11.22.2013 12:30 PM

The Irish Catholic King

…he was our king, anyway.  Fifty years, at this exact moment.  So long ago; so very sad, still.

My column on Sunday is about him, and Dallas – where we lived when I was a kid.  Until then, Shikler’s masterwork.  Below, Breslin’s.

‘A Death in Emergency Room One’

New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 24, 1963

By Jimmy Breslin

DALLAS—The call bothered Malcolm Perry. “Dr. Tom Shires, STAT,” the girl’s voice said over the page in the doctor’s cafeteria at Parkland Memorial Hospital. The “STAT” meant emergency. Nobody ever called Tom Shires, the hospital’s chief resident in surgery, for an emergency. And Shires, Perry’s superior, was out of town for the day. Malcolm Perry looked at the salmon croquettes on the plate in front of him. Then he put down his fork and went over to a telephone.

“This is Dr. Perry taking Dr. Shires’ page,” he said.

“President Kennedy has been shot. STAT,” the operator said. “They are bringing him into the emergency room now.”

Perry hung up and walked quickly out of the cafeteria and down a flight of stairs and pushed through a brown door and a nurse pointed to Emergency Room One, and Dr. Perry walked into it. The room is narrow and has gray tiled walls and a cream-colored ceiling. In the middle of it, on an aluminum hospital cart, the president of the United States had been placed on his back and he was dying while a huge lamp glared in his face.

John Kennedy had already been stripped of his jacket, shirt, and T-shirt, and a staff doctor was starting to place a tube called an endotracht down the throat. Oxygen would be forced down the endotracht. Breathing was the first thing to attack. The president was not breathing.

Malcolm Perry unbuttoned his dark blue glen-plaid jacket and threw it onto the floor. He held out his hands while the nurse helped him put on gloves.

The president, Perry thought. He’s bigger than I thought he was.

He noticed the tall, dark-haired girl in the plum dress that had her husband’s blood all over the front of the skirt. She was standing out of the way, over against the gray tile wall. Her face was tearless and it was set, and it was to stay that way because Jacqueline Kennedy, with a terrible discipline, was not going to take her eyes from her husband’s face.

Then Malcolm Perry stepped up to the aluminum hospital cart and took charge of the hopeless job of trying to keep the 35th president of the United States from death. And now, the enormousness came over him.

Here is the most important man in the world, Perry thought.

The chest was not moving. And there was no apparent heartbeat inside. The wound in the throat was small and neat. Blood was running out of it. It was running out too fast. The occipitoparietal, which is a part of the back of the head, had a huge flap. The damage a .25-caliber bullet does as it comes out of a person’s body is unbelievable. Bleeding from the head wound covered the floor.

There was a mediastinal wound in connection with the bullet hole in the throat. This means air and blood were being packed together in the chest. Perry called for a scalpel. He was going to start a tracheotomy, which is opening the throat and inserting a tube into the windpipe. The incision had to be made below the bullet wound.

“Get me Doctors Clark, McCelland, and Baxter right away,” Malcolm Perry said.

Then he started the tracheotomy. There was no anesthesia. John Kennedy could feel nothing now. The wound in the back of the head told Dr. Perry that the president never knew a thing about it when he was shot, either.

While Perry worked on the throat, he said quietly, “Will somebody put a right chest tube in, please.”

The tube was to be inserted so it could suction out the blood and air packed in the chest and prevent the lung from collapsing.

These things he was doing took only small minutes, and other doctors and nurses were in the room and talking and moving, but Perry does not remember them. He saw only the throat and chest, shining under the huge lamp, and when he would look up or move his eyes between motions, he would see this plum dress and the terribly disciplined face standing over against the gray tile wall.

Just as he finished the tracheotomy, Malcolm Perry looked up and Dr. Kemp Clark, chief neurosurgeon in residency at Parkland, came in through the door. Clark was looking at the president of the United States. Then he looked at Malcolm Perry and the look told Malcolm Perry something he already knew. There was no way to save the patient.

