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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Johnny Brewer: Humble Hero of Circumstance

Let's imagine you live in Dallas, Texas, at 512 North Lancaster, Apartment 102, and you have managed Hardy's Shoe Store located at 213 West Jefferson Street since August of 1962. It's Friday, close to end of the workweek, and you were not scheduled to work, but you have to cover for the assistant manager whose newborn infant was ill.

You had just taken delivery of a brand new car -- a 1964-model Ford Galaxie XL500. Before the assistant manager telephoned to call off work, you had planned on spending the day cruising in your shiny machine. But, you do what is necessary -- you get ready to do your job, and you leave for work. You had not option.

Fate works in strange ways. You are going somewhere you didn't plan to be that day. Still, you couldn't have guessed what lay in store for you. In fact, nowhere in your wildest imagination could you have foreseen what monumental actions were about to occur.

You arrive at work, park your new car in front of Hardy's, and begin to feed your first nickels into the parking meter. You just can't wait to finish your job and start driving.

The workday begins. While working, you decide to turn on a  transistor radio, possibly to keep abreast of the broadcast of President John F. Kennedy's arrival at Love Field and the procession in downtown Dallas. You also hope the radio will help make your day go a little faster, yet you're not paying it much attention as you perform your normal routine.

For many others in the city, it's a day of fond anticipation, an opportunity to get a glimpse of President JFK and First Lady Jackie, but for you, it's just another shift of greeting customers, fetching boxes, and fitting shoes until....

 Texas Theater -- Interior

A True Story

These events actually happened to Johnny Calvin Brewer. Little did he know he was about to become one of the biggest heroes who ever lived. On that date, November 22, 1963, Johnny was about to play his gallant role in one of the most memorable events in American history.

Morning passed, and Johnny continued to work the afternoon with the companionship of the little radio.  

The following is the string of events that occurred in Dallas that coincidentally made Johnny Calvin Brewer forever famous.

 Ford Galaxie XL500 (Similar to Johnny Brewer's Car)

Johnny's Friday Afternoon

According to Johnny Brewer and others nearby his shoe store, this is what happened that fateful afternoon.

Sometime around 1:00 P.M., the radio abruptly broke some unbelievable news. At once, Brewer began to give his undivided attention to the broadcast.  

"We were just listening to a transistor radio there in the store, just listening to a regular radio program, and they (reporters) broke in with the bulletin that the President had been shot," said Brewer. "And from then, that is all there was. We listened to all of the events."

Brewer explained, "They kept reconstructing what had happened and what they had heard, and they talked about it in general. There wasn't too much to talk about. They didn't have all the facts, and just repeated them mostly. And they said a patrolman had been shot in Oak Cliff."

Brewer said, "All of a sudden a report came in that shots have been fired, and then you start paying attention. And just within a few moments, another report that an officer had been shot in Oak Cliff."

Hardy's Shoe Store was located in the Oak Cliff District.

(Tyler Sieswerda. "Oswald -- the Austin Connection." July 18, 2013)

At 1:35 P.M., as he was standing behind the counter by the hose bar still listening to all the chaos on the radio, Brewer looked through the glass front doors of the store and noticed that a young man had, in his words, "ducked into the foyer of the store." Johnny recognized that the man matched the description of the person who had reportedly just shot Oak Cliff police officer J.D. Tippet.

Brewer estimated the man was about 5'9" and weighted 150 pounds. He also said the light-complexioned man had brown hair and was wearing a brown sports shirt with the "tail out."

(History recounted the radio's description did not accurately match Brewer's: the broadcast actually called for "a man, 5'8" with black hair, wearing a white shirt with a white jacket" (which the suspect had discarded before being spotted by Brewer. Again, circumstance and fate often conspire to produce unbelievable results.)

At the time, he didn't think as much about the matching characteristics as he did about the man's unusual behavior -- the man was standing with his back to the street as sirens wailed in the distance. And, to Johnny, he did not appear to be inspecting the merchandise in the window display.

