The Kennedy Detail
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Secret Service Kennedy Detail

We told you about the recent trip to mid-Michigan by two members of the Kennedy detail, Secret Service agents whose job it was to protect JFK's life on November 22, 1963.

For Gerry Blaine and Clint Hill, in their own words, it was a job they failed to do, a burden that they've had to live with now for nearly half a century. Only now are some of their emotional wounds starting to heal.

Clint Hill, former Secret Service agent: "That's the name of the game in protection, you are at either 100 percent, 110 percent probably, or you are a failure."

Gerald Blaine, Author/former Secret Service agent: "But as an organization there are not many professions you can be 100 percent failure at. We thought we failed in Dallas, and all it takes is one mistake and everything is gone. On that particular day in Dallas, every advantage went to the shooter, we had none. We can't see who has been hit, if anyone's been hit, but apparently something is wrong, terribly wrong."

In writing his new book, The Kennedy Detail, former Secret Service agent Gerry Blaine has reopened some old wounds in order to help heal them. In the past century of American history, just one shift of Secret Service agents has lost a president- theirs. Emotional scars of blame have been festering for 47 years.

Gerald Blaine: "And so when it happened we buried it, we bit the bullet ourselves. There was no trauma counseling and we carried that all of our lives. It was a very difficult thing to do. We all became perfectionists. It was probably difficult on our children, we didn't allow mistakes after that."

Something former Michigan State treasurer Doug Roberts can relate to. He invited the retired agents to MSU to speak to students. Recently Dougs' father, the late Emory Roberts, was the Secret Service agent in charge that day when the president was assassinated. Emory Roberts also carried the burden of JFK's death to an early grave himself.

Doug Roberts, son of Emory Roberts/Secret Service: "My father lived for a number of years after the assassination, and of course we obviously got together on numerous occasions, and he would never talk about it."

Maybe no one has had it harder than agent Clint Hill. He was on the follow up car, on the running board, directly behind Jackie Kennedy. When the first shot was fired, he sprang off his vehicle and ran forward, slipping, but finally leaping onto the president's car in time to push the first lady back in, but too late to save the president's life.

Clint Hill: "Had I turned in a different direction, I'd have made it. It was my fault. If I had reacted a little bit quicker, I could have, I guess, I will live with that to my grave."

And in that rare and famous 1975 interview with CBS and Mike Wallace, Hill made it clear that constantly reliving the incident was for him a physical and emotional battle.

Clint Hill: "I have a severe neurological problem caused by what has happened in the past. They recommend psychiatric help."

Now with the passage of time and this book tour, Hill says he has managed to forgive himself for not being the one to take the bullet in Dealey Plaza, and admits, reluctantly, that if he had it to live all over again, the outcome might remain the same.

Clint Hill: "I came away with the conclusion that I did everything I could do that day. I couldn't have done anything more, I guess. When it happened it was like someone hit me in the stomach. I think I've lost my rage. At first I had a lot of rage. they're basically saying, you know, after 47 years, it's time, and also they're letting some of the burden off of them. They're making peace with themselves."

Hill was awarded a medal for his bravery on that day in Dallas, and yet...

Clint Hill: "It's always present, I still see certain images that will never go away."

It's a burden of failure only partially lifted, one that comes with an ominous cautionary note from men who witnessed a personal and professional tragedy, a nations' tragedy, firsthand.

Clint Hill: "We like to think that protection can be 100 percent, but we realize that it's not. There's always that possibility that something's going to happen. You never know what's around that next corner, therefore, there's a very distinct possibility at least that there will be an attempt, may not be successful, but I am sure at some point there will be an attempt. I just hope and pray that the agents who are there that day don't have to go through what I went through."

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