Pharos-Tribune

November 22, 2013

JFK's last day: How the tragic event unfolded

By The Associated Press
Pharos-Tribune

---- — It’s just before 8 a.m. Friday, Nov. 22, 1963.

At the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, Secret Service agent Clint Hill was walking toward Room 850, where President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, were staying in a suite that locals had specially decorated. They had lent art treasures — 16 originals by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and others — and hung them on the walls in welcome.

Emerging from the suite, Kennedy called out, “Good morning,” to Hill, whom he knew well as the agent who’d been protecting the first lady for three years.

And it did feel like a good morning, Hill said in an interview. A large, friendly crowd was gathering outside, despite the drizzle, for a speech — Kennedy’s first event of a packed day. Next was a breakfast speech inside the hotel, where another crowd erupted when the first lady entered.

“Everybody was just stunned by her. And of course everybody in the world would later see the pink outfit she was wearing,” recalls Associated Press writer Mike Cochran, who stayed with the couple as they headed to the Fort Worth airport for the hop to Dallas and a motorcade to a planned luncheon speech.

Skies had cleared by the time Air Force One touched down at Dallas’ Love Field, allowing the bubble top to be removed from the dark blue Lincoln that would carry the president through downtown.

It was a few minutes before noon.

Agents riding in the Secret Service vehicle just behind the president scanned the jubilant throngs, which thickened as the motorcade neared downtown. At one point, the cars slowed, then halted for a group of students.

“There was a banner: ‘Mr. President, please stop and shake our hands,’” Hill says. “Whenever that happened, we knew pretty well he was going to stop.”

Nancy White reached out from the crowd. “He shook my hand,” she says, amazement still in her voice.

The motorcade moved on.

Up ahead was Dealey Plaza and a corridor of buildings including the book depository, where Buell Frazier stood on the front steps with co-workers — though not Lee Oswald.

Happy pandemonium greeted the presidential Lincoln, and suddenly Frazier could see Jackie Kennedy.

“She’s as pretty as the pictures,” he remembers calling out to a woman nearby.

And that quickly the motorcade glided by. But then came a sound that Frazier first thought was a police motorcycle backfiring.

Then another pop. And another. Frazier recognized it was gunfire.

Instantly, he says, “People were running and screaming and hollering. Somebody came running by as we were standing there on the steps and she says, ‘They’ve shot the president.’”

In the agents’ car, Hill heard the first shot, sprinted to the Lincoln and scrambled aboard. As he strained to hold on, he saw Mrs. Kennedy climbing onto the rear of the car. He pushed her back to her seat.

Meanwhile, reporters were struggling to grasp the events, then get the news out.

In the Dallas AP office, the phone rang and bureau chief Bob Johnson grabbed it. On the line was staff photographer James W. “Ike” Altgens, who had been recording the Dealey Plaza chaos.

“Bob, the president’s been shot,” he shouted from a pay phone.

“Ike, how do you know?” Johnson demanded.

“I was shooting pictures then and I saw it.”

Johnson typed furiously, folding in Altgens’ details:

“BULLETIN.

“DALLAS — PRESIDENT KENNEDY WAS SHOT TODAY JUST AS HIS MOTORCADE LEFT DOWNTOWN DALLAS. MRS. KENNEDY JUMPED UP AND GRABBED HIM. SHE CRIED: ‘OH, NO!’ THE MOTORCADE SPED ON.”

The Lincoln, with agent Hill spread-eagled over the wounded president, raced to Parkland Hospital.

Because it was lunchtime, many on the Parkland staff were in the cafeteria when calls suddenly blared over the public address system, summoning specialists — “stat.”

Dr. Ronald Jones called the operator to learn why.

“Dr. Jones, the president’s been shot ...,” she said. “They need physicians.” The cafeteria cleared.

Through the open door of the trauma room, Jones saw a stoic Jackie Kennedy, moving from a folding chair placed for her outside the room to standing quietly inside as doctors assessed her husband.

“His eyes were open, they were not moving,” Jones says.

As he located a vein to insert an IV, other physicians worked frantically.

Dr. Malcolm Perry, who’d been at lunch with Jones, was examining the wound in the president’s neck. Perry asked Dr. Robert McClelland to stand at the head of the gurney and hold the retractor.

“As soon as I got into that position,” McClelland recalled recently, “I was shocked ... I said to Dr. Perry, ‘My God, have you seen the back of his head?’ I said, ‘It’s gone.’”

Dr. Kemp Clark, professor of neurosurgery, was standing by a heart monitor at one point, McClelland recalls. Kennedy’s heartbeat had flatlined.

“Dr. Clark said to Dr. Perry — and I remember the exact words — ‘He said, ‘Mac, you can stop now because he’s gone,’” McClelland says.

The trauma room door opened, admitting the Rev. Oscar Huber, who anointed the president’s head with oil and administered Roman Catholic last rites.

When the end came, eyes turned to Jackie Kennedy at her husband’s side. McClelland recalls a kiss. Dr. Kenneth Salyer, who had done external cardiac massage, says, “She sort of laid on his chest ... in a sort of compassionate motion.”