The Kennedy Detail
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Lincoln's Missing Bodyguard

What happened to Officer John Parker, the man who chose the wrong night to leave his post at Ford's Theate

By Paul Martin

After President Lincoln settled in to enjoy Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre, his guard left to drink at a nearby saloon, leaving Lincoln vulnerable.

When a celebrity-seeking couple crashed a White House state dinner last year, the issue of presidential security dominated the news. The Secret Service responded by putting three of its officers on administrative leave and scrambled to reassure the public that it takes the job of guarding the president very seriously. “We put forth the maximum effort all the time,” said Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan.

That kind of dedication to safeguarding the president didn’t always exist. It wasn’t until 1902 that the Secret Service, created in 1865 to eradicate counterfeit currency, assumed official full-time responsibility for protecting the president. Before that, security for the president could be unbelievably lax. The most astounding example was the scant protection afforded Abraham Lincoln on the night he was assassinated. Only one man, an unreliable Washington cop named John Frederick Parker, was assigned to guard the president at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

Today it’s hard to believe that a single policeman was Lincoln’s only protection, but 145 years ago the situation wasn’t that unusual. Lincoln was cavalier about his personal safety, despite the frequent threats he received and a near-miss attempt on his life in August 1864, as he rode a horse unescorted. He’d often take in a play or go to church without guards, and he hated being encumbered by the military escort assigned to him. Sometimes he walked alone at night between the White House and the War Department, a distance of about a quarter of a mile.

John Parker was an unlikely candidate to guard a president—or anyone for that matter. Born in Frederick County, Virginia, in 1830, Parker moved to Washington as a young man, originally earning his living as a carpenter. He became one of the capital’s first officers when the Metropolitan Police Force was organized in 1861. Parker’s record as a cop fell somewhere between pathetic and comical. He was hauled before the police board numerous times, facing a smorgasbord of charges that should have gotten him fired. But he received nothing more than an occasional reprimand. His infractions included conduct unbecoming an officer, using intemperate language and being drunk on duty. Charged with sleeping on a streetcar when he was supposed to be walking his beat, Parker declared that he’d heard ducks quacking on the tram and had climbed aboard to investigate. The charge was dismissed. When he was brought before the board for frequenting a whorehouse, Parker argued that the proprietress had sent for him.

In November 1864, the Washington police force created the first permanent detail to protect the president, made up of four officers. Somehow, John Parker was named to the detail. Parker was the only one of the officers with a spotty record, so it was a tragic coincidence that he drew the assignment to guard the president that evening. As usual, Parker got off to a lousy start that fateful Friday. He was supposed to relieve Lincoln’s previous bodyguard at 4 p.m. but was three hours late.

Lincoln’s party arrived at the theater at around 9 p.m. The play, Our American Cousin, had already started when the president entered his box directly above the right side of the stage. The actors paused while the orchestra struck up “Hail to the Chief.” Lincoln bowed to the applauding audience and took his seat.

Parker was seated outside the president’s box, in the passageway beside the door. From where he sat, Parker couldn’t see the stage, so after Lincoln and his guests settled in, he moved to the first gallery to enjoy the play. Later, Parker committed an even greater folly: At intermission, he joined the footman and coachman of Lincoln’s carriage for drinks in the Star Saloon next door to Ford’s Theatre.

John Wilkes Booth entered the theater around 10 p.m.. Ironically, he’d also been in the Star Saloon, working up some liquid courage. When Booth crept up to the door to Lincoln’s box, Parker’s chair stood empty. Some of the audience may not have heard the fatal pistol shot, since Booth timed his attack to coincide with a scene in the play that always sparked loud laughter.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

A legacy of service: Robert Roy Faison Jr.

The Daily Herald

The United States knows Robert Roy Faison Jr. as the first black man assigned permanently to White House Detail.

In Seaboard, the former Coates High School graduate is remembered as a humble but strong man that wasn’t defined simply as the son of hardworking, sharecropping parents.

Known as “Bob” to family and friends, he died June 28 and will be buried next month in Arlington National Cemetery.

