"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Former Secret Service agent recalls Kennedy assassination

 Clint Hill, then Secret Service agent and special guard to the first lady, saw the back of President Kennedy’s head explode on Nov. 22, 1963.

He remembers racing from the squad car to the back of the Kennedys’ limousine to form a human shield over the president and first lady.

He remembers losing his sunglasses as the limousine ripped through the Dallas streets at over 80 miles an hour.

And the agent also remembers seeing the devastation in Jacqueline Kennedy’s eyes as her husband’s lifeless body was lifted from her lap and wheeled into Parkland Hospital.

But for most of his life, he didn’t want to remember. It was not until author Lisa McCubbin convinced him of the worth of his memories that the retired Secret Service agent opened up about his experiences and shared what his life was like as a dear member of the Kennedy family.

McCubbin and Hill appeared at A-State in a joint presentation Oct. 30 to a nearly packed Riceland Hall. The presentation marked A-State’s observation of the 50th anniversary of the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The presentation was held in a loose interview format, similar to the method former journalist, radio personality, reporter and news anchor McCubbin used when interviewing Hill for their bestselling book “Mrs. Kennedy and Me.”

Hill was adopted into his family by Chris and Jenny Hill in 1932 and grew up wanting to teach history and become a coach. Instead, he entered the Army and was selected to participate in intelligence operations, eventually becoming one of only 269 elite United States secret servicemen.

After serving as a guard to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Hill expected to be immediately reassigned to President Kennedy.

“Usually the new president will bring in all their own staff,” Hill said. “The one thing that stays constant is the Secret Service.”

However, the Secret Service administration had other ideas. Instead of serving as one of President Kennedy’s 35 security personnel, Hill was assigned to be one of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s two security agents.

“It was like being hit in the gut,” Hill said. “I was not interested in that, I wanted to be where the action was.”

Hill remembered previous tales of First Lady Secret Servicemen being relegated to tea party security and luncheon attachés.

“She didn’t want me there, looking over her shoulder 24/7, and I didn’t want to be there,” Hill said.

But after pacing outside the delivery room for two childbirths, watching the intrepid equestrian try her hand at camelback, sheltering the sensitive diplomat from a tribal lamb sacrifice in her honor, trekking more than 50 miles on foot for the reward of a heartfelt paper medallion and touring parts of Europe and Asia alongside the cosmopolitan first lady, Hill began to see the highlights of his new posting.

“(The agents) really had this wonderful close relationship to the family,” McCubbin said.

But in exchange for his closeness to the Kennedys, Hill frequently had to sacrifice time with his own wife and children, who were only a few years removed from the Kennedy children.

“I had thought I was gone from home about 80 percent of the time, but when we sat down to write the book we figured out it was closer to 90 percent,” Hill said.

The fateful Texas visit in November of 1963 was scheduled to encompass five cities.

“The crowds along the way were large, friendly and exuberant,” Hill said. “It had gone incredibly well from a political standpoint.”

On the morning of Nov. 22, the Kennedy public relations branch had added a last-minute speech outside the Hotel Rice where the campaign party was staying in Fort Worth.

“There were over 2,500 people in that room for breakfast, so they had to move it outside,” Hill said.

Even larger crowds greeted the Kennedys in Dallas, where more than 5,000 people stood waiting behind the press line. The crowds continued to grow as the motorcade neared main street, often spilling out of the sidewalks and into the street.

“The driver tried to keep the car on the left side of the street to keep the president away from the people,” Hill said. Hill rode on the left running board of the convertible directly behind the president’s limousine.

Hill would periodically hop on the back of the limousine to be near Mrs. Kennedy if the crowd cover became too tight.

At the moment of the shooting, Hill was riding on the running board of the rear car about five to eight feet behind the limousine. “I was scanning left and front. I heard an explosive noise at our right hand shoulder,” Hill said.

The 30 seconds that followed came to define Hill’s life. He sprinted from the case car and hurled himself onto the back of the limousine, hoping only to form a human shield for the president and his wife. “I was the only agent who had the chance to do anything. I was the only one who saw,” Hill said.

Fifty years later Hill still berates himself for not seeing more.

“We failed that day,” he said.

Hill remained in his position as a Secret Service agent to the Kennedy family for one more year, leaving them in Nov. 1964. What had been a close connection to Mrs. Kennedy now withered with the tragedy.

“We never discussed the assassination. Never. We stayed as far away from that as possible,” Hill said.

Few of the Secret Service agents in action that day spoke of the event afterwards.

“We dealt with it very badly,” Hill said. “We just kept it to ourselves.”

 Hill continued to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder until 2009, when he began talking to McCubbin.

“I was still reluctant then, and she had to really dig to get the information out of me,” Hill said. “But I’m glad she did.”

 “I could see this burden being lifted off his soul. Writing the book was very cathartic,” co-author McCubbin said. “He is a true American hero.”

Hill and McCubbin were each presented with a ceremonial Key to the City of Jonesboro by Mayor Harold Perrin in recognition of their continued contributions to American historical preservation.

In two weeks the coauthors will release their second book, “Five Days in November,” a detailed account of the immediate events surrounding the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination. 

Reposted from Arkansas State University Herald


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