Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Days before he was assassinated in Dallas, John F. Kennedy asked his secret service agents to give him space to campaign.
- By Emily Sohn
Four days before the fateful 1963 motorcade in Dallas when John F. Kennedy was fatally shot in the head, the young president had requested that his secret service agents give him some space.
"President Kennedy made a decision, and he politely told everybody, 'You know, we're starting the campaign now, and the people are my asset,'" said agent Jerry Blaine. "And so, we all of a sudden understood. It left a firm command to stay off the back of the car."
Blaine's revelations, as well as those from JFK's secret service agents in a forthcoming book, "The Kennedy Detail" and in a series of interviews with the Discovery Channel, reveal how challenging this charismatic president could be to protect and how shaken his murder left those whose job it was to keep him safe.
They were well trained and extraordinarily professional. They were dedicated to the President and especially to the honor of the presidency. Most of all, the Secret Service agents assigned to protect John F. Kennedy were stoic and silent.
They did not talk about their feelings for JFK. And they did not discuss their emotions about his death -- not with each other and not to the world -- until now.
Forty-seven years after the 35th president was fatally shot on Nov. 22, 1963, his bodyguards are sharing their memories about a charismatic man, his glamorous family, and a tragic ending.
Their words offer a new window into an event that transformed not just the nation, but also the men who were supposed to keep him safe.
What emerges from the interviews is a deep sense of grief and remorse. For their jobs and their country, the agents sacrificed sleep, personal freedoms, and time with their families in order to protect the lives of others. They became a tightly knit group. As they reunite with each other and recount their memories of the assassination, many of them unleash tears.
"It was an assault on our country, on every single thing that we stand for," said agent Toby Chandler, who was giving a speech to agents-in-training when the news came in from Dallas. "It was a thing that just must not be allowed to happen. And we were supposed to prevent it. And we failed."
"In our work, and in military work and things like that, you either get the job done or you don't," he continued. "There are very few excuses. You can always say 'Well, you know, it would have been a nice picnic if it didn't rain, but it rained.' And it rained on us. And so we lost a symbol of our country."
Compared to the presidents before him, JFK was a challenge to protect, especially in a motorcade, said agent Jerry Blaine. Eisenhower kept to himself and traveled in a closed-top car, Blaine explained, making him easy to cover.
But Kennedy was charismatic. He wanted to stand up in an open-top car and wave. He wanted to get out and shake hands, unencumbered. He loved crowds. And the crowds were big.
Still, the shooting in Dallas surprised everyone. When agent Paul Landis heard the first shot from his seat in the car behind Kennedy, he continued to scan the buildings and the crowds. But he didn’t see anything.
"I thought, 'Well maybe there was a blow-out or something,'" Landis said. "When the third shot happened, I saw the President's head explode, just like a melon. And well, I knew as soon as he'd been hit, there was no way he was gonna survive that."
For the men who weren't on the scene, shock hit first. But they had jobs to do. So, they pushed aside their emotions and went to work -- moving the children to a home in Georgetown, escorting the President's body to the White House, and later accompanying the First Lady on her powerful, yet dangerous walk from the White House to St. Matthew's Cathedral.
"When all this is going on, your personal feelings are one of a tremendous emotional hit because of the respect you have for that family and for the president," remembered agent Tom Wells, who was escorting young Caroline to her first sleepover when he heard the news that Kennedy had been shot.
Like the other agents, Wells had a deep respect for Kennedy, who knew the names of all his guards, frequently asked about their families, and made them feel like they were a part of his own.
"You've got an upheaval that goes on in your mind and in your gut," Wells said. "There's this unbelievable sympathetic feeling you have. But there's no room for that because the only thing you have got to deal with now is what your role is. So, it is a difficult time. It's a roller coaster, even as detached as I was from the main event."
Eventually, each agent moved on.
"We have a code in the Secret Service called 'worthy of trust and confidence,'" Blaine said. "So I made a decision. You walk away from here. You don’t talk about it. You put it behind you."
As close as they were during the Kennedy administration, many of the agents lost touch with each other in the years following the assassination. Many agonized about what they could have done differently to prevent the shooting. Eventually, they tried to forget.
"Of course, I wish Dallas never happened," said agent Ron Pontius. "Everyone will say that. It was a terrible thing to happen. And I think we're marked for it for the rest of our lives."
Agent Clint Hill was in the motorcade behind Kennedy that day in Dallas. After the fatal shot, Hill jumped on the back of the President’s car and held on as the car raced to the hospital. In the years after the assassination, Hill sunk into a downward spiral of depression and alcoholism. In 1990, when he was pulling his life back together, he finally visited Dallas again.
"I walked in Dealey Plaza for a long time, looking back and forth and up and down, at every angle, for everything possible that I could think of," he said. "How could this have been avoided? What could we have done differently? Where did we go wrong? Why did it happen?"
"I finally came to the conclusion that because of everything that happened that day," he continued, including the weather, the configuration of the streets, and the position of the shooter, "that every advantage had gone to the shooter that day. And we had none."
