John F. Kennedy's Autopsy
This particular document is called the "Autopsy Descriptive Sheet," as noted here, or sometimes the "Face Sheet." The pathologists completed this during John F. Kennedy's autopsy and before they wrote the complete autopsy report.
Commander James J. Humes, Commander J. Thornton Boswell and Lieutenant Commander Pierre A. Finck conducted President Kennedy's autopsy at the National Naval Medical Center (now the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) in Bethesda, Maryland. This only happened after a scuffle at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, in which city officials tried to enforce a Texas law that stipulated that the autopsy needed to be performed in the state, was resolved. In its official report, the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination, wrote, "Given a choice between the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., and the Army's Walter Reed Medical Hospital, Mrs. Kennedy chose the hospital in Bethesda for the autopsy because the President had served in the Navy."
The autopsy was done in the evening on the day the president was shot, November 22, 1963. Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base, from Dallas, at 5:58 p.m., and Kennedy's body was transported to the medical center from there.
After the body arrived at the medical center at about 7:35 p.m., the pathologists took photographs and x-rays and began the autopsy around 8 p.m.
Commander Humes and his colleagues finished the autopsy at about 11 p.m. Accompanied by Secret Service, the First Lady waited while her husband's body was then prepped for burial. They left for the White House sometime after 4 a.m.
It is rather curious, but Commander Boswell, who filled in this sheet, left many of the items blank. Perhaps the best explanation for this is that this document served merely as notes, taken in the actual autopsy room. Those details that are not included here do, in fact, appear in the full autopsy report. "There is no rank, there is no name, there is no date. You'd think on an autopsy report you'd want a diagnosis. There is no hair color, weight, eye color. How do we know this is anything you say it is other than the fact that everyone insists that is who it is?," says Brad Meltzer, author of History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time. "In a strange way that's probably the best proof of it, right? Only the president of the United States could get away with this."
President Kennedy had been pronounced dead at 1 p.m. Central time. While there is no diagnosis listed here, the pathologists describe the cause of death as "Gunshot wound, head" in the autopsy report.
In this section, Boswell records the weights of various organs—the right and left lung, kidneys, liver, heart and spleen.
The figures here represent the circumferences, in centimeters, of the cardiac valves.
As Meltzer acknowledges in his new book, the Kennedy family barred the Warren Commission from viewing any of the photographs and x-rays taken during the autopsy. "The Kennedy family did not want the last image of their relative to be a shot with his head blown off. It is completely reasonable. But, you better believe that the American people are going to demand more than that," says Meltzer. This diagram was one of the only visuals of the entry and exit points of the two bullets that struck the president made available to the investigators.
The first bullet to strike the president created a "7 x 4 millimeter oval wound" that was "situated on the upper right posterior thorax just above the upper border of the scapula," according to the autopsy report. The pathologists noted here, as well as in the report, that the entry point was 14 centimeters from the right acromion process and 14 centimeters below the right mastoid process. There are some discrepancies in testimonies given to the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which investigated Kennedy's death in the late 1970s. Some describe this entry as being in his back, in the area marked here, and others claim it was closer to his neck. "There is nothing as far as I know that says anything fishy happened on the autopsy," says Meltzer. "The part that makes America crazy is the Warren Commission wasn't allowed to see this [the wounds in photographs] and more importantly the American people weren't allowed to have it verified."
Commander Boswell's scrawls on the diagram are rather illegible. And from just these illustrations, it is impossible to determine the direction that the bullets passed through the body. "It is one thing to look at a sheet of paper. It is another to look at a body and see that all of the entry wounds are coming from behind and not from the front," says Meltzer. "That is a huge difference to people who are trying to weigh what really happened here." By studying the characteristics of the president's wounds, the pathologists discerned that the first bullet entered the president's upper back and exited his neck and a second bullet penetrated the back of his skull and left the right side of his head. In the actual report, they concluded, "The projectiles were fired from a point behind and somewhat above the level of the deceased."
Boswell describes the entry point of the second bullet, here, as "ragged, slanting" and measuring "15 x 6 mm." On the blood-stained back side of this sheet, he maps the president's head and the damages to it from an aerial view. But, in neither illustration is the precise location of the bullet wound given. Only in the autopsy report does it specify that it was "situated in the posterior scalp approximately 2.5 cm. laterally to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance." The external occipital protuberance is a bony bump at the base of the skull.
The 15-cm-long scar, shown here, was the result of a past back surgery.
The pathologists marked even old, healed scars that Kennedy had on these front- and backward-facing figures. The 8-cm-long scar, shown here on the figure's abdomen, was a McBurney abdominal incision. Kennedy had an appendectomy when he was 13 years old.

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