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Dallas Marks 45th Anniversary of JFK Assassination

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By BJ Austin, KERA News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-794200.mp3

Dallas, TX – One Dallas doctor has waited more than four decades to tell his story about the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade traveled through downtown. Tomorrow is the 45th anniversary of that event. KERA's BJ Austin reports the doctor offered an audience at the Sixth Floor Museum new insight into what went on inside Trauma Room 1 at Parkland Hospital that day.

"It appears as though something has happened in the motorcade route. Something, I repeat, has happened in the motorcade route.

November 22, 1963, Dr. Kenneth Salyer, a resident at Parkland Hospital, was beginning a 36-hour shift, working the neuro-surgery unit. Shortly after noon that day, he became part of history.

"Parkland Hospital has been advised to stand by for a severe gunshot wound.

Young Dr. Salyer's job, in Trauma Room 1, was to try to save the life of the President of the United States. He has not shared his experiences publically until now. He pursued his career ultimately as a plastic surgeon, directing the successful, 34-hour operation to separate conjoined Egyptian twins Ahmed and Mohammed in Dallas in 2003.

Why tell his story now?

Salyer: I had never been in this Museum until a few months ago. I had an international meeting that I hosted. There were doctors from 55 countries, so I hosted it here. And I gave a little talk to them, more private talk. And it was then that I decided they invited me to come back and give this talk, and I said, Sure, why not? After 45 years, let's do it.

Austin: How fresh and strong do the emotions come after 45 years?

Salyer: Well, I'm an emotional guy. I frequently sit down on the floor and cry with the kids I take care of and the families I see. So I think it's still fresh.

Tears fill his eyes on occasion as he recounts that day for his first "audience, "sharing personal observations and experiences new to even the most ardent students of the JFK assassination. Outside recording devices were not allowed as Dr. Salyer told his audience how he worked at the wounded President's right side:

He remembered the lethal damage to the President's head. He started an IV. He removed JFK's large, white back brace. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy stood for a time in the corner of the room, making eye contact three or four times with him as he worked. Then, the President of the United States was pronounced dead. Dr. Salyer looked at the clock. It was 1:03 p.m.

He says moments of reverence and silence followed. He remained at the head of the gurney on the President's right side as a priest and the First Lady approached. Last rites were performed. Then, Dr. Salyer says, Jacqueline Kennedy leaned over the president's chest and performed some sort of personal "ring" ceremony. Then turned and left Trauma Room 1.

He says they all mourned the loss of hope for the country at that time. And he says a new, young president and a new hope played a part in his decision to tell his story after 45 years, to recognize and claim his unintended role in history.

Salyer: I think I've shelved it. My whole approach was my contribution to society as a surgeon and a physician - in doing positive things, in saving peoples' lives. So, that was just something that happened to me. And, it grew with time, I think, to this point. Now is reminiscent of then. The man we have now, and the future leadership is very reminiscent to me, and reminds me of many of the things that JFK reminded me of. It was a moment, a time when we needed a good strong leader. I have high hopes that Barack Obama will fill that need. And so I'm very pleased that we have this person elected. We now, in 45 years, have come a long way.

Send E-mail to BJ Austin

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