Oswald – the Austin connection


by TYLER SIESWERDA / KVUE News and Photojournalist MATT OLSEN


Posted on July 18, 2013 at 10:21 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 19 at 8:00 AM

AUSTIN --  We all keep mementos - some big, some small. They are reminders of our achievements or souvenirs of journeys. John Brewer's mementos are his past, and ours.  Ours, because Mr. Brewer played a part in one of our country's worst days.

On November 22, 1963 Mr. Brewer was listening to the radio broadcast of President John F. Kennedy's arrival at Love Field and the procession in downtown Dallas. 

"All the sudden a report come in that shots have been fired, and then you start paying attention,” said Mr. Brewer. “And just within a few moments, another report that an officer had been shot in Oak Cliff."
You can still find old black and white television footage online that showed Mr. Brewer, who went by Johnny then, describing what happened minutes after the Dallas Police officer was shot blocks away.

Johnny was a new manager at Hardy's Shoe Store in Oak Cliff.  It was his day off and he had just bought a brand new car and was looking forward to a drive. The employee who was supposed to work could not come in so Johnny put on his suit and opened for business.

While listening to the chaos on the radio and watching police cars scream past, a young man walks into the store's foyer. The man matched the description of the person who had just shot Oak Cliff police officer J.D. Tippet but it was the man's behavior that Mr. Brewer remembers still today.

"Mostly it was his action, as to, trying to avoid what everybody else was trying to see," Brewer said.

The man staring at tennis shoes was Lee Harvey Oswald. It had been about an hour since President Kennedy was assassinated.
"He looked in briefly. I looked at him. And as soon as the police cars went by he looked over his shoulder then turned and walked out back out onto the sidewalk on Jefferson toward the Texas Theater. I just saw him walk in and I said something is not right here," Brewer remembered.

Johnny told the woman at the ticket booth to call police as he went to check out the suspicious man in the theater.

Brewer continued, "And in just a few moments, I mean this was quick, the house lights came on, the movie was still playing, I looked out between the curtain and I saw him just sitting there just a couple of rows from the back 5 or 6 seats. I wondered what in the hell am I doing you know. Seriously, am I carrying this too far, you know, or what? Did I really see that?

Seconds later there was a pounding on the theaters emergency exit. Brewer opened the door to see police shotguns pointed at him. After explaining the situation, he pulled back the theater curtain just enough to point out Oswald. That's when police converged with Johnny Brewer a few steps behind.

"When officer McDonald got to the isle that Oswald was seated in, he walked in, tapped him on the shoulder and told him to get up.

When Oswald got up he threw a right cross and hit officer McDonald over the eye and knocked him back," Brewer said, remembering like it was yesterday.  "I mean this all is happening so fast. At this time Oswald had reached under his shirt, his shirttail was out, and pulled out this revolver and I thought this is fixing to get interesting."

Officer McDonald grabbed the gun as Oswald pulled the trigger. The hammer hit the fleshy part of the officers hand between his thumb and forefinger preventing the bullet from firing.

The entire scenario lasted only minutes, but rehashing it has lasted a lifetime for Mr. Brewer.

I think of it every day just walking through my living room, I've got so much memorabilia from it," he said. "It was a part of my life for sure, but it didn't define it."