“Would you like to leave, ma’am?” Kemp Clark said to Jacqueline Kennedy. “We can make you more comfortable outside.”

Just the lips moved. “No,” Jacqueline Kennedy said.

Now, Malcolm Perry’s long fingers ran over the chest under him and he tried to get a heartbeat, and even the suggestion of breathing, and there was nothing. There was only the still body, pale white in the light, and it kept bleeding, and now Malcolm Perry started to call for things and move his hands quickly because it was all running out.

He began to massage the chest. He had to do something to stimulate the heart. There was not time to open the chest and take the heart in his hands, so he had to massage on the surface. The aluminum cart was high. It was too high. Perry was up on his toes so he could have leverage.

“Will somebody please get me a stool,” he said.

One was placed under him. He sat on it, and for 10 minutes he massaged the chest. Over in the corner of the room, Dr. Kemp Clark kept watching the electrocardiogram for some sign that the massaging was creating action in the president’s heart. There was none. Dr. Clark turned his head from the electrocardiogram.

“It’s too late, Mac,” he said to Malcolm Perry.

The long fingers stopped massaging and they were lifted from the white chest. Perry got off the stool and stepped back.

Dr. M.T. Jenkins, who had been working the oxygen flow, reached down from the head of the aluminum cart. He took the edges of a white sheet in his hands. He pulled the sheet up over the face of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The IBM clock on the wall said it was 1 p.m. The date was November 22, 1963.

Three policemen were moving down the hall outside Emergency Room One now, and they were calling to everybody to get out of the way. But this was not needed, because everybody stepped out of the way automatically when they saw the priest who was behind the police. His name was the Reverend Oscar Huber, a small 70-year-old man who was walking quickly.

Malcolm Perry turned to leave the room as Father Huber came in. Perry remembers seeing the priest go by him. And he remembers his eyes seeing that plum dress and that terribly disciplined face for the last time as he walked out of Emergency Room One and slumped into a chair in the hall.

Everything that was inside that room now belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy and Father Oscar Huber and the things in which they believe.

“I’m sorry. You have my deepest sympathies,” Father Huber said.

“Thank you,” Jacqueline Kennedy said.

Father Huber pulled the white sheet down so he could anoint the forehead of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Jacqueline Kennedy was standing beside the priest, her head bowed, her hands clasped across the front of her plum dress that was stained with blood which came from her husband’s head. Now this old priest held up his right hand and he began the chant that Roman Catholic priests have said over their dead for centuries.

“Si vivis, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis. In nomine Patris et Filio et Spiritus Sancti, amen.”

The prayer said, “If you are living, I absolve you from your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, amen.”

The priest reached into his pocket and took out a small vial of holy oil. He put the oil on his right thumb and made a cross on President Kennedy’s forehead. Then he blessed the body again and started to pray quietly.

“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,” Father Huber said.

“And let perpetual light shine upon him,” Jacqueline Kennedy answered. She did not cry.

Father Huber prayed like this for 15 minutes. And for 15 minutes Jacqueline Kennedy kept praying aloud with him. Her voice did not waver. She did not cry. From the moment a bullet hit her husband in the head and he went down onto his face in the back of the car on the street in Dallas, there was something about this woman that everybody who saw her keeps talking about. She was in shock. But somewhere, down under that shock some place, she seemed to know that there is a way to act when the president of the United States has been assassinated. She was going to act that way, and the fact that the president was her husband only made it more important that she stand and look at him and not cry.

When he was finished praying, Father Huber turned and took her hand. “I am shocked,” he said.

“Thank you for taking care of the president,” Jacqueline Kennedy said.

“I am convinced that his soul had not left his body,” Father Huber said. “This was a valid last sacrament.”

“Thank you,” she said.

Then he left. He had been eating lunch at his rectory at Holy Trinity Church when he heard the news. He had an assistant drive to the hospital immediately. After that, everything happened quickly and he did not feel anything until later. He sat behind his desk in the rectory, and the magnitude of what had happened came over him.

