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Baton Rouge native Richard Lipsey recounts witnessing JFK's autopsy on the 60th anniversary of assassination

7 months 3 weeks 4 days ago Wednesday, November 22 2023 Nov 22, 2023 November 22, 2023 9:11 PM November 22, 2023 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - On Nov. 22, 1963, 24-year-old U.S. Army Lt. Richard Lipsey was getting ready for work. 

"I had no idea when I got up in the morning, 60 years ago today, that I'd be witness to probably the most famous autopsy and probably the saddest day of the 20th century," he said.

Lipsey was working under General Philip Wehle at the timethe man in charge of ceremonial duties in Washington including state funerals.

"There's a news flash on the radioPresident Kennedy has been shot, so I run toward General Wehle's house. He comes running out at the same time. He heard the same news report. We both get in the car. We head for the White House"

What follows would be a sleepless and incredible 24 hours for Lipsey.

"A day in history I just got thrown into."

After it was declared that the president died, his body was flown from Dallas to Maryland and now had to be transported to a hospital for the autopsy.

General Wehle gave Lipsey new orders.

"Telling me, 'Richard, you're responsible for that body. You don't leave it under any circumstance and you don't let anybody touch that body except the doctors.' I went with the body to the morgue, got the body out of the hearse, took it in, wheeled in the casket. I helped lift the president's body out and put it on the morgue table. It was a shock to me. I had never seen a dead person, much less picking up the president of the United States to prepare for an autopsy."

As one of a handful of people in the morgue, Lipsey watched doctors take apart the president's body for nearly four hours, but his duty wasn't finished yet.

"We needed to prepare the funeral home. We would be there in a few minutes to help start the process of literally putting President Kennedy's body back together"

Then came another order, this time from the First Lady.

"Jackie had called, told him what she wanted him to be buried in and we had gotten his fresh clothes. I helped dress him, lay him in his coffin and close it. As far as I know I was the last person to touch his body or see the president."

Despite the unimaginable experience that day, Lipsey says his duty took command of his emotions.

"I had a job to do. It was a very responsible job and honestly, I didn't have time to cry or feel anything except deep sorrow."

It would be 15 years until he was legally able to tell this story as he was sworn to secrecy by the US Government. Now, even 60 years on, those 24 hours are still seared in his memory.

"It was a time of great responsibility and I'm just proud that I had a part of it, but it's a day that I wish had not happened and I never had to be there."

                         

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