Is it the one? Mystery surrounds ambulance’s role in history

When this U.S. Navy ambulance was for sale at a Barrett-Jackson auto auction, the assertion was made that it was the ambulance that carried John F. Kennedy’s body from Air Force One to Bethesda Naval Hospital. The ambulance now is part of the collection at Allen Unique Autos in Grand Junction.

As with so much of the flurry that surrounds the assassination of John F. Kennedy, there are questions. Is it the actual ambulance that carried John F. Kennedy’s body from Air Force One to Bethesda Naval Hospital?


The 1963 Pontiac Bonneville ambulance parked inside Allen Unique Autos is, if not the actual ambulance that played a role in the historic events of Nov. 22, 1963, then an exact replica.

“The Navy ordered 15 of these ambulances in 1963,” explained Preston Patterson, curator of Allen Unique Autos. “So at worst, we have a 15-to-1 shot of this being it.”

Stories about that day in 1963 hold that Jacqueline Kennedy requested a U.S. Navy ambulance to take her husband’s body to Bethesda, in honor of his Navy service. Though the vehicles normally weren’t used for that purpose, protocol was said to have been overridden that day.

Tammy Allen, whose collection comprises Allen Unique Autos, bought the former U.S. Navy ambulance after a Barrett-Jackson auto auction in Scottsdale, Ariz. She’d seen it at the auction but didn’t bid, Patterson said, “and got a case of non-buyers remorse.” Offering the initial buyer $132,000, $12,000 above the winning auction price of $120,000, she added the ambulance to her extensive collection.

But whether the vehicle is the actual Kennedy ambulance, an assertion made at the auction, remains a mystery. Patterson said that according to his research, the decommissioned ambulance was found in a U.S. General Services Administration warehouse in 1980 and offered to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston.

However, Patterson said, the Kennedy family asked that the vehicle be destroyed and it was taken to be crushed at a wrecking yard in Boston. That’s where things get vague, Patterson said, because the serial number of the car that ended up being crushed was painted over.

The tailgate of that ambulance, which bore its serial number, was crushed in but not destroyed “so it’s possible that someone swapped out that tailgate and waited for another ambulance like this one to come along,” Patterson said.

Photos exist of an ambulance being crushed, Patterson said, but again, “the serial number was painted over.”

Regardless, he said, the ambulance at Allen Unique Autos remains an interesting window into history, a reminder of a world-changing day.

Allen Unique Autos, 2285 River Road in Grand Junction, is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 263-7410 for information.


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