Even more about the man in the foyer rang untrue to Johnny Brewer. Brewer said, "Mostly it was his action, as to, trying to avoid what everybody else was trying to see. 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."

Brewer stated, "He just looked funny to me. Well, in the first place, I had seen him some place before. I think he had been in my store before. And when you wait on somebody, you recognize them, and he just seemed funny. His hair was sort of messed up and looked like he had been running, and he looked scared."

These next few moments (Literally, all it took for the events to transpire.) changed Johnny Brewer's life. He remembered, "I walked out the front and watched him, and he quickly went into the theater (a distance of about 50-60 feet). I just saw him walk in and I said (to myself) something is not right here."

Next, Brewer walked up to the theater and approached the box office. He said, "I asked Mrs. Julia Postal (the attendant) if she had sold a ticket to a man who was wearing a brown shirt, and she said she couldn't remember a man of that description going in. She was listening to the radio herself. And I said that a man walked in there, and I was going to go inside and ask the usher if he had seen him."

In later testimony, Mrs. Postal said her daughter had called her at the office before the theater opened and informed her about seeing a television report that President Kennedy had been shot. At that point, Postal turned on her own little transistor to KLIF Radio for updates.

Mrs. Postal also stated she and John A. Callahan, the owner of the Texas Theater, were talking about the tremendous noise of sirens at the time. Postal recalled, "Then, we made the remark, 'Something is about to bust,' or 'pop,' or something to that effect, so, it was just about --some sirens were going west, and my employer (Callihan) got in his car. He was parked in front, to go up to see where they were going. 'He, perhaps ... ,' I said, 'he (perhaps) passed the suspect.'"

Postal testified that she had seen a man with "a panicked face duck into the vestibule of theater." She never saw him actually enter the theater; instead, she claimed the man was "headed for the theater."

Postal said, "Well, I didn't actually (see him enter) -- because I stepped out of the box office and went to the front and was facing west ... because I thought .the police were stopping up quite a ways. Well, just as I turned around then Johnny Brewer was standing there and he asked me if the fellow that ducked in bought a ticket, and I said, 'No; by golly, he didn't,' and (I) turned around expecting to see him."

In her testimony, Postal reported, "I said, 'Go in and see if you can see him. It isn't too much people in there. So, he came and says, 'Well, he didn't see him.' And I says, 'Well, he has to be there.' So, I told him to go back and check -- we have exit doors, behind -- one behind the stage and one straight through, and I asked him to check them, check the lounges because I knew he was in there (the theater). Well, he just had to be."

After speaking with Mrs. Postal, Johnny walked into the Texas Theater and approached Butch Burroughs, the man behind the concession counter who also took tickets. Brewer said, " I asked him if he had seen a man in a brown shirt of that description, matching that description, and he said he had been working behind the counter and hadn't seen anybody." Burroughs later testified he had been very busy "stocking candy."

So, then, Brewer asked Burroughs if he would show him where the exits were in order to check them for anything suspicious. Both men walked down to the front of the theater to the stage. First, they checked the front exit, and discovered it hadn't been opened.

After that, they went to the back exist and saw it was locked. (According to Brewer, a person could open it from the inside by raising a bar that allowed a rod to fit a hole at the bottom of the exit. But, when it closed, the rod didn't fall back in. A person would have to raise the rod again to close it from the inside. Butch Burroughs said that it was impossible to close it from the outside.)

Next, Brewer and Burroughs checked the balcony but didn't see anything suspicious. At the time, only 15 to 20 people were in the theater. (Postal later testified to "believing 24 people were there.")

After checking the theater, the men went back to Mrs. Postal and told her they hadn't seen the suspect. She immediately called the police at 1:40 P.M. to tell them about the suspicious man. She had not heard the description of the suspect who had shot Officer Tippet, but she described the man she thought had just entered the theater. Postal said she decided it would be best to let the film continue to run until the police arrived.

As Postal made her call, Johnny and Butch decided to post guard. Johnny said, "Butch went to the front exit, and I went down by the stage to the back exit and stood there until the police came."