A 25-year United States Secret Service veteran who retired with the rank of Inspector, Bob provided personal protection service for United States Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

He retired in 1982, although his love for the Secret Service kept him working as a contractor for 10 more years.

Deputy Director of the U.S. Secret Service Keith Prewitt said Bob conducted part of his own background investigation. Prewitt described Bob as an outstanding role model and professional who was always easy to speak to and very good at coaching and mentoring.

“He was committed and engaged, but quietly competent,” Prewitt said. “He meant a lot to all of us.”

..... Read More


Gerald S. Blaine, former Secret Service agent and author of “The Kennedy Detail,” published by Simon and Schuster in November, said Bob joined the White House Detail in late 1963 and shared a shift with him.

“We were on the midnight shift when President Kennedy was in Fort Worth the night before the assassination,” Blaine said. “We flew to Austin where the president was to stay at LBJ’s ranch on the night of the 22nd. After the assassination, Bob and I were assigned to LBJ.”

Blaine said the Secret Service White House Detail was very select in approving agents for permanent duty.

Most agents, including Bob, did a 30-day assignment.

“At the end of the assignment, the agents would report any weaknesses in the individual that might preclude him for a permanent assignment,” Blaine said. “Bob was unanimously selected.”

Blaine said Bob’s inclusion on the Secret Service was not embraced by everyone outside the service.

He describes an incident in his book about Bob being requested to stay at another hotel that allowed blacks since the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth did not.

“The agents threatened to move President Kennedy to another hotel if Bob was not allowed to stay,” Blaine said. “The hotel finally allowed Bob to stay.”   

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Robert Roy Faison Jr. is seen at age 21 shortly before heading off to the Korean War. He is a former Seaboard resident and Coates High School graduate
Robert Roy Faison Jr. takes the lead, walking out front of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s car. Faison, who died June 28, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery next month.
Robert Roy Faison Jr., back left, stands in guard of President John F. Kennedy, third from right, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, center, during a White House event.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Secret Service agent Hobart native Lou Sims tells of Kennedy assassination ...


HOBART The day Louis Sims graduated from U.S. Secret Service School was certainly the most notorious day in the organization's history since its founding.

It was November 1963, and then-29-year-old Sims had recently arrived in Washington, D.C., from Chicago, where he had been working as an agent for two years. Having passed the agency's entrance exam with flying colors the highest score recorded at that time, he said graduation was an especially exciting time, even when it was interrupted with some pretty sordid news.

"The chief of the Secret Service was getting ready to speak; it was a noon graduation," Sims, now 77, said, recalling his early days recently in the living room of the Hobart home he shares with his wife, Gwen. "He got called out of the room for a phone call. He came back and said, 'The President has been shot in Dallas. Everyone report to the Washington field office.' You always think, if I would have been there, what could I have done? How could I have helped save his life?"

Born in 1934, the son of an insurance agent, Sims was a star athlete at Hobart High School and then at several prep colleges in Oklahoma, where he played baseball and basketball while pursuing a degree in business.

Shortly after his 1956 graduation from Panhandle State University he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was immediately recommended for U.S. Army Intelligence School in Baltimore.

"I was absolutely delighted because I intended to serve, so I figured hey, I'm going to learn as much as I can while I'm in there and get as much as I can out of it," Sims said.

He was a week off basic training when he married Gwen, his high school sweetheart, and in November 1957, he was assigned to Kansas City to work as an agent in Army intelligence, and then to Topeka, Kan., as a resident agent in Army intelligence. In Kansas City, Sims was conducting a background investigation and one of the references cited was former President Harry Truman, who was setting up his presidential library at the time. While he had Truman's ear, Sims figured he'd ask the former president what he thought about a Secret Service career.

"I said, 'I've only got a year left in Army intelligence and I'm thinking about joining the Secret Service. What do you think?' President Truman spoke up and said, 'If the outfit can be that close to me and not get in my hair, that's a pretty good outfit,'" Sims said.

After an interview and a four-hour test, he was told he qualified as a candidate for the service but that he would have to await assignment. In the meantime, he opened a life insurance business. It was 1960.

