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GOD'S PROVIDENCEIt was sometime around One o'clock, I do not recall the exact time. Having just left Parkland Memorial Hospital, Father Huber and I were on our way back to Holy Trinity. Suddenly I was aware that my right hand was sticking to the steering wheel. Then I realized, just as sudden as the President's death, that I had the blood of a President on my hand. My God.
On arriving at the rectory I went to my room. I looked at my hand and, before I knew it, my hand was clenched in anger. Suddenly I felt a pain like a cramp, and just as suddenly I realized that this was wrong. I remember saying to myself, "Why, you can't even wash the blood off a closed fist." I opened my hand praying, "Lord, never let me close my fist again." I washed my hands and sat down, bewildered.
It was only days later that the events of that fateful day began to come into focus. And I remembered.
I was sitting in the recreation room with the television on waiting for the president to arrive at the Trade Mart for a luncheon and a special speech. Father Stack had gone to the Trade Mart with a late invitation in hand. Father Huber and Father Singleton were downstairs having lunch. Father Discon was upstairs in his room.
Then like a bolt out of the blue, a silent bulletin kept running and reading - "The President has been shot," or words to that effect. I jumped up from an easy chair and hurried downstairs. "The President's been shot!" None believed me. "Well, you can just sit there, I'm going back upstairs, I believe it."
No sooner had I sat down than all of us - except Father Stack, of course, were watching the television. Then came the announcement that the President was being taken to Parkland Hospital. Parkland Hospital is within the confines of our parish. We attend Parkland regularly, but handle emergencies at any time.
Now this particular phase I do not remember too exactly. I do remember standing up and saying, "Somebody's got to go." Then, somehow, there was a general agreement that the pastor should go, Father Huber. I sat down. He passed my chair on his way to his room to get his sick-call set. He wasn't half way down the corridor when I stood up again and announced flatly, "I'm going too. If you see him, tell him I will have the car out. I went down immediately, backed the Ford out of the garage and sat waiting. Presently he came carrying another set of keys. Seeing that I was waiting he returned the keys and off we went. Neither of us talked. What could you say? However, after we had gone four or five blocks, Father Huber inquired, "which way are you going?" I answered, "I have a secret way." Of the three ways of going to Parkland, I always took a winding unpredictable street which brought me out on Harry Hines Boulevard within a half block of the Hospital. We drove on.
Then, suddenly, security like a flashing red light held my attention. Mentally I was trying to figure out how either or both of us would get through, and as I recall, I mentioned it. Then Father Huber volunteered, "Monsignor Brady will take care of this." I countered, "Oh no he won't, we're going to Parkland." (Monsignor Brady takes care of Catholic patients at Baylor Hospital. Baylor Hospital is in the opposite direction from Parkland and from where we live.) Then I remembered that I had my old Navy I.D. Card in my wallet. I took my wallet out and laid it on the seat beside me.
Sure enough, after I had negotiated my way on to Harry Hines and pulled up to make a left-hand turn into the hospital area, an officer on duty was letting no one through. I pulled up and stopped. The officer kept motioning me on back to Harry Hines traffic. I rolled down the window. The officer came up and . . . ."You'll have to move on."
"Look, officer, I am Father Thompson and this is Father Huber, the pastor."
"I'm sorry, Sir."
"Look, officer, the President is in there and he is either dying or dead, one of us has to go." With that I reached to turn off the motor, but then another officer came running full speed to inquire if we were priests. "OK, let them through."
What happened apparently, was that the President's wife had asked for a priest. Presumably this was called into Holy Trinity while we were on our way so that by the time we arrived, in split-second timing, the word had been passed up through all kinds of security to let a priest through. We went through with hardly a moment's delay.
We could not go all the way to the emergency entrance, so we stopped and I suggested to Father Huber that he go ahead. I would park the car and follow. This we did.
When I arrived in the emergency room - I had been there many times before - Father Huber was standing at the President's head reading the prayers for the dying. The President's wife, holding his right hand, was beside the President, standing there immobile as a statue. There was another gentleman standing to the left of the President's wife. I stood just inside the room, up to my neck in bewilderment and arms as heavy as lead. However, I did manage to offer a Sign of the Cross in absolution and one as a Blessing. Then Father Huber began to pray aloud the Lord's Prayer, etc., and all answered in articulate voice, the President's wife seeming to lead us in response.
Time…time is such an elusive thing. I remember we were all ushered out. The President's wife sat on a chair near an empty table just outside the emergency room. She sat as she stood. Father Huber and I retired to a room opposite the President.
From the doorway I noticed that the gloved hands of the President's wife were completely saturated with blood. She was bloody from her waist to her hose. On seeing a passing nurse I asked her to please get a wet towel for the First Lady. I was advised that she did not want one and she concurred by nodding her head. So she sat hand-in-hand getting up only when three or four people well known to her came in to pay their respects. All were shaken visibly except the President's wife. She was stoic.
The things that go through one's mind. I remember, and make no apologies, that for a moment I wished I could just pick her up, carry her away, saying, "This isn't true-it's just a bad dream." She looked so young, so out of place, helpless. At another time, I almost asked her if I couldn't go back to Washington with her, just as a silent companion, but, I didn't.
Why were Father Huber and I staying? Well, we both agreed that since we knew the truth, to leave early, the pressure of the press would overwhelm us. So we waited.
When we agreed to leave, I went to the President's wife, took her hand, and in the best way I could, offered my condolences. I couldn't finish; I came apart - cried, went to an empty room and waited until I had myself collected.
Father Huber and I started home. Leaving the building I heard a radio announcing the death of the President.
As we were about to leave the car in the garage, Father Huber said, "Don't forget your wallet, Jim." "Thanks," and I thought - I didn't need my I.D. Card after all.
Rev. James N. Thompson, C.M.
Holy Trinity Catholic Church