1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


Jimmy's Final Resting Place
A Question Answered
John McCurdy   '04


          Now in the October-November of my life, I find myself admitting things that long ago wild horses could not have dragged from me. Telling stories that many years before I had taken solemn oaths never to tell. Doing things that in my youth I would never have thought of doing.

          The passage of time and the passing away of persons involved in many of the incidents, brings the need to set the records straight.  Letting history have at least an equal chance of being correct, has led me to share several of the events and perhaps even more so, get them sorted out in my own mind. Some things one would just as soon not remember. I’m sure most of you can relate to such a statement.

            It was in the month of June in 1968 when an event involved me that has given me the shivers on more than one night while I lay sleepless in my bed, wondering if all my beliefs in the honesty of our government leaders was true or misplaced.

            I was at the time a Senior Correctional Officer at the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia. The prison occupied an isolated portion of land over 300 acres in size, shielded by mountains on all sides and isolated by the Greenbrier River on the north and an inhospitable section of brush and briers and wetland on the south. Inmates have escaped in the 40-50 years of the prison but they were seldom at liberty for more than a day or so before they were found cold and hungry and lost, ready to return to confinement. 

          The male officers were a necessary evil in the eyes of the Administrative staff at the prison. They were needed for the heavy lifting, the outside patrolling of the Grounds at night and all of the physical controlling of those inmates, who for one or another reason acted out. It was the male officers who had the expertise to restrain these inmates with the least harm to anyone. The men also were responsible for discovering when an inmate had escaped during the nighttime by cutting or breaking out the insect screens that were, along with the window; all that stood in the way of their getting out of their rooms and into the relative freedom of the campus-like institution grounds, a quick run to the 8 foot fence surrounding the prisons center area and over the fence and on the way to freedom! There were many secrets hidden behind this fence.

           The night I’m telling about was a warm muggy night in the spring, rain the last few days and the likely-hood of rain this night assured that the moon was hidden and only occasionally was visible behind dark rain-filled clouds. I had relieved the evening shift officers at midnight, and as always, I waited until all the cottage officers, the supervisors and the powerhouse employees had left the grounds and then I closed and locked the large double gate and drove to the Administration Building Parking lot. I parked and then went in and spent a few minutes with the Control Center Officer and made certain that there were no safety concerns noted in the Log Book and then went to the Patrol Officers vehicle and began my regular routine.

        At that time, because of budgetary cuts there were a minimum number of staff on duty, myself, the Control Room Officer, and one officer each on the upper and lower campuses.   About 2:00 AM, when I had finished checking all the building on the lower campus, I drove toward the upper campus, driving up the hill I looked, as always, down toward the Front Entrance Gate. I was surprised to see two large dark- colored vans drawn up to the outside of the gate, and two individuals standing beside them! Someone in the cars flashed their head lights. I turned around at the top of the hill and drove back down toward the gate.  I stopped several car lengths away and standing behind the door of the truck inquired of the persons as to their business. A third man joined them and asked if I was Mr. McCurdy, he continued, and said, “I was told you would be on duty and to identify myself to your satisfaction, do you know who I am?”  There was little chance that I didn’t recognize the slight framed and somewhat buck-toothed, younger man, I had seen him on the television news enough,  I said, “Yes,  I know who you are.”  He said, “If you will come closer, Mr. McCurdy, I have a letter for you to read,” I was not allowed to keep the letter but it was on White House stationary, the letter said.                                                            

 Mr. John McCurdy: Correctional Office.
June 24, 1968 

 Mr. McCurdy; you are hereby ordered to obey any orders on any matters as you might be given by the bearer of this document and to cooperate in any way you are requested.  You are hereby notified that nothing of this matter can be divulged, and that the Official Secrets Acts of 1953, which you have previously signed, is in effect for any, and everything you may know or become aware of, about any of the events of this night. You will not be permitted to retain this Letter.   

                             Signed      John F. Kennedy; President of the United States of America 

           The person who gave me the letter, took it and placed it back in his jacket pocket and said,” Mr. McCurdy I understand that there are several times a shift, when along with the officer assigned to the upper campus you go to the farm cottage so she may take count as you do security checks. It is my request and order that you do that immediately and not concern yourself further with our activity”. He held up a key and said, “I have a Master Key in my possession and I will lock the gate when we leave”! 

          I did as I was told, picked up the woman officer and went to the farm. I hurried back and upon my return my curiosity led me to park near the Greenhouse on the Lower Campus and walk up the hill, I found the vehicles that had come into the institution, parked behind Willebrant Hall where the new, Catholic Chapel was about 60% completed in a newly excavated area under the back of the building  At the rear of the building, a sunken garden also was to be planted just outside of the many windows of the chapel, and although the exterior walls were in place, the altar section had only a tarpaulin covering the raw dirt of the unexcavated portion of the area. I saw a long box handled by men in suits, I saw shovels and I heard what sounded like shoveling, just before I moved away I heard one of the men exclaim, “Ah, Jimmy, me boy, sure and you'll rest easy here in this hallowed ground!"