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Mourners pay last respects to former Texas Gov. John Connally

By MARK LANGFORD

AUSTIN, Texas -- More than 800 people, including former President Richard Nixon, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Lady Bird Johnson, packed an Austin church Thursday for a moving farewell to former Gov. John B. Connally.

In a tribute to his lifelong friend and college companion, Rep. J.J. 'Jake' Pickle, D-Texas, said Connally 'will always be remembered as a hero and a Texas legend, perhaps the most dominate political figure of our time.'

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'We all say farewell to Big John,' Pickle said at Connally's funeral at the First United Methodist Church, where Connally married his wife, Nellie, 52 years ago.

The Rev. Billy Graham, who was with Connally when he died, said Connally 'not only lived a full life, but he left his footprints on the history of our generation. The passing of John Connally...draws attention to all the great values of life which he demonstrated and so eloquently communicated.'

Nixon, who appointed Connally as his treasury secretary, told reporters after the service, 'He was also my top foreign policy adviser...John Connally and I thought alike in foreign policy. He was for peace but he realized without strength you could not have peace.'

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Connally, who served as governor of Texas from 1961 to 1969, died Tuesday at the age of 76 following a month-long battle with pneumonia. He entered Houston's Methodist Hospital May 17 for treatment of pneumonia that was complicated by an infection.

Born Feb. 27, 1917, in Floresville, Texas, Connally rose from humble farm boy roots to become a major figure in business, politics and government for 50 years. He was a political protege of Lyndon Johnson and a central figure in Johnson's campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the presidency.

In her eulogy, Lady Bird Johnson said her family and the Connally family shared in births, deaths, wars, 'even shared the same houses.' She said Connally 'loved Texas. We bid him a loving farewell.'

Connally's son, John B. Connally III, said, 'This is no cold or timid soul that we commit to God today. We know that he still lives within us, and that we will talk again.'

Also attending Connally's funeral were Gov. Ann Richards, former House Speaker Jim Wright, Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, Attorney General Dan Morales and four former Texas governors -- Preston Smith, Dolph Briscoe, Mark White and Bill Clements.

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White told reporters that Connally 'was a governor by whom all other governors will be judged. You're not going to find many the equal of John Connally. He was a good man. He did a lot of good things for this state.'

Connally's funeral was held after hundreds of people paid their last respects as his body lay in state in the Texas House Chamber, flanked by two Texas Rangers and members of his family.

A line of people snaked half-way around the Capitol waiting to pass before Connally's flag-draped casket, which was escorted by a color guard of Texas state troopers, and later moved across the street for the funeral.

Connally was buried at the state cemetery, where the remains of nine other Texas governors, legislators, Texas Rangers, Confederate soldiers and other dignitaries are interred, including the father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin.

Connally's friends and associates dismissed an 11th-hour request for the removal of bullet fragments that allegedly remained in his body from the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, working for the JFK Assassination Information Center in Dallas, said fragments of the so-called magic bullet in Connally's right wrist and left thigh could help determine whether the single- bullet theory of Kennedy's assassination is scientifically possible.

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Connally was wounded in the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of Kennedy in Dallas as he rode in the limousine with the president. The Warren Commission concluded that a single bullet struck Kennedy in the back, exited his throat, then struck Connally, passing through his chest, arm, right wrist and left thigh.

Wecht, a critic of the commission's findings, sent written requests to Attorney General Janet Reno, Gov. Ann Richards, the Dallas County district attorney and the Harris County medical examiner asking that the bullet fragments be removed for study.

Wecht also signed a similar request from the Washington-based Assassination Archives and Research Center to Reno and she referred the request to the Dallas FBI office which Thursday recommended the request be pursued.

Special Agent in Charge Buck Revell said, 'I think it would be very helpful to the American public and to the overall resolution of the Kennedy assassination if we could undertake a procedure to recover that evidence.'

A spokesman for Richards said the governor would not act on any such request, saying the decision would have to made by the Connally family.

Julian Read, a spokesman for the family and a long-time Connally associate, called Wecht an 'opportunistic person.' He said the request 'represents a new level in bad taste at a time of sorrow, a time of tragedy.'

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Read and George Christian, who served as press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson and Connally when he was governor, said they doubted there were any bullet fragments to be removed.

Christian said, 'Nobody around Connally has ever heard of any fragments being left in Connally anywhere.'

Read said, 'As as far as I understand, all the fragments were removed. Let's face it. Unfortunately there's an entire industry that has grown up around the Kennedy assassination, and every year we have a new wave, a new effort to push worn-out theories. It's unfortunate, but it's part of history.'

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