Lewiston man, retired DC officer recalls JFK assassination as ‘day I’ll never forget’

Posted Nov. 17, 2013, at 6:34 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 17, 2013, at 10:16 a.m.

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Edward Maynard displays his Washington, D.C. Police Department ID during a recent interview at his home in Lewiston. Maynard was a patrol officer in the 1960s, assigned to an honor squadron that protected VIPs in the nation's capital.
Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal
Edward Maynard displays his Washington, D.C. Police Department ID during a recent interview at his home in Lewiston. Maynard was a patrol officer in the 1960s, assigned to an honor squadron that protected VIPs in the nation's capital.

A static-filled voice on a transistor radio delivered the tragic news to Edward Maynard.

“Just like everyone else, I couldn’t believe it,” Maynard said. “Shock. I was just thinking that there’s got to be some mistake. It became a reality when I was called in to work.”

He and his family were moving into a house just outside Washington, D.C. He had a new baby to care for. Neither the gas nor the electricity were connected. But one utility worked.

Just minutes after hearing the news on the radio, “The phone rang,” Maynard said. “It was my office telling me to come in. The president had been shot.”

That began four days of around-the-clock duty for the D.C. police officer, who was 32. When he arrived at work, he was sent to the home of Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

In the hours after President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, Johnson took the oath of office. And for four days, until the funeral of the assassinated president, Johnson’s home in northwest Washington became the center of power in the United States.

“It was a no-nonsense detail,” said Maynard, now 82 and living in Lewiston. “My role was to protect the perimeter. Nobody gets in. We had the house surrounded. Officers weren’t 10 feet apart, all the way around.”

It was a lofty place for the no-nonsense guy who grew up in Worcester, Mass., and found his way to D.C. by answering a job posting on a post office wall.

When he graduated from the D.C. police academy in 1958, he was 27. He was assigned to the First Precinct, which encompassed the downtown.

“I was just a regular-old foot patrolman,” he said. But he rose quickly, ascending to the honor squadron that protected VIPs who moved through the nation’s capital.

He was working the first time he saw Kennedy.

Maynard was part of the detail that protected Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev when he visited in 1959. He was protecting Khrushchev when he glimpsed the young Massachusetts senator in a parking lot.

“I saw this man in the middle of the Capitol waving,” Maynard said. The young officer saw Kennedy greet Khrushchev warmly. He recalled the image the following year, when Kennedy was elected president and led America’s Cold War policy.

“That’s why he was out there,” Maynard said. “He thought, ‘One day he’ll be dealing with me.’”

On the wintry inauguration day in January 1961, Maynard was assigned to a post near the viewing stands, not only putting him in proximity to the president but allowing him to witness a bit of Hollywood-style image creation. Though it had snowed the day before, the streets were cleared for Kennedy’s parade.

“The National Guard came in and cleared Pennsylvania Avenue,” Maynard said. “You’d never know it snowed. They tell me they even used flame-throwers to melt the little bits of snow that were left over. Every doorway and every nook and cranny was free of snow. Then, you walked two or three blocks north and everything was closed down.”

Maynard ultimately never met Kennedy. They never spoke. But on one of Kennedy’s darkest mornings — Oct. 28, 1962 — Maynard and his family saw the president up close.

It was during the Cuban missile crisis. For 13 days, the United States and the Soviet Union faced off in the Caribbean Sea over the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Many worried a nuclear attack was imminent.

Churches filled up.

“People were scared,” Maynard said. “We figured we were a No. 1 target in D.C.”

When Maynard’s own church was full, he asked his wife, “Do you want to go to church with the president?” They went to Sunday morning Mass at Saint Stephen Martyr Catholic Church on Pennsylvania Avenue.

A few minutes later, Kennedy came in and sat down

“We sat two pews behind the president,” Maynard said.

Though Tom Maynard, Edward’s son, was only about 3 years old, he remembers Kennedy’s sloped back that morning.

“He had his hands down. He kept rocking,” the younger Maynard said. “I just remember thinking something was wrong.”

Though the country teetered on the brink of war, no added security surrounded Kennedy. Parishioners moved freely. They were all, including Maynard and Kennedy, simply Catholics.

In fact, Maynard was armed that morning, following a D.C. law that required him to carry a gun even while off duty.

“We just walked in like we were going to any other church,” the elder Maynard said.

It was a more innocent time. Washington wasn’t yet filled with security personnel, closed-circuit cameras and metal detectors. It would be decades before White House security forced barricades to be erected on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It was lax, even for tours of the White House.

“They had the guards there, but you got in line [and] you walked right into the White House,” Maynard said. “”ou walked through it, and came out the front door. You could linger, walk around and right out through the front gate. Nobody bothered you. You couldn’t do that today,” he said.

Much of that changed the moment Kennedy was shot.

“It’s a day I’ll never, never forget. It’ll live in my mind forever,” Maynard said.

When he arrived at Johnson’s home after being notified of the shooting, all of the officers were gathered in the basement for a briefing. There was uncertainty about whether the assassination was part of a larger assault on the presidency itself.

“I remember them saying to us, ‘Take a look around. If you see any strangers other than the people here, they don’t belong on this detail,’” Maynard said.

For those four days — from the assassination until the funeral, when Johnson would move into the White House — Maynard and the other officers were charged with guarding the home of the new president.

Maynard rested little. He was given food from Johnson’s fridge.

“A couple of times, I was relieved long enough to come home and get changed,” he said.

He never saw Johnson during those days. He’d see him a lot in the next few years, though.

He spent many days protecting Johnson before changing jobs again. He was promoted to sergeant in 1968 and entered the D.C. police’s special operations division. He retired in 1973 after 25 years of service and, after years of vacationing in Maine and owning a lakeside camp, he moved to Maine permanently in 1998.

The days with Johnson were a career highlight, though.

Maynard was assigned to work on the president’s motorcade as he rolled through the city, typically taking a spot in the third car, behind the president’s limousine and a Secret Service car.

Riding with Maynard was Adm. George Burkley, who served as personal physician to Kennedy and Johnson.

“He’d come out with his little satchel and sit in the back seat,” Maynard said. “He would ride with us because we knew the city. We had radios to contact the hospitals.”

The doctor insisted on staying near the president.

When Maynard met him, Burkley had already signed Kennedy’s death certificate. He had been in the motorcade in Dallas and had accompanied Kennedy’s body home aboard Air Force One.

“He’d tell us, ‘Nothing gets between us and the president,’” Maynard said. “‘Nothing.’”

 

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