"So I realized that based on all those conditions, there was nothing that I could have done," he said. "And I finally accepted the fact that what happened was something that I could not avoid. And so that was a great deal of relief to me."
Monday, March 21, 2011
I purchased your book on Thursday and finished reading it on Friday. I am glad you made the effort to allow history to see November 22, 1963 through the perspective lens of President Kennedy's Secret Service Detail. You write in such a vivid fashion I felt as if I was there. I even confess to crying at various points in your book.
I was not born until 1965, but from an early age President Kennedy captivated me. Unfortunately, as I came of age the nonsensical garbage spewed by the conspiracy fanatics was also coming of age. And I read everything I could get my hands on. Consequently, I just knew the president was cut down by some nefarious group hell bent on foisting their agenda upon the nation. I was young and dumb.
As I "matured," however, my belief in conspiracy began to waver. For one, a conspiracy of such dimensions requires too many people. It was my first visit to the Sixth Floor Museum that firmly pushed me into accepting the conclusion of the Warren Commission. Dealey Plaza looms large in the American experience. Yet its actual dimensions suffer by comparison. As you know, the real Dealey Plaza is much smaller than the one existing in the fabrications of conspiracy proponents. They like to make hay with the impossibility or difficulty of striking a moving target from the sixth floor of the Depository. But as you say Clint Hill discovered, anyone who has stood near Oswald's position can see for themselves the true difficulty would have been in missing an intended target. As you report, a scope was not necessary. Seeing the street from Oswald's vantage point dissipated any delusions I may have had concerning a conspiracy.
In time I believe the death of President Kennedy will be historically reported as the work of one person. At the same time the conspiracy industry will be seen for what it is; ludicrous and financially motivated. I am glad you wrote your book for this reason. It will stand as a historical record both detailing the perspective of the president's agents and the extent of grief experienced by many in the aftermath.
Peace to you and your family.
Because I grew up in a different era I cannot imagine a president riding in an open car. Do you ever wonder, "What were we thinking?" or were the times so different it seemed perfectly normal for a president to be exposed in such a manner?
Friday, March 18, 2011
St. Louis County Library Foundation
1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63131-3598
Thursday, April 21, 2011
7:00 p.m. - Headquarters
For the first time, the true story of the events leading up to and following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, from the perspective of the Secret Service agents who were there.
Author Gerald Blaine served three presidents as a Special Agent of the Secret Service on the White House detail. Clint Hill, who wrote the forward for the book, is the agent who famously climbed onto the back of President Kennedy’s car during the shooting.
Books for signing will be available for purchase from Pudd’nHead Books.
The St. Louis County Library Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, founded in 1999, to support the Library District by generating private resources and promoting reading and literacy. Donations and gifts are tax-deductible, to the extent allowed by law.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
With Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin talking with C-Span about what inspired my book after decades of silence from all of the Secret Service agents involved. Lisa McCubbin talks about doing research for the book. Clint Hill talks about why he contributed to the book.
This interview took place at the 33rd Annual National Press Club Book Fair and Authors' Night, a fundraiser for the Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library and The SEED Foundation held Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I just finished your wonderful book. It took me a whole day, because I needed sleep between readings.
I am pleased that you opened your heart and mind about the events that transpired during 1963 and for your setting the record straight.
I was ten years old during the time of your story. At age eleven, I checked-out a book about the Secret Service from my school library, and have been fascinated ever since with the men--at the time--who would "take a bullet for the President". It seems that now, both men AND women SAs, are the unsung heroes of today.
I have read various conspiracy accounts concerning that horrible day, but never in my wildest flights of fancy did I ever think that the Secret Service was directly or indirectly involved with the Kennedy assassination. I have always admired the special agents and the determined bravery that all of you have exhibited. I especially admire you, sir, for "going beyond the call" in your efforts to protect three presidents and I thank you for your service to our country.
Please extend my thanks to your co-author; Lisa McCubbin, a fine writer and also to Mr. Hill; a hero in my book, as he is in yours.
Charles M Baker III
Saint Mary, MO
Friday, March 11, 2011
I was career FBI and retired in 1994 as SAC of Detroit. I never worked the Kennedy assassination but have read a lot about it including an abridged version of the Warren Report; Case Closed by Gerald Posner; and, Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi.
I want to compliment you and Lisa McCubbin on your well documented and well written book. It was most interesting, packed with history, and hard to put down. I concur with your conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. I thought you treated the FBI fairly when you said on page 321 that “In reality, Oswald had never threatened the president, so there was no legitimate reason for the FBI to pass information to the Secret Service.”
I think your book will be a real contribution to history and needs to be read by those seriously studying the history of the Kennedy assassination. I think it should also be required reading for all new Agents of the Secret Service indeed a fine agency.
Thank you for staying on task!
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
I just finished reading "The Kennedy Detail" and I cannot remember being as moved as I was by the profound historical and personal events that you shared.
