©2022 By Legs McNeil

A few years ago, I was driving through Dallas, Texas on my way to Los Angeles, and dropped by the Texas School Book Depository and watched in horror as hordes of tourists kept running into Elm Street to pose for selfies at the exact spot where President John F. Kennedy was shot. There was an “X” permanently marked on Elm Street so the gangs of sightseers knew exactly where to stand. Too often, when a national tragedy occurs in the United States it becomes an event or an argument, rather than the loss of human life.

Unfortunately, the JFK Assassination has become a “conspiracy,” rather than a murder, that will most likely never be solved. Whether you argue the shots came from the grassy knoll, or that Mafia Bosses Carlos Marcello and Sam Trafficante, or Soviet leader Nikta Khrushchev and Cuban Tyrant Fidel Castro were behind the deed, or that the Umbrella Man was really a CIA agent signaling the shooters, the loss of life gets lost in those volumes of conspiracy files.

2023 will be the 60th Anniversary of the JFK Assassination, but before we are drowning in the next tidal wave of conspiracy theories, this November 22nd, 2022, lets go back to Parkland Hospital and witness the murder of a president…

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Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas– 12:38 pm (Central Standard Time)

Nov. 22, 1963 

Dr. Ronald Jones [Surgeon]: I was eating lunch with Dr. Perry and I heard the operator page Dr. Tom Shires, the Chief of Surgery, on two occasions– and the second time I answered the phone and the operator told me that the President had been shot and was being brought to the emergency room.

I turned around and immediately notified Miss Audrey Bell, the operating room supervisor– and Dr. Marion Jenkins, who is the Chief of the Anesthesiology Department– to make any arrangements for immediate surgery.

Dr. M. T.  “Pepper” Jenkins: [Anesthesiologist]: Dr. Jones answered the phone, thinking something bad must be up that they would call the Chief of Surgery. I was sitting near the telephone and Dr. Jones immediately came back by with very anguished look and the color was drained from his face– and he said, “The President has been shot and is on his way to the hospital.”

At the same time, we heard the sirens of the ambulance as they turned into the hospital driveway–and it was obvious that this was the car coming in– because the ambulance sirens usually stop in the street– but these came on clear to the building.

Nurse Diana Bowron: I was passing through major surgery and I heard over the intercom that they needed carts out at the emergency room entrance, so the orderly from the triage desk– he and I took one cart from major surgery and ran down the hall, by the cashier’s desk– there were some men that I assumed were Secret Service—and they encouraged us to run to the door. There was another stretcher being brought forward from the OB—GYN—the Obstetrics and Gynecology section.

Agent Forrest Sorrels [Secret Service]: We went around to the emergency entrance. I jumped out of the car, and I expected to see stretchers there, out waiting, but they were not. So I ran to the entrance door there, and I said, “Hurry up and get those stretchers out!”

Mrs. Nellie Connally [Wife of Gov. Connally]: We arrived at the hospital and sat there what seemed to me like an interminable time—and the thoughts that went through my mind were how long must I sit here with this dying man in my arms while everybody is swarming over the President?

I felt very sure he was dead– and just when I thought I could sit and wait no longer– John just sort of heaved himself up. He did not rise up in the car– he just sort of heaved himself up, and then collapsed down into the seat.

Agent Roy Kellerman [Secret Service]: I immediately got out of the car and yelled to the agents, “Go get us two stretchers on wheels!”

Then I turned right around to the back door of the car and opened it– Mrs. Connally had raised up, and the Governor was lying in her lap, face up. His eyes are open and he is looking at me.

I noticed the two stretchers coming out of the emergency room, and I said to the Governor, “Governor, don’t worry; everything is going to be all right.”

He nodded his head, which convinced me that the man was alive.

Nurse Diana Bowron: We took the stretchers to the left-hand side of the car, and we had to move Governor Connally out first because he was in the front.

Agent Roy Kellerman: I get on one side of Connally, and Special Agent Hill on the other. Somebody was holding his feet, and we removed the Governor and put him on the stretcher and they took him in. Then we helped Mrs. Connally out.

