The Kennedy Detail
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Monday, February 28, 2011

The Book "The Kennedy Detail"

I just finished “The Kennedy Detail” and it was so compelling and captivating. I felt like I was in a flashback and was there right with you during those terrible days. Your words took me right back in history.

I was 9 years old when the assassination took place and remember it very well. I had just returned to school after lunch when our principal announced over the loudspeaker that President Kennedy had been killed. We were all sent home, and my family and I were glued to our TV set over the next 3 days.

I still have the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper articles covering the killing and funeral, my mother had saved them and when she passed away I kept them.

It was a very sad time in history. I thank you so much for giving an insider’s view and the facts of those days. We need to remember.


Peggy Stagner Jupp

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thank you for your book and the opportunity to hear you speak

Mr. Blaine

I read your book as soon as it came out and went to see you speak in Vero Beach on January 17th. You and your book have truly touched me. I was 10 years old when the assassination occurred and was very inspired by President Kennedy prior to that. From then until I was nearly 20, I wanted to be a Secret Service agent, even though no women were employed on the protective detail at the time.

Your book made me feel as if I truly understood what it was like to be an agent during that era, especially. I finally realize that even though I broke barriers as a Naval officer, I don’t think I could have ever lived the life of total commitment you and the other agents did. I truly honor your dedication and all the sacrifices you and your families made.

I never thought of the Secret Service as failing because I always understood the inability to protect against many dangers, especially a lone, mentally imbalanced person who was willing to trade his life for fame. In 2003 when the Department of Homeland Security was being formed, with the Secret Service transitioning from Treasury, I was fortunate to be in a position to act as an advisor to the Secretary of DHS to identify measures of mission effectiveness across all DHS agencies. We met with the head of every agency, including the chief of the Secret Service. It was a dream come true for me to be there. After much discussion of what could possibly be measured that would show opportunities for improvement at the mission level, including some of the things you alluded to in your book, we ended up recommending that the Secret Service be the only DHS agency where there were no measures of effectiveness tracked because their results are binary.

I just wanted to take a minute to share these things with you since you said during your talk that you enjoyed the feedback you received from your book tour. Thank you again for everything you did for the country before, during and after your time in the Secret Service. Please also give my thanks to Mr. Hill for everything he has done and endured. I’ve always known he did everything he could.

Accept the thanks of a grateful nation.

Becky Zingarelli
Melbourne, FL

Friday, February 25, 2011

John F. Kennedy Library Presidential Library and Museum ...

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

AnnouncingThe President's Desk

an Interactive Online Module at

President's DeskThe John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has unveiled The President's Desk, an interactive online module that allows students and other website visitors to sit virtually at President Kennedy's Oval Office desk and explore several multi-media presentations of historic aspects of his life and administration.

With the launch of The President's Desk, students of politics and history have the unique opportunity to learn about JFK's experience in World War II, explore the Kennedy campaign office, dial President Kennedy's Oval Office phone, press the secret button to the White House taping system, flip through his daily schedule, sail the Victura around Cape Cod, browse through family photographs, and discover what it means to hold the highest office in the land.

The module's interface is based on an archival image of President Kennedy's Oval Office desk, which was made from the timbers of the British ship, the HMS Resolute, and presented by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford Hayes in 1878. The desk disappeared from public view until Jacqueline Kennedy found it in the White House broadcast room and had it installed as the President's desk on February 4, 1961. The original desk is still being used by President Obama.

To access The President's Desk visit

For more interactive, educational experiences visit

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Website a window into John F. Kennedy's Oval Office


BOSTON (Reuters Life!) - Any history buff with a computer and Internet connection now has a chance to walk in John F. Kennedy's shoes -- or at least sit, virtually, at the 35th U.S. President's Oval Office desk.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston has launched "The President's Desk," an interactive website that that seats users at Kennedy's desk and displays multimedia presentations of aspects of his life and administration.

(To view the website, see: here)

The displays cover topics ranging from JFK's experiences as a torpedo boat commander in World War II to his 1960 presidential campaign, to a video in which Kennedy expounds on his love for sailing around Massachusetts' Cape Cod on his sloop Victura.

Users can dial the Oval Office phone and hear conversations between Kennedy and secretary of defense Robert McNamara, NASA astronaut Gordon Cooper and others.

In one call, Kennedy and former President Dwight Eisenhower talk frankly about how to interpret Russian actions leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Another button launches an archive of once-secret recordings and transcripts on other sensitive domestic and foreign policy matters including the Vietnam War, nuclear arms testing and the civil rights movement.

