When the Hawker Hunter jets shot their missiles, Dr. Jose Quiroga was on the first floor. President Salvador Allende was on the second floor with some of his ministers and his security staff. It was September 11, 1973 and the Palacio de la Moneda, in downtown Santiago de Chile, was surrounded by soldiers.
"Years later, when I saw a film of the bombing, the noise of the explosion seemed louder. It impressed me more that when I was there," remembered Dr. Quiroga, thirty eight years after the military coup that overthrew the first Marxist president to gain power through democratic elections.
That morning, Dr. Quiroga was at the San Borja Hospital when he heard that Valparaiso was under military control, and saw the first movement of troops that were taking place in Santiago. Being one of the president's doctors, Quiroga walked several blocks to the presidential palace where Allende had already arrived with his security detail.
Few minutes before 10 AM, rebel army tanks, under the command of General Javier Palacios, started to arrive and surrounded La Moneda. The president gathered all who were in the presidential palace and told them that for their own safety they had to leave. The request was also directed to two of his daughters who were in the building. After this, Allende remained with about 80 people including his security personnel, doctors, and other essential staff.
Conscious of the desperate situation that he was facing, the president then spoke in Radio Magallanes to give a farewell to his people.
"These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason...," the president said few minutes before tanks and soldiers started to attack La Moneda.
In the early afternoon, when smoke was still surging from La Moneda, Allende gathered all who were still inside the presidential palace and asked them to go out and surrender. But the president, with his AK-47, a gift from Fidel Castro during his visit to Chile, did not leave.
"Instead of coming downstairs, I saw Allende walking in that long hall and entering the Salon de la Independencia," Dr. Quiroga said.
Another doctor who was also leaving, Dr. Patricio Quijon, at the last minute returned to the hall and found President Allende in a chair, where he had apparently shot himself with his Kalashnikov.
Quiroga and the others left the building with their arms raised and a white flag, and surrendered. Historic photos of the times show a young man wearing a white coat surrounded by soldiers who are in the sidewalk of La Moneda.
"At about 8 I entered La Moneda in a democracy, and in the afternoon I left as a political prisoner," Quiroga said.
Threatened by Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, in 1977 the young doctor went into exile in the USA where he became a professor at the University of California Los Angeles and, among many other achievements, cofounded the Program for Torture Victims. His human rights work led him to participate in numerous fact finding missions sponsored by Amnesty International and the International Court of Human Rights.
Throughout the years, Allende's death became a controversial issue between those who suggested, such as Dr. Quijon, that the president had committed suicide, and those who argued that he fought against the rebel soldiers and had been assassinated. Quiroga, who had been at La Moneda, remained silent.
"I remained silent due to political reasons. But later, when it became a historic issue, I spoke out," said Quiroga, as he explained that first interview that he granted to Oscar Soto Guzman, who in 1998 published El último día de Salvador Allende in which he quotes Dr. Quiroga and others who confirmed the suicide theory.
Finally, on May 23, 2011, following instructions from Judge Mario Carroza, the body of Salvador Allende was once more exhumed to finally establish the circumstances of his death. The team of 12 forensic doctors and scientists concluded that Allende committed suicide.
Before dying, according to Dr. Quijon, the last person to see him alive, the president yelled: "Allende does not surrender, milicos de mierda!"