MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hartford Books Examiner Interview With Gerald Blaine And Clint Hill Part 1

John Valeri




Revisiting the JFK assassination, Part 1: Gerald Blaine & Clint Hill discuss 'The Kennedy Detail'


The Kennedy Detail by Gerald Blaine with Lisa McCubbin is available now from Gallery Books.
Photo: http://www.kennedydetail.com/

This week, Hartford Books Examiner commemorates the 47th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Nearly five decades later, that polarizing event remains shrouded in mystery. By providing a look at some of the recent literature in this controversial case, it is our sincere hope to inspire thought and dialogue. After all, it is when we forget the past that we become vulnerable to repeating it…

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Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill, both of whom served on President Kennedy’s Secret Service detail. Blaine is co-author with Lisa McCubbin of The Kennedy Detail: JFK’s Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence (Gallery Books, $ 28), and Hill wrote the book’s forward.

Blaine was hired as Special Agent of the United States Secret Service in 1959, and was handpicked to serve on the elite White House Secret Service Detail—one of thirty-four men responsible for protecting then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Upon John F. Kennedy’s election in November of 1960, Blaine was immediately transferred to the President-elect detail, and spent the next three years traveling with Kennedy. Immediately following JKF’s assassination, the Kennedy detail became the Johnson detail, which Blaine remained a part of until resigning from the Secret Service on July 4, 1964. He then embarked on a career path as an expert in high-level corporate security, retiring in 2003.

Hill was the Special Agent in Charge (SAIC) of Mrs. Kennedy’s security detail, and remained with her until after the 1964 presidential election, at which time he joined Johnson’s team. In 1967, Hill became the SAIC of Presidential protection. Ultimately, he was assigned to headquarters as the Assistant Director of the Secret Service before retiring in 1975. Readers will remember Hill as the agent who climbed aboard the presidential limousine as the motorcade came under fire. In December of 1963, he was presented with a gold medal and a citation for “exceptional bravery” during those tragic moments.

The Kennedy Detail synopsis:

THE SECRET SERVICE. An elite team of men who share a single mission: to protect the president of the United States. On November 22, 1963, these men failed—and a country would never be the same. Now, for the first time, a member of JFK’s Secret Service detail reveals the inside story of the assassination, the weeks and days that led to it and its heartrending aftermath. This extraordinary book is a moving, intimate portrait of dedication, courage, and loss.

Drawing on the memories of his fellow agents, Jerry Blaine captures the energetic, crowd-loving young president, who banned agents from his car and often plunged into raucous crowds with little warning. He describes the careful planning that went into JFK’s Texas swing, the worries and concerns that agents, working long hours with little food or rest, had during the trip. And he describes the intensely private first lady making her first-ever political appearance with her husband, just months after losing a newborn baby.

Here are vivid scenes that could come only from inside the Kennedy detail: JFK’s last words to his tearful son when he left Washington for the last time; how a sudden change of weather led to the choice of the open-air convertible limousine that day; Mrs. Kennedy standing blood-soaked outside a Dallas hospital room; the sudden interruption of six-year-old Caroline’s long-anticipated sleepover with a friend at home; the exhausted team of agents immediately reacting to the president’s death with a shift to LBJ and other key governmental figures; the agents’ dismay at Jackie’s decision to walk openly from the White House to St. Matthew’s Cathedral at the state funeral.

Most of all, this is a look into the lives of men who devoted their entire beings to protecting the presidential family: the stress of the secrecy they kept, the emotional bonds that developed, the terrible impact on agents’ psyches and families, and their astonishment at the country’s obsession with far-fetched conspiracy theories and finger-pointing. A book fifty years in coming, The Kennedy Detail is a portrait of incredible camaraderie and incredible heartbreak—a true, must-read story of heroism in its most complex and human form.

(Read Hartford Books Examiner’s full review of The Kennedy Detail here.)

Now, Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill share their reflections on President Kennedy’s life and death—and on that fateful day in Dallas, which forever changed the course of history...

