Alumnus’ book provides first-person accounting

By Patrick Wascovich

Book cover

Since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, more than 1,600 books about the events, personalities, and various theories surrounding the tragedy have been published.

A new book by UT Southwestern Medical School alumnus Dr. Allen Childs, We Were There: Revelations from the Dallas Doctors Who Attended to JFK on November 22, 1963, takes a fresh perspective by weaving in eyewitness accounts of the medical care provided by UT Southwestern doctors and residents at Parkland Memorial Hospital to the President, Texas Gov. John Connally, and Lee Harvey Oswald. That 48-hour snapshot and its aftermath is given a first-person mosaic voice by Dr. Childs from recollections of almost 50 physicians, interns, residents, and medical school students at what was then Southwestern Medical School.

Dr. Childs, Class of 1966, was galvanized to write the book after being moved personally by the hours of conversation the event still invoked in 2011 at the 45th class reunion on campus. With the help of Wes Norred, Vice President for Student and Alumni Affairs, and Julie Minges in the Alumni Office, he was able to assemble a mailing list and send out a request for additional input.

“After we had had this intense outpouring of emotion, I thought, ‘We’ve got to capture this,’” said Dr. Childs. “Of the 51 people said to have been in and out of the room with him [President Kennedy], at least a third have passed away. We were losing these people at such a rate, it became a do-it-now task.”

It is a compelling tale.

The book, published by Skyhorse and available in stores beginning in November or at, started out as a private collection of memories and became a more ambitious project once the historical value of the material was determined, Dr. Childs said.

“At first I just intended to distribute it among our classmates,” he said. “But when I had about 70 pages, I had lunch with Stuart Eizenstat – a lawyer who served as Chief of Staff under President Bill Clinton – and he read what we had put together. He looked up from the manuscript and said, ‘This should be published as a book.’”

The firsthand accounts – which Publishers Weekly noted “is still a unique addition to the oral history of the tragedy” in a recent preprint review – cover not only the President’s grave condition but also First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who insisted on being admitted into Trauma Room 1 with her husband; the jurisdictional struggle over custody of the President’s body that led to drawn weapons; the Secret Service essentially hijacking a civilian’s car in order to whisk Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to the airport and away from Dallas; the overcrowded conditions of the treatment room; and the drama of deciding to stop the resuscitation efforts.

“I wanted readers to feel the authenticity of the doctors and the heroic efforts they made to save [the President] when it was obvious there would be no saving him – but they tried everything,” Dr. Childs said.

After more than 35 years in practice, Dr. Childs does not take the word “heroic” lightly. But he still marvels at the professionalism of the medical personnel, like resident Dr. James Carrico, first to treat President Kennedy.

“Not many people know this, but Carrico went home with his bloody lab coat on. He showered, changed clothes, came back to the hospital, and operated on someone else that afternoon. Carrico, and everyone else, showed remarkable poise.”

And after history’s eye had turned away, the faculty, doctor trainees, and students of the medical school continued the pursuit of learning and delivering clinical care, Dr. Childs said.

“Fortunately, there was the weekend for some of us. It was horrifying, but the thing I keep remembering about that Monday is people going about their jobs; the old saying, ‘Stay calm and carry on.’ It didn’t disrupt anything because of the discipline taught at a place like Southwestern Medical School.”

About the Author

Dr. Allen Childs
Dr. Allen Childs

After graduating from Southwestern Medical School, Dr. Childs interned at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles and then completed his psychiatry residency at Boston State Hospital and Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. He served as an Army medical officer before starting his private practice in the San Francisco and Santa Rosa communities. In 1981 Dr. Childs returned to Austin, where he also was Chief Medical Officer for the Brown Schools. In 1997 he continued his career at North Texas State Hospital, the maximum security facility in Vernon. Dr. Childs, 72, has published numerous papers on psychiatric treatments and findings in scientific journals.