Patrick J. Sauer
9 min readJun 5, 2023

--

SLAINTE, BOSSMAN

By Patrick Sauer

(This piece originally ran on 6/13/23 at the late great NSFWCorp. Sadly, since publication, all Sauer mentioned within have died.)

On June 5, 1968, at 12:15 a.m. — 45 years ago this week — Robert Kennedy was shot three times at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. He was taken a couple of miles to Central Receiving Hospital, one of a dozen or so trauma centers set up to aid police and firefighters. Here’s the Newsweek description of the scene after Kennedy was laid down in Emergency Room №2:

Nurses cut his clothes off to prepare him for a heart-lung resuscitator. His eyes were fixed and staring. He was nearly pulseless. His blood pressure was perilously close to zero. Blood poured from his head wound. His heart was faint. “The bullet hit the switchboard,” said Dr. V. F. Bazilauskas, the first physician to see him. A priest appeared and intoned the last rites. Bazilauskas was all but ready to pronounce Kennedy dead…But he fell to work, ordering more oxygen, running an “airway” tube down Kennedy’s throat, massaging his chest for ten minutes to help his heart. He slapped Kennedy’s face, calling to him, “Bob, Bob, can you hear us?” Ethel begged him to stop, but he kept on. The medical team gave Kennedy adrenalin, albumin and Dextran — a temporary blood substitute. And finally he started to respond. His blood pressure soared to 150 over 90, his heart beat stronger, his breath came in little gasps. Bazilauskas turned to Ethel, feeling bad at having frightened her earlier. “So I thought of a little kindness I could do,” he said afterward. “When we started to get a good heartbeat, I let her put the stethoscope to her ears. She listened, and like a mother hearing a baby’s first heartbeat, she was overjoyed.”… The doctors used the resuscitator briefly, then — as Kennedy’s life signs continued to pick up — switched him back to oxygen. But Central Receiving has neither blood plasma nor X-ray equipment, and they had no choice to send him on to “Good Sam” — the Hospital of the Good Samaritan — four blocks away.”

On the night of Robert Kennedy’s murder, the assistant superintendent of the LA Receiving Hospital was my grandfather, Dr. Kearney Sauer. As RFK was being taken to Good Samaritan, my grandfather marched into the chaotic scene to help restore order in any way he could. It was madness. An angry mass of people were demanding to see Kennedy, other victims of Sirhan Sirhan needed attending to, and there were hordes of campaign workers, media folk, and hangers-on in the sad volatile mix. Incredibly, my grandfather took notes as the evening went along, which he then sent to his only son in the medical profession, my dad, Dr. Patrick Sauer.

“My dad was an adventurous person, as I guess you discovered from the article you dug up,” says Dr. Patrick Sauer. He was referring to the Feb. 17, 1930 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel. Grandfather Sauer, “a senior flight surgeon in the U.S. Army Air Corps,” who was also a “medical representative of the department of commerce, medical division,” hopped on an airmail plane and tried to fly through snowstorms to be with my great-grandfather, Dr. Frederick Sauer, as he lay dying. Weather kept him from reaching Milwaukee in time, but he did make the funeral. His mother, however, Emma Sauer, was back in Los Angeles. She had taken ill on a trip to see her son, and he ended up operating on her. (Hard to imagine that doesn’t violate every modern medical health code). As bad luck would have it, her recuperation kept her from her husband’s deathbed.

This wasn’t the last time Grandpa Sauer would find his name in print. He became something of a media gadfly, appearing in newspapers and magazines talking on a wide variety of topics. My personal highlight is in a 1942 Time magazine article in which he’s the expert on how to make a DIY gas mask. “An even simpler mask is advocated by Dr. Kearney Sauer of the Los Angeles Citizens’ Defense Corps: two twelve-inch squares of bed sheeting with a quarter-inch layer of baking soda between, held in even distribution by crisscross stitching. Dampened and held firmly over the face, this napkin will give temporary protection against any gas, according to Dr. Sauer but not the Army.”

Back in those days, Los Angeles was a much smaller town, and Grandpa Sauer had a remarkable Zelig-like — or more accurately in this case to say a Rosey Grier-like — ability to cross paths with the town’s rich, famous, and notorious. In 1949, Grandpa Sauer treated future Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander for a “mild tumor.” (“Old Pete” was an epileptic and an alcoholic, so big handful of salt.) The Los Angeles Times reported that, “Dr. Kearney Sauer found himself talking more about baseball than about Pete’s ailment…‘I told Alexander that more than once I watched him pitch for the Cards in 1926.’” (I never even knew Grandpa had gone to St. Louis University for medical school, just like Pops.) He was also some sort of “drug consultant” (my Dad’s words) for Dragnet, and close friends with Jack Webb. It wasn’t just fake cops-and-robbers with my grandfather though. He was in a photo (in either Confidential or Police Digest, brothers’ recollections conflict) standing beside infamous local gangster Mickey Cohen as he threw coffee in the shutterbug’s face. Story goes, my grandfather had just put 142 stitches into one of Cohen’s guys. He probably got a kick out of it, because my dad said Grandpa Sauer had a fondness for tales of the underworld. He frequently served as an amateur tour guide to whoever was listening, pointing out all the seedy underbelly hotspots where various members of the Los Angeles criminal world, and presumably a few random citizens, were gunned down.