"If I never got that call from Secret Service, I've got a business," he said. "And after a few weeks we didn't know if we'd ever get the call, so we moved to Lawton."

Assigned to Chicago
In 1961, however, and after some haggling over his pay grade, Sims was assigned a special agent at the agency's field office in Chicago.

The Secret Service was tasked then, as it is now, with protecting the president and other elected national officials but also with investigating federal financial crimes, like forgery or counterfeiting of government obligations. In fact, though the Secret Service was founded by Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s, it wasn't until William McKinley's assassination in 1900 that it was assigned its bodyguard duties.

In Chicago, Sims found the job as intense as it was an adventure, sometimes finding himself going to work in the morning and not knowing exactly where he'd wind up by night. The job was round-the-clock and required an enormous amount of personal commitment, he said.

"You realized that it was your responsibility to see that the right investigation was done and the right steps were taken for the security of the president or his family or the vice president," Sims said. "You looked at everyone and made a decision on whether or not that person was a danger. Unless it went to the courthouse, nine times out of 10 it never even hit the newspaper."

In 1961, he was assigned to the Kennedy detail at the White House for a month. Kennedy was the first of six U.S. presidents Sims would protect, an experience he tends to tone down.

"Normally a Secret Service agent doesn't have personal discussions with the president or first family; most of it is about the security activities where's your guy, itineraries and that sort of thing. Normally you don't sit down and visit," he said. "But it was just, I don't know how you describe it, it was exciting and you felt very privileged, no matter who the president was."

So of course it was only natural that when Kennedy was shot that fateful day in Dallas, Sims took it as kind of personal.

For four dark days, as he described them, Sims was among a crew of depressed agents tasked with handling logistics of the memorial. The day of the funeral, Sims walked alongside President Johnson's limousine during the motorcade from the Lincoln Memorial to the entranceway of Arlington National Cemetery.

Relied on his experience
"You're thinking about the job, but also, 'Here's a guy from Hobart up here where everybody in the country is focusing right now,'" he said. "And I will tell you how very true I relied on all that experience growing up in Hobart, Oklahoma, doing that job. You learn how to do everything here, and, if something needed to be done, you did it, no matter what it was."

Reforms put in place
The occasion marked serious reform for the Secret Service, and Sims was among the new agents who rode the tide as its budget was boosted and its personnel increased many times over. He was one of about 350 special agents when he went into the service, which operated then on about a $4 million budget. Today's Secret Service has more than 6,500 employees, including 3,200 agents, and operates with an annual budget of $1.4 billion.

The build-up after Kennedy's assassination did not stop until the Secret Service was ultimately swallowed by the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2003, Sims said.

"The recommendations of the Warren Commission kind of changed our whole direction," he said. "No question that's what got the appropriations up where we could have the number of people we needed to do the job and get the right equipment. That was just the time when things began to happen, and they began with the assassination of President Kennedy and went from there."

The Kennedy funeral wasn't the last time Sims felt the eyes of the country upon him.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thanks from a Former Agent


My name is Tom Heuerman. I was an agent in Minneapolis and Chicago
from late 1968-1972.

I just finished "The Kennedy Detail" and want to say bravo, bravo, bravo.

You were definitely called to do this work, and I thank you for
following it. The world is better for your work.

I found the book deeply painful AND inspiring. It is really, I feel, a
book about all of our shared humanity in a world filled with villains
that the good people have to say "NO" to.

Clint Hill's story made me cry. I am a recovering alcoholic, (37
years), and don't know that he considers himself an alcoholic or not,
but I do relate to his suffering and isolation. I am so happy that he
dug himself out of his despair.

I am writing a review (as I fancy myself a writer too) and will post
it on Amazon, my blog, and my web site probably tomorrow.

By the way, in 2001 I lived on the side of a mountain between Ridgway
and Ouray, Colorado. I am in Plymouth, MN now.

