Doctor remembers the day JFK was shot and brought to his hospital in Dallas
Nov 22, 2013
108 days ago
Dr. Grover Smith was busy at work on the pediatrics floor at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas when he heard the first clues that something was terribly wrong.
"Dr. Tom Shires! Dr. Shires! Dr. Tom Shires, E.R.," the frantic, staccato pages suddenly bellowed over the hospital's PA system. "Dr. Clark! Dr. Kemp Clark, emergency room!"
About the same time, Smith looked out one of the hospital's seventh-floor windows and noticed several cops on motorcycles fast approaching, along with two dark-colored limousines with their tops down. Smith knew President John F. Kennedy was in town and that his motorcade was supposed to go down a different street a few blocks away.
"I thought, 'Oh, they've changed the parade route. That's unusual,'" Smith recalls. "And then immediately, they took a right turn into the drive that led to the emergency room at Parkland."
It would be a few more minutes before Smith would fully understand what had happened: Kennedy had been shot, the Secret Service had whisked him to the hospital, and just a few floors below Smith, doctors were working frantically trying to save the young president's life.
Smith, a Knoxville, Tenn., native and a retired radiologist who lives in Nashville, was an intern at Parkland Memorial on Nov. 22, 1963. He has never publicly told the story of what he witnessed that day. But every year, on the anniversary of the assassination, he is reminded of what he did, what he felt, and what he saw.
Once the presidential motorcade had pulled into the emergency room, Smith, just 25 at the time, went back to work, still not realizing what was happening just a few floors below him. After a few minutes, he decided to go downstairs and get some lunch. He walked to the elevators down the hall and pushed the button.
Nothing happened. Security had already shut the elevators down.
Puzzled, Smith went back to the nurse's station and stood there for a few minutes. Then, he heard the news.
"The word was President Kennedy was in the emergency room," Smith recalls.
Not that the president had been shot. Just that he was in the ER.
Naively, Smith decided he would go to the emergency room and see Kennedy. He walked down seven flights of stairs and tried to get to the emergency room, but it, too, had already been secured.
"By then, there were some crowds gathering outside," Smith said. "I heard just by talking to other people that Kennedy was in the emergency room and had been shot."
Outside the ER, "there were several motorcycle cops there. And just a lot of people milling around. There were a lot of what I now know were Secret Service agents, FBI agents on the scene.
"There were lots of people gathered. A lot of people crying and very emotional. Just sort of a chaotic scene right then."
Smith was standing outside the emergency room, absorbing the frantic action around him, when someone said Kennedy had been declared dead. He watched the departure of Vice President Lyndon Johnson, soon to be formally sworn in as the new president.
"He was in a black car, and as I recall, Lady Bird was with him," Smith said. "They, of course, had police escorts. They drove to the end of the drive and made a left hand turn up to Harry Hines (Boulevard). I just stood there for some time, and a white hearse drove by. That was (carrying) the bronze casket with President Kennedy."
Later that day, Smith watched from the back of the room as Dr. Clark and Dr. Malcolm Perry held a news conference at the hospital to answer reporters' questions about Kennedy's wounds.
"I remember Dan Rather was there," Smith said. "That was my first experience ever with reporters and how chaotic it was, how persistent they were asking questions - and how aggressive they were."
Afterward, Smith returned to work and finished his shift. "Inside the hospital for the rest of the day, things were calmer and quieter than they normally had been," he said. "I think it was just the sorrow, just the grieving for the president."
A couple of weeks later, Smith would again come face to face with the Secret Service when two agents brought the infant daughter of Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, to the hospital for a six-week check-up.
"Her full name was Audrey Marina Rachel Oswald - I remember that from seeing the chart," recalls Smith, who was on duty that day.
The tiny examining room was crowded, so Smith told the Secret Service agents to wait outside. "They said, 'No way. We're not going anywhere,'" Smith recalled. "As a matter of fact, I was the one that got crowded out of the room. I was the junior person. The chief resident and the resident did the test."
During his one-year internship at Parkland, Smith often rotated duties from one department to another. Before the assassination, he had been assigned to a one-month rotation in the emergency room, where he would work 12-hour shifts - from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. Sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning when things had slowed down, he would catch a quick nap by stretching out on the gurney in Trauma
Room One, the same room where doctors would later work in a frantic but futile attempt to save Kennedy's life.
Smith ended up pulling a second rotation in the emergency room a few months after the assassination. But this time, "I would go into Trauma One, lie down on the gurney and could never go to sleep, thinking about this is where President Kennedy died," he said.
In the coming years, some people would question the decision to take Kennedy to Parkland.
"Kennedy could not have been in a better place in the country," he said. "Parkland was a leader in emergency care. ... If he had stood a chance, he would have gotten it in Trauma Room One in Parkland hospital."
(Contact Scripps Howard News Service reporter Michael Collins at email@example.com)