DALLAS — The events that took place in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, and in the days that followed are some of the most analyzed and controversial moments in American history. And for those in Dallas who witnessed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, those moments are permanently seared in their minds, and changed their lives forever.
Nurse Phyllis Hall remembers that day as a typical, sunny North Texas Friday morning.
“As I stood there looking at the window something started to come into view here on the right side," she recalled, "and as I turned my head, it was the President's airplane, and I know that because it was close enough, it was within two blocks of the hospital, and I could see the Presidential seal on the side.”
The arrival of Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas on that day, marked the beginning of a flurry of activity for news reporters covering the President’s visit, including reporter Bob Huffaker.
“My assignment was to go to Main and Ackerd and to broadcast the motorcade as KRLD’s last stop, the last reporter on the motorcad," Huffaker explained. “I showed up and was gratified to see that it looked as though the whole city turned up.”
The crowds swelled as the Presidential motorcade made its way through Dallas. Jim Tague was on his way to a lunch date when he became stuck in traffic. He parked his car and looked for the source of the backup.
“As I no more looked at the crowd, here came a car through it with flags on the fenders, then I remembered reading in the papers that President Kennedy was going to be in town today," Tague said.
He eventually found himself at the end of Dealey Plaza, standing on a curb just before the triple underpass.
“I no more than see the President’s car, then a couple seconds later somebody throws a firecracker, I thought. Turns out it was the first shot. Then there’s a pause, then the crack crack of two rifle shots," he recalled. "Something stung me in the face during the two rifle shots. And I’m standing there dumbfounded, trying to figure out what happened, and I’m thinking did someone just fire a shot at the President?”
Dallas Deputy Sheriff Gene Boone was one of the first law enforcement officers outside the motorcade to react.
“There was no mistaking what it was," Sheriff Boone noted. “There were two people laying here on the ground, and as I came around, I said there’s two dead ones to myself, but as I got closer around and closer to them they started to get up.”
Meanwhile, the Presidential motorcade sped towards Parkland hospital, where nurse Phyllis Hall was just wrapping up her duty shift.
“And the doors just exploded open. I didn’t have time to think what was going on,” she recalled.
Hall could just make out the President’s head and chest on a medical cart rushing towards Trauma Room One.
“I didn’t have a stethoscope with me, but I couldn’t feel any pulses,” she said.
As doctors and nurses tended not only to President Kennedy but also Texas Governor John Connolly, a large crowd began to gather outside.
“The dignitaries who had been in the motorcade were just milling around in shock. The conversations were quiet, subdued, uncertain,” Huffaker remembered.
He was outside the emergency room near his vehicle, intently listening to his station's radio updates on the President’s condition -- while frantically trying to gather interviews with eyewitnesses.
As medical workers tried in vain to save the President’s life, Associated Press Reporter Mike Cochran made his way inside the hospital to get an update on the President’s condition.
“And almost the first thing we saw was just a group, almost a wave of nurses coming down the hallway, and crying hysterically. And we knew immediately that the President was dead," he said. "Malcolm Kilduff [Assistant White House Press Secretary] had just announced that the President had died at 1:00 p.m.”
“As the time went on the word obviously spread through the crowd and there were more tears," added Huffaker. "And I would have been crying too if I had leave to do so.”
For many in Texas, November 22, 1963, forever changed their lives. It marked the beginning of a long shadow that was cast over this region of the country for years to come, which city leaders have struggled to change in the 50 years since the assassination.