Kennedy was the first president to record extensively his meetings and telephone conversations -- a practice famously ended during the Nixon administration. He selectively recorded over 12 hours of telephone conversations using a Dictaphone system, according to the library.

Kennedy's desk was an exact replica of the HMS Resolute desk, made from timbers of the British Arctic expedition ship and presented by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford Hayes in 1878.

The desk disappeared from public view until Jacqueline Kennedy found it in the White House broadcast room and had it installed in the Oval Office in 1961. The desk is still being used by President Barack Obama.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Protecting Our Nation's Leaders by Lewis C. Merletti, Former Director of the United States Secret Service

by Ken Gormley and Lewis C. Merletti

The recent carnage in which a gunman went on a spree, shooting Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killing six bystanders in Tucson, serves as a stark reminder that political assassinations are a reality that require constant vigilance.

The angry, inflamed political culture that has produced dysfunction in Washington and across the nation, reaching a fevered pitch of late, has made the threat of assassinations greater than ever. Many of our problems trace back to the Clinton-Starr imbroglio over a decade ago.

In 1998, as Independent Counsel Ken Starr launched an investigation into whether President Bill Clinton had engaged in a sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and lied about it in a deposition, both sides threw every bomb within reach. The Clinton-Starr bloodbath marked the popularization of partisan warfare. It produced an impeachment trial that sullied America; it ushered in red states and blue states. Each side was willing to fight to the death, in the name of defending its own version of American virtue.

One of the many self-destructive aspects of the Clinton-Starr debacle, that still haunts us today, was the decision by Mr. Starr's office to subpoena Secret Service agents to the grand jury, as part of its quest to pin the tail on President Clinton. One newspaper trumpeted: "Sexgate Stunner, Secret Service Agent to Testify: I SAW THEM DO IT." No such evidence turned up. Yet Secret Service agents were unceremoniously dragged before the grand jury and forced to tell all.

Clint Hill, the agent who had been pushed off the bumper of President Kennedy's limousine in 1963, only to watch the President murdered in cold blood, was one of the first to sound the alarm during the Clinton-Starr battles. He warned Secret Service Director Lew Merletti that allowing Starr's prosecutors to force agents to testify about the private conversations and movements of the president was a nightmare waiting to happen.

Agent Hill, still haunted by the ghosts of Dallas four decades earlier, told Merletti: "If agents have to testify, then 'Katie bar the door.'" Once agents were required to act as spies, presidents would distance themselves from their protective details. Said Hill: "And if they start pushing you back, look out."

Certainly, if an agent witnessed criminal wrongdoing, he or she was obligated to step forward. Otherwise, agents had to be close-lipped. Evidence had to be gathered in other ways, if prosecutors wanted to conduct investigations of the president, absent extraordinary circumstances.

Director Merletti made an urgent plea to Attorney General Janet Reno and then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, convincing them to support a "protective function privilege" in court. He also implored Representative Henry Hyde, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, who seemed unmoved. Later that same day, a paranoid-schizophrenic named Russell Eugene Weston entered the Capitol, stormed into the office of a Congressman, opened fire with a gun, and killed two Capitol Police officers.

Former President George H.W. Bush wrote a strong letter supporting Merletti's protective function privilege proposal. Although he was no fan of Bill Clinton's indiscretions in the White House, the elder Bush stated: "I can assure you that had I felt [Secret Service agents] would be compelled to testify as to what they had seen or heard, no matter what the subject, I would not have felt comfortable having them close in."

Despite these compelling arguments, Ken Starr's prosecutors barreled forward. Eager to find a smoking gun that might prove Bill Clinton had lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, they forced agents in the President's inner circle to testify. No smoking gun was found. Yet the protective shield of trust was shattered.

It is time to undo that damaging precedent.

The angry political divide that originated in the Clinton-Starr wars 13 years ago, when both political parties lost their compass, has produced horrible consequences for our nation. It has demeaned the once-noble calling of public service. It has inflamed citizens. It has made disrespect, contemptuous language and threats of violence acceptable currency in our political discourse. It has put our leaders at risk more than ever, creating a Petri dish from which troubled and disturbed individuals can and will emerge.

While there is no evidence that the Tucson gunman who shot Representative Giffords was acting on behalf of a particular party or political creed, it is no coincidence that he chose a political gathering as his target. Once we ratchet up the hate rhetoric and begin attacking the political opposition as evil-doers, imbalanced people like Jared Lee Loughner can and will step out of the shadows and seek to murder our highest officials.

We need to do more than wear lapel ribbons to show our concern for this dangerous state of affairs. As Director Merletti and Clinton Hill warned officials of both parties during the Clinton-Starr bloodbath, if we do not remain ever- vigilant, "the guns will sound again."

