Nearly 50 years ago, Phyllis Hall recalls seeing something few have ever witnessed: the death of a president.
The Parklands Hospital outpatient department in Dallas was quieter than normal as most of the people she would normally have seen had gone into the city to see the President.
Phyllis Hall was working at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas on November 22, 1963. She wasn’t assigned to the emergency room that day, but says she was there visiting colleagues when President John F. Kennedy was brought in after he had been shot.
Hall says a Secret Service agent guided her into the trauma room, where she began working on the president, failing to find a pulse, and watching First Lady Jackie Kennedy stand in the room watching in shock.
“She was in about the deepest, most profound shock I’ve ever seen in my life,” Hall said. “She didn’t respond to anything. If you’ve seen that picture where Johnson is being sworn in on Air Force 1, that look she has, that’s almost the perfect example of what I saw that whole time.”
Hall and others worked on the president for nearly 45 minutes before a doctor pronounced him dead. One in the room heard his final three heart beats through a stethoscope, she says.
She didn’t initially see the head trauma the president had suffered because of where she was standing and where Mrs. Kennedy had been, but when she did, she and others came to the same conclusion.
“We all knew he was dead, but we were going to make a good try to find some sign of life there to work with,” she said.
After 43 minutes, neurosurgeon Dr Kemp Clark made the decision to stop all further resuscitation.
Phyllis says: “He just looked and said, ‘cut’.
Dr Clark was a very of matter-of-fact doctor, sometimes appearing immune to emotion.
He was the best surgeon a patient could ask for but the worst for sympathy.
As the team moved away from the President’s body, Dr Kemp simply turned on his heels.
Without looking at Mrs Kennedy he said quite abruptly, ‘Madam, your husband is dead’ and he continued on his way out of the room.
I couldn’t help feel for her. She was stood with so many people around her but she looked so alone.
I turned to her and said, ‘I am sorry for your loss’. Her face didn’t alter. She just continued to stare.”
It wasn’t until 9pm that Phyllis finished her shift that day.
When she returned home to her husband, she says she didn’t utter a word to him about what had happened. “It was something for years I just kept inside,” she says.
“As a nurse, it didn’t matter who it was who needed our help, we conducted ourselves equally the same.”
However Phyllis’s part in history did not stop there.
During the next few weeks she was regularly called on to treat Jack Ruby, who killed Lee Harvey Oswald – the man accused of murdering President Kennedy.
She tells how Ruby would intentionally hurt himself to get out of his prison cell.
“He was an attention-seeker,” says Phyllis, who also treated Oswald’s pregnant wife Marina just three weeks before the President’s assassination.
“After shooting Oswald, he couldn’t stand to be held in a cell, so he did what he could to get out.
“One day he was brought in handcuffed to two police officers after he ran head first at his cell’s bars.”
She says the hospital continued to treat him until he died from cancer in 1967.
Phyllis, now 78, refuses to go along with the idea that Oswald acted alone to carry out the assassination.