A portrait of John F. Kennedy wearing a suit and smiling surrounded by a collage of images from the aftermath of the assassination, including a photo of Parkland Memorial Hospital, news clippings, a video filmstrip, an excerpt from the death certificate, the reverse side of a Kennedy half dollar, and the President's signature.
Source images: Cecil Stoughton/​John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston; Dallas Times Herald Collection/​The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza; Ronald Coy Jones; Special Collections Library and Archive/​UT Southwestern Medical Center

Witnesses to History

UT Southwestern alumni remember John F. Kennedy’s assassination

November 22, 1963. Sixty years later, the date still shakes the nation’s collective memory.

President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas was a defining moment in U.S. history. The life of a gifted leader tragically cut short in his prime, taking with it a nascent vision of a promising New Frontier.

As the nation reeled, Parkland Memorial Hospital was ground zero for the response. UT Southwestern Medical Center staff and trainees working at the hospital rushed to operating rooms to feverishly resuscitate a fatally wounded President and save the life of Texas Gov. John Connally.

Lost in the official account are the individual stories of UT Southwestern alumni who experienced history unfurling around them. Decades on, many remain with us, bearing witness to extraordinary events forever etched in memory.

A screenshot of a video showing bystanders crying is overlaid with an image of the back seat of the Presidential limousine where roses are scattered and an excerpt from the death certificate showing the time of injury. Over the collage is a grid of red roses.
Source images: Dallas Times Herald Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza; Thomas M. Atkins, Robert L. Knudsen/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston; Ronald Coy Jones; Special Collections Library and Archive/UT Southwestern Medical Center

Roses and Blood Stains

Jed Rosenthal, M.D. (Medicine ’67), was a freshman medical student returning from lunch at the Phi Chi fraternity house when he heard the news. As he arrived at the hospital, he walked past the 1961 Lincoln Continental limousine that had carried the President and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to Parkland.

Dr. Jed Rosenthal
Jed Rosenthal, M.D. Special Collections Library and Archives/​UT Southwestern Medical Center

“I could see a bouquet of roses, which had been given earlier to Mrs. Kennedy, still intact on the backseat,” said Dr. Rosenthal, a retired cardiologist living in Dallas. “I also clearly remember the blood stains in the car’s interior.”

He vividly recalled crowds of people crying and moaning. Everyone was in a profound state of shock.

“All of us were in such a state of deep sadness and maddened that someone would have done such a thing,” he said.

Throughout his career, he remembered that day at Parkland, and the professionalism with which the physicians and hospital staff performed under pressure.

“Any doctor needs to treat any patient – whether a president or not – with great impartiality,” he said. “Never getting rattled by any situation, however tough that might be.”

Dr. Tim Davis
Tim Davis, M.D. Special Collections Library and Archives/​UT Southwestern Medical Center

Shock and Sadness

That same, sunny day, senior medical student Tim Davis, M.D. (Medicine ’64), was beginning to transfuse a unit of blood to a patient in the original St. Paul Hospital in East Dallas when news of the shooting appeared on the TV in the patient’s room.

“Before I finished,” Dr. Davis said, “it was announced that the President had died. Naturally, my initial reaction to the news was shock and sadness: deep sadness for the country, for the President’s family.”

In the immediate aftermath, Dr. Davis spent a few days in Washington visiting his family before traveling to Philadelphia to interview for potential hospital internships.

“I distinctly remember going into a bank in Philadelphia,” said Dr. Davis, a retired physician and veteran of the U.S. Navy who lives in Flower Mound, Texas. “The bank teller saw ‘Dallas, Texas’ on my check and was angry at me, as though everyone from Dallas might have been emotional co-conspirators in the assassination.”

Photos of Secret Service agents wearing dark suits and sunglassess are repeated across a collage of photos that include a photo of the pink Chanel suit Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing when the President was shot and a photo of a man wearing a dark suit and hat.
Source images: Eamon Kennedy and John Mazziotta, Dallas Times Herald Collection/​The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza; Ronald Coy Jones

Men in Serious Suits

Having just finished lunch, Lannie Hughes, M.D. (Medicine ’66) was strolling into Parkland’s Emergency Department with several friends when he saw the President’s motorcade lurch into the ambulance bay.

“We saw Jackie just feet from us outside the emergency room,” said Dr. Hughes, a retired gastroenterologist in Dallas, recalling the sight of the former First Lady. “I distinctly remember her now historic pink suit with its blood stains. I was all of 22-years old, and I could tell that she was just dazed, in a state of shock.”

Dr. Lannie Hughes
Lannie Hughes, M.D. Special Collections Library and Archives/​UT Southwestern Medical Center
Dr. Linda Hughes
Linda Hughes, M.D. Special Collections Library and Archives/​UT Southwestern Medical Center

Dr. Hughes stood at the windows in the Emergency Department’s hallway for several minutes before men in serious suits, holding what looked to him like Tommy guns, kindly insisted that he and his friends leave.

Linda Loveless Hughes, M.D., (Medicine ’67), married Dr. Lannie Hughes two years after the Kennedy shooting. Today, the retired psychiatrist echoes her husband’s memory that the tragedy motivated both of them to study harder and do as well as possible.