The Secret Service investigates an average of 3,000 threats to the president each year. It intervenes numerous times each month to halt or apprehend individuals whose goal is to harm or kill top public officials. Eleven of the last thirteen presidents have been targets of assassination attempts. Protecting our highest officials is serious business. The attempted assassination of a country's chief executive jeopardizes its national security, the safety of its people and the stability of its democratic government.

Although nothing in the U.S. Constitution requires a protective function privilege, there is a reason that agents historically were kept out of grand juries and the political fray, for more than a century. The agency's motto, "Worthy of Trust and Confidence," is not an empty pledge. These agents dedicate their lives to creating protective shields around public officials; this is impossible without first earning the officials' absolute trust.

As part of regaining our national soul, this undermining of our Secret Service agents must cease. Congress should swiftly enact a law creating a protective function privilege for federal agents who put their lives at risk each day, protecting the President and other high-ranking public officials. Agents need to be able to do their jobs, without being forced to act as spies and informants with respect to the very individuals whom they are sworn to protect.

There are other, far less destructive ways to gain information, even to determine if future presidents have engaged in extra-marital affairs in the White House.

Ken Gormley is Dean and Professor at Duquesne Law School and author of the bestselling The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr released February 1 in paperback by Broadway Books. Lewis C. Merletti was the 19th Director of the United States Secret Service. As a member of the Presidential Protection Division he was assigned to protect Presidents Ronald Regan, George H.W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Agents of The Kennedy Detail


Tom Wells grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, served in the U.S. Coast Guard and graduated from Florida State University. In 1959, the U.S. Secret Service commissioned Tom Wells; he worked as a Special Agent in the Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, and Miami Field Offices before being assigned full time to the First Lady/Family Detail.

SA Wells accompanied Mrs. Kennedy and her children on frequent trips to family homes in Florida, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia. SA Wells spent November 22, 1963 at the White House with Caroline and John Jr. Along with SAIC Clint Hill, SA Wells remained on the protective duty for Mrs. Kennedy and her children through September 1964.

Tom Wells retired as the Special Agent in Charge of the Birmingham Field Office i
n 1981.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

After reading your book ...

Mr. Blaine:

After reading your book I have tried to get every piece of credible information that I can get and read it or listen to it. I was living in Virginia and 8 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated. Your book and the interviews that I have seen with you and Mr. Clint Hill are fascinating and give me a unique perspective to which I have never before experienced. I must admit that it was easy to suspect a conspiracy, and to some degree, I think that many people wanted one to be exposed in order to truly put this experience to rest. That will most likely never happen as it appears that none existed.

As for the agents on the detail, I offer the following quote from Robert F. Kennedy and the Greek Playwright Aeschylus, "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

If your book tour ever comes through Atlanta, please let me know, as I would love to hear you speak.

My best.


C. Robert Neal AIA




Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Agents of The Kennedy Detail


Ron Pontius was born and raised in Chicago and graduated from Loyola University of Chicago. He served in the US Army during the Korean War and joined the US Secret Service in the Chicago field office in 1958. In late 1959 he was transferred to the White House Detail during the Eisenhower administration.

Special Agent Pontius planned many advances for the President and Mrs Kennedy, including her trip in 1962 to Rome, India, and Pakistan, and the Houston advance during the first family's visit to Texas in 1963. He continued his career at the White House under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge.

In 1976 he was assigned as the Agent in Charge of the former President Nixon's Detail in San Clemente, California where he ended his career in 1980.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Read The Book ...

Mr. Blaine,

Just last night I finished reading your book. I found it very interesting. When I read that you agree with the Warren Commission report, it surprised me, until I read the entire book. It made me realize that, being only four years old at the time of the assassination; I too have been raised by the media, to believe/question details with the conspiracy slant. That’s why I am so glad I read your book.

The first thing that really troubled me was learning of the double shifts, lack of sleep and food that you and others describe. I truly find it appalling that things were run in that fashion. All of those issues can certainly affect the performance of an individual. By this, I don’t mean to disrespect or blame at all, I just find it odd that this seemed to be the norm. Secondly, the lack of any time to regroup or recover for the agents following the assassination is shocking. I do understand those were different times, and I doubt it would be handled that way today. I think you all had amazing families too, for they sacrificed much for the job.

Your work has given me an even greater respect for those that protect (and have in the past) our nation’s leaders. Thank you for your service, and for sharing a very painful part of your personal and our nation’s history.


Kathie Church

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Agents of The Kennedy Detail


Win Lawson grew up in western New York and graduated from the University of Buffalo. In 1950, Lawson joined the Army Counter Intelligence Reserves and served two years as an investigator on active duty. In 1959, the Secret Service commissioned Lawson as Special Agent.

