Winston Lawson, the Secret Service agent who planned President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade route in Dallas and rode in a car immediately in front when Kennedy was assassinated, died November 7 in Norfolk, Virginia, his son, Jeff Lawson, told CNN.
Winston Lawson spent 22 years in the Secret Service. He served under seven presidents, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan, according to his obituary on legacy.com.
Jeff Lawson said his father was haunted for years by the events of November 22, 1963.
“My father felt very extremely guilty because he had planned the route of the Dallas trip,” Jeff Lawson said. He would usually visit Arlington Cemetery on the anniversary of Kennedy’s death to pay his respects, Jeff Lawson said.
Winston Lawson talked about his emotional struggles in a 2013 interview with CNN affiliate WTVR, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination.
“I’m the only agent in the history of the Secret Service as advance that had the President of the United States killed,” Lawson said. “At times I wish I had never been born.”
After the assassination, many agents told Winston Lawson they were glad he’d handled the advance planning because they knew he was meticulous and every detail of the trip would have been well organized, Jeff Lawson said.
Jeff Lawson said his father was instructed to find a route that would travel through downtown Dallas and accommodate large crowds of spectators. Winston Lawson told the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination, the route also offered wide streets that would allow buses in the motorcade.
He was riding in the car in front of Kennedy and heard shots.
“I noticed the President’s car back there, but I also noticed right after the reports an agent standing up with an automatic weapon in his hand, and the first thing that flashed through my mind, this was the only weapon I had seen, was that he had fired because this was the only weapon I had seen up to that time,” he told congressional investigators.
By 1 p.m., Kennedy was dead. Later that day, Lawson sat in when other investigators questioned Lee Harvey Oswald.
“Oswald just answered the questions as asked to him. He didn’t volunteer any information. He sat there quite stoically, not much of an expression on his face,” Lawson said. He described Oswald as “unkempt looking, and I recall that he had a few bruises on his face.”
Winston Lawson carried Oswald’s rifle back to Washington. He attended Kennedy’s funeral at Arlington and protected other presidents and vice presidents until he retired from the Secret Service in 1981. He then worked for the Department of Defense.
Lawson told WTVR he had one major regret about the Kennedy assassination.
“I never got to say anything to the children,” he said, “but looking back I wish I had been able to talk to them about how sorry I was that it happened.”
Lawson was born in western New York and graduated from the University of Buffalo with a bachelor’s degree in history and government.
He met his wife, Barbara, while in college and they were married in 1950. After serving in the US Army in the Korean War, he joined the Secret Service.
Besides his son, he is survived by his wife, his daughter Andrea and seven grandchildren.