Agent recounts JFK assassination horror

Clint Hill 3Former Secret Service agent Clint Hill tells an audience in Altamont the story of how a Marine colonel taught John Kennedy Jr. to salute on the day of his father’s funeral.

Those old enough to remember the horrific events of Nov. 22, 1963, will recall that there was one man who stood out as a symbol of courage under fire.

Clint Hill, the 31-year-old Secret Service agent who leaped onto the back of President John F. Kennedy’s convertible limousine moments after the assassin’s final shot, delivered a riveting account of his experience to a banquet room filled with 300 people Saturday night.

Hill, who shunned public attention until his first book, “Mrs. Kennedy and Me,” was released last year, has surfaced with his co-author, Lisa McCubbin. They are on a speaking tour in advance of their newest book, “Five Days in November,” scheduled to be released next month.

Although the public mostly knows Hill from having performed this one heroic act and quickly disappearing from view, it turns out that he had a distinguished Secret Service career in which he served five presidents and rose through the ranks to director of all protective services.

The highlight of his career was his assignment as detail head for Jacqueline Kennedy while she occupied the White House and one year afterward. It has been said that he was well-suited to guard the most popular and vivacious first lady of our times because he was also young and had an adventurous spirit.

A polished public speaker, Hill shared details about one of the nation’s most fascinating first families and one of its greatest tragedies. He retells incidents from the Kennedy days as if they just occurred.

Hill and McCubbin, a former TV and radio journalist, have a dynamic rapport, as they present upbeat, sometimes humorous stories of the Kennedy family. Hill was there when Jacqueline Kennedy took over the reins of a camel in Pakistan, to the horror of the camel owner, who feared his own demise if she should be thrown and injured. Stories such as this took the edge off the gloomier tales of the assassination and its aftermath.

Hill told a hushed crowd about the moment this nation was turned upside-down, from his unique vantage point as a devastated eyewitness and significant participant.

In addition to his heroic role at the time of the shooting in Dallas — for which he does not like to take any credit — Hill participated in or witnessed many other historic activities in the days that followed, including the president’s autopsy and the swearing-in of Lyndon B. Johnson. It was Hill who broke the news to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and was assigned to find the first casket to carry the president’s body.

The most unforgettable moments of Hill’s life occurred in Dealey Plaza, just past downtown Dallas, which had been jammed by enthusiastic admirers.

“It was a joyous occasion,” Hill said of that sunny day, in which the crowds were enthusiastic. The turnout was twice as big as anticipated, because Jacqueline Kennedy was along, to fulfill her promise to boost her husband’s re-election campaign. The president liked to joke about her popularity, but it was almost certainly a fact that her drawing power exceeded his own.

Hill was riding on the running board of “Halfback,” the Secret Service follow-up car, on the driver’s side behind Jacqueline Kennedy, when he heard a “loud, explosive noise” over his right shoulder. He began scanning toward his right, when something caught his attention.

“I saw the president grab his throat and he lurched toward his left and I knew something had happened, something was wrong,” Hill told the hushed crowd, as a photo of the scene was projected on a large screen behind him. “So I jumped off the running board and started to run toward the presidential vehicle, attempting to get on top of the rear of the car to form a shield, a barrier behind the president and Mrs. Kennedy to prevent anything more from happening.”

The Chamber of Commerce of Altamont hosted the event, in which Hill and McCubbin presented iconic photographs and videos of the Kennedy family.

It was fitting that Hill, a native of Washburn, N.D., population 912, would appear in this rural setting, in between appearances in St. Louis and Chicago. A humble, soft-spoken man, Hill cordially greeted a long line of admirers who requested his signature on his first book and a variety of books and magazines related to the Kennedy family and the assassination.

Hill was catapulted to international fame almost 50 years ago by photographs that appeared on the front pages ofnewspapers worldwide, which showed him scrambling onto the limousine as Jacqueline Kennedy crawled onto the trunk toward him, in apparent danger of falling off the vehicle.

Hill was running as fast as he could toward the limousine and reached it just in time, before it sped off.

As he was about to reach the vehicle, he heard the shot heard around the world.

“I not only heard it but I felt it because it hit the president in the head,” said Hill, who describes in his second book how “a vile eruption of blood, brain matter and bone fragments” showered over Jacqueline Kennedy, across the trunk and onto him.

“Just as I was trying to get onto the back of the car, she was climbing out onto the trunk,” Hill recalled. “She was trying to grab some of the material that had come out of the president’s head. She didn’t even know I was there. I pushed her into the back seat. As she fell back into the back seat, the president’s body fell into her lap.”

While people throughout the world would pray and hold their collective breath during the half-hour between the shooting and the announcement of the president’s death, Hill knew immediately.

“I could see into his skull,” Hill recalled. “Most of the brain material in that portion of his head was gone. I assumed it was a fatal wound. I turned and gave a thumbs-down to the follow-up car, so the agents in the car would know exactly what had happened.”

Hill also knew that the president had been in a terrible position, because he was unable to duck after the first, nonfatal bullet struck him, because he was wearing a back brace.

When the limousine arrived at Parkland Hospital, the first lady refused to relax her grip on her murdered husband.

“We had to remove the president,” Hill recalled. “I said, ‘Please Mrs. Kennedy, let us help the president.’ She didn’t let go. Now I’d been with her a little more than three years. I knew her very well and I knew what the problem was. She didn’t want anyone to see the condition he was in. It was gruesome. So I took off my suit coat, and I placed it over his head and his upper back. After I did that, she let go. We lifted the president up, put him on a gurney and raced him into the emergency room.”

Troy Pattillo, 43, of St. Elmo attended the event with his 11-year-old daughter, Ava. Although he was not alive during the Kennedy era, he said he believed JFK was someone who worked to serve the country’s best interests.

“It was fascinating to hear someone give a firsthand account,” said Patillo, a U.S. history buff. “Someone who was there puts it in a whole new perspective.”

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Written by Huey Freeman

Source: Herald-Review

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