Special Agent Lawson attended Treasury School and Secret Service School, and in 1961 was transferred to the White House Detail. SA Lawson served under Presidents Kennedy & Johnson, and Vice Presidents Humphrey & Agnew before being transferred to Secret Service Headquarters in various jobs.

Win Lawson retired in 1981 as Deputy Assistant Director of Inspection.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

E Mail Exchange Regarding Agents Jack Ready and Emory Roberts

In a message , sreddin2 writes:


Thank you so much for sharing your memories and to Clint for sharing his memories of this horrible event in our history. None of us will ever forget it, and all of us will relive it every time we think of President Kennedy. Your contributions to our history are invaluable.

I read the book and could hardly put it down. I read over the details of the last few minutes several times and something is missing, or at least I could not find it.

The diagram of the agent configuration on page 196 shows the positions of Jack Ready and Emory Roberts in the follow up car.

The account beginning on page 214 and through page 217 details how Jack stopped after Emory yelled to stop so the car would not hit him.

Do either of those men have their accounts on record anywhere? I have not been able to find them. Are they still alive? It would seem that they would have suffered perhaps as much or more than any other agents but we don't see any comments from them in the book, and not much is said about them. Is there a source approved by you and Clint detailing the reactions and thoughts of these two agents who were also so close to the President at the end?

If I missed this in the book, I apologize, just wondered what you can share.

God Bless you all......Thanks!


Jack Ready would have died or been seriously injured had he left the follow-up car. Both he and Paul Landis had turned back towards the book depository. Since Clint was on the left hand side of the Follow-up car, his eye caught the president grasping at his throat and immediately left the follow-up car. Sam Kinney, the follow-up car driver turned the car slightly to the right to give Clint a clear path. The third shot hit before Clint could reach the car. Emory Roberts, who has deceased, saw the situation and also the damage of the third shot and told Jack to stay put. If you watch the Zapruder film in real time you will note that the time from the first shot to the last was six seconds or less. Clint did not make the car in that time in spite of a super human effort and running at a speed of fifteen miles per hour and Jack could not have made it either, although there is no doubt Jack would have tried except Emory saw the futility in it since the presidential car had started to accelerate and Emory and every one in the follow-up car knew the third shot was fatal.

Jack provided his statement to the Warren Commission and I talked with him once over the telephone, but it was evident that the incident was not one Jack wanted to expound on and it was evident to me that day still has a heavy impact on him. I respected his silence. There was nothing that could have changed the course of that day and there was nothing anyone could do to prevent the assassination. Clint did manage to save Mrs. Kennedy from serious injury or death. The only thing that could have prevented his death that day was an armored car and we did not have one.


Gerald S. Blaine

In a message , sreddin2 writes:


It is a great honor to me that you took the time to offer a little more detail. I was just a kid in the 7th grade when this happened, as was my wife, but we remember every little detail of the entire day, and all the reactions of our parents and friends. My wife and I and our youngest son have been to the Dealy Plaza and the museum in the Book Depository, and our feelings immediately were that we had been there before and had lived through those horrible moments. The clarity that your book added to those deep feelings is something we will be eternally grateful for. Most of the people I know who were alive that day have wondered about the actual thoughts and actions of your detail for all these years. Now we know the truth. I know it has been a healing experience for all of you and it is also helping to heal us as well. Thank you!

I looked over the Zapruder film last night, and I also found a site that archived the statements given to the Warren Commision by the agents. I read through Mr. Roberts and Mr. Ready's statements, and had it not been for your book, I would have not been able to easily determine what was the truth, and what was not from all the varied accounts on the internet.

It is clear that your work and Clint's work with the help of Mrs. McCubbin is fast becoming the standard for the truth about the entire period in our history, and will be for many generations to come. We have 4 children and 9 grandchildren, and all of them will certainly benefit from your work as they study the assassination in school. I hope your book is recommended reading for all high school and college classes in American History and government.

I noticed toward the end of your book the seriousness you applied to how our nation would be able to react to an assassination now or at any time in the future. I still remember the reactions in the 60's and our kids and grand kids will never be able to remember as we do, however it is clear that you are correct, the nation could easily fall into anarchy if this ever happens again. We pray that it never will.

I can certainly see how Mr. Ready or any of you would have a very difficult time discussing the events of that day. Your descriptions and accounts leave no doubt whatsoever that you did all you could, and that the shooter did indeed have all the advantages.