Gerald Blaine:

1) Forty-seven years have passed since the assassination of President Kennedy. What made you decide that it was time to write this book? Did you find the process to be cathartic or was it painful to revisit the events of 1963?

The purpose was to set the record straight. There are not many of us left now and we are all elderly.

It was the one issue in my life that I had never been able to resolve emotionally. I was satisfied with the Warren Commission findings and when I saw the movie "JFK" by Oliver Stone, which was a combo of every conspiracy theory, I decided to move on with my life and forget the theorists.

I have been in International Security and worked every country in the world. I have had close calls and seen tragic bloodshed during fundamentalist wars, but the assassination was still yet to be resolved. When I retired I looked at the Internet and discovered that history was being kidnapped by a "Cottage Industry" called conspiracy theory. This prompted me because fellow "Kennedy Detail" agents who have passed on were accused of being a part of a conspiracy or derelict in their duties all the way to actually shooting the President himself. This called for clarification.

I contacted the agents and had a 90% response. Clint Hill, who was deeply impacted by the assassination, and is a friend, finally agreed to release the torment he lived with. We discussed the format, which was to be factual with no "Gossip" or "insider" information, which was the commitment I gave everyone who contributed.

In the process it was both painful and healing. I had a difficult time asking questions that I knew were painful to answer on the part of other agents. In the end, we finally had a reunion of agents who had never discussed the assassination with each other. This was recorded by the Discovery Channel, which will be aired on November 22 this year. (Note: This braodcast has been resheduled for December 2nd.) The experience was healing for everyone.

2) Reflection often reveals a fresh perspective. Did you have any such revelations while writing THE KENNEDY DETAIL? What has been the response from the other agents who have contributed to the book?

The response has been overwhelmingly favorable. Clint, Lisa McCubbin and I had lunch with the Director of the Secret Service and his staff. He felt it was a book that every agent should read because it was the event that has developed the Secret Service into the organization it is today.

I have received e-mails from numerous agents and from countries around the world.

3) You have come to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin. What do you find to be the strongest evidence of his guilt? Do you have an opinion as to why the majority of Americans continue to believe that JFK was killed as the result of a conspiracy?

It is difficult for a person to believe that a lone individual can take the life of such a dynamic person. To the citizen on the street it has to be much bigger than that. Suddenly people were blaming factions they personally disliked and conspiracy theory went ballistic. It was the left wing, or the right wing, Cuba, Russia, organized crime, government leaders, the new president, FBI, CIA Secret Service, etc.

The reality of a conspiracy is that they seldom last 60 days before they are uncovered. In this case it has been 47 years and not one shred of evidence has been presented that indicated a conspiracy.

Lee Harvey Oswald was the perfect profile of an assassin. He had psychiatric problems and family instability as a youth. He failed at everything he attempted. He even failed at defecting and returned to the US. He could not carry on a five minute conversation without alienating the person he was talking to. The rifle that Oswald used to kill President Kennedy was also used in a failed attempt to shoot General Walker, a right wing activist in Dallas. Once the shots were fired at President Kennedy, Oswald shot a police officer that was not necessary for his escape, but to be sure he would be caught for the recognition he so desperately needed. He then ran into a movie house without buying a ticket and when approached by officers he pulled a gun. Unfortunately he did not gain the recognition for long since he was killed by Jack Ruby.

The only thing missing was the Secret Service had no knowledge of Oswald.

4) The country was forever changed on the afternoon of November 22, 1963. What were the ramifications of President Kennedy’s assassination? Do you believe that there is the potential to emerge from the darkness of that day? If so, how?

It was our generation's 9/11, and the end of innocence.The small evolution of rebellion that began in the late 50's mushroomed during the 60's and created the individuals who in succession killed Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and an attempt on George Wallace which paralyzed him. Every President since that time has been confronted with threats and attempts. Today's environment is even worse which is why the Secret Service has grown from 300 agents in 1963 to 3,599 agents today.

The only way we can clear our thinking is to accept the fact that assassinations are committed by sociopath individuals or by a small group of radicals. A large number of conspiracy theorists end up trying to destroy their enemies by accusing them of being a part of a conspiracy and in the process they make skeptics of our youth and create extreme diversity in our society. If that is not corrected, I doubt if the country could survive another assassination.

