When conspiracy theories started to run rampant in the months and years after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy, the Secret Service agents who protected him made very few statements about them.
But when former Secret Service agent Jerry Blaine retired, he began reading some of the theories online, and ideas claiming presidential drivers or agents had a hand in the murder “got personal,” he said.
“What the agents decided to do is set the record straight and make sure we at least had a say in history,” Blaine said Saturday while discussing his book “The Kennedy Detail” at Anderson’s Bookshop in downtown Naperville. “It was not until June of last year that we sat down and emotionally discussed the assassination.”
Blaine joined co-author and former Naperville resident Lisa McCubbin and former Secret Service agent Clint Hill for the discussion and book signing attended by about 200 people.
Blaine described the hectic routine of his job as one of less than 50 men assigned to protect Kennedy and his family.
And Hill, one of the agents closest to Kennedy when shots were fired, told the assassination story from his point of view.
On what was a warm November day in Dallas, windows were open at the high-rises surrounding the streets where the president’s vehicles proceeded to a campaign stop, Hill said. He was scanning a building to his left when he heard an “explosive noise” from his right, which turned out to be the first gunshot fired from a sixth-story window by Lee Harvey Oswald.
After the first shot:
“What I saw was the president grabbing at his throat and moving to the left,” Hill said, speaking quickly, as though his words were memorized and well-practiced. “I knew he was in trouble and something was wrong.”
After the second shot:
Hill said he tried to “cover and evacuate,” a Secret Service technique that would have allowed his body to block those of the president and Jackie Kennedy.
After the third shot:
Hill saw a “gaping hole” in Kennedy’s head as blood, brains and bone sprayed out from the gunshot wound, covering his clothing as well as Jackie Kennedy’s.
“I assumed the wound was fatal,” Hill said.
In an era of what Blaine called “pre-technology agents,” grief counseling wasn’t available after the assassination. Neither was time to discuss the tragedy and its emotional effects.
“One thing you never got on the detail was sleep,” Blaine said. “After you finished 20-hour days, all you could do to wind down was talk to the guys you worked with. . . . We became like brothers because we spent our entire lives together. We were traveling 80 percent of the time.”
Writing “The Kennedy Detail” helped Blaine, Hill and the other agents McCubbin interviewed finally to speak about Kennedy’s assassination and find a bit of an emotional release, McCubbin said.
“It turned out to be a real healing process for these men writing this book,” she said.
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