I had the privilege to meet President George W. Bush when he visited the Ford Plant in Kansas City on March 21, 2007. I watched the secret service coverage of the people who would be around him very carefully. It was clear that the security was very extensive and as the President got closer to me I could see and feel the eyes of many secret service agents watching my every move. I was able to shake the president's hand as he reached across two rows of people to get to me. Without the dedication of the present secret service forces, and the lessons they learned from the experiences of your group of dedicated professionals, none of us would ever have that opportunity. It was an experience I will never forget.

I've attached a couple of photos of my big moment. You may know some of the folks shown protecting the President. (I'm the guy in the red Ford hat)

Please let Mr. Clint Hill know how much his contributions to the book and his work and sacrifice are appreciated by average Americans all across the country. It is so clear that he did indeed react properly and quickly to protect Mrs. Kennedy and that without his Herculean efforts she would certainly have been severely injured.

It has been an honor to communicate directly with you and if you or Mr. Hill ever come to Independence, Missouri, it would be an honor to meet you both.

Thank you all so much for your service to our country and our presidents and their families. Thanks again for speaking with me.

Stephen L.Redding

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This From a Former FBI Associate

Jerry .....

Just a note of appreciation for the fine work on the Kennedy Detail book. In August of 1961 my wife and I moved into Larchmont Village. We had gotten married on August 26th and had the front apartment on the right hand side as you went down the steps to the same level you and your family lived on. As I recall there was another Secret Service agent on that floor who worked in the counterfeiting division.

While we never really socialized you and I did run into each other now and then as we waited out on the steps for our rides to work, you to the White House and me to the FBI where I worked midnights in the computer center. I was always fascinated with your stories of the work you did and even a few insights to The President.

In late July of 1963 we moved to Annandale to a larger apartment as we were expecting our first child. The day of the tragedy in Dallas was my last day at the Bureau as I had taken a new job at the Department of Agriculture. I will always remember what I was doing when the word was spread about the shooting in Dallas, my home town. I recall trying to collect my thoughts about what I was hearing and found myself thinking of you, not knowing where you were at that moment. Later as the news began to provide some clarity I was relieved to learn that no agents had been injured. That weekend was like a nightmare as my family and friends tried to learn more and make sense of all we were learning.

On Sunday night my wife and I were watching the news with friends. The crowds waiting to go through the Capitol were being shown and I found myself wanting, needing I guess, to go down and get in line. My friend and I left our wives and drove to the Capitol around midnight, found a place to park and began trying to find the end of the line. We never found it. It was an incredible experience. After several hours we returned home.

I was taking classes at the Veteran's Administration building twice a week and in getting there had to walk by the White House. For many weeks, as I walked by, there would be people clinging to the fence just sobbing. I had never seen anything like it. I wondered about you and the effect this must have been having on you.

Some how I learned later that you had left the Service and gone to work for IBM. Now I know the rest of the story about your life after and all of the detail about the tragedy. I'm glad you wrote this book and I'm proud to have known you back then. I also want to thank you for all those years of faithful service despite the enormous sacrifices you and your family had to endure.

My best to you and your family.

Jim Lair

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Agents of The Kennedy Detail


Paul Landis grew up in Worthington, Ohio, and earned a degree in geology from Ohio Wesleyan University. After college, Landis signed up with the Air National Guard and joined the Secret Service field office in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1959.

Special Agent Landis' first protection assignment was with the Eisenhower grandchildren, then Landis was transferred to the Children's Detail early in President Kennedy's administration, followed by the First Lady's Detail with Special Agent in Charge Clint Hill. Along with Special Agent Tom Wells and Special Agent in Charge Clint Hill, Special Agent Landis often traveled with Mrs. Kennedy and her children to the family's homes in Rhode Island, Florida, Virginia and Massachusetts.

Paul Landis left the Secret Service shortly after President Kennedy's assassination.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book Signing at Barnes & Noble - Maui Today at 4pm!

Kennedy Detail Comments From a Reader

Mr. Blaine:

My name is Alex Bleiweis and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland studying U.S. History. During my Christmas vacation, I read your book, The Kennedy Detail, and I simply could not put it down. I would like to thank you for preserving our nation's history, and I know that your book will continue to be relevant throughout many future generations.

I have long been fascinated with President Kennedy and I try to get a hand on as many books about him as possible. I felt that your book was incredibly enlightening. Aside from the detailed description of the assassination and its aftermath, I was interested to read about how the Secret Service operated on a day to day basis. I was particularly touched by the relationship between Mrs. Kennedy and Clint Hill, and was very moved by the line in which you note that RFK's funeral was the last time these two saw each other.

Once again, I'd like to thank you for writing this book. It gives students like myself the opportunity to further understand the assassination of President Kennedy and its aftermath. In light of reading your book, I plan to visit Arlington National Cemetery and maybe one day be able to go to Dallas to observe the site where history occurred. I thought the book was in good taste and was very well put together in its details.