Mrs. Nellie Connally: Someone scooped John up in their arms and put him on a stretcher– and then they took him off immediately to the emergency room– and they ran down the hall with the stretcher– and I just ran along with them.

Agent Roy Kellerman: Our next move was to get Mrs. Kennedy off from the seat– which was a little difficult…

Lady Bird Johnson [Wife of President Lyndon Johnson]: As we ground to a halt– Secret Service men began to pull, lead, guide, and hustle us out. I cast one last look over my shoulder and saw, in the President’s car, a bundle of pink– just like a drift of blossoms– lying on the back seat. It was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the President’s body.

Senator Ralph Yarborough: I walked up to the car where Mrs. Kennedy was still on the back seat, lying there with her head bowed over, covering her husband’s head, his blood running down her leg and, on her clothes– saying, “They’ve murdered my husband! They’ve murdered my husband!” It was the most tragic sight of my life.

Agent Clint Hill [Secret Service]: Mrs. Kennedy was holding on to the President, his head still in her lap. “Mrs. Kennedy,” I said, “Please let us help the President…”

She would not let go.

That’s the one thing that I can’t get out of my mind– the picture of him lying in her lap– with his head exposed to me– just looking into the back of his head—into his brain– his eyes fixed—blood and brains and bone fragments all over the car.

The right rear portion of the President’s head was missing– it was lying in the rear seat of the car.

Mrs. Kennedy was completely covered with blood– there was so much blood you could not tell if there had been any other wound or not—and the problem was– she didn’t want anyone to see him, because it was a very gory situation– so I removed my coat and covered the President’s head and upper chest—and then she let go.

Nurse Diana Bowron: There was a coat thrown across the top of the President, not completely covering his face—and I helped to lift his head– and Mrs. Kennedy pushed me away and lifted his head herself onto the cart.

Agent Roy Kellerman: Mr. Hill removed his coat and laid it over the President’s face and shoulder to eliminate any gruesome pictures. And then he and I, along with two other people I didn’t know– lifted up the President and put him on a stretcher.

Nurse Diana Bowron: I got hold of a stretcher and kept it steady while they lifted the President’s body onto it– then I helped pull the front end of it into the emergency room.

Mrs. Kennedy was walking beside the stretcher and the roses that she had been given at the airport– were lying on top of the President– and her hat was also lying on top of the President as he was brought into Trauma Room One.

Agent Roy Kellerman: We pushed the stretcher inside– the medical people just seemed to form right there– and I walked around the President and wanted to look at his face—but I did not see any wounds on his face. So I left the emergency room, but Mrs. Kennedy was still in there.

Dr. Charles Carrico [Surgeon]: I was the first doctor to reach President Kennedy on his arrival at Parkland Hospital. Mrs. Kennedy was there–.and there were some men in the room, who I assumed were Secret Service men; I don’t know.

President Kennedy was lying on a carriage; his respirations were slow, spasmodic, described as agonal. What I mean by “agonal” is that respirations seen in one who has lost the normal coordinated central control of respiration– these are spasmodic– and usually reflect a terminal patient. The President’s color– he was an ashen, bluish, grey, cyanotic, he was making no spontaneous movements– I mean, no voluntary movements at all.

We opened his shirt and coat and tie and observed a small wound in the anterior lower third of the neck, listened very briefly, heard a few cardiac beats, felt the President’s back, and detected no large or sucking chest wounds, and then proceeded to the examination of his head.

Agent Clint Hill: The emergency room was so small and there were so many people in there– that I decided I had better leave and let the doctors take care of the situation. And Mrs. Kennedy was convinced to wait outside too.

Police Sgt. Robert Dugger: I got Mrs. Kennedy a folding chair and she asked me if I had a cigarette and I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t smoke.”

She said, “I haves some cigarettes in my purse, will you get them for me?”

One of the Secret Service guys came over and said, “Get your hand out of Mrs. Kennedy’s bag!” She put him down pretty quick. Meanwhile, the whole hospital staff was coming to stare at her, so I asked the nurse to put paper over the window.

Ken O’Donnell: Then I went into the room. There were four or five doctors there.

