George “Bill” Mitchell spent some time visiting with me while on a short trip to Dallas last week. I reminded him that the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination would be here soon and that it would fall on Thanks Giving Day this year.
Without hesitation, Bill responded, “That’s right. I was in mortuary school back then and I worked for O’Neal Funeral Home. That was before the city had an ambulance service and funeral homes provided the emergency transport. It was more of a grab ‘em and make a code three run to Parkland in those days. O’Neal had the contract for everything this side of the Trinity River. We kept four ambulances on stand by twenty-four hours a day.”
“O’Neal had a barracks located next to the funeral home for the drivers. We were on duty twenty-four hours and off for twenty-four.”
“Earl Cabell was the mayor back when President Kennedy was shot. After the president was pronounced dead, Earl Cabell called Vernon O’Neal and requested that he send the best coffin he had out to Parkland Hospital. Vernon told the mayor that he had a nice bronze one in the funeral home’s show room.” Bill leaned over, as if it was confidential, “You know that Mayor Cabell and Vernon O’Neal were best of friends.”
He went on to say, “Vernon summoned some help and quickly loaded the most expensive coffin he had in back of that coach. It was an $8,000 bronze coffin. Vernon then got behind the wheel and headed for Parkland, thinking he would world famous. But, the secret service men quickly removed him from the coach before they pulled it up to he hospital doors.”
“Vernon knew all the Dallas police officers, so he headed over to talk to his buddies. Once President Kennedy’s body was loaded into the funeral coach, it was quickly driven to Love Field airport by members of the secret service. Vernon was left standing without transportation. He ask one of the police officers to take him over to Love Field. When he arrived, the bronze coffin was already loaded onto the president’s plane at Love Field. All the doors were open on the funeral coach and the engine was still running. It was just abandoned and sitting there on the tarmac when Vernon arrived.”
“The government officials refused to pay for President Kennedy’s coffin, so Vernon O’Neal ask for help from the mayor. Vernon even mentioned that if they would just return it he would be happy. He also mentioned that he could set up a little museum in the back of the funeral home. He eventually did get paid, but it took about a year. of course, the bronze coffin was never returned to Dallas.”
By Jim Foster