“From that day forward all of us – mostly apolitical in our lives before that day – became much more engaged in politics as we all questioned how and why on earth this could happen.” she said.

A collage of images show stainless steel elevator doors opening onto a long white-tiled hallway at Parkland Memorial Hospital. At the end of the hallway are surgeons wearing surgery gowns and masks. Overlaid on the images are a photo of Texas Gov. John Connally waving from the Presidential limousine, an elevator button pointing up, and an excerpt from the death certificate describing how the injury occurred.
Source images: Dallas Times Herald Collection and Tom C. Dillard Collection, The Dallas Morning News/​The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza; Ronald Coy Jones

Elevator to History

From the Obstetrics emergency room, Kern Wildenthal, M.D., Ph.D. (Medicine ’64), took a nearby elevator up to Parkland’s operating room floor. The doors slid open to reveal a team of doctors wheeling a gurney carrying the severely wounded Gov. Connally. His wife, Nellie, followed closely behind.

Dr. Kern Wildenthal
Kern Wildenthal, M.D., Ph.D. Special Collections Library and Archives/​UT Southwestern Medical Center

“I was asked to help push Governor Connally into the nearby operating room and was then asked to help take care of Mrs. Connally,” said Dr. Wildenthal, President Emeritus and Professor of Medicine Emeritus at UT Southwestern and Consultant with Children’s Medical Center Foundation.

He sat waiting next to Mrs. Connally, who was a close family friend. They learned of the day’s tragic outcome together. Someone approached to tell her President Kennedy had died, and that President Lyndon B. Johnson had left for the airport.

For the physician who would go on to become UT Southwestern’s second President, the events of the day cemented his decision to practice medicine.

“That experience only reinforced that medicine was a career I could be extremely proud of and absolutely want to be part of,” he said.


Fresh off completing a major vascular surgery, then-Surgical Chief Resident Ronald Coy Jones, M.D. (Resident ’64), and a member of his team, Malcolm Perry, M.D. (Medicine ’55, Resident ’62), were eating lunch in the Parkland cafeteria when a strained voice rang out over the hospital’s public address system: “Paging Dr. Tom Shires, stat.”

It was unusual to call the head of surgery. Stranger still to do it with such urgency. Curious, Dr. Jones called the operator, who relayed the news that the President had been shot and was on his way to the hospital. Hearing that physicians were needed, Dr. Jones and Dr. Perry rushed out of the cafeteria, taking the back stairs to the suite of operating rooms in the Emergency Department.

Dr. Ronald Coy Jones
Ronald Coy Jones, M.D. Special Collections Library and Archives/​UT Southwestern Medical Center
Dr. Malcolm Perry
Malcolm Perry, M.D. Special Collections Library and Archives/​UT Southwestern Medical Center

“Inside Trauma Room 1, I could already see Mrs. Kennedy,” Dr. Jones said, recalling the scene. “The President was nearby, on a cart. His eyes were open, but he never spoke. I did notice a small wound in the neck and a large defect in the back of the head. I saw him totally motionless. In fact, I never saw him move at all.”

The 31-year-old physician began performing a cutdown, slicing through the sleeve of the President’s shirt with scissors before surgically inserting an IV into his arm. The 12-by-16-foot operating room filled as hospital staff wheeled a portable electrocardiogram machine past the Secret Service agents standing guard. The EKG of the President’s heart displayed only a flat line.

The team considered opening the President’s chest. W. Kemp Clark, M.D., head of Parkland’s Neurosurgery Division, had positioned himself at the end of the stretcher with a view of the top of the President’s head. He signaled the team to hold off. The massive wound was clearly fatal.

“At that point, Mrs. Kennedy said she didn’t want the president pronounced dead until a priest had arrived,” said Dr. Jones, who testified before a representative of the Warren Commission. “She was almost always with us, only feet away from her husband.”

A photo of a guerney in Trauma Room 1, where the President was attended at Parkland Memorial Hospital is overlaid with a collage of images including a EKG signal turning into a flatline, the memorial swag of white carnations tied with a white satin bow that was hung on the door to Trauma Room 1, and an excerpt from the President's death certificate that shows the time of death.
Source images: Clair Campbell Collection/​The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza; Special Collections Library and Archive/​UT Southwestern Medical Center; Ronald Coy Jones

In the intervening years, Dr. Jones saw innovations in hospital management and services follow in the wake of that historic day. Physicians began performing disaster drills that involved the entire hospital, training for disasters ranging from tornados and plane crashes to assassinations. Later, hospitals were designated according to national standards for trauma center levels, and Dr. Jones was instrumental in helping launch Dallas’ first professional ambulance service.

“The Kennedy assassination sparked much greater interest and growth in trauma medicine,” said Dr. Jones, a retired surgeon and surgical oncologist in Dallas. “And Parkland became nationally recognized as a trauma center.”

Despite the passage of time, Dr. Jones – like many UT Southwestern alumni who experienced the events of that November day – remains incredulous of his role in history. He ponders the odds of being in the city where a President was shot, working at the hospital where he was brought, and ultimately being charged with his care.

“The chances must be infinitesimal,” Dr. Jones said. “What are the odds that it could happen to someone from Harrison, Arkansas? I’m not sure anyone would have believed it.”