My best wishes

Tom Heuerman

Monday, July 18, 2011



The Kennedy Detail

Discovery Channel

Executive Producers
Ken Atchity, Brooke Runnette, Chi‑Li Wong, Jay Renfroe, David Garfinkle

Co‑Executive Producer
Vince DiPersio

Grant Axton, Gerald Blaine, Liza Maddrey, Lisa McCubbin


Mom and Kate at the Airforce Academy Meeting JFK

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thank you for your service to our nation!!

Mr. Blaine,

I am an Assistant United States Attorney in Pensacola, Florida. Today I was telling our local USSS agent, SA Kevin Clifton, how great your book was and he shared that very recently, he and a group of agents got to visit with the Kennedy Detail agents who were in Jacksonville doing a promotional on the book. I was spell-bound as he told me of his visit with you guys. There is not a finer, more dedicated, more professional group of agents that I have worked with in 33 years than those in the Secret Service. Thank you for your exemplary and sacrificial service to our nation and for sharing the history which you lived through this wonderful book!!

Len Register

AUSA - Pensacola

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Wright Angle Reviews The Kennedy Detail

Memories of six seconds in Dallas

By Scott Wright

I spend a lot of my spare time reading, and over the July 4 holiday I finished a book titled “The Kennedy Detail” by Gerald Blaine and Lisa McCubbin. It was a page-turning, 448-page read about the federal agents charged with guarding our 35th president.

First, a little background to explain my interest: Nearly 20 years ago, during Christmas break while I was in college, I traveled to Texas with my friend John. His father, who lived in Houston, had given him tickets to the Cotton Bowl and John asked me to come along. I'll never forget sitting in a freezing, drizzling rain and watching Florida State and Texas A&M slip, slide and stumble to a boring 10-2 final score.

The night before the game had been much more exciting. John and I drove from Houston into downtown Dallas and parked within walking distance of Dealey Plaza, where President Kennedy was killed on Nov. 22, 1963. It was a dark and dreary night. There haven't been many times in my life when I've felt more haunted that I did standing on the sidewalk between the grassy knoll and the painted “X” on Elm Street where a bullet once exploded Jack Kennedy's head right before his lovely young wife's eyes.

The author describes that moment in shocking, gruesome detail. In a chapter titled “Six Seconds in Dallas,” Blaine retraces the final path of the motorcade in minute detail that includes the fatal shot, which caused one of the author's fellow agents to “suck in his breath as the horrific image became forever etched into his soul.”

I have given plenty of thought, through the years, to the person – or people – responsible for killing the president. John and I even spent part of our vacation inside a Dallas theater watching the brand-new Oliver Stone film “JFK.” We walked out convinced we knew the entire truth. Absolutely, we agreed, the CIA, or Castro, or the Mafia, or some organized group had to have been responsible for something so horrible. The cause of the death that changed our nation forever couldn't have been the work of one lone nut.

Or could it? By the time I picked up Blaine's book a few weeks ago, I had been convinced for several years that Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed a lone nut with some firearms acumen who simply got lucky. When Blaine and his peers all pretty much said the same thing in his book, that was good enough for me.

Some will surely argue that Blaine's book is another part of the “massive conspiracy” we've all been hearing about for the past 50 years. But after reading about how Blaine and Clint Hill (Mrs. Kennedy's Secret Service agent) and all the other agents who were there that day had their lives changed forever, their futures turned upside down, and their careers cut short (for the most part), it's not hard to realize that the disaster they saw unfold before their eyes that day in Dallas was no grandly-engineered scheme. Instead, it was a damned nightmare come to life – one that Jerry Blaine and all the other Secret Service agents on the Kennedy Detail relived over and over, every day, for the rest of their lives.

The inside of the dust jacket reads, in part: “Drawing on the memories of his fellow agents, Jerry Blaine captures the energetic, crowd-loving young president, who banned agents from his car and often plunged into raucous crowds with little warning. He describes the careful planning that went into JFK's Texas swing, the worries and concerns that agents, working long hours with little food or rest, had during the trip. And he describes the intensely private first lady and her first-ever political appearance with her husband, just months after losing a newborn baby.”