“I’ve been a priest for 32 years,” Father Huber said. “The first time I was present at a death? A long time ago. Back in my home in Perryville, Missouri, I attended a lady who was dying of pneumonia. She was in her own bed. But I remember that. But this. This is different. Oh, it isn’t the blood. You see, I’ve anointed so many. Accident victims. I anointed once a boy who was only in pieces. No, it wasn’t the blood. It was the enormity of it. I’m just starting to realize it now.”

Then Father Huber showed you to the door. He was going to say prayers.

It came the same way to Malcolm Perry. When the day was through, he drove to his home in the Walnut Hills section. When he walked into the house, his daughter, Jolene, 6 and a half, ran up to him. She had papers from school in her hand.

“Look what I did today in school, Daddy,” she said.

She made her father sit down in a chair and look at her schoolwork. The papers were covered with block letters and numbers. Perry looked at them. He thought they were good. He said so, and his daughter chattered happily. Malcolm, his 3-year-old son, ran into the room after him, and Perry started to reach for him.

Then it hit him. He dropped the papers with the block numbers and letters and he did not notice his son.

“I’m tired,” he said to his wife, Jennine. “I’ve never been tired like this in my life.”

Tired is the only way one felt in Dallas yesterday. Tired and confused and wondering why it was that everything looked so different. This was a bright Texas day with a snap to the air, and there were cars on the streets and people on the sidewalks. But everything seemed unreal.

At 10 a.m. we dodged cars and went out and stood in the middle lane of Elm Street, just before the second street light; right where the road goes down and, 20 yards further, starts to turn to go under the overpass. It was right at this spot, right where this long crack ran through the gray Texas asphalt, that the bullets reached President Kennedy’s car.

Right up the little hill, and towering over you, was the building. Once it was dull red brick. But that was a long time ago when it housed the J.W. Deere Plow Company. It has been sandblasted since and now the bricks are a light rust color. The windows on the first three floors are covered by closed venetian blinds, but the windows on the other floors are bare. Bare and dust-streaked and high. Factory-window high. The ugly kind of factory window. Particularly at the corner window on the sixth floor, the one where this Oswald and his scrambled egg of a mind stood with the rifle so he could kill the president.

You stood and memorized the spot. It is just another roadway in a city, but now it joins Ford’s Theatre in the history of this nation.

“R.L. Thornton Freeway. Keep Right,” the sign said. “Stemmons Freeway. Keep Right,” another sign said. You went back between the cars and stood on a grassy hill which overlooks the road. A red convertible turned onto Elm Street and went down the hill. It went past the spot with the crack in the asphalt and then, with every foot it went, you could see that it was getting out of range of the sixth-floor window of this rust-brick building behind you. A couple of yards. That’s all John Kennedy needed on this road Friday.

But he did not get them. So when a little bit after 1 o’clock Friday afternoon the phone rang in the Oneal Funeral Home, 3206 Oak Lawn, Vernon B. Oneal answered.

The voice on the other end spoke quickly. “This is the Secret Service calling from Parkland Hospital,” it said. “Please select the best casket in your house and put it in a general coach and arrange for a police escort and bring it here to the hospital as quickly as you humanly can. It is for the president of the United States. Thank you.”

The voice went off the phone. Oneal called for Ray Gleason, his bookkeeper, and a workman to help him take a solid bronze casket out of the place and load it onto a hearse. It was for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Yesterday, Oneal left his shop early. He said he was too tired to work.

Malcolm Perry was at the hospital. He had on a blue suit and a dark blue striped tie and he sat in a big conference room and looked out the window. He is a tall, reddish-haired 34-year-old, who understands that everything he saw or heard on Friday is a part of history, and he is trying to get down, for the record, everything he knows about the death of the 35th president of the United States.

“I never saw a president before,” he said.


  1. TimL says:

    There was a funny book called Growing Up Catholic, and it had a hierarchy illustration of Heaven with the Kennedys ranked somewhere between Angels and Archangels.

