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Surgeon Who Tried To Save JFK Reflects On Assassination Anniversary

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Friday marks fifty years since President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, and interest in the anniversary is high.

Memories are flooding back, especially for the last surviving surgeon who tried to save the President’s life.

“There was no way we could treat him that he could be salvaged,” Dr. Robert McClelland tells CBS 11 News. McClelland and two other surgeons were summoned to Parkland’s ER that fateful Friday.

“Pushed the door open and was horrified to see— the first thing I saw there—was President Kennedy lying on his back on a cart with an operating room light shining down on is bloody head.”

They initially found the President with what appeared to be only a bullet wound to the neck… until McClelland checked his head.

“(I said) ‘My God, have you seen the back of his head?’ And they said, ‘No, we came in just ahead of you.’ And I said, ‘Well, the whole back of his head is missing on the back side.’” McClelland continued, “Well, when I saw that injury to the back of his head, it became apparent to all of us, all three of us who were gathered around the President’s head working on him, that this was a fatal injury.”

Still, Kennedy’s heart was working and he was trying to breathe, according to McClelland. “So he was definitely not dead as you could define absolute death, but he certainly had a fatal wound that could not be repaired. Either then or now, for that matter.”

They worked on his neck wound for five minutes…until his electrocardiogram straight-lined. When the President was declared dead, Dr. McClelland said there were so many unauthorized people in the cubicle that he and another doctor were trapped inside, pinned between the President’s cart and the wall…and they became unwilling witnesses to his last rites.

Mrs. Kennedy-—Jackie–joined the priest, and McClelland says showed no emotion once he told her the rites had been performed.

“She then took a ring from her finger, and put it on the President’s finger, and a ring from his finger and put it on her finger,” he said adding that the President’s foot was lying outside the sheet that covered him. “She stood by his foot for just a moment, then leaned over and kissed his bare foot and walked out of the room.”

McClelland has since found himself at odds with official versions of what happened at Dealey Plaza. He says he was troubled immediately with the wounds. While the one to the President’s neck seemed to come from behind and was likely the work of Lee Harvey Oswald, it appeared the fatal shot to the back of the President’s head was an exit wound. And later when he closely examined the classic Abraham Zapruder film, he decided there had to be a second gunman. “That he (Kennedy) was shot from the front, from the picket fence,” adjoining the plaza.

McClelland knows this runs counter to the accepted, lone gunman reports, but he claims we will likely never know just what happened that day.

Ironically, two days later he tried to save the life of accused gunman Lee Harvey Oswald after Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. McClelland feels Oswald’s wound could have been repaired but he repeatedly went into cardiac arrest and finally died.

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