And I said, “I think we better get a definite answer one way or another–is there any hope at all?” I was unable to get a conclusive answer– but I think I got the answer I needed.

Then I went to see the Vice President– he was in a room across the hall– he over more or less in the corner with a screen. He was standing on the right, Mrs. Johnson, I believe, was sitting—and the Secret Service Agent was standing at the door.

I told the Vice President it looked very, very serious, and in my opinion that it was probably fatal. I hadn’t been able to get a totally definite answer, but that I would let him know as soon as it was definite—but it looked pretty black.

Dr. Charles Carrico: The President’s pupils were inspected and seemed to be bilaterally dilated and fixed. No pulse was present– and because of the inadequate respirations and the apparent airway injury– a cuffed endotracheal tube was inserted past this injury, the cuff inflated, and the tube was connected to a respirator to assist the inadequate respiration. At about this point the nurse reported that no blood pressure was obtained.

Nurse Margaret Henchliffe: Besides the head wound, there was just a little hole in the middle of President Kennedy’s neck. It was about as big around as the end of my little finger. I have had a lot of experience with bullet holes—and an entrance bullet hole is what it looked like to me. I don’t remember seeing an exit bullet hole that looked like that– we take care of a lot of bullet wounds down there— I don’t know how many a year.

Dr. Malcolm Perry: At the time I entered the door, Dr. Carrico was attending the President– he was attaching the Bennett apparatus to an endotracheal tube in place to assist his respiration. The President was lying supine on the carriage, underneath the overhead lamp. His shirt, coat, had been removed. There was a sheet over his lower extremities and the lower portion of his trunk.

He was unresponsive– there was no evidence of voluntary motion. His eyes were open, deviated up and outward– and the pupils were dilated and fixed. I did not detect a heartbeat and was told there was no blood pressure obtainable.

The President was, however, having ineffective spasmodic respiratory efforts– short, rather jerky contractions of his chest and diaphragm, pulling for air—he was attempting to breathe.

Nurse Margaret Henchliffe: I saw him breathe a couple of times and that was all.

Agent Clint Hill: A medic came into the room from President Kennedy’s section and he asks if anybody knows the blood type of President Kennedy. We all carry it. I produce mine, and that is what I believe they used; I am not sure.

William Manchester [from The Day Kennedy Was Shot]: [Mrs. Kennedy] said, “I’m going in there.”

Special Agent William Greer: Mrs. Kennedy was outside the door– and then she insisted on coming into the Trauma Room again.

William Manchester [from The Day Kennedy Was Shot]: Nurse Doris Nelson heard Mrs. Kennedy and barred the way. Doris said sharply, “You can’t come in here.”

Unintimidated, Jackie said, “I’m coming in, and I’m staying.”

She pushed. Doris, much stronger, pushed back.

Now, struggling much harder, she whispered fiercely to Doris Nelson, “I’m going to get in that room.”

It seemed unlikely. Mrs. Kennedy was much frailer than the nurse, but the commotion attracted Admiral Burkley, the President’s personal physician. He came over.

“Mrs. Kennedy, you need a sedative,” he said shakily.

“I want to be there when he dies.”

Nurse Doris Nelson: I asked Mrs. Kennedy if she had rather wait out in the hallway rather than in the room where they were treating the President– and I was told by a Secret Service agent that she may stay in there if she wished…

Dr. M. T.  “Pepper” Jenkins: I was standing with the front of my jacket against the head wound, an alignment that put me in the best position to carry out artificial ventilation. I was getting gushes of blood down my jacket and into my shoes. Jackie Kennedy was circling the room, walking behind my back. The Secret Service could not keep her out of the room. She looked shell-shocked. As she circled and circled, I noticed her hands were cupped in front of her, as if she were cradling something. As she passed by, she nudged me with an elbow and handed me what she had been nursing in her hands—a large chunk of her husband’s brain tissue.

I quickly handed it to a nurse.

Agent Clint Hill: I walked outside; asked for the nearest telephone– and walked to the nearest telephone. About that time Special Agent in Charge Kellerman came outside and said, “Get the White House.”

