It took Clint Hill 46 years to come to terms with his role in the assassination of President Kennedy. Hill, who was a Secret Service agent, spoke about his career during an appearance at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin.
Hill said “I went back to Dallas, alone, in 1990. I looked out that window in the Texas School Book Depository, and I came away knowing there was nothing more I could have done that day.”
It was Hill who jumped onto the back of the limousine when the shots were fired, but he was unable to prevent the worst. The Secret Service, he said, “had a responsibility to protect the president. We failed to do so, and it haunted me for years.”
When asked by an audience member who he thought was responsible for the assassination that changed the course of history, Hill was matter-of-fact. “There were only 3 shots fired from the Texas School Book Depository, from one rifle. There was one assassin, he operated alone, and he was Lee Harvey Oswald.”
Even though that awful day in Nov. 1963 was the most dramatic moment of his career, Hill served five presidents, the subject of a book he wrote in 2016 with Lisa McCubbin. During the Library event, she set up questions which Hill, standing at the other end of the stage, would answer. The capacity audience included several Secret Service agents. One of these was Tom Johnson, who introduced Hill. Tom was assigned to the security detail of President Johnson, and there is a famous photo of the President at Cape Kennedy watching the launch of Apollo 11 to the Moon. Tom stands right behind him.
Hill, who will be 86 in January 2018, offered a lucid and entertaining account of the presidents he has worked for, beginning with Eisenhower. “We were not his favourite people, but we had a great deal of respect for him.”
Hill knew the dangers of a motorcade through the streets of a city as early as 1960, when Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon drove through New York City in a open car. Imagine both top elected officials in the same open car! “It was a mess and I was scared to death,” Hill explained of his feelings.
Once Kennedy was elected, the CIA chief assigned him to protect the First Lady, not the president. “I was angry, disappointed and mad,” he said. “I wanted to be where the action is,” but he came to appreciate the time spent with Mrs. Kennedy.
He relates an amusing incident while protecting Pres. Johnson. It was on a round-the-world flight, and they landed late at night in the Azores on Christmas Eve. The PX stayed open so the other Secret Service agents and staff could do some Christmas shopping. Hill was standing in front of the plane's ramp when Johnson suddenly appeared in yellow pyjamas. “Hey Clint where is everybody?” he bellowed. Clint explained, and Johnson said “Well I haven't been shopping either, let's go!” Hill said “you could have heard a pin drop when the leader of the free world showed up the PX,” with a robe over yellow pyjamas.
Hill clearly did not like Pres. Nixon, so he was relieved when assigned to protect the vice president. First Agnew and then Ford, who became the last president he was assigned to protect. As one can imagine, it was an all-consuming task. “My children pretty much grew up without a father. I was away 90% of the time.”
What did the presidents have in common? “They each had a large ego, although not as large as some egos,” he joked, making a sly reference to the current occupant of the Oval Office.
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Photo copyright by C. Cunningham