Dr. Red Duke keeps one of those messy offices cluttered with mementoes and souvenirs, all of which seem to come with a story.
On one wall hangs a photograph showing the weathered face of a former patient Duke identifies as the frontier Gandhi of Afghanistan. On another wall hangs an Alaskan hunting guide, a crazy old guy who lives on Kodiak Island. On his desk sits a distasteful heap of brown rubber resembling a pile of human waste, a gag gift from another patient who died on me and I had to start her up again.
But for all the keepsakes scattered around his office, nothing harkens back to the most remarkable day of his remarkable life.
Everyone knew where they were the day they heard it or what they were doing, he remembers. And that's true of anybody of that generation.
The day was November 22, 1963.
President John Kennedy awakened in a Fort Worth hotel, spoke to a crowd on the street and headed for a chamber of commerce breakfast. His visit to the city with his glamorous wife, Jackie, was deemed so important local television stations pre-empted soap operas and game shows to broadcast his public appearances live.
At Parkland Hospital in Dallas, a fourth year surgery resident named Red Duke wasn't paying much attention.
I don't think I was hardly conscious of the fact that the president and his wife were going to be there, he remembers.
Then, at 12:36 pm, a chaotic parade of limousines and motorcycles roared up to Parkland's emergency entrance. Secret Service agents and Texas Rangers helped the severely wounded governor of Texas out of the lead car. The first lady, cradling her husband's head in her lap, asked the agents to leave her alone, telling them that they all knew he was dead. One of the agents threw his coat over the bloody head of the president as a number of stunned lawmen lifted his lifeless body onto a gurney.
Duke was eating lunch when he heard a voice crackling through a public address speaker call for the hospital's chief of surgery stat. Another doctor sitting with Duke grabbed a telephone, asked someone on the other end of the line what was happening, then told Duke to run with him to the emergency room because the president's been shot.
Being a typical country boy, Duke says, I thought, 'Golly, I'm going to get to meet a president.'
Only when he walked into the trauma room did he realize the situation's severity.
I saw these people standing there, he remembers. And I saw Mrs. Kennedy seated by the door. And her clothing was stained. And I realized that this was not a good deal.
The president's blood was already beginning to soak the floor as other doctors feverishly went through the motions of trying to save Kennedy's life.
I right quick recognized that this was a fatal injury, Duke recalls. I have no idea what I said, but they said, 'Well, there's a guy across the hall needs some help.'
Duke rushed past the first lady, crossed the hall into another trauma room and found a man with a severe, gushing chest wound. Oddly enough, he distinctively remembers the burnt orange dress worn by the lovely lady who was clearly the injured man's wife. Only a moment later did he realize his patient was Governor John Connally.
Functioning in this kind of situation, I think we develop the ability to just get focused in on the problem, he says. You don't care who it is or what it is. You just try to identify the problem and do the things that need to be done to achieve your goal.
Duke prepared Connally for surgery, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his boss and mentor, Dr. Robert Shaw. When Shaw arrived, Connally was alert and conscious -- thanks in large measure to the treatment of a young Dr. Red Duke.
He was scheduled to take his wife to the opera that evening, but he didn't make it home for days to come. As the nation endured the dramatic events of that weekend, from the state funeral to the murder of the president's assassin, Duke stayed by Connally's bedside.
Fifty years later, sitting in his cluttered office, he still recalls what he later heard his 3 year-old daughter said the evening of the assassination. It was her turn to deliver the family's dinner prayer.
The words that came out of her mouth was, 'The world is dark and we are very sad.' Duke recalls.
Now he s an 84-year-old man, something of a celebrity around Houston, a professor of surgery at the UT-Health Medical School who founded the Life Flight helicopter ambulance service at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. He s a man who clearly enjoys recounting tales from his long and eventful life. But he doesn t talk very often about the events of that day in Dallas.
It's one story Red Duke doesn't care much to tell.