Governor John Bowden Connally, Jr. was born February 27, 1917 to John Bowden and Lela Wright Connally in Floresville, Wilson County, Texas, the third of seven children. In 1920, his father’s occupation was listed as being a stock farmer (rancher) in Floresville, which is located on the southeast side of San Antonio. By 1930, the family had moved into San Antonio for a time, as John, Sr. was operating a bus on a bus line. Governor Connally attended San Antonio Harlandale High School but graduated from high school in Floresville. After his graduation, he entered the University of Texas in Austin where he received his undergraduate degree and later earned a law degree.
His career in politics began when he served as legislative assistant to Representative Lyndon B. Johnson in 1939. In late 1940, Connally married Idanell “Nellie” Brill and the couple would have four children, three of whom would live to adulthood. In 1941, Connally joined the United States Navy as an officer, first commissioned as an ensign. In 1942, he was promoted to Lt. Junior Grade. Connally was serving in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations when he was transferred to the Office of the Under Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal. He was then transferred to Algiers where he served for about a year, being involved in the planning of the Allied invasions of Italy.
From August, 1943 to August 1945, he served aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Essex. He had received training in radar and aboard the Essex, he served as Flight Direction Officer, among other duties, as the ship took part in the invasions of the Gilbert, Marshal, Mariana and Philippine Islands, along with action in Formosa, the China Sea, Bonin Islands of Japan, the Ryukyu Island Group that includes Okinawa and the mainland of Japan. During this period, Connally was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, the rank he held for the rest of his service. For his service, Connally was personally commended by Admiral T. L. Sprague. His awards included the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” and the Legion of Merit with Combat “V” as the Essex played a key role in attacks on Japanese aircraft and in the defense of the ship against enemy attacks, including kamakaze flights. In addition to these medals, he received the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one operation star, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver and two bronze stars (seven operations), the World War II Victory Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two stars.
Following his discharge from the Navy, his jobs included serving as station manager for three years for the Austin, Texas radio station KVET and was also part of the group that owned the station. He also worked for an Austin law firm and worked in the reelection campaign of Lyndon B. Johnson to the United States Congress in 1946 and to the Senate in 1948. Connally is said to have managed at least five of Johnson’s campaigns, including the 1948 senatorial campaign that included the disputed election results in Jim Wells County that gave LBJ the victory. Connally and Johnson had a long relationship, although it would not always be described as warm. During the 1950s, he mainly served as legal counsel for Fort Worth oilman, rancher and philanthropist Sid W. Richardson.
After many years of working behind the scenes in the political campaigns of others, he ran for Texas Governor in a crowded field of candidates, including the incumbent Price Daniel, Sr. Starting from behind, Connally won the Democratic nomination and the election in 1962. Slightly less than one year into his term, he was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in the incident that included the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Connally who had served as Secretary of the Navy under Kennedy, survived gunshot wounds to his chest, wrist and his leg, returned to office and twice won reelection to the office as Governor in 1964 and 1966.
In 1963 Governor Connally and his wife Nellie had accompanied President and Mrs. Kennedy to events in Houston and San Antonio before arriving in Fort Worth for a morning event. Then they boarded Air Force One to take them to Love Field in Dallas for the well publicized parade. In the motorcade, Governor and Mrs. Connally rode in center seat of the limousine with President and Mrs. Kennedy in the back seat. As is well known, when the vehicle reached Dealey Plaza, shots rang out, Kennedy was fatally wounded and Connally was also shot. Connally was wounded by a bullet that entered his back, exited his chest, went through his wrist and lodged in his leg. He recalled some of his fleeting thoughts, including that he might himself be fatally wounded, but he was operated on at Parkland Hospital and eventually made a full recovery.
Concerning the Kennedy assassination, Connally would say from time to time that he basically accepted the Warren Commission report, the government investigation that concluded Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. The Warren Commission took its name from Chief Justice Earl Warren who was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate the Kennedy assassination. Connally would also state that the Warren Commission should be accepted as final unless compelling new evidence was brought forth. However, one point of the report with which he disagreed was the so-called single bullet theory, that the same bullet that fatally wounded Kennedy also wounded himself. Connally would state that he heard the first report of the rifle, turned back and was hit by a second shot.
Governor Connally also offered the possibility that he could have been a primary target since he recalled having declined to review the downgrading of Oswald’s discharge from the United States Marine Corps. Oswald’s discharge was reportedly downgraded without a hearing from “honorable” to “undesirable”. Oswald had appealed in a letter to Connally, then the Secretary of the Navy, and Connally had declined to review the change in classification.
(Image credit: texashistory.unt.edu)
As governor of Texas, Connally had succeeded in increasing taxes to finance state services, including higher teachers’ salaries, better libraries and spending on education. He also exerted his efforts to increase state tourism including being in favor of pari-mutuel betting and liquor by the drink, the establishment of a state fine arts commission and historical commission.
Connally was later appointed Secretary of the Treasury by Republican President Richard Nixon and was considered to be an influential member of Nixon’s cabinet. In 1973 and roughly three months after the death of Lyndon Johnson, Connally officially changed his affiliation from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. Connally would also face charges of taking a $10,000 bribe for helping to achieve milk price increases, but would be found not guilty of any wrongdoing.
In 1980 he ran unsuccessfully to be the Republican Party nominee for president, the election won by President Ronald Reagan, after which he retired from politics. Connally then practiced law with the firm of Vinson and Elkins until he reached the firm’s mandatory retirement age and left the firm in 1982. He joined others and was involved in various business enterprises. Connally was much sought after and served on the boards of several national corporations.
Connally died in the summer of 1995 from complications of pulmonary disease and is buried in the State Cemetery in Austin.
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