The Kennedy Detail
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

60 Minutes Overtime: Protecting Public Servants: Is it Impossible?

Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who blamed himself for not stopping the assassination of JFK, talks to "Overtime" about the attempt on Rep. Giffords' life and how he looks back on the events of 1963.

Watch 60 Minutes Rewind:Mike Wallace's 1978 Interview With Clint Hill

After news broke of the attempt on Congresswoman Giffords' life in Tucson, "60 Minutes Overtime" spoke with former Secret Service agent Clint Hill. "This situation in Arizona brings back memories of 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated," Hill said. "One individual can cause such mayhem and problems throughout the entire country."

As facts emerge about Jared Loughner, the public is asking whether his shooting spree could have been prevented. Could authorities have intervened? Could his parents, teachers, or classmates have sounded louder alarms? Should the congresswoman have been better protected?

As we consider these questions, it's worth hearing from Agent Hill, who spent decades asking the same questions about the assassination of JFK. Hill was a member of President Kennedy's security detail on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas. As the presidential motorcade rolled through Dealey Plaza, Hill was positioned on the left-side running board of the car behind the president's convertible. Once shots rang out, Hill leapt onto the back of the president's car and shielded First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. He had been officially assigned to protect Mrs. Kennedy, but Hill says he was the only agent close enough to take a bullet for the president. If only he'd reacted faster.

By the time Mike Wallace interviewed him 12 years later, Agent Hill was a tormented man, blaming himself for the death of a president.

Immediately following JFK's assassination, Agent Hill remained on Secret Service detail, protecting Mrs. Kennedy and her children, and was later assigned to the White House to protect Lyndon Johnson. But Hill was suffering from depression and was granted early retirement in 1975 at the age of 43.

That year, he agreed to speak publicly about the assassination for the first time in an interview with Mike Wallace at the Madison Hotel in Washington D.C. "Little did I know," Hill said later, "that it would turn out the way it turned out."

Emotion and remorse poured out of Hill during the interview, astonishing Wallace and Don Hewitt, who was then executive producer of the "60 Minutes" broadcast. "I had no idea what was coming," Wallace later said. The correspondent welled up with tears several times during the conversation and even tried to reassure Hill that no one blamed him for JFK's death. Wallace called it the saddest interview of his career.

Today, Clint Hill's memories of the assassination are much less painful, and he credits Wallace with jump-starting his mental-health recovery. Now 79, Hill is a grandfather of three, living outside Washington D.C. He spends his time traveling the country, speaking to active Secret Service agents about the 1963 shooting and how it affected the agents assigned to protect JFK.

Hill says that a single assassin like Jared Loughner is almost impossible to stop when he or she is unknown to law enforcement agencies. "It's not unlike the situations with Martin Luther King or George Wallace or Ronald Reagan. Their attackers were all single individuals who acted alone. It's almost impossible to stop."

He also believes members of Congress are far easier targets than the highly protected president. "They have to be among their constituents," says Hill, which forces congressmen and women to walk the line between putting up a protective shield and cultivating face-to-face relationships with voters.

In 1990, Hill returned to Dealey Plaza for the first time to better understand how agents failed to protect president Kennedy from Lee Harvey Oswald. He concluded, "Everything worked in his favor and nothing worked in our favor. We did the best we could that day, and I should not consider myself responsible." But all these years later, Hill says he can't quite shake the feeling that JFK's death was his fault. "I was the only agent who had a chance to do something," he says. "There's still that guilt feeling deep down inside of me."

--by Ann Silvio, "60 Minutes Overtime" Editor

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