Wednesday, May 4, 2011
This is a painful AND inspiring book. If anyone wonders if bad things happen to good people, they need only read this book to know that the dedicated who serve others may suffer the most. I was about to graduate from the University of Minnesota with a degree in sociology with an emphasis on criminology in August of 1968. I learned about the Secret Service that summer from the book, The Death of a President by William Manchester. His account of the Secret Service agents on the Kennedy detail inspired me to hop on a bus and go to downtown Minneapolis and visit the office of the Secret Service. I intended only to pick up some information. The Special Agent in Charge, Mike Weinstein, stood at the door and invited me in. He interviewed me then and there, and I began as a special agent in December of 1968.
I stayed in the Secret Service for a little over three years. I spent a year in Minneapolis where I drove and protected Hubert H. Humphrey when he was in Minneapolis/St Paul. I completed my training that year and also spent six weeks on a temporary assignment at the White House where I protected President Richard M. Nixon-including a trip around the world in July of 1969. I transferred to Chicago and spent two years on the counterfeit squad and traveled for many protective assignments.
I felt privileged to meet some of the agents in this book-they were all heroes to me as a young man. I write and I appreciate the research that when into this book. The pages that detail the day of the assassination of President Kennedy are as powerful as any I've read anywhere. The pages that recount Clint Hill's torment after leaving the Secret Service captured the darkness in his soul and the core goodness of the man. I read the book over three days and tossed and turned with emotions each night. I felt the pain of a president assassinated as if I were back in 1963 and a high school senior. I understood the anguish of the agents. I shed tears for Clint Hill and the deep torture he understandably felt however mistaken his guilt was. I alternately felt sad, angry, inspired, sorry, and deeply grateful for the men on The Kennedy Detail as they represented how all agents hope they would conduct themselves under such circumstances.
A core message of the book for me is how everyday people can do extraordinary things when motivated by a powerful sense of purpose. The purpose-to protect the president and his family-provided great courage, commitment, and deep integrity to the agents. Companies in the private sector yearn for such a strong sense of purpose in their organizations. Agents are called upon to be better than the average person and driven by their sense of purpose, most meet the challenge. That deep integrity is visible throughout this book and can only inspire readers to strive to be their best more often.
I salute Jerry Blaine for initiating this project after his retirement from the corporate world at age 72. This book was a painful labor of love for a man called to write the story. Much of his motivation to undertake this project came from the falsehoods told and written about the Secret Service, the Kennedy Detail, and the Kennedy assassination. He wanted to set the record straight for future generations of agents and the public and he did so magnificently. Conspiracy theories abound in every generation and pollute the air of our political discourse and distract the nation from important matters.
Sadly, people who promulgate craziness will always be with us. The world is filled with people who are combinations of evil, crazy, immature, irresponsible, and mean-spirited-clowns and predators out only for themselves--shame on those who distorted history and added to the pain of the agents irresponsibly. The job falls to the good people of the nation-those who generally live quiet lives out of the spotlight-to stand up for the truth. Jerry Blaine and Clint Hill did that with this book, and they are heroic for doing so. I read a criticism that the book didn't speak to President Kennedy's alleged extra-marital affair with actress Marilyn Monroe. I think Jerry Blaine spoke to the relationship with Marilyn Monroe clearly and definitively. That's good enough for me.
I am stunned that Clint Hill and other agents never spoke of the assassination and never received help to deal with the grief and guilt they felt. Clint Hill told Mike Wallace on a "60 Minutes" interview that he did not discuss the assassination with anyone, not even his wife. Had they sought help or if counseling was made available to them by the Secret Service, their suffering might have been alleviated significantly. That said, I understand completely the expectations these "men's men" had of themselves and their desire to handle things alone and privately-as unhealthy as that is. I hope the Secret Service would handle things differently today. I recommend this book to all because it is an intimate history of the Kennedy assassination and the Kennedy Detail and more broadly it is a book about our shared humanity.