GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One week after President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Grand Rapids Congressman Gerald R. Ford got a call from the White House.
“Jerry, I’ve got something I want you to do for me,” said President Lyndon B. Johnson in a recording at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
He wanted an investigation into the shooting the American people could trust.
“You know very well that I’d be honored to do it and I’ll do the very best I can,” Ford answered.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum curator Don Holloway says the Warren Commission was among the most controversial events of Ford’s long political career, second only to pardoning President Richard Nixon.
Ford was one of seven people appointed to the commission. His reputation preceded him.
“(He was known) as being a hard worker and as being somebody who could work with both sides if the aisle; (someone) who was fair-minded,” said Holloway.
The opening of more than 2,800 files on Kennedy’s assassination is bound to add fuel to the debate that continues 54 years after that tragic day in Dallas: Do we know what really happened?
Ford was an aggressive investigator, traveling to Dealey Plaza with commission chairman Justice Earl Warren to seek answers.
“They stood in the sniper’s nest, used a rifle, sighting cars as they drove down the road,” said Holloway.
In September of 1964, the Warren Commission presented its conclusion to the president: Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
But its finding wasn’t enough for skeptics.
“Rather than answer them in this authoritative way, to the satisfaction of the American people, many people still invest themselves in conspiracy theories,” said Hollaway.
STANDING BY THE REPORT
In the decades that followed, Ford was still dogged by questions and criticism. In 1999, he sat down with 24 Hour News 8 political reporter Rick Albin.
“The Warren Commission decided that we found no evidence of a conspiracy, foreign or domestic,” he said.
Through the years, Ford remained steadfast in his defense of the commission’s findings, based on a simple fact: no one presented evidence to the contrary.
“I stand by and I am proud of the job that the Warren Commission did. And I challenge anybody, including Oliver Stone, to show that our conclusions were inaccurate,” he told 24 Hour News 8, referring to Stone’s 1991 conspiracy movie, “JFK.”
Information in the newly released documents probably won’t change anyone’s minds; it’s human to question.
“But there comes a time also when you have to make a judgment,” added Holloway. “And in 1964, the commission had to make a judgment on the evidence it had.”