-in-law.
It is not clear to me from reading Hopsicker's work whether it was Gaudin who told him about Byrd's use of Red Bird for Civil Air Patrol planes, or whether he gleaned that information from another source. "Harry Byrd" usually refers to the Virginia Senator of that name, the brother of Admiral Richard Byrd, Jr., whom D. Harold Byrd claimed as his cousins.

I also have to ask whether, before calling the FBI, Bowles may first have contacted his own superior at the FAA, who, by 1967 was the President's brother-in-law, Birge D. Alexander, husband of Lucia Huffman Johnson since 1933. Birge rose to the position of Area Manager for the Southwest Region of the F.A.A. not long after brother-in-law Lyndon was himself "promoted". Bowles and Alexander had been officials together at C.A.A., later F.A.A., for many years.

Birge, Lucia and Rebekah (Libby Willis)
Birge and his siblings were reared in Sabinal, a tiny town in Uvalde County from 1908 until leaving for college in Austin. Before 1908, home had been at Manchaca Springs, in south Travis County, where Birge's grandfather is buried.

Robert Carogoes into more detail.
Alexander played center for the Sabinal football squad and was named all-district center in 1929. A few years later Birge was off to the University of Texas to study engineering. Graduating in 1939, he immediately went to work for the Lower Colorado River Authority, a job for which he unquestionably had his brother-in-law, the newly elected Congressman Johnson from the district, to thank.

Within a short time, however, Birge transferred to a different government job at the Civil Aeronautics Administration, in charge of building and inspecting airport runways. He would no doubt have come into contact with Bowles, who was in charge of air traffic control--both men with offices in the same building in Fort Worth.

Sabinal, coincidentally, where Birge grew up and where his father's siblings all lived, was where John Nance Garner's wife, Mariette "Ettie" Rheiner, was born in 1869. According to Ettie, she was taking a secretarial course in San Antonio when she met Garner on a train. They married as soon as she finished the course in 1895. His story was, with a big wink, that she was running for county judge, opposing him, so he married her to win the election.

Was Cactus Jack, as Garner was nicknamed, as prickly as his name implies? Was he just an innocent curmudgeon? Only more research will tell. We do know he had power, but all we ever saw of it was just the tip of an iceberg. What lay beneath that icy peak?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You should look into reports of a small plane seized by federal agents on the afternoon of November 22, 1963 at Redbird Airport. Engines running.

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