I asked Special Agent Lawson for the local number in Dallas of the White House switchboard, which he gave to me. I called the switchboard in Dallas; asked for the line to be open to Washington, and remain open continuously. And then I asked for Special Agent in Charge Behn’s office—at this time, Mr. Kellerman took the telephone.

Agent Roy Kellerman: I got the Washington operator and identified myself, and I said, “Give me Mr. Behn.” Mr. Behn was in the office at the time, and I said, “Gerry, we have had an incident here in Dallas. The President and the Governor have been shot. We are in the emergency room of the Parkland Memorial Hospital. Mark down the time.” I said it is 12:38, which would be 1:38 Washington time.

Ken O’Donnell: As I said, I had seen the shots so clearly; I had a pretty clear view. So the first thing I had done, I asked them to get a priest, which they did immediately.

Father Oscar Huber [Dallas Holy Trinity Pastor/ John F. Kennedy Library]: I had just finished my lunch when Father Thompson, one of my assistants, came from the recreation hall, where he had been watching TV, and said that the President had been assassinated. I went up to the TV myself and heard the announcements, and then, shortly after that, we went to Parkland Hospital because Parkland is in my parish. Upon arriving there, we had no difficulty in getting in.

Dr. Thomas Jenkins: When we saw the two priests who arrived in the corridor outside the emergency room where this was taking place, I went to the door and asked one of those after turning over my ventilation, my respiration job to another one of my department– and asked him what is the proper time to declare one dead.

Father Oscar Huber [John F. Kennedy Library]: I was taken to the emergency room where I found the President lying on an emergency table; he was covered with a sheet. I walked past Mrs. Kennedy, who was standing beside him and I immediately gave him conditional absolution and conditional extreme unction.

Dr. Thomas Jenkins: …I am not a Catholic and I was not sure of the time for the last rites. As I remember now, he said, “The time that the soul leaves the body–is not at exactly the time that medical testimony might say that death was declared.” There would be a period of time and so if we wished to declare him dead at that time, they would still have the final rites.

Father Oscar Huber [John F. Kennedy Library]: We know that there is such a thing as apparent death, which means person certainly seems to be dead; but real death comes when the soul actually leaves the body. We are told, and according to medical science, an apparent death precedes actual death. A person dying after a long illness may be anointed within half an hour after he has drawn his last breath. Anointing may be done as long as two or three hours after a sudden death. This was certainly the case with the President. He was a healthy man. He was assassinated. I anointed him conditionally and gave him conditional absolution in less than a half hour after he was shot.

Dr. William Clark: There was transient electrical activity of the President’s heart of an undefined type—but the external cardiac massage became ineffectual and no pulsations could be felt. So it was decided to pronounce the President dead.

I told Mrs. Kennedy, the President’s wife, of his death.

She told me that she knew it– and thanked me for our efforts.

Father Oscar Huber [John F. Kennedy Library]: Shortly after this, I left the emergency room. The President’s wife, Mrs. Kennedy, left the room also. I spoke to her outside the emergency room and expressed my sympathy and that of my parishioners to her.

Father Thompson and I remained there for some time I don’t know just how long and then returned home.

Dr. William Clark: I filled out the death certificate at the request of Dr. George Burkley– the President’s physician at the White House—I signed the death certificate as a registered physician in the State of Texas– and gave this to him to accompany the body to Washington.

Nurse Diana Bowron: We wrapped some extra sheets around his head so it wouldn’t look so bad– so that Mrs. Kennedy could have a look before he was moved into the coffin. There were some sheets on the floor so that nobody would step in the blood. Those were put down during all the work that was going on so the doctors wouldn’t slip.

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All interviews from “The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy,” known unofficially as the Warren Commission, except where noted.

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©2021-2022 by Legs McNeil (Based on the techniques developed by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain)

Too long has the Oral History format been thought of as the bastard child of literature; assumed to be a “cut and paste” job for hack writers looking to make an easy buck. In other words, the bottom of the prose barrel. But when the art of the narrative oral history is mastered, it can transform the written spoken word by primary subjects—people who were in the room when the event occurred—into actually experiencing the event being described, with all the human emotion, even more so than the traditional omnipotent narrator.

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