This book is all of that, and a lot more. If you enjoy learning about little-known aspects of American history, I highly recommend “The Kennedy Detail.” The book is available at in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions.

Managing Editor Scott Wright has been with The Post since 1998. He is a two-time winner of the Society of Professional Journalists' Green Eyeshade Award for humorous commentary. He is also the author of "A History of Weiss Lake" and "Fire on the Mountain: The Undefeated 1985 Sand Rock Wildcats," both available at He is a native of Cherokee County.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Former Secret Service agent: Betty Ford looked after us

Written by

GRAND RAPIDS — An ex-Secret Service agent says former First Lady Betty Ford was like “a mother” to him and his colleagues.

Mike Shannon signed a condolence book for Ford at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. He was among many who came to express their sympathy to the Ford family after Betty Ford's death in California on Friday.

Shannon told WOOD-TV that he protected the Fords, and Betty Ford was always concerned about the agents and their families. He says she once sent him home with a bag of oranges for his wife.

The museum says its lobby will be open around the clock until further notice so people can sign the book.

Her body will be sent to Michigan for burial at the museum alongside her husband.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thank you for writing the book ...

Dear Mr. Blaine:

Thank you so much for writing the book and sharing.

I was in Mrs. Smiths’, 4th grade classroom on the South Side of Pittsburgh. I remember the smell of the classroom, the sound of the rubber tip of the teacher’s pointer on the pull down map; I can still see tears running down the faces of my classmates and teachers, I remember the tightness in my chest and the inability to swallow. As I was reading your book, I recalled the voice of Walter Cronkite announcing the time of death of President Kennedy.

After school, we still drove to Youngstown, Ohio to spend the weekend with family. Seven of us remained glued to the TV for the next four days. None of us understood why we lost a president that day. No explanations were sufficient.

Thank you for writing the book and answering questions that have remained unanswered since 1963. I understand more now.

Thank you to all the Secret Service agents who have served our Presidents.

My best regards,

Michelle Z

Friday, July 8, 2011

Unpublished Photos from JFK's Election

Paul Schutzer / TIME & LIFE Pictures

During a speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, Kennedy famously told the largely skeptical gathering, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic."

Kennedy on the stump, October 1960.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cop tracks down presidential limo's seal

Magnetism is the only thing that keeps the presidential seal on the president's limousine.

The round, gold-trimmed presidential seal is an impressive symbol affixed to the door of the limousine known as "The Beast."
It appears to be a permanent part of the limo. But in reality, it's a magnetic seal that comes on and off, vulnerable to wind and elements just like anything we'd put on our own cars. And Thursday night, the seal came off during President Obama's motorcade to the airport after his fundraising visit to Philadelphia, ending up alongside Interstate 76. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said agents and Philadelphia police returned to the area off the freeway that night and looked for it, but were unable to find it in the dark. But the next day, a Philadelphia police officer found it on the side of the road. The Philadelphia Daily News reports the officer had been part of the motorcade the night before and was helping a disabled car when he spotted it. It was brought to the Secret Service field office and is being returned to Washington. "It happens periodically," Donovan said. "They're only magnetic. They're not put on any special way."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Secret Service created July 5, 1865

On this day, July 5, 1865, the U.S. Secret Service was created in Washington to arrest counterfeiters.

During President Lincoln's administration, more than a third of the nation's money was counterfeit. On April 14, 1965, the day he would be assassinated, Lincoln established a commission to stop the counterfeiting problem.

The Secret Service evolved into the country's first domestic intelligence and counterintelligence agency. After the assassination of President McKinley in 1901, Congress informally requested that the Secret Service provide presidential protection. In 1902, William Craig became the first agent to be killed riding in the presidential carriage. Now, there are more than 3,200 Secret Service agents.

-Scott McCabe

The Kennedy Detail's Robert Faison

Robert Roy Faison, 81, of Palm Coast, FL passed away at Stuart F. Meyer Hospice on June 28, 2011. A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, July 5th at 11:00 am at Palm Coast United Methodist Church, 5200 Belle Terre Pkwy., Palm Coast.

