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ER doctor at JFK's assassination tells his story

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ER doctor at JFK's assassination tells his story


Star-Tribune staff writer Sunday, August 14, 2005

Only a small number of eyewitnesses to the JFK assassination are alive today, and even fewer of the team of ER doctors on staff at Parkland Hospital that day are able to tell their stories.

Saturday at the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association Conference at the Holiday Inn in Casper, neurosurgeon Dr. Phil Williams, M.D., spoke of his experiences on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.

"Even though it was 40 years ago, it is still a part of our lives," said Williams, who was on staff at Parkland Hospital that day. A few hands raised when Williams asked who in the crowd of neurosurgeons could remember the exact place they stood when Kennedy was shot.

"The next thing we remember like that in our history is 9/11," Williams said.

In September of 1963, Williams was put in charge of the emergency room at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where only two months later, President Kennedy would be brought to die. Williams had just graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans, returning to his hometown of Dallas for his internship. On Fridays around noon, Williams said he usually went to the ER to tend to the patients, but on that particular Friday, he was at a conference on the third floor above the ER.

A little after noon, Williams and his colleagues heard pages for some of the most important doctors at Parkland, but shrugged them off. A few minutes later, another intern stuck his head through the conference room door and said that President Kennedy and then Gov. John Connally were in the ER with gunshot wounds.

"At that point, his face was white as his coat," Williams said. Williams rushed to the first floor emergency room into what he called "complete pandemonium." The area was swarming with Secret Service men and medical staff.

Williams turned a corner near Trauma Room One, where President Kennedy was in surgery, to find then First Lady Jackie Kennedy standing alone.

"I offered her a chair and got her a folding metal chair. I offered her some water," Williams said. "She was very calm, very composed. She wasn't shouting and she wasn't screaming." Williams recalled that her pink dress was covered in her husband's blood.

Williams watched as his superiors at Parkland Hospital put Kennedy on a respirator, all the while knowing he was fatally wounded.

"People don't think he was alive when he came to the hospital, but he was," Williams said. Williams watched as one of the surgeons exited the trauma room and told Jackie Kennedy that her husband was not going to survive. Williams said she asked that her husband not be taken off of the respirator until he received the last rites, or sacrament of the dead, from a Catholic priest.

Williams does not believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination, but does not expect to ever find out what happened that day.

"I saw him alive and I saw him in a different situation ... I didn't like his politics, but I liked him as a person. They were a beautiful family," Williams said. "There are not many of us who were there ... an eyewitness to history."

Staff writer Carrie May can be reached at (307) 266-0616 or caroline.may@casperstartribune.net.

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