A Co Tyrone man at the centre of the John F Kennedy assassination was a dedicated member of the Orange Order, it has been revealed.
Secret Service agent Bill Greer, who drove the presidential limousine through Dallas and only narrowly escaped injury himself, was a committee member of the Drumbonaway lodge near Stewartstown where his father Richard was the treasurer.
The current brethren of LOL 214 had until last week no idea of their remarkable connection with the man who would become the subject of world-wide speculation and scrutiny.
Fifty years on from the crime that was said to have shook the world, the debate around the actions of Greer in Dallas on November 22, 1963 is more intense than ever. Had he taken evasive action instead of slowing down as the first of three shots rang out, the course of history could have been very different.
In a new book – Survivor’s Guilt: The Secret Service and the Failure to Protect President Kennedy – author Vince Palamara dedicates a whole chapter to Greer, who he calls “the most important agent”.
After emigrating to the US in 1929 aged 19, farm labourer’s son William Robert Greer worked as a chauffeur in the Boston and New York areas before participating in the SecondWorld War with the US Navy in November 1942.
His final wartime posting was as a crew member on board the presidential yacht.
Within two weeks of discharge from the Navy in October 1945 Greer was sworn into the Secret Service.
He had been a favourite driver and bodyguard of both presidents Truman and Eisenhower before joining the Kennedy protection detail.
Drumbonaway lodge secretary Edgar Kirkpatrick said he was shocked to see Greer’s name on the records when asked to check by the News Letter.
“I have it all here in the lodge books. We have the records right the way to when the lodge was formed. We don’t have any Greers nowadays but I always remember my father talking about Richard Greer (Bill’s father) who was a servant man around here working for the farmers.
“But I didn’t know about his son at all until I read up in the books. There were a lot of people emigrating around that time and I notice from the lodge records that they were bought presents by the lodge – the man got a walking stick and the lady got an umbrella,” Mr Kirkpatrick said.
The lodge secretary said the membership has been told about the JFK connection but won’t believe it until they see it in print.
“They’re not taking it seriously, but I took an evening and read through all the books and it was interesting. I couldn’t believe he’d come from here and went on to drive for Kennedy,” Mr Kirkpatrick added.
The discovery of Greer’s Orange affiliations could breathe new life into the countless conspiracy theories that have sprung up around the assassination.
Although most of the speculation centres on claims that assassin Lee Harvey Oswald – who was charged with the murder but shot dead himself soon afterwards – was aided by the CIA or anti-Castro Cuban groups, a hardcore group of conspiracy theorists believe he was the victim of an anti-Catholic, right-wing plot.
Greer’s actions at the time of the shooting led to accusations he breached Secret Service protocols by not speeding away from the scene at the first sign of danger.
Instead, amateur film footage taken on Dealey Plazza shows him turning on two occasions to look behind him at the president as the shots rang out over several seconds.
The Tyrone man’s Protestant upbringing was known to many commentators in the US, but the revelation about his Orange Order past could well add renewed vigour to the anti-Catholic conspiracy school of thought.
During a rare media interview in 1991, Greer’s only son Richard – who was born in the US – was asked by an American author: “What did your father think of JFK?”
He helped fuel the countless conspiracy theories when he responded: “Well, we’re Methodists – and JFK was Catholic.”
However, the mark is often dismissed as nothing more than a light-hearted quip.
Even today, almost 60 per cent of Americans believe that Oswald was not acting alone – down from 75 per cent in the mid-1960s.
Despite the findings of successive polls, the Dallas Morning News has consistently rejected there was a conspiracy surrounding the president’s death.