Thank you, Mr. Hill

Mrs. Kennedy and
by Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin
I just read a book I still can’t believe got written.
Clint Hill was one of the Secret Service agents assigned to
Jacqueline Kennedy. He’s the agent who ran up and jumped onto the car after the
shots were fired in Dealey
Plaza and threw himself
on top of the Kennedys.
And having seen a video of his 60 Minutes interview from the ’70s, I thought it highly unlikely
that he’d ever write a book, not only because of the code of silence, but because
it was clear that he had nearly been destroyed by the events of November 22,

The thing is, Hill is the only agent who hurled himself into
harm’s way that day—running after the car and launching himself into it. Yet he
held himself responsible for years for not reacting more quickly (more quickly
than his 2-second response time) so
that he could have prevented the assassination of the president.

I’m grateful to him — for his devotion to his work, and also for having written this book. And thankfully for him, it sounds (from the Acknowledgments) like
writing it helped Hill deal with the aftermath of the tragedy (though only after
decades of torment).

So all of that is horribly somber and devastating stuff, but this
book has a lightness about it, right up to the part where things got horrible.

This is the story of a working relationship that neither party
expected to be a positive experience. Yet each person ended up adoring the

Hill had been on Eisenhower’s detail, so to him, it felt like a
demotion when he was assigned to the security detail for the new First Lady. He
anticipated little more than antiques shopping and the ballet.

For Mrs. Kennedy’s part, she dreaded the omnipresence of the