Aubrey Lee "Al" Rike: Ambulance driver helped Jackie after JFK assassination
11:02 PM CDT on Tuesday, April 27, 2010
By JOE SIMNACHER / The Dallas Morning News
On Nov. 22, 1963, Aubrey Lee "Al" Rike had hoped to get a glimpse of President John F. Kennedy's motorcade.
Instead, the 25-year-old Dallas ambulance driver became an eyewitness to the turmoil at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he would befriend Jacqueline Kennedy, help her transfer her wedding band to her husband's finger, and place the president's body into a bronze casket.
Mr. Rike, 72, died Thursday of a heart attack at LifeCare Hospitals of Plano.
The emotion of that day would forever overcome Mr. Rike when he would tell his story for interviews, speeches or seminars, said his wife, Glenda Rike of Plano.
Few knew of Mr. Rike's amazing story until a researcher located him in 1980, said Gary Mack, curator of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. In September 2001, Mr. Rike told his story for the museum's oral history collection, choking up when he recalled helping Mrs. Kennedy place her wedding band on her husband's finger.
When the ring stopped at the first joint of the president's ring finger, Mr. Rike reached for some lubricant, which helped somewhat but not much.
"And she said, 'Thank you,' and then she reached out and kissed that ring," Mr. Rike said.
Born in Dallas, Mr. Rike was a graduate of Crozier Tech High School.
He served in the Marines before becoming an ambulance driver.
The day of the assassination, Mr. Rike and his partner were called to transport a man to Parkland. He had fainted across from the Texas School Book Depository about 10 minutes before the motorcade was to pass.
While filling out forms at Parkland, Mr. Rike noticed something big was happening. He saw Lyndon B. Johnson and thought the vice president might have had another heart attack.
Next, Texas Gov. John Connally was brought into the emergency area, followed moments later by the president, his head covered with a coat.
Mr. Rike said he spotted Mrs. Kennedy seated on a straight-back metal chair outside the trauma room.
The first lady asked Mr. Rike if he was from Dallas.
"And I said, 'Yes, ma'am,' " he recalled in his oral history. "And you know, it's kind of hard to make a conversation with, you know, the first lady."
Mr. Rike said he wetted a towel in a nearby scrub room and gave it to Mrs. Kennedy. She cleaned blood from her hands and placed the towel under her chair.
Mr. Rike said the area was chaotic, loud and crowded with officials. Out of cigarettes, Mr. Rike got permission to go to a vending machine.
When Mr. Rike returned, Mrs. Kennedy asked if she could have a cigarette, he said.
As Mr. Rike reached into his breast pocket, a Secret Service agent knocked the cigarettes down, scattering them across the floor.
The agent retrieved one of cigarettes and handed it to Mrs. Kennedy and asked Mr. Rike if he had a light.
"So I gave him my Zippo very carefully because I didn't know what he was going to do with that," Mr. Rike said.
Mr. Rike said he waited with Mrs. Kennedy for the casket to arrive.
After the president was given last rites, Mr. Rike and his partner transferred the body to the casket.
Mrs. Kennedy wanted to ride in the back of the hearse with her husband. Mr. Rike folded down the jump seat for Mrs. Kennedy, holding her arm so that she could climb inside the hearse.
"A Secret Service agent grabbed me and threw me against the door," Mr. Rike recalled.
Mrs. Kennedy then said, "Leave the young man alone. This is the only gentleman I've met since I've been here," Mr. Rike recalled.
"And so I said, 'Thank you, ma'am.' "
He then he helped Mrs. Kennedy into the hearse.
"And she said, 'Thank you very much.' "
Mr. Rike went on to a 26-year career with the Highland Park Police Department.
"Aubrey never embellished his story or changed it in any way – ever," Mr. Mack said. "He didn't make a big deal about what he did."
Services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at Turrentine Jackson Morrow Funeral Home in Allen. Visitation will be from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the funeral home.