Telluride Festival of Cars & Colors: Secret Service Agent Jerry O’Rourke

Telluride Festival of Cars & Colors: Secret Service Agent Jerry O’Rourke

The 2nd annual Telluride Festival of Cars & Colors takes place Thursday, September 29 – Sunday, October 2, 2016. The weekend celebration of exotic cars and fall foliage coincides in part with two concerts by singer- songwriter-producer and two-time Rock ’n Roll Hall Of Fame inductee Neil Young. The iconic performer visits Telluride to play back-to-back shows, September 30 and October 1. Young will be joined on stage by Promise of the Real, fronted by Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson. Tickets for that event here.

Full schedule for Cars & Colors here. Tickets/passes here.

Please scroll down to the bottom of the story to listen to a podcast with former Secret Service agent and Telluride local Jerry O’Rourke, who speaks at the airport Saturday night.

Former Secret Service Agent Jerry O’Rourke.

Former Secret Service Agent Jerry O’Rourke.

The story has all the outlines of a smart, tense, well-made thriller.

In the 1993 film “In Line of Fire,” Clint Eastwood is Frank Horrigan, a Secret Service agent who still blames himself for the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He is determined not to let history repeat itself.

In (former Telluride local) Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” (1991), when New Orleans detective Jim Garrison begins to doubt conventional thinking on the murder, he faces government resistance. After the killing of suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman), he closes the case.

O’Rourke with Carter.

O’Rourke with Carter.

Was the JFK assassination an inside job? Yes, according to a deathbed confession of a man claiming to have been a member of the president’s security team. The man, identified only by the code name,“Ron,” told Stone a member of his own team shot JFK on the fateful November day in 1963.

No doubt, the assassination of John F. Kennedy is full of ambiguous and disputed evidence.

And the truth may indeed be stranger than the fiction surrounding its history – as former Secret Service Jerry O”Rourke ought to know.


He was there.

And he will be here.

O’Rourke returns to Telluride for Ray Cody’s 2nd annual Festival of Colors & Cars, Friday, September 29 – Sunday, October 2. The former Secret Service agent is one of three nationally esteemed speakers at the event, which also features America’s first Top Gun, Lt. Col. James Harvey, and retired astronaut Joseph Tanner. 

Jerry O’Rourke is scheduled to speak Saturday night, October 1, 6 – 9 p.m. at the Telluride airport. The car that transported JFK to the hospital, a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville ambulance, will be on display at Cars & Colors, the “prop” accompanying O’Rourke’s talk.

“At first glance Jerry is the quintessential Hollywood badass. Having spent as much time as I have been alive, a little over 21 years, ready to take a bullet for the Commander-in-Chief. Jerry clearly inherited the brave gene from someone in his lineage. Now he is a bit older, with a few more miles under his belt, suffering the aches and pains of an active life. But he is still not so different from that young man who protected so many Presidents.

“Jerry has had a long and interesting life. From spending time with President John F. Kennedy on the final night of his life, to single-handedly almost causing a war with Mexico, his is a story that should be told…,” wrote Kai Bidell.


What’s more, O’Rourke is a homeboy.

Born in Telluride in 1934, Jerry O’Rourke attended Telluride High School, where he met his late wife Dawna (1935-2013).

He went on to receive degrees from Regis and Western State Universities and served two years in the Army before joining the FBI. Before committing to the life of a G-Man, a family friend suggested the young man look into the Secret Service.

O’Rourke with LBJ.

O’Rourke with LBJ.

Once in the Secret Service, O’Rourke rose to become a top protection agent with a specialty in “advance work.” Over his distinguished career, he protected seven presidents – he told Bidell his favorite was JFK – and countless “high value” individuals.

A retired Jerry O’Rourke now lives a much quieter life in Grand Junction, but over the years, he has been outspoken on the subject of JFK’s assassination, which, needless to say, led to a major overhaul of protection procedures and hardware, including limousines such as the “Beast,” which helps protect Obama, the president who, to date, has received the most death threats.

In November 2003, Ellen Miller of The Rocky Mountain News,  reported the following, after interviewing O”Rourke:

“…O’Rourke said his group of about 10 agents had protected Kennedy the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, at a breakfast speech in Fort Worth. Then the group left by air for Austin, the next stop planned on the president’s Texas tour.

“We got the word (of the assassination) in the air, and we didn’t believe it at first,” he said. “Most of the agents had tears in their eyes. Agents believed in Kennedy, and we knew we failed our job in Dallas.”

After his White House tour ended during Johnson’s presidency, O’Rourke spent a year in the Secret Service intelligence division, which offered him glimpses into the investigation of Kennedy’s death.

Those glimpses, and the accounts of other agents, have convinced O’Rourke that Oswald didn’t act alone.

He cited several reasons:

• Kennedy had a number of enemies, any of whom could have plotted against him. They included people angered by his insistence on civil rights; organized crime; labor unions unhappy with investigations of them by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy; Cuban dissidents angry over the failed Bay of Pigs invasion; and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

• The shots attributed to Oswald were impossible to make. O’Rourke learned to shoot as a boy and trained as a military marksman. He said his visits to Oswald’s perch at the Texas Book Depository have convinced him that no one could have fired a rifle three times so quickly, hitting the president and Texas Gov. John Connolly.

• The trajectory of one of the shots could not have been made by a gunman on the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository. The shot entered Kennedy’s body at his lower back and traveled up, to exit near his throat.

• The circumstances of the autopsy were irregular. Texas law requires autopsies to be done in state, but agents, acting on the orders of White House, took Kennedy’s body back to Washington, D.C. The autopsy was performed at Bethesda Naval Medical Center under secrecy that prevails to this day.

• Evidence was destroyed. O’Rourke said that on the day of the assassination, one agent was ordered to clean out the cars used in the motorcade, getting rid of blood and other evidence. The agent told O’Rourke that he found a piece of skull, asked the White House doctor what to do with it, and was told to destroy it.

• Instructions were given to lie. The agent in charge of motorcade protection told O’Rourke that he was told by the Warren Commission during his testimony that he did not hear a fourth shot and did not see someone running across the grassy knoll. But the agent insisted that his account was accurate.

• Evidence about the shots is in conflict. An open microphone on a motorcycle in the motorcade picked up four shots, not three.

“In my opinion, Hoover wanted the commission to find that Oswald acted alone,” O’Rourke said.

“The complete file won’t be released until 2027, and the reason for that is most of us will be dead by then.”

To learn more about the man who refused to toe the party line on the assassination and marched to his own drum throughout his life, listen to this podcast featuring Jerry O’Rourke.

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