Alex Bleiweis

University of Maryland '13
Department of History

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Signing at Barnes & Noble - Maui Tomorrow at 4pm!

Agents of The Kennedy Detail


Toby Chandler was born in Groesbeck, Texas and worked on Texas oilfields as a teenager. Chandler was an expert marksman at Texas A&M and later served in U.S. Army Intelligence Corps. Chandler was commissioned by the Los Angeles field office of U.S. Secret Service in 1959 and transferred to Washington field office in January 1961. Special Agent Chandler worked the Inauguration and joined President Kennedy's Detail in March of 1961.

On November 22, 1963, SA Toby Chandler was giving the commencement address at the Secret Service School — he had just finished training with a Special Forces/Secret Service task force. That afternoon, SA Chandler answered phones at the White House and handled security for the Speaker of the House, John McCormick.

In 1980, Toby Chandler retired from the Secret Service as Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Houston, Texas.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rene Verdon, White House chef for the Kennedys, dies at 86

Washington Post Staff Writer

Rene Verdon, a French-born chef who brought an air of continental sophistication to the White House under the Kennedys, and then left his post after a clash with the Johnson administration over frozen vegetables and garbanzo beans, died Feb. 2 at his home in San Francisco of undisclosed causes. He was 86.

Mr. Verdon, who later ran an acclaimed San Francisco restaurant and won admirers including Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, was perhaps most renowned for his five-year tenure at the White House.

When he arrived at the executive mansion in spring 1961, he took over a kitchen that had long been run by caterers and Navy stewards and not known for producing fine food.

That changed under Mr. Verdon - a "culinary genius," The Washington Post said, with refined tastes admired by Jacqueline Kennedy.

A veteran of some of Paris's best restaurants, Mr. Verdon championed seasonal, local food long before it became fashionable. He grew vegetables on the White House roof and herbs in the East Garden.

"I cooked everything fresh," he told the New York Times in 2009. "If the ingredients are superb, then the cooking can be, and must be, simple."

In April 1961, his White House debut - a luncheon for British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan - made the front page of the New York Times.

Mr. Verdon served trout cooked in Chablis, roast fillet of beef au jus and artichoke bottoms Beaucaire. Dessert was a vacherin, or meringue shell, filled with raspberries and chocolate ice cream.

"The verdict after the luncheon," wrote the Times's Craig Claiborne, "was that there was nothing like French cooking to promote good Anglo-American relations."

Media coverage of Mr. Verdon's menus helped burnish the Kennedys' reputation as tastemakers and spurred home cooks across the United States to begin investigating French cuisine. When the classic "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," cowritten by Child, appeared in 1961, a wave of Francophile homemakers began turning out souffles, pates and pork rillettes.

Mr. Verdon continued working at the White House for more than two years after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, but tastes were decidedly different under Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson - "more South," Mr. Verdon once said.

The Kennedys had asked for quenelles de brochet and mousse of sole with lobster. The Johnsons wanted barbecue, spoonbread and chili.

"You can eat at home what you want, but you do not serve barbecued spareribs at a banquet with the ladies in white gloves," he told The Post.

In 1965, the Johnsons hired a Texan "food coordinator" to cut costs. Her bargain-hunting brought frozen and canned vegetables to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., a change Mr. Verdon couldn't stomach.

"I don't think you can economize on food in the White House," he said. Plus, "I don't want to lose my reputation."

He resigned at the end of the year "in a Gallic huff," according to Time magazine, after he was asked to prepare a cold puree of garbanzo beans - a dish he described as "already bad hot."

Rene Verdon was born June 29, 1924, in the village of Pouzauges on France's west coast, where his parents owned a bakery and pastry shop.

He grew up helping his father deliver bread and apprenticed to a chef at a hotel in Nantes. From there, he went to Paris, where he worked in restaurants such as the Berkeley before moving to the United States in the late 1950s.

He was working as an assistant chef at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, where the Kennedys had a penthouse, when John F. Kennedy was elected president.

After leaving the White House, Mr. Verdon spent several years hawking electric kitchen appliances and then settled in San Francisco. He wrote several books, including "The White House Chef Cookbook" (1968) and "The Enlightened Cuisine" (1985).

In 1972, he started Le Trianon, a French restaurant hailed in the Times for its "Old-World charm."

Survivors include his wife, Yvette, a former House of Chanel director who ran the front of the house at Le Trianon.

Mr. Verdon presided over several state dinners, but his favorite, he said, was held in 1961 at Mount Vernon - George Washington's estate on the banks of the Potomac River - in honor of the president of Pakistan.