  2. SmallTownON says:

    It continues to be the most gawdamned tragic thing …

  3. Wow! I had goosebumps reading through this piece. The Image is brilliant too. An historic and emotional moment in time. A curious aspect of it is the fact that every person in my life who was adult at the time can remember exactly where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt the moment they heard JFK was shot to death. Like a photograph of what was inside their heads.

  4. Tim O'Grady says:

    Mourn—and then onward, there is no returning
    He guides ye from the tomb;
    His memory now is a tall pillar, burning
    Before us in the gloom!


  5. steve says:

    The fifty year anniversary is full of bull. All the talk is about slaying strawmen conspiricacy theorys. The real focus should be on the remaining facts. Facts this story confirms, the kill shot came from the front, not the Book Depository.

    1) Zapruder film shows Kennedy shot in the forehead, rear skull chunks and him moving backwards. Ergo two shooters.

    2) Magic bullet, copper jacket bullets to not make this journey without a scratch and then fall out of the body.

    3) At the height of the cold war, self described Maxists do not get posted to the most sensitive base in the Military, in the highly secrect Radar task. Then get trained in Russian, and for good measure wander back and forth between the USSR and the USA at the height of the cold war.


    • Swervin' Merv says:

      Not so, Steve-o. The bullets all came from behind. Inform yourself:

      On PBS’s Nova (science) series on Nov. 13: “Cold Case JFK” — Modern state-of-the-art forensic tools can be applied to the investigation of the death of President John F. Kennedy, as though it had happened today.

      And, repeated on CBC’s News Network, Nov. 16: “JFK: The Lost Bullet” — Some high-resolution scanning methods and high-definition computer technology applied to films details the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

      • Sean says:

        Have to agree with “steve”.

        No doubt in my mind there was more than one shooter and it was highly probable that LHO wasn’t even part of it. Folks like “Swervin’ Merv” can reference any documentary they want, but they will easily be presented with 10 more documentaries which conclude the exact opposite.

        Interestingly, the story Warren is referencing would tend to indicate that both kill shots were from the front.

        Who changed the parade route at the last minute? Why was the only change in the route the part where the shooting occurred? Who arranged for the military to stand down along the parade route? To me, these are the obvious flags on the field.

        “Three people can keep a secret… If two are dead.” – Ben Franklin

      • steve says:

        The only fact we have is the Zapruder film. How many times has the truth you see with your own lying eves been overturned by a higher authority. You can hire all the experts in the world to argue round is flat. In the end its right in front of your eyes, truth captured by accident on 8mm. Now imagine how massive the conspiracy, how massive the effort, how skilled and connected the practitioners of dark arts to prove these images moot. Really who gives a hoot if the majority of the people think it was a conspiracy, that and two buck will buy you a coffee.

  6. Michael S says:

    Jimmy Breslin, Studs Terkel, Mordechai Richler. Miss them all. Wouldn’t you love to spend an afternoon in a bar just listening to their stories?

  7. PeggyW says:

    It was a moment in time, perhaps. But what would it be like to feel that kind of hope and optimism in leadership today, and for the future.

    • david ray says:

      I was ten. We lived across the street from Allan Gardens in Toronto. The TV was on. My older sister cried as did my Mother. I cried too. My dad came home. he cried as well. It went on for days. Then the funeral. Little John. The TV was never off. After the funeral my Mother said “nothing will ever be the same.” didn’t understand then but I do now. I don’t believe the conspiracies regarding the Kennedy killing but 911.. way different to these much older eyes.

  8. sm says:

    Imagine if you will, that somehow the shooting took place not with Jackie sitting by his side, but with Marilyn singing happy birthday. The story would have no dignity. In fact, as the years go by and we hear more and more about the Kennedy men, Jackie may have been the only element of dignity at all.

