“I wish we could have done more”

09/07/2013 10:55 PM

11/12/2014 3:03 PM

Margaret Hinchliffe will never forget Nov. 22, 1963.

A nurse at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas that day, she hurried to help when word came that two gunshot victims were about to arrive.

As she rounded a corner, she saw the first victim — a man with a bloody face — being rolled in on a stretcher.

“I saw this man on the cart, blood on him, flowers … near his head,” said Hinchliffe, now 82. “I picked those up and threw them in the trash.”

She went to Trauma Room 1 and did what she would normally do: She helped start an IV and placed an oxygen mask on the patient.

As doctors and other nurses began other IVs, performed a tracheotomy and inserted a catheter, she left the room to get O negative blood, as one of the doctors requested.

That’s when she heard the name of the patient: President John F. Kennedy.

“I almost passed out when I found out who it was,” she told the Star-Telegram in an interview at the Elmcroft Senior Living center in Irving, where she now lives. “I wasn’t expecting that.

“I just couldn’t believe it.”

Hinchliffe’s memories of that fateful day, when Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a Dallas motorcade after an overnight visit to Fort Worth, are among those expected to be revisited Wednesday during “Fort Worth Remembers JFK,” a sold-out program at TCU that is geared toward remembering the president nearly 50 years after his death.

Video clips of area residents sharing their recollections are expected to be shown.

‘Hard to believe’

Hinchliffe said she knew there was nothing left for medical personnel to do when she brought the blood into the trauma room for Kennedy.

“We [had] done all we could do,” she said softly. “I wish we could have done more.”

Minutes later, doctors formally pronounced the president dead.

“For a few moments everyone just stood, not really believing the President was really dead,” she was quoted as saying in a 1963 report prepared by hospital officials.

Soon a priest arrived to administer last rites, and Jacqueline Kennedy, who had been sitting in the hallway near the room, was allowed to see her husband. Doctors and nurses left the room.

After the priest and Mrs. Kennedy stepped out of the room, Hinchliffe and others cleaned the president — washing the blood from his face, draping a clean sheet over his body.

They stayed with him until a casket arrived.

“Mrs. Kennedy entered the room and removed a gold ring from her finger and placed it upon the ring finger of the President’s left hand,” the report stated. “When Mrs. Kennedy had left we placed the President’s body on a plastic sheet in the casket. We all left the room and Mrs. Kennedy entered alone and stayed with the body until it was removed a short time later.”

“It was hard to believe,” Hinchliffe said of that day. “It’s still hard to believe.”

Also hard to believe was the argument that took place in the ER hallway as officials arrived to take the president’s body to Air Force One. The local pathologist tried to stop them, because an autopsy was required.

Earl Rose, then the Dallas County medical examiner, demanded to do the autopsy, saying he was legally required to. But he was overruled by White House officials who were determined to have the official autopsy performed at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

“We almost had a fight out in the hall,” Hinchliffe said. “They was taking him and that was that.”

After the president’s body was removed from the hospital, Hinchliffe said, she and others cleaned the ER for other patients but learned later that the room wouldn’t be used again that day.

Some time later, Hinchliffe said, she learned that she had thrown away the pink pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore that day. It was with the flowers she removed from the president’s stretcher when he was wheeled into the hospital.

Lee Harvey Oswald sighting

Hundreds of people have contacted the Star-Telegram to tell their JFK stories — they heard the president’s last speech, shook the president’s hand, admired Jacqueline Kennedy in her pink suit and hat, or waited somewhere along the route to what was then Carswell Air Force Base for a glimpse of the motorcade. Others saw the president somewhere along the motorcade route in Dallas.

Gary T. Yancy was in Dallas that day, a 21-year-old working in the zoning department at Dallas City Hall, near the motorcade route.

On a coffee break with co-workers that morning, he saw leaflets falling from the top of a building that featured Kennedy’s photo with the words “Wanted for Treason.”

Shortly before noon, he and others gathered outside City Hall to watch the motorcade. When Yancy saw Kennedy, he said, the president was not smiling. “I made the comment, ‘He looks like he is going to his funeral.’”

After that, Yancy and others went inside City Hall for their lunch break and soon heard a voice on the intercom system announcing that Kennedy had been shot. A second announcement soon reported that the president had died.

Most people began leaving, but Yancy said he couldn’t because he had to keep an appointment at City Hall.

During that appointment, “a police cruiser hit the hump at the basement entrance at such a high speed that I thought it would jump through the window,” Yancy said. “We immediately headed for the Police Basement.

“Just as we got there, they were pulling Lee Harvey Oswald out of the cruiser,” said Yancy, now 71, who lives in Arlington. “We watched them take him down the hall and then left.”

Two days later, Oswald, the assassin, was shot to death by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby on live TV.

‘Women crying and men wailing’

Ellis Kirk Gabbert Jr. is among those who saw the president while he was in Fort Worth.

Gabbert was a young letter carrier, covering a route that delivered mail three times a day to downtown businesses.

After finishing the first round, he realized that he had time to stop by the Hotel Texas to listen to the president’s speech.

“I had heard a lot about the charisma that he seemed to have, and I was curious,” said Gabbert, a 72-year-old Fort Worth man who retired after more than 40 years with the Postal Service. “I have to say that everything I had heard was true. His presentation was very inspiring.

“I do not remember a lot of the content of his words, but I do remember how impressed I was with the way he made you feel.”

After the speech, Gabbert continued along the mail route. By 1 p.m., he was on his third delivery of the day.

Suddenly, he said, it seemed as though most radios in downtown Fort Worth were turned on and a popular radio anchor, Porter Randall, was announcing that the president had died.

“Downtown Fort Worth was eerily quiet and the sounds of women crying and men wailing was echoing through the streets,” he said. “I had never experienced anything like it before or since.

“It was difficult to imagine that the lively, vibrant person that I had just witnessed a few hours before was gone.”

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