The mansion had neither a kitchen for Mr. Verdon nor modern toilets for the 132 guests who arrived by boat. And Mount Vernon's swampy grounds were thick with mosquitoes.

Mr. Verdon prepared a simple meal at the White House - an appetizer of avocado and crabmeat followed by chicken casserole - that was trucked 16 miles to Mount Vernon. When he saw Park Service employees spraying insecticide to battle the bugs, he threatened to quit.

"I'm not going to be responsible," he cried, "for the number of deaths from DDT!"

He was calmed after Secret Service officers taste-tested several dishes. Guests ate under a tent and listened to the National Symphony Orchestra, and the night was pronounced a triumph.

"Onlookers have speculated as to what marks the end of the Kennedy era," read a 1965 editorial in The Post. "The resignation that truly signals the end of the Kennedy era is that of Chef Rene Verdon."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Caroline Kennedy Unveils Groundbreaking Online Archive of President JFK

Thomas Putnam, director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, demonstrates the JFK Digital Archive, during its launch as part of the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, at the National Archives in Washington, on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin.

WASHINGTON, DC.- To help mark the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, today unveiled the nation’s largest online digitized presidential archive, providing unprecedented global access to the most important papers, records, photographs and recordings of President John F. Kennedy’s thousand days in office. The announcement was made in the Archivist's Reception Room in the National Archives building in Washington, D.C.

Until now, the national treasure of historical material housed in the Kennedy Presidential Library’s collection has been available only by a physical visit to the library itself. With the launch of the new digital archive at, students, teachers, researchers and members of the public now just need an internet connection to search, browse and retrieve original documents from the Kennedy Library’s collection, gaining a first-hand look into the life of President Kennedy and the issues that defined his administration.

“The Kennedy Library's Access to a Legacy project is a service to our nation. The digitization of archival records is becoming an essential means to allow the public greater access to our national treasures via websites, social media or the growing area of mobile applications," said David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. “This initiative will open new areas of learning and discovery through the library's archives and will preserve precious documents on digital media for future generations.”

"My parents believed that history is one of our greatest teachers," said Caroline Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Library Foundation. "As young people increasingly rely on the internet as their primary source for information, it is our hope that the Library’s online archive will allow a new generation to learn about this important chapter in American history. And as they discover the heroes of the civil rights movement, the pioneers of outer space, and the first Peace Corps volunteers, we hope they too are inspired to ask what they can do for their country.”

The historic launch of the online archive comes more than four years after Senator Edward M. Kennedy first announced this unprecedented effort to digitize, describe, and electronically archive a selection of the Kennedy Library’s most important holdings, enabling world-wide access 24/7 via the internet. As the largest, most advanced digital archive created by a Presidential Library not “born digital,” the project can serve as a model for other presidential libraries and national and international archival institutions.

Included among the thousands of historical papers, documents and images that are now permanently preserved are precious and irreplaceable records of the nation’s struggle for Civil Rights; its conflict with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War; its efforts to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth; its commitment to public service through the creation of the Peace Corps; its prevention of a nuclear holocaust during the Cuban Missile Crisis; and its embrace of American art and culture under the guidance of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

To manage a digitization project of this enormity, the archivists of the Kennedy Presidential Library prioritized the Library’s historic collections beginning with those that hold the highest research interest and significance. These collections include the President’s Office Files; the Personal Papers of John F. Kennedy; the Outgoing Letters of President John F. Kennedy; the JFK White House Photograph Collection; the JFK White House Audio Speech Collection; and the JFK White House Film and Video Collection. At launch, the archive features approximately 200,000 pages; 300 reels of audio tape, containing more than 1,245 individual recordings of telephone calls, speeches and meetings; 300 museum artifacts; 72 reels of film; and 1,500 photos. The sheer volume of digitized materials is unprecedented for presidential libraries whose collections were not born digitally.

Joining Caroline Kennedy and David Ferriero for the announcement of the archive launch were Sharon Fawcett, Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries; Thomas J. Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library; and Foundation Board member Edwin Schlossberg, husband of Caroline Kennedy and principle of ESI Design, who first envisioned a data asset management system that would enable the Kennedy Presidential Library to make its archives available to a world-wide audience.

The digitization initiative would not have been possible without the public/private partnership between the federally operated John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a division of the National Archives and Records Administration, and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the 501 c 3 non-profit that secured significant financial support from private donors in order to help fund the project.