What was Johnny Brewer thinking at the time? He said, "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?"

Soon things began to happen. Johnny reported the frantic activity that followed. He said, "I heard a noise outside, and I opened the door, and the alley, I guess it was filled with police cars and policemen were on the fire exits and stacked around the alley, and they grabbed me, a couple of them and held and searched me and asked me what I was doing there, and I told them that there was a guy in the theater that I was suspicious of. And one asked me if he was still there. And I said, 'Yes, I just  seen him.'"

When the authorities arrived, Johnny and Butch stopped the projector and turned on the house lights. According to Brewer, "The policeman asked me if I would point him (the suspect) out. And I and two or three other officers walked out on the stage and I pulled back the theater curtain just enough to point him out. And there were officers coming in from the front of the show, I guess, coming toward that way, and officers going from the back."

Burroughs later testified the suspect had been sitting by a pregnant lady who had gotten up to go to the restroom. "I looked out from the curtains and saw the man (suspect). He was in the center section about six or seven rows from the back." 

The suspect, evidently fearing he had been spotted, stood up and walked to the aisle on his right. Then, he turned around and walked back and sat down. According to Brewer, the man reseated himself in a manner that then made Brewer and the officers "unable to see him."

That's when many of the police converged with Johnny Brewer a few steps behind.

Brewer saw a policeman (later known to be Patrolman McDonald) approach the suspect. Johnny said, "When the officer got to the aisle the suspect was seated in, he walked in, tapped him on the shoulder and told him to get up."

In his testimony, McDonald reported: "I was going to search every person as I came to them before I got to him, so I wouldn't make a mistake or overlook anybody or anything else that might be connected. I was looking at him over my right shoulder, glancing at him, seeing what he was doing, making sure he was still in one place. I gave these guys (the other patrons) a pat search. I had them sit back down and I walked toward the suspect."

McDonald explained, "I was trying to show an act of diversion so as the suspect may think I wasn't even considering him. And as soon as I got to him -- I was just inches from him -- I said, 'Get on your feet.' He stood up, and he said, 'Well, it's all over now.'

"When the suspect got up, he threw a right cross and hit officer McDonald over the eye and knocked him back against one of the seats," Brewer said, "I mean this all is happening so fast."

Brewer told about the shocking event that happened next. He told, "McDonald was back up. He (the suspect) just knocked the officer down for a second and he was back up. And I jumped off the stage and was walking toward that (the commotion), and I saw this gun come up and --in the suspect's hand, a gun up in the air. The suspect had reached under his shirt, his shirttail was out, and pulled out this revolver and I thought this is fixing to get interesting."

Brewer continued: "And somebody hollered 'He's got a gun!' And there were a couple of officers fighting him and trying to take the gun away from him." Officer McDonald eventually grabbed the gun as the assailant pulled the trigger. The hammer hit the fleshy part of the officer's hand between his thumb and forefinger preventing the bullet from firing.

McDonald later said, "I stuck the gun into his stomach for just an instant. ... I thought about shooting him. The thought came through my mind, 'This guy's trying to kill me. I'll try to kill him.' Then I said to myself, 'Well, we don't need to shoot him because I've got him now. He's under control.'"

Brewer simply said, "He (the suspect) was fighting, still fighting, and I heard some of the police holler, I don't know who it was, 'Kill the President, will you?' And I saw fists flying and they were hitting him."

In a short time, the police subdued the suspect, put handcuffs on his wrists, and pushed him out of the theater. Brewer said, "As they were taking him out, he stopped and turned around and hollered, 'I am not resisting arrest!' about twice."

Mrs. Postal also testified about the capture. She reported, "And they (the police) raced in, and the next thing I knew, they were carrying (unclear) -- well, that is when I first heard Officer Tippit had been shot because some officer came in the box office and used the phone, said, 'I think we have got our man on both accounts.' (Postal asked): 'What two accounts?' And he (the officer) said, "Well, Officer Tippit's.' This shocked me because Officer Tippit used to work part time for us years ago. I didn't know him personally."

