As expected, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy saw a flood of new material published on everything from his personal life and early political career, to the presidency, as well as the assassination itself. This only serves to demonstrate how unquestionably difficult it has become to find anything new to write (or read) about JFK. However, among the many titles released this year, a handful of books have approached the subject with some originality. One of these is We Were There: Revelations from the Dallas Doctors who Attended to JFK on November 22, 1963, by Allen Childs, MD.
Just as historian Robert Dallek provided new insight into Kennedy’s numerous medical issues in An Unfinished Life, and retired Secret Service personnel provided their own accounts of the assassination in both The Kennedy Detail as well as this year’s Five Days in November, Dr. Childs (who was at Parkland Memorial Hospital that day) utilizes Warren Commission testimonies, oral history transcripts from the Sixth Floor Museum, as well as the personal recollections of the medical staff at Parkland to provide a detailed examination of their desperate attempts to save both President Kennedy as well as his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, just two days later.
There is a great deal of information here for both veteran JFK buffs as well as others who may simply be commemorating the anniversary. Some of the highlights include: JFK wearing a back brace and bandage around his lower back and pelvis for support that day; the exit wound at Kennedy’s throat being incidentally obscured by doctors as they performed a tracheotomy; the doctors being so preoccupied with the President’s other wounds, they never turned him over to see the entrance wound on his upper back (later discovered at Bethesda Naval Hospital), as well as the standoff between Dr. Earl Rose (Dallas County Medical Examiner) and Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman over the President’s body and where the autopsy would take place, which caused a break in the all important chain of custody.
Although the writing can at times be a bit dry (they are doctors, after all), We Were There remains a book that clearly adds to our knowledge and understanding of the enormously significant but often overlooked events that immediately followed President Kennedy’s assassination.