During the announcement, Caroline Kennedy also paid tribute to four leading corporations – AT&T, EMC Corporation, Iron Mountain and Raytheon Company – who stepped forward to offer the critical hardware, software and other in-kind technical expertise needed to make the pioneering initiative a reality. The four founding technical partners were represented at the launch by James W. Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs for AT&T; Paul T. Dacier, Executive Vice President & General Counsel, EMC Corporation; Robert T. Brennan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Iron Mountain; and William H. Swanson, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Raytheon Company, and Vice Chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation.

The Kennedy Presidential Library’s research facilities are among the busiest of presidential libraries. Its archives currently include more than 8.4 million pages of the personal, congressional and presidential papers of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and more than 40 million pages of over 300 other individuals who were associated with the Kennedy Administration or mid-20th Century American history. In addition, the archives hold more than 400,000 still photographs; 9,000 hours of audio recordings; 7.5 million feet of motion picture film; and 1,200 hours of video recordings. Digitization efforts are ongoing and additional material will continue to be added to the archive as it is scanned and described.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is one of 13 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and is supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Agents of The Kennedy Detail


Clint Hill was born in North Dakota, served in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps and graduated from Concordia College. Hill's first assignment with the U.S. Secret Service was in the Denver office, protecting President Eisenhower's mother-in-law. Special Agents Clint Hill and Jerry Blaine were transferred from the Eisenhower Detail to the President-Elect Detail in November 1960.

Hill went immediately to work with Mrs. Kennedy
and spent the Inauguration with Caroline and the infant John Jr. He also accompanied Mrs. Kennedy on trips abroad, including Italy, Morocco, Greece, France, India, and Pakistan. Hill was promoted to Special Agent in Charge (SAIC) of the First Lady's Detail during the Pakistan trip. On November 22, 1963, SAIC Hill dove onto the Presidential limo and to Mrs. Kennedy's aid moments after shots were fired in Dealey Plaza. SAIC

Hill continued to lead Mrs. Kennedy's protective detail until November 1964.

In 1975, Clint Hill retired from the Secret Service as Assistant Director of Special Forces.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Kennedy Detail Recommended by The Roar!

The Kennedy Detail, written by former Secret Service agent Gerald Blaine with journalist Lisa McCubbin, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the John F. Kennedy presidency, making it a must-read for any history junkie.

Being a former Secret Service agent during JFK’s presidency gives Blaine the first-hand knowledge to accurately recount life with President Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline, and their two children Caroline and John Jr.

In bold, blue letters, The Kennedy Detail boasts “JFK’s Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence” on its cover. With such a daring exclamation, it would seem that The Kennedy Detail is an all-access account of the personal life of the famed U.S. president. Instead, Blaine’s expertise, combined with Secret Service papers and other agents’ accounts, help paint a picture of the days leading up to Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963.

Although Blaine wrote the book with McCubbin, the reader would never know. The Kennedy Detail is written in third-person, which surprisingly seems to put the reader right in the midst of the action. I almost felt like I was reliving the events with Blaine and the Kennedy Detail.

I appreciated that the book was divided into four simplistic parts: “The Men”,” The Job”, “That Day”, and “Our Lives”. Fortunately, the book explains Secret Service jargon and the back story to Kennedy’s assassination, so that even someone who isn’t familiar with Secret Service or American history would still be able to understand.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but feel this sense of dread leading to the assassination. The tone is so positive and encouraging that you can’t help but feel the same positivity while reading through The Kennedy Detail.

When the assassination occurs in “That Day”, the chapters explain what happened behind the famous newscasts and iconic photographs. It gives an inside scoop about the events at Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy eventually died, giving more information than Walter Cronkite ever could.

Not only does the The Kennedy Detail give behind-the-scenes information, but it also features pictures from the Secret Service and Blaine’s personal collection. The photos add an additional touch in order to “put names to faces” of the many Secret Service agents mentioned in the book.

If you want to learn more about The Kennedy Detail, check out its website at

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Congrats on your book from a former PPD agent

Dear Mr. Blaine,

I just finished your book on the Kennedy Detail and also saw the piece on TV. As a former PPD agent, I wanted to commend you for how well you portrayed the life of those who protected the President. I wanted to add that as tough as we had it on the detail in my day, ( 77-81) those of you who went before us had it much tougher due to the fewer number of agents you had to work with and the outside resources available to you.

I was also impressed with the relationships you all built and maintained with the President. It kind of reminded me of the relationship we had with the Reagan family, but as good as that was, it wasn't the same that you all had with the Kennedys.

Once again, congratulations on a story that needed to be told. I don't believe that the agents of my generation could have done things any better given the circumstances that existed at the time. I was on the Reagan detail when he was shot and we could have easily lost him that day. As we both know in situations like that, mere inches separates major historical events from footnotes in history books.

Best regards,

Mike Maddaloni