Today (Nov. 22) is the 54th anniversary of US president John F. Kennedy’s assassination. While literally every second of Kennedy’s shooting in a Dallas motorcade has been analyzed in depth, the actions of the staff at Parkland Memorial Hospital who treated Kennedy—and then, two days later, his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald—have received less attention. (Though “less attention” is relative when it comes to this particular episode of history: the 2013 movie Parkland examined the day from the hospital staff’s perspective.)
Atlantic journalist Matt Ford recently posted on Twitter a memo sent to the hospital employees from Dallas County Hospital District administrator C.J. Price. The memo, sent in the days following the assassination, also references Texas governor John Connally, who was riding in the limousine with Kennedy and was seriously wounded in the shooting.
Price’s memo praises a well-prepared, well-trained staff for effectively responding to a sudden crisis of historic proportions. In its review of the momentous events that took place at the hospital in 48 hours, the letter is a reminder of how much an organization’s response to an emergency is shaped in the months and even years of planning that come before it.
The full text of the memo, as transcribed on the website Letters of Note:
DALLAS COUNTY HOSPITAL DISTRICT
November 27, 1963
To: All Employees
At 12:38 p.m., Friday, November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy and Texas’ Governor John Connally were brought to the Emergency Room of Parkland Memorial Hospital after being struck down by the bullets of an assassin.
At 1:07 p.m., Sunday, November 24, 1963, Lee. H. Oswald, accused assassin of the late president, died in an operating room of Parkland Memorial Hospital after being shot by a bystander in the basement of Dallas’ City Hall. In the intervening 48 hours and 31 minutes Parkland Memorial Hospital had:
1. Become the temporary seat of the government of the United States.
2. Become the temporary seat of the government of the State of Texas.
3. Become the site of the death of the 35th President.
4. Become the site of the ascendency of the 36th President.
5. Become site of the death of President Kennedy’s accused assassin.
6. Twice become the center of the attention of the world.
7. Continued to function at close to normal pace as a large charity hospital.
What is it that enables an institution to take in stride such a series of history jolting events? Spirit? Dedication? Preparedness? Certainly, all of these are important, but the underlying factor is people. People whose education and training is sound. People whose judgement is calm and perceptive. People whose actions are deliberate and definitive. Our pride is not that we were swept up by the whirlwind of tragic history, but that when we were, we were not found wanting.
C. J. Price