5) So much attention is paid to President Kennedy’s death that his accomplishments in life are often overlooked. What do you believe should be JFK’s true legacy?

He was a dynamic leader who tackled a number of tough issues. His first three years were tied up in cold war issues and he stood his ground in the Cuban Missile Crisis. His next effort was to focus on Civil Rights. The JFK Museum in Boston highlights his efforts. The exhibit on the assassination is a short video clip on Walter Cronkite and a statement that says President Kennedy was killed by a lone gunman in Dallas, Texas, who fired three shots.

Clint Hill:

1) With rare exception, you have remained largely silent since the assassination of President Kennedy. What made you decide to contribute to THE KENNEDY DETAIL? Did you find the process to be cathartic or was it painful to revisit the events of 1963?

When Jerry Blaine contacted me about his writing a book about The Kennedy Detail, I was less than enthusiastic. In fact, I was very apprehensive. I had previously been offered many opportunities to contribute to books or to write a book of my own. I refused. Jerry and I had long conversations about his proposed book. When he promised there would be no salacious material, no gossip, only facts based on agent interviews and document examination. I then asked to be allowed to check the manuscript for facts before it was published. Jerry agreed to this and I agreed to contribute. I subsequently was interviewed at length by Lisa McCubbin, who had interviewed other agents. She then put our words to paper and the book "The Kennedy Detail" is the result.

2) You were Mrs. Kennedy’s SAIC and accompanied her to Texas. What was her frame of mind as she embarked on her first domestic political trip? How did your relationship with Mrs. Kennedy change after Dallas?

Mrs. Kennedy was very excited and enthusiastic about the trip to Texas. This was her first trip of a political nature outside of the Washington area since the election in 1960. Her activities in 1960 were somewhat curtailed because she was pregnant. She was very happy to be able to help her husband in his effort to gain re-election in 1964.

Our relationship, after Dallas, continued on a very personal, but professional level. She was very self sufficient but sought me out to discuss various personal problems. We became somewhat closer because I was the familiar face among the many changes. I was always there.

3) You agree with the Warren Commission’s assessment that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin. What do you find to be the strongest evidence of his guilt? Do you have an opinion as to why the majority of Americans continue to believe that JFK was killed as the result of a conspiracy?

There were many things that led me to believe Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. He had access. He had used the alias A J. Hidell. An identification card with that name was found on him at the time of arrest. This alias had been used to purchase a rifle in March 1963. He used a post office address with that alias. The rifle was found on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository near the sniper's nest. His personality profile fit that of a potential assassin.

Americans have a very difficult time believing one person, alone, could accomplish the assassination of the President of the United States. We know that most assassinations are carried out by one person, alone.

4) The country was forever changed on the afternoon of November 22, 1963. What were the ramifications of President Kennedy’s assassination? Do you believe that there is the potential to emerge from the darkness of that day? If so, how?

It was the end of the age of innocence. I believe subsequent assassinations and attempts can be directly attributed to this November 22, 1963, event. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the attempts on George Wallace, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan were all attempted because of the success of Oswald. The assassination in 1963 made everyone less trustful of the government as well as of our fellow man.

5) So much attention is paid to President Kennedy’s death that his accomplishments in life are often overlooked. What do you believe should be JFK’s true legacy?

President Kennedy had both success and failure. The Bay of Pigs Invasion and the failure to get a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty were two examples of failure. Success came in the way he handled the Cuban Missile Crisis; the attempt to settle the cold war with Khrushchev; the establishment of the Peace Corps; the Alliance for Progress in Latin America in an attempt to control Communism; his commitment to space exploration and to put a man on the moon; and finally the passage of the Civil Rights Act which occurred after he was assassinated but can be directly attributed to him.

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With thanks to Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill for generously sharing their time and thoughts, and to Penny C. Sansevieri for facilitating these interviews.

The Kennedy Detail will premiere as a documentary on the Discovery Channel on December 2nd.

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