DALLAS — Dallas police honored a man on Tuesday whose “keen observation skills and strong sense of civic duty” led them to Lee Harvey Oswald, who had crept into the back of a darkened movie theater to hide on Nov. 22, 1963, shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
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 Kennedy was killed.
“I’m just so overwhelmed,” Brewer, 70, said after receiving the award and watching a video of his 22-year-old self recounting the events of that day.
Brewer, a manager at a shoe store located about 90 steps from the Oak Cliff neighborhood theater, was listening to news reports about the president’s assassination when he heard reports that a Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippit, had just been killed a few blocks away.
A man whose behavior seemed suspicious then walked into the foyer of the shoe store. Brewer said the man stared at the display in the window and acted scared as police cars with blaring sirens raced by.
After the last squad car passed in one direction, the man stepped out of the store and walked in the opposite direction toward the movie theater.
Brewer saw him go into the theater without buying a ticket. He followed him, alerting the woman in the box office to call police. Brewer then shared his suspicions with the concessions operator and the two searched the theater and stood by the emergency exits.
Hearing noise behind his alley-exit door, Brewer opened it only to have police guns aimed at him. The movie theater lights went on and Brewer pointed out the suspicious man seated in the theater. Oswald was arrested after a brief scuffle, during which he punched an officer and pulled a gun.
As Oswald was taken from the theater he hollered: “I am not resisting arrest,” according to testimony Brewer gave the Warren Commission that investigated the president’s death.
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.
Beaming family members, including two grandchildren, and friends who called him a humble man, were on hand for Tuesday’s ceremony.
“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.”
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.”
Last year, Farris Rookstool III, a former FBI analyst and JFK historian, brought their attention to Temple F. Bowley, who climbed in to Tippit’s squad car moments after he was slain and used the police radio to call for help. After Bowley was issued a commendation, the chief asked Rookstool if there was anyone else who was missed and research revealed Brewer.
Brown made a point of correcting that oversight “as quickly as possible,” saying, “Thank God we were able to find him and he’s still with us.”
The chief said the department will keep looking for those “whose extraordinary actions helped bring closure to one of the more tragic” events for the city and the nation.