Jacksonville, TX (my hometown) is an interesting place. Although apparently a “normal” East Texas town providing a “normal” lifestyle to “normal” people, it is also home to some truly interesting folks that have had some incredible experiences. For instance, we are the hometown for Lee Ann Womack, Neil McCoy, Margo Martindale, and Eunice Sanborn (once oldest living person in the world). Yet, for me, the most interesting person to call Jacksonville home is Dr. Malcolm Perry.
Malcolm (he insisted that I call him Malcolm instead of my persistent “Dr. Perry”) was the doctor on call at Parkland Hospital when President Kennedy was assassinated. When President Kennedy entered Parkland, Malcolm was the lead of the medical team that tried to save his life. Interestingly, he was also the doctor for Lee Harvey Oswald a week later. Not only did he have a front-row seat to one of the greatest events (and controversies) in American history, he actually was the person who created the controversy by making an incision on President Kennedy’s throat (to create an airway) at the bullet exit wound. His one-of a kind perception of one of the most talked-about stories of American history is simply awesome.
However, I knew Malcolm as an aviation nut. He owned one of the prettiest and most mechanically sound Beechcraft Bonanza’a in the country and based it at KJSO . I got to fly with him many times over the years as I’d administer an ICC or a BFR. I once had a 1942 Stearman biplane in my hangar and Malcolm loved to fly it with me. Everyone loved the Stearman, but Malcolm really loved to go flying in it. In his Bonanza he would fly up to Dallas to visit the hospital at least a couple times per month, and did so right up to the end of his life. He just simply loved to go flying, or if the weather sucked, go hangar flying.
After the Kennedy assassination, Malcolm was inundated by the press. Everywhere he went the media clamored for his perspective. He responded (appropriately I might add) by severely limiting his contact with the press throughout the years. Bottom line…they burned him hard and he was extremely careful with whom he’d share information about the assassination. Rumor has it that he turned down Larry King’s offer for interviews more than anyone else!
I remember two separate times over the years during these hangar talks when I asked him about the Kennedy Assassination. Both times he opened up to me completely and divulged the whole scene in great detail for over 3 hours. I felt completely privileged to have heard the story from an eyewitness. I knew that he did not tell the story to many, and I was on a short list. I think he opened up to me because he knew that there was no chance at all that I’d relate the story to anyone, and because we shared a solid relationship built around airplanes. I treasure those discussions.
Malcolm flew his Bonanza right up to his death. He battled lung cancer heroically and remained in the cockpit for as long as he could. I remember him rebounding back from a major surgery (a partial lungectomy) and fighting to get back into the cockpit. He was a fighter for sure.
I remember Malcolm much more for his being a true gentleman and a great pilot than as the man who pronounced Kennedy dead. The world will remember him otherwise, but that is OK with me. Aviation is really a small fraternity and Malcolm was one of the most interesting pilots I’ve know. I remember him very fondly.