Grandpa Sauer was an important figure in his adopted town, watching as it exploded into the massive sprawl we know and hate today. When he arrived in 1927, Los Angeles County had just under two million residents, by the time he died it was over seven million, and today it’s nearly ten million. Grandpa was a distinguished member of the community, so much so, that the city of Los Angeles gave my grandfather a proclamation allowing him to continue as superintendent past the mandatory retirement age of 70. He lasted two more years. “The physician who told him he had three months to live died three months later and dad went on for 17 years,” says Dr. Patrick Sauer. “He always found that humorous.”

*****

“I remember there was a mob of African-Americans banging on the windows,” says Michael Sauer, a retired Los Angeles judge. “We thought they were going to shatter all the glass. The police kept saying that Bobby had been taken to Good Samaritan, but they could see the four other people Sirhan had shot on gurneys in the lobby, so they didn’t believe the police.”

(Celebrity aficionados may recognize Michael Sauer as the American hero who sent Paris Hilton to jail. His brave act landed his daughter and two of his nephews in the New York Daily News, gave birth to his own Urban Dictionary reference, and led to his great line, “I handled Sam Peckinpah’s DUI back in the 60s, and nobody even cared.” Supreme Court junkies might recall him as being on the wrong side of Cohen “Fuck the Draft” v. California.)

Uncle Mike continues, “He took care of all kinds of people. I remember meeting Mike Wayne, John Wayne’s son-in-law, and he said, ‘Your dad fixed my arm at Hollywood Receiving.’ I never heard that, but that’s who dad was. He never divulged stuff. When it came to medicine, what you see here, what you say here, it stays here. That was his thing, he didn’t talk about famous people he took care of.”

It’s starting to make sense as to why the letter that follows hasn’t seen the light of day until now. I’ve kept the letter as close to its original verbatim state as possible, but some names were misspelled, and some abbreviations needed further explanation. (Note that gsw = gunshot wound.) I’ve given it a bit of the David Foster Wallace treatment — the italic comments are my own — but it stands on its own. It may not be the Zapruder film of stuff scratched onto a legal pad, but the fact that Grandpa Sauer took the time to jot down firsthand notes for my dad, physician-to-physician/father-to-son, makes it as important a historical document as this non-Hippocratic grandson will ever need.

*****

6–5–68

Dear Pat,

I have developed a big muscular left arm from lifting the telephone; call from London waiting re: the names of those shot at the same time as Robert Kennedy. Elizabeth Evans 43y (gsw forehead not serious); Ira Goldstein 19y gsw left thigh; Robert Kennedy gsw rt mastoid & left shoulder. Ext cardiac massage, IV Dextran, airway, HL machine, blood sample for matching — vital signs improve 0/0 to 150/90 12:45 a.m., adrenalin 1.0 IM, 02 sent to Good Samaritan. Dr Cuneo (neursurg) altered-tracheostomy. Went into surgery (after leaving fairly stable) about 3:00 a.m. Dr. Holt from here went with Mrs. Kennedy and patient to Good Sam. He did a good job (just finished his Surg Board Exam).

[Bobby Kennedy officially died 1:44 a.m., June 6, 26-hours after the shooting. Considering it was 1968, RFK had a massive head wound, and his blood pressure was zero, the doctors at Central Receiving performed a miracle.]

We got the call from ambulance at 12:17 a.m., he {RFK} was logged in at 12:30 a.m. You remember Jack Howard, a classmate of (Loyola Law)? He was with Bob when he was shot. I have just talked to London, the second time; if you are over there you’ll hear me on the BBC. A Paris (France, not Iowa) correspondent just left, so you can read my stuff in Le Matin. William Weisel 30y gsw left abdomen sent to Kaiser Hospital, TV Director for ABC {News} from Washington DC.(Footnote *4) 12:20 p.m. Radio just said chances are pretty slim.

[I searched all the BBC archives I could find to no avail. Also, I think Grandpa Sauer meant Le Monde, as Le Matin ceased publication in 1944. Again, I couldn’t find an original document.]

[William Weisel would return to covering politics for another 12 years, but it was too much. He retired from the news business and opened two Sonoma wine country bed-and-breakfasts, which he still runs today.]

A helicopter just landed on our parking lot with Dr. Poppen (brought out here in Air Force Jet, courtesy of HHH) (Footnote 5*) and to get here form the airport-then radio the car to Good Sam. Irvin Stroll 17y gsw left shin (left with his mother), George Flores 19y Hysteria over the shooting — always one around. (Footnote *6) Paul Schrade, 43y gsw vertex (superficial) Kaiser Hospital. I got here about 1:00 a.m. Kennedy had gone but others were here — a big free for all developed…

[HHH would be Vice-President Hubert Horatio Humphrey.]

[My favorite thing throughout the entire letter is that Grandpa Sauer makes a handful of solid jokes. A dry sense of humor will get you through any crisis. As for poor George Flores, he’s apparently someone who we (and presumably grandpa) know nothing about. He wasn’t a victim of Sirhan, so was he a victim of someone else… Or is he in hysterics about the RFK shooting, which seems legit under the circumstances to a degree, but also then why is he there? Or, more precisely, why does he warrant a mention? Strictly for freaking out? And how do we know his name in the first place? Did Grandpa ask him to calm down, then thought he’d poke a little fun at some random hopped-up dude?…So many questions, so little we shall ever know about poor old can’t-keep-his-shit-together George Flores.]

…out in front when the restless natives stormed the place intent on trying to locate the almost assassin; but he was not here. Rosey Grier and Rafer Johnson swooped him up in the Ambassador kitchen. Mike drove me down and observed the “doings.” Did you vote, I noticed your name on the list. Send this on to brother Anthony if you have a stamp.

[“If you have a stamp,” gallows humor to the last.]

Dr. Kearney Sauer died in December, 1972.

--

--