Surgeon recalls chaos following Kennedy, Connally shootings


Duke says he first thought he was getting a chance to meet the president. But when he got to the emergency room, he realized differently.

Dr. Duke was finishing up his residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas when his life would change forever.

"I heard the chairman of the department of surgery page staff. In those days, we didn't have beepers; it was all overhead pager," he said.

Not knowing what was going on, Dr. Duke and some of his colleagues made their way to the ER.

"I turned a little bit and I saw Mrs. Kennedy sitting there beside the door. Her clothing was badly stained and I shifted into another gear," Dr. Duke said.

Instinctively, Dr. Duke put on his gloves and went in to see if he could help. Immediately he knew president Kennedy was dead.

"I looked at the top of his head and he just had a horrible injury there. It's the kind of thing from which you cannot survive," Dr. Duke said.

In the room across the hall was Governor John Connally. Dr. Duke went to work.

"He had a bad wound. I got that stopped up, I got his breathing correctly," Dr. Duke said.

About that time, the head of thoracic surgery walked in.

He put his arm around my shoulder and said, 'Well Red what do we have here?' And I said, 'Well let me introduce Governor Connally.' He said, 'Good afternoon governor, I'm Dr. Robert Shaw, we are going to operate on you,' and he took off to go get ready," Dr. Duke said.

After a couple hours of surgery, Gov. Connally was in recovery, and Dr. Duke finally made it home for dinner. There, it was his three-year-old daughter who put it all in perspective.

"It was our tradition to have prayer before every meal. Her words were, 'The world is dark and we are very sad.' It's amazing how perceptive a three-year-old can be," Dr. Duke said.

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