Brewer told about the aftermath of the arrest: "Well, then, the police officers and plainclothesmen, whoever they were, got everybody that was in the theater and set them aside, and another officer was taking their names and addresses of all the people that were in the theater."

In her testimony Postal also added that an angry crowd had gathered outside the theater. They wanted to attack the suspect. She said, "The people shouted, 'Kill the so-and-so!' and tried to get to him ... and the officers were trying to hold on to him... I didn't know who he was at that time."

By now, I understand you, the reader, know the identity of this "man" -- the "suspect," the "assailant" of the police. He was Lee Harvey Oswald. You probably knew it at the beginning of the story. But, I bet few of you knew the truth about Johnny Brewer. He had just become the main cog in the capture of the assassin of President Kennedy. With his actions of a very few fleeting minutes, Johnny had entered the annals of history, and the entire nation breathed a welcome sigh of relief.

Thanks to Johnny Brewer and the Warren Commission Report for much of the information.

Click here for much more information on the Official Website of Johnny Calvin Brewer: 

What If?

Do you believe in serendipity?

Whether you do or not, you have to believe that if Johnny Brewer hadn't been so observant, so conscientious, and so brave, Lee Harvey Oswald might have escaped Dallas. If Brewer hadn't acted so quickly, Oswald might never have been identified and captured. Some say Oswald planned to flee to Mexico to seek asylum, and, finally, to Cuba, where he most likely would have lived as a celebrated Communist hero.

Johnny Calvin Brewer is a name you will never read in an American history text. Teachers won't tell students how Brewer, a shoe salesman, became the man most responsible for capturing Lee Harvey Oswald, the most chronicled, most infamous assassin of all time. What a shame Oswald will be long remembered for his vile deed while Brewer will be less than a trivial footnote at best.

Our society and our nation changed when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 2013. An era of violence, internal revolution, and distrust began as people realized Camelot and the New Frontier had fallen victim to a sniper's bullets. Rumors of conspiracy ruled the post JFK presidential years. Great promise had ended so quickly.

Yet, we should not remember the assassination solely by the 5.6 seconds triggered by Lee Harvey Oswald. We should also recognize the glorious minutes


On November 22, 2011, Dallas Police Chief David Brown presented Johnny Calvin Brewer with the department's Citizen's Certificate of Merit and praised his selfless act and "exemplary conduct" 48 years ago during a ceremony at the Texas Theatre - the same place where Oswald was captured about 80 minutes after President Kennedy was killed.

"I'm just so overwhelmed," said 70 year-old Brewer after receiving the award and watching a video of his 22-year-old self recounting the events of that day. Beaming family members, including two grandchildren, and friends who called him a humble man, were on hand for the ceremony.

Since then, Brewer said he served in the Navy and then moved to Austin, where he still lives, having retired from a career in sales.

"Mr. Brewer made a difference in the history of the United States," Deputy Police Chief Randy Blankenbaker said. "You not only helped us capture the man who shot the president of the United States but you also helped us capture a man who killed one of our police officers."

Officer Tippit's widow expressed her gratitude to Brewer, as did retired Dallas police officer Ray Hawkins."I think it's a little late, but I'm glad he's finally getting recognition. He's deserving," said Hawkins, who said he handcuffed Oswald that day.

Brown speculated that the tribute did not occur sooner because Dallas has been trying to move away from the tragedy it's been associated with for so long that "many of the details of the actions by citizens like Mr. Brewer have been left behind."
But Brown, who became chief last year, said as the department began trying to revisit its legacy and history, Brewer's story just "jumped out."

("Johnny Calvin Brewer, Man Who Helped Catch JFK Assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, Honored by Dallas Police." Associated Press and New York Daily News. November 22, 2011) 

Humble hero Johnny Brewer gets the last word. In 2013 he said, "I think of it (November 22, 1963) every day just walking through my living room, I've got so much memorabilia from it. It was a part of my life for sure, but it didn't define it."

Johnny Calvin Brewer Honored in Dallas, 2011

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