JFK bodyguard breaks his silence
The assassinated US president's secret service agents want to set the record straight, writes Donal Lynch
Published 21/11/2010 | 05:00
THE secret service agent who was at John F Kennedy's side on the day he was assassinated has written for the first time of the moment Kennedy was killed, and focuses new attention on the role of the American president's Irish-born driver.
In a new book, The Kennedy Detail, Clint Hill tells authors Gerald S Blaine (also a former JFK secret service agent) and journalist Lisa McGubbin how he saw the former US president collapse into the back of his car and into his wife's blood-stained arms after being shot while being driven through Dallas in November 1963.
The couple were rushed to hospital, and on the way Jackie Kennedy looked at her dying husband and said: "What have they done? What have they done?"
Hill is the figure in the famous Zapruder home movie of the killing, which shows him climbing on to the back of the president's limousine. He was later officially recognised for his bravery, but spent the following decades drowning out the conspiracy theory questions with alcohol.
"I heard the first shot, saw the president grab his throat, lurch left, and I knew something was wrong," Hill recalls.
"When I got to the presidential vehicle, just as I approached it, a third shot rang out, hitting the president
in the head, just above the right ear, and left a hole about the size of my palm."
Now in his 70s, Hill still remembers the tragic day clearly: "There were blood and brains spewed about over myself and the car."
The book's account of the killing also shines new light on the actions of William Greer, the driver of JFK's car and a native of Co Tyrone.
Greer's actions have always been a controversial part of the Kennedy assassination lore, with some of the wilder conspiracy theories claiming that he slowed down because he was an Ulster Protestant who disliked Kennedy's Catholic faith -- a fact his son Richard appeared to allude to.
Richard Greer was interviewed in 1991 and added grist to the mill of the conspiracy theory. When asked, "What did your father think of JFK?" Richard Greer reportedly responded: "Well, we're Methodists . . . and JFK was Catholic . . ."
Kenneth O'Donnell (special assistant to Kennedy), who was riding in the motorcade, later wrote: "If the Secret Service men in the front had reacted quicker to the first two shots at the President's car, if the driver had stepped on the gas before instead of after the fatal third shot was fired, would President Kennedy be alive today?"
The book, however, also concludes that President Kennedy himself may have had an even greater role in his own demise.
While many have taken the Secret Service to task for providing inadequate, sluggish, or even neglectful care of Kennedy on the day in question, the authors maintain that JFK, though aware of the risks, was insistent upon remaining accessible to voters -- and that he often ordered his agents to stand down.
Further obscuring the record was an order from Secret Service Chief James Rowley barring agents from discussing Kennedy's preferences for fear that the public might place some accountability for the assassination on the president himself.
In the book, Hill and several of the other agents in charge of Kennedy's detail also discuss what it was like to work in the White House, and address a number of rumours -- such as the "tabloid fodder" on the affair between John F Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, which they say never happened.
Their anecdotes also include more whimsical moments, such as the time Jackie Kennedy asked permission to smoke a cigarette.
At the time nobody knew that she was a smoker, and she wanted to make sure the secret service had checked the area so it was 'safe' to have a crafty fag, away from prying eyes.
The Secret Service agents hope their pronouncements in the book will put an end to the endless conspiracy theories which have grown up around President Kennedy's assassination.
Author and ex-agent Gerald S Blaine writes: "Most of history today has been written by what I call a cottage industry called 'conspiracy'.
"If we didn't speak up and give a balance to this, history would never know exactly what happened."