The Secret Service shares secrets
The men who guarded JFK talk about their experiences on Nov. 22, 1963
For Doug Roberts, director of the Michigan State University Institutefor Public Policy and Social Research and a former state treasurer, Nov. 22, 1963, is etched in memory. He was a 16-year-old in the 11th grade at a suburban Maryland school, and he remembers the day vividly. He should: His dad, Emory Roberts, was at the site of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Emory Roberts was the Secret Service agent in charge, riding in the passenger seat of a car right behind the limousine carrying Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Texas Gov. John Connally, his wife, Nellie, and two Secret Service agents.
Doug Roberts said his teachers withheld the news of the assassination until last period.
“They knew there would be pandemonium,” he said. “When they gave us the news, they said a Secret Service agent had also been killed (the victim was later identified as Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit). “I thought I lost a president and a father. I jumped up and ran down the hall to a phone.”
Doug Roberts called his mother: “Is Dad OK?”
Without hesitating, she said, “He’s OK.”
Three days later Doug Roberts found out that at the time of the phone call his mother had no idea if his father was safe or not. “When I asked her, she said we would’ve dealt with it then.”
Yet, that same day, Emory Roberts returned to Washington on the flight with the new president, Lyndon Johnson. His mother drove to the White House with Robert’s older brother to pick him up, just as she done many, many times after a day on the job.
Doug Roberts remembers his father coming home and going to the Underwood Upright to type up his report, which he would give to Doug to read that night.
“In all due respect, my father was a Joe Friday — 'just the facts.' He wrote that he had heard two or three shots. When I asked him why he didn’t know the exact number, he said, ‘The brain is not a tape recorder.’”
Doug Roberts said immediately after the shooting, his father had made the decision to move the rest of the detail to protect Johnson; Emory Roberts was the one who informed Johnson he was president.
These are the types of recollections and records that former Secret Service agent Gerald Blaine used in compiling his account of the assassination for the recently published book, “The Kennedy Detail.”
“Detail” delivers a point-by-point personalized account of the assassination, using details drawn from the men who were charged with protecting President Kennedy.
Blaine — who was in Austin at the time of the assassination, advancing the next leg of the Kennedy trip — said that after the agents gave their reports to the Warren Commission, “nothing was ever discussed.”
Blaine went on to a career in private security consulting after serving three presidents over a five-year period. He said he was motivated to set the record straight by the many conspiracy books and movies that have been produced over the years, including director Oliver Stone’s 1991 film “JFK,” and such books as Jim Garrison’s “On the Trail of the Assassins” and Mark Lane’s “Rush to Judgment.”
“They made such a mess of history,” Blaine said, “and this book dispels their conspiracy theories.”
The author, who co-wrote “The Kennedy Detail” with Lisa McKubbin, said the most difficult aspect of writing the book was the “renewal of old memories.”
He recalls sitting down with a number of agents and going over every detail of the day.
“It was quite a healing. They didn’t have trauma counseling then, and we were totally dedicated to the president.”
Blaine knows that the book won’t satisfy conspiracy theorists: “They’ve spent 47 years trying to hang on to their theories and they will always find an enemy.” But Blaine said agents who were on the site that day firmly believe Lee Harvey Oswald was the single gunman, operating alone.
Doug Roberts is sponsoring an appearance by Blaine and McCubbin at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Parlor C of the MSU Union; RSVPs are required; call (517) 353-1731. Also in attendance will be former Secret Service agent Cliff Hill, who was the first agent to reach the presidential limousine following the shooting, and former Secret Service agent Rad Jones, an MSU graduate and now an MSU Criminal Justice professor.
At the time of the assassination, Jones was the youngest agent to have served on a presidential detail.