Bob was a Special Agent with the US Secret Service, he was the first African American permanently assigned to the White House and served during the Kennedy and Johnson administration. Bob traveled to thirty countries while assigned to the White House Detail. He was the third African American Special Agent hired by the Secret Service.

Bob was assigned to the midnight shift in Fort Worth Texas the night before President Kennedy's assassination. The Shift had flown to Austin where they received word the President had been shot. The shift immediately flew to Washington DC and protected President Johnson at his home the night of the assassination.

Bob served his country in the US Army, during the war in Korea. He rose to the rank of Warrant Officer, and was the youngest 1st Sgt. in a combat infantry company. He was awarded the Bronze Star while in Korea.

Bob was commissioned by the Secret Service in 1962 and was assigned to the Washington Field Office. He was assigned to President Kennedy in October 1963 after serving a thirty day temporary assignment on the Detail. He retired from the Secret Service after achieving the rank of Inspector.
He was a member of the Palm Coast United Methodist Church, a fifty year member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, The African American Cultural Society, and the Association of Former Agents of the Secret Service, the NAACP, and the Eagles Golf Club.

Bob will be missed by his fellow agents.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Life With The Secret Service

The Obamas have a head start among First Families in learning to live with the Secret Service's constant presence.

How would you feel if a frowning man in dark sunglasses and wires in his ears grabbed the back of your pants every time you walked into a crowd? That's just one of many less-than-enjoyable aspects of presidential life that the Obama family have been living with, ever since they were christened with their recently-released official Secret Service code names: Renegade (Barack), Renaissance (Michelle), Radiance (Malia), and Rosebud (Sasha).

The Obamas have had some time to adjust; they have had a Secret Service detail since May 2007, the earliest one ever assigned to a presidential contender. The detail was assigned because of concerns that the African-American candidate might face greater dangers. Those concerns were not misplaced, as evidenced by the discovery of several plots to do the candidate harm this fall.

The Obamas aren't the only ones keeping the Secret Service busy. Since 9/11, the ranks of the protected have swelled to include key cabinet and congressional leaders, and even their assistants. Files are kept on some 40,000 U.S. citizens, including about 400 deemed by the agency to pose a specific threat. Using gadgets that would make James Bond envious, agents sweep offices and hotel rooms for surveillance devices, test food for poison and measure air quality to check for dangerous bacteria. The cute code names might make for good stories, but they're functionally obsolete; Secret Service agents actually rely on modern encryption technology to help keep discussions about those they protect confidential.

Of course, all the technology and planning in the world can't protect a candidate or president if he won't do what he's told. Some politicians have been cooperative—Dwight Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, for example—while others have gone rogue; Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson all loved to make mischief. What can agents expect from the new First Family? With the help of two valuable books on the subject—"The Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Enigmatic Agency" and "Standing Next To History: An Agent's Life Inside the Secret Service"—and interviews with an agency staffer, NEWSWEEK compiled a tip sheet of anecdotes from administrations-past illustrating the sundry ways Renegade, Renaissance, Radiance, and Rosebud might manage to stir up trouble for the folks in the dark glasses.

Lesson 1: Expect the Unexpected
At a pet show at Ethel Kennedy's Virginia estate, Secret Service agents had to scoop up and whisk away Jimmy Carter's daughter Amy when Suzy, a 6,000 pound elephant, charged in her direction. With Amy in his arms, the agent jumped over a split-rail fence—which the rogue elephant soon splintered—and carted the First Daughter to safety inside Kennedy's house, while crowds scattered and trainers struggled to get Suzy back under control.

Lesson 2: Agents Protect, Not Serve
President Jimmy Carter, accustomed to asking his state trooper guards to do errands for him, initially used his Secret Service detail as bag carriers—much to their dismay. He eventually backed off, but other presidents have requested such favors as babysitting and providing a fourth for a bridge game; all of which, agents have complained, detracted from their ability to do their jobs. Jackie Kennedy was the opposite: after JFK died, her children continued to have protection until they were 18. She insisted that the guards remain as inconspicuous as possible—and that they not pick up after or run errands for her children.

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