  9. Paul says:

    so sad…will never see this type of aura again….as the vast majority of politicians spend time beating each other up , media search for all the weaknesses – private or otherwise and splash it all over the place , many are disengaged , entitlements have overcome the old do it for your country not for yourself call – everywhere you look special interest groups blame the government for everything but are the first with their hand out to get THEIR share. Governments are broke but many “leaders” cant say the word no….quit ASKING WHAT YOUR cITY, PROVINCE, COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU ….PLEASE

  10. Carole says:

    Thanks you for posting this incredibly moviing piece. I was seven at the time, in grade 2, and I can remember the principal rushing over to speak to our teacher who then told us, in french “Le président Kennedy s’est fait tirer!” This, of course, translates to “President Kennedy has been shot”, by my seven-year old innocent mind took it literally, as in “the president has been stretched”; my innocent seven-year old mind at the time didn’t know what being shot meant, and I just could not comprehend what has happened! But when I arrived home from school that evening, seeing my mother in tears, and then watching TV that evening with my parents, listening to my parents discuss all of this, a part of my innocence was ripped away. So sad, so tragic, and unbelievable that 50 years have gone by.

    Thank you for letting me post this.

  11. Kelly says:

    Quite a few big name assassinations in the 1960s. Someone almost killed Reagan (I remember that one). You have to wonder how many attempts have been made recently that we’ve never heard about, given the kind of craziness out there and mass shootings in schools theatres, army bases, museums, etc. Yet nobody has taken a shot at any other Presidents since Reagan (that we know of.)

    Maybe nobody is challenging the policy status quo enough anymore. That’s probably it.

  12. Sean says:

    This Youtube is about RFK, but it brilliantly captures the impact of both brothers and the era.


  13. Pipes says:

    Toronto Beach-Williamson Rd Public School-Grade 8 gym class, the teacher begins to cry and tells us President Kennedy has been shot. Me being the dumbest kid in the class even knew who he was and his magnificence. I felt it was the end of the world……………I am now 62 and remember it like it was yesterday.

  14. Matt says:

    I sometimes wonder what the USA would be like today if JFK, Robert Kenneny, King and even Malcom X hadn’t been assassinated.

    I know a lot here aren’t fans of the Toronto Sun, but Peter Worthington has written some really good stuff on JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald’s murders.

    Worthington was actually in the garage just steps away from Oswald when Ruby gunned him down. Worthington is even in the pictures.

  15. Matt says:

    Crap. Should be Robert Kennedy.

  16. e.a.f. says:

    Don’t remember anything about the shooting or where I was. I do know exactly where I was when the shoot Oswald. For me, that was much stranger. Having studied some history, by 14, I knew heads of state were killed through out history. The other amazing thing I remember is when Mrs. Kennedy got out of the carriage and started walking across the grave yard, with deGalle following her. It was an amazing scene.

    Kennedy was most likely the first president who benefited from modern election practices, i.e good looking, young, pretty wife, cute kids, the whole package. We didn’t get to see behind the curtain until he had died. Kennedy may have had ideas, but it was Lyndon Johnson who had all the social/civil rights legislation passed. He passed more social legislation during his years in office than all other presidents combined. Kennedy was the dream, Johnson was the real thing. He made the changes. In my opinion Johnson was the great president, not Kennedy.

    • steve says:

      In the end South Africa passed civil rights. Civil rights doomed progressives in the south to this day. Johnson was a pragmatist and the label Democrat or Republican is as useful as saying in BC there is a liberal government elected with Harper storm troopers. The thing that has always bothered me about LBJ was he unabashedly escalated the Vietnam war, but then demurred to stand on that record and retired due to the Vietnam war. People of this century have seen Goodfellas, and the Sopranos, and if Tony told you to step down, you would.

      • steve says:

        The Vietnam war was the bust up of America, its just so hard to identify who reaped the rewards, Maybe the Chicago School and the Calgary School of Economics could get funding from the Manning Institute to investigate.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:


      For what it’s worth, President Johnson felt honour bound to carry out President Kennedy’s Civil Rights agenda.

  17. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    R.I.P. John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

    I am alive thanks to your level-headed thinking.

    We owe you everything.

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