In the fall of 1963, I was an 11-year old sixth-grader from Long Island, NY. My class had been scheduled for a 3-day visit to Washington, DC, from Dec. 4-6. On the afternoon of Nov. 22, I can still vividly remember the news report from Dallas that was suddenly piped over the speaker system in our classroom. My sixth-grade teacher---who was to lead us on our trip---was walking toward the windows with some books in her hand as the news flash was heard over the speaker. In one movement, she gasped, and slammed the books down on the windowsill. I will never forget that moment. Twelve days later we took a bus to Washington, and my little brownie instamatic camera captured the somber images of the DC flags at half-mast, the black crepe hanging outside the White House, and finally, the temporary grave of President Kennedy on the hillside at Arlington, covered with flowers, and the small white picket fence around the grave. He had been buried only ten days before. Even though I was only 11, I felt first-hand the sadness that had settled over the nation.
Although I have periodically read about the assassination and watched the films, I had never really made up my mind regarding a conspiracy, or the supposed shot from the grassy knoll. I also never really thought about the role of the secret service that day because your story had never been told. Until now.
Your book was riveting. The true story of the Kennedy Detail and the Secret Service in general during those years and that fateful weekend was so fascinating and answered a lot of questions for me. I truly believe every word you wrote was true---not only because you lived through it, but also because your book showed me the absolute trustworthiness and bravery of the Secret Service men we rarely think of. Your motto: "Worthy of Confidence and Trust" says it all. Because of who you were then, and who you are now, I stand fully behind your explanation of that day in Dallas. I am 58 years old, and whenever the opportunity arises, I will tell others of your valor, your candidness, and the truth of what happened. I fully agree that it was time for you to speak as a voice of truth in the midst of all the falsity and conjecture that has become, for lack of a better phrase, "the JFK conspiracy industry." Mr. Blaine, you were meant to write this book...for us who remember, but especially for those in the future. Your book is an historical document.
But, finally, I am grateful that you that you had the courage to share memories that were so heart-wrenching, so deeply painful, so human. I am grateful that you and your fellow agents, especially Clint Hill, were given the opportunity to open the floodgates and let the healing inside. In my mind's eye, I keep seeing the film of Mr. Hill dashing toward the Kennedy car, but now I know what happened in the split second before. I always thought he was running toward the car to move Jackie Kennedy back down into the seat....now I realize that he was running to reach the car so that he would take the bullet that killed the President. There is a lifetime of heroism in those six seconds....
Thank you, Mr. Blaine, for all that you have done. I also thank Lisa McCubbin...together, you have given us a book worthy of the Kennedy family, and the men and women with whom you served...
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Jerry, I want to express my thanks to you and Clint for "The Kennedy Detail." No other book or publication was as through and accurate as yours. Many times over the years I have thought about 11-22-1963. I know of no other agent who could have done more than you and Clint.
May God grant you complete peace and may God bless you and your family.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Last night I had the privilege to view the Discovery Channel's THE KENNEDY DETAIL. I sat in silence throughout the program's airing, as I witnessed what appeared to be a difficult story for each agent to tell.
Having lived during that sad time in our nation's history, and seeing the additional federal inquiries that have been undertaken or proposed because of questions arising through the years, I always felt that the agents' silence outside of these investigations was not only an act of loyalty toward our slain leader, but also in loyalty to the Presidency itself. I would like to think tha the media at some point would realize this also and collectively stop trying to gain interviews.
I always assumed that no additional evidence would come from the agents' recollections of the events before and after the assassination, but rather that we would learn more about how they coped with the "trauma" in the coming days. I've always hoped that they were somehow able to be at peace, through knowing that a multitude of contributing factors allowed the incident to happen, and not anything they did. These men, I believe, are heroes of the highest order. At a time when insurmountable odds were present and hopelessness could have been graphically present, they chose to continue in their duties, with hope. that the President didn't survive was a tragedy for this nation; but many efforts that day were carried out with the best of determinations. We cannot be any less proud, that in the face of adversity and despair, those who wse depend on chose to continue tn their efforts even when the choice of giving up was well within reach.
I am grateful to every agent who participated in the creation of last night's program. Their difficulty in withholding emotion only showed the world that outside of their professional demeanor when at work, they are rightfully human. Thank you for letting us have a small glimpse of your personalities and for recalling an event which was undoubtedly difficult to relive.
Sgt. John Cummins
Taylor County Sheriff's Office
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Thank you so much for having the courage to write your book " The Kennedy Detail" I live in Burleson, Texas, and am sorry to say I missed you and the others at the Six Floor Museum in Dallas. I was hoping to get to meet you and Mr. Hill and tell you personally how glad I am that a book was finally written by the men who were really there.
My wife gave me a copy of your book for a Christmas gift, which I have already finished, and Loved it!!!!!! I was curious if you could send me a signed index card, or something to put in the book, so I can have it to pass down to my niece when she gets old enough to enjoy it.
Thank you for your service,
PS: I really enjoyed the story of how Frank Sinatra took the news that the President was staying at the Cosby's house instead of his.