President John F. Kennedy’s trip to Dallas on November 22, 1963 was intended to boost support in Texas for his 1964 re-election campaign. But an assassin’s bullet ended his life, an event still shrouded in controversy. Since that time, Secret Service agents assigned to protect President Kennedy have spoken only rarely about that day. But in recent years, former agents have explained how the day unfolded, and how it changed their lives.
Former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill admits that providing security for President John F. Kennedy was a challenge.
“With President Kennedy it was mix and mingle. He didn’t like anybody to come between he and the people,” Hill recalled.
November 22, 1963 began like most presidential visits, even though it was in a part of the country - Texas - that was not enthusiastic about the president.
“This was an extremely conservative area. Kennedy was not labeled as a conservative by any stretch of the imagination," he explained. "But we had no threats, no information that would lead us to believe that we would have a major problem.”
As the president's motorcade made its way to Dealey Plaza, Hill was on the vehicle directly behind the presidential limousine.
“I heard an explosive noise to my right rear, the rear of the motorcade. I saw the president grab at his throat and move to his left and I knew something was wrong," Hill remembered, "so I jumped and ran toward the presidential car with the idea of getting up on top. By the time I just about got to the car, the third shot had been fired, hit the President in the head, caused a massive wound which caused blood, brains and other material to be exploded out on to the car, onto me, onto Mrs. Kennedy.
"She was trying to retrieve some material that had come off from the president’s head and went to the right rear. I grabbed her and did the best I could to get her back in the seat," added Hill. "When I did that the president fell to his left into her lap. I got up on top and lay on top behind both of them, and I turned and gave a thumbs down to the follow up car."
That event lasted less than a minute, but it scarred Clint Hill for life.
“I feel guilt, I feel responsibility," he confided. "I was the only agent who was in a position to do anything that day.”
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy shook the nation and the Secret Service. The limousine he was traveling in that day in Dallas is now on display at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Agent Hill would go on to protect three more Presidents. But overcome by depression, largely because he felt he didn’t get on the back of this car a second sooner, he retired from the Secret Service in 1975. He rarely spoke about what happened that day in Dallas, but in 2009 author Lisa McCubbin requested an interview for a potential book.
“He did one interview in 1975 with 60 Minutes that’s a classic interview in which he had basically a nervous breakdown on television. And from then, he went into seclusion," McCubbin said.
But, eventually, Hill and other agents decided to talk, in part to document how the assassination affected them.
Hill, McCubbin and former agent Gerald Blaine collaborated on several books. Hill said the release of The Kennedy Detail, Mrs. Kennedy and Me and this year’s Five Days in November has been therapeutic.
“Especially being able to go out and talk to people about the book and answer it, a lot of the questions that they have because there are still a lot of questions out there,” Hill said.
But the questions Clint Hill says he will always struggle to answer are the what-ifs that have plagued him since that fateful day 50 years ago.