As a member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Gerald R. Ford suggested that the panel change its initial description of the bullet wound in Kennedy’s back to place it higher up in his body.
The change, critics said, may have been intended to support the controversial theory that a single bullet struck Kennedy from behind, exited his neck and then wounded Texas Gov. John Connally. The Warren Commission relied on it heavily in concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald was Kennedy’s lone assassin, firing from a sniper’s nest above and behind the president in the Texas School Book Depository.
Ford’s handwritten editing, revealed in newly disclosed papers kept by the commission’s general counsel, was accepted with a slight change.
The initial draft of the report stated, “A bullet had entered his back at a point slightly below the shoulder to the right of the spine.”
Ford wanted it to read, “A bullet had entered the back of his neck slightly to the right of the spine.”
The final report said, “A bullet had entered the base of the back of his neck slightly to the right of his spine.”
Harold Weisberg, a longtime critic of the Warren Commission’s work, said: “What Ford is doing is trying to make the single bullet theory more tenable. The official story is that the bullet hit no bone, but it did. They are trying to make it seem that the bullet traveled downward, but it didn’t.” Weisberg and others have long maintained that the wound in the front of Kennedy’s neck was an entry wound, not an exit wound.
A forensic pathology panel assembled by the House Assassinations Committee in the late 1970s concluded otherwise, holding by an 8-to-1 vote that Kennedy was struck by two and only two bullets, each of which entered from the rear.
The panel found that one bullet “entered in the upper right of the back and exited from the front of the throat” and the second, fatal shot “entered in the right rear of the head.”
The papers showing Ford’s editing were made public Wednesday by the Assassinations Records Review Board, an agency set up by Congress to compile all available evidence in the Nov. 22, 1963 murder. The documents are part of the personal files of the late J. Lee Rankin, the Warren Commission’s general counsel, whose son James donated the 40,000-page collection to the board.