EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the Oct. 16, 2012, edition of the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
It was 49 years ago, but Dr. John Hudnall can recount Nov. 22, 1963, so clearly that he said he can recall the sights and smells of the day.
Hudnall was a resident working at Parkland Hos pital in Dallas when President John F. Kenne dy and Texas Gov. John Connally were admitted into the hospital.
The retired doctor, who began his practice in Tyler in 1968, told his account to the Camp Ford Historical Association’s meeting Monday night to a group of about 15 members.
Hudnall said anytime the president was going to be in a city, the staff designated a hospital in case there was an incident, and a week before the president made his appearance in Dealey Plaza, the Secret Service set up a hotline to Washington in the hospital as a precaution.
Hudnall said the hospital, which he said the staff lovingly called a zoo, saw about 8,000 patients a month at that time, and that day was just like any other.
Hudnall and his friend Dr. Jim Carrico, a surgeon in charge of the emergency room, just got back from lunch when the call came in.
It “said, ‘The president has been shot, and we are bringing him in,’” he said. “Well no one took that terribly serious because being a big city county hospital if there was some celebrity (in town) some (prankster) would call and say they had a car wreck and they are bringing them all in. Well, all of a sudden we heard the sirens, and we knew that was probably true.”
The next thing Hudnall said he remembered was looking down the barrel of two machine guns held by two Secret Service men, who were escorting the president.
“The president was mortally wounded when he came in,” Hudnall said. “There was no saving his life.”
He said Kennedy had a wound in his neck and a large piece of his skull missing, but he immediately was taken to the operating room where Dr. Carrico carefully performed a tracheotomy so the president could breathe. They then gave him drugs to help his adrenal gland work properly in the hopes of stabilizing him.
Connally was taken to the second surgery room with chest and arm wounds.
“His chest wound was causing what is known as a progressive pneumothorax, which meant every time he would take a breath, his lung would collapse a little more,” he said. “And basically his heart was sitting all the way on the right side of his sternum.”
Hudnall said the governor was minutes from death but was saved by doctors. Doctors did everything they could to save the president as well, he said, but they were unsuccessful.
The Secret Service and the Texas Rangers shut the hospital down during the procedures.
“To move from one side of the hospital to the other we had to have identification by one of the administrators,” he said.
Hudnall said the law in Dallas and Dallas County was the hospital had jurisdiction over the autopsy of the president, but he was taken by gunpoint to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
About two hours had passed from the time of the shooting to when Kennedy’s body was taken to the airport, Hudnall said. A chief pathologist at the time, Dr. Vernie Stembridge, objected to the president’s body being taken out of his jurisdiction to Maryland, he said.
“He happened to be one of five or six forensic pathologists in the United States,” Hudnall said. “Had Vernie done the autopsy, there is no question in my mind all these conspiracy theories would have vanished because he didn’t have an ax to grind and he knew what he was doing.”
Hudnall criticized the autopsy performed by Navy pathologists, who he said came to no real conclusions.
Hudnall said conspiracy theories will be conspiracy theories, but among the list is that Kennedy’s body was switched, and there is debate among conspiracy theorists about the number of shooters. He said based on what he saw and his knowledge of guns, he believes there were two shooters that day.
Hudnall said he also caught a glimpse of the vice president and first lady as they left the hospital to go to Love Field, where the two would board Air Force One and Lyndon B. Johnson would take the oath of office.
“I could still see Jackie in that pink suit with blood all over her. That is very vivid, but I can still visualize that. Johnson was the color of that plate,” he said, pointing at a paper plate. “And for Lyndon Johnson to be shook up that, it had to be something.”