It has taken 47 years, but this anniversary month of the assassination of President Kennedy brings readers The Kennedy Detail: JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence, the first book on the assassination written by a member of Kennedy's secret service detail. Gerald Blaine, one of 34 members of the White House Secret Service Detail, was on the Texas trip, but not on the Dallas stop. His book is about the fatal trip to Texas from the perspective of the agents who were there to protect him. Veteran LJ reviewer Karl Helicher interviewed the author.—Margaret Heilbrun
Why did you wait almost half a century to write this book?
I left the Secret Service in July 1964 after serving five years on the White House Detail. After the assassination, I felt it was time for a change and went into the private sector. I maintained the code of silence throughout my career with IBM, ARCO International, and Hill and Associates, a security firm out of Hong Kong.
When I retired, there was one issue that I could not resolve in my mind and in my emotions: that was President Kennedy's assassination. I started reading the various entries on the Internet and reading assassination conspiracy books. As I did, I could not believe how conspiracy had turned into a cottage industry that had developed theories that ranged from implausible to outright lies. Like every agent, I had saved my advance reports, daily reports, expense vouchers, and investigations. I immediately started contacting agents.
What incensed me most was the fact that the theories would be accepted as historic fact and that some of the theories accused agents of being members of a conspiracy, being incompetent and, in a couple of cases, accused agents of shooting the President. This was no longer an attack on the Secret Service as an institution; this was slander toward individual agents who were no longer alive to defend themselves. The agents on the Kennedy Detail agreed that it was time to reveal the background based on fact.
How many of the 34 agents of the Kennedy Detail were you able to contact? And were they supportive?
The support was overwhelming. I contacted 70 agents or descendants of agents who were deceased who had served President Kennedy during his administration. I had a 90 percent response from those who have survived and the widows or children of deceased agents. Three agents were not contacted. These were agents who had responded to Seymour Hirsch's book The Dark Side of Camelot, which violated the code of silence. In the months following the assassination, I had discussed some of the official inquiry aspects with some of the agents. Plus, there were many memorandums and statements that were required, but never did any agent discuss the emotional aspects until this book was written. Three agents still cannot discuss the emotional aspects of that day in Dallas. I have not been able to contact three other agents who served.
Unfortunately, the men who served on the Kennedy Detail are getting fewer and fewer. Just this week I learned that another agent who had contributed to the book, Dick Johnsen, had passed away. I realized that if we didn't tell our story now, it would be lost forever. It was the last opportunity we had to present the facts according to the people who lived it, so that we can provide a balance to the alleged 81 percent of young Americans, 18 to 29, who, according to USA Today, believe in a conspiracy.
So much of the information revealed will be new to the reader because it tells how the agents experienced the JFK assassination. Would you please describe how the agents broke the news to John and Caroline Kennedy? Would you also comment on how close Agent Clint Hill became with Jackie Kennedy, whom he was responsible for protecting?
The agents did not inform the children. No one is sure whether it was Maude Shaw, their nanny; Mrs. Kennedy; or her mother, Mrs. Auchincloss, who was living in Washington, DC, at the time. The children's agents-Bob Foster, Lynn Meredith, and Tom Wells-filled the emotional response with support and concern.
Special Agent Bob Foster took John-John into an ante room when he became restless at the Capitol Rotunda during Mrs. Kennedy's appearance at the public viewing. Special Agent Tom Wells, standing near the door, heard John-John ask what happened to his daddy. He saw Bob kneel down to where he was face to face with John-John. Tom did not hear his response, and Bob Foster has passed on without revealing his response.
Clint always addressed the President's wife as Mrs. Kennedy, and she responded by addressing him as Mr. Hill, but they were very dependent on each other. Clint became a sounding board for Mrs. Kennedy in trying to resolve staff issues or in explaining agendas. Her appreciation of Clint and the children's agents was demonstrated when she requested of the treasury secretary that the agents remain with her and the children for the year after the assassination. The year became a very emotional one. Not only were the agents unable to deal with their own emotional trauma from the assassination, but they lived the year mourning with the Kennedy family.
You conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who fired all three shots. Are you as convinced that Oswald was not part of a conspiracy to murder the President?
Yes, and that is the consensus of the other agents. Lee Harvey Oswald fit the profile of a potential assassin to a tee. In his youth he was troubled, and it was determined that he had psychotic tendencies. There was no stability in his family life, and his entire adult life, filled with upheaval, and frustration, drove him to a dying need for recognition. Just before the assassination, he used the same rifle to try and shoot Gen. Edwin Walker, a right-wing group leader, through a window as the general worked at his desk. One of the sociopathic symptoms was that Oswald could not carry on a conversation with anyone without demonstrating hostility or being provoking. That is not the type of individual who can work with accomplices. All of these facts were confirmed by his widow to the agents who protected her for the months following the assassination.
The fact that not one other theory has been proven in the past 47 years is good evidence that there was no one else involved. Criminal investigators know that conspiracies usually unfold in due time, sooner rather than later, for many reasons. That time frame has long passed.
What emotions did you experience as you wrote and completed the book?
I experienced the same emotions as every agent who served with President Kennedy. Virtually every agent , including myself, carried the emotional impact of failure, guilt, and shame. This included agents, like me, who were not in Dallas. I was supposed to go to Dallas to assist Win Lawson, who was responsible for the advance, but by a set of circumstances, I rejoined my regular shift. After the assassination, no agent ever discussed the emotional impact that the event had on them. We remained silent and continued with our lives.
Writing the book felt like an emotional roller coaster for me. I was almost panicked that the story would not be told. The families of the deceased described the torment their loved ones felt over the assassination and were happy I was delivering their message. I was not alone. Then in one telephone call it was suggested that we have a reunion. This reunion was filmed for the Discovery Channel. It was an emotional outpouring that resulted in healing something that had been festering for 47 years. We, the members of the Kennedy Detail, never lost contact with one another. I am the sole surviving charter member of the Former Agents Association of the United States Secret Service and a past president of the organization. The organization, which was founded by members of the Kennedy Detail, now has 2500 members.
Could you recommend a book that you are reading now? It doesn't have to be about the assassination.
The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking is on my bed stand. The next three months will be a challenge to complete it, but my curiosity usually wins out.
This article originally appeared in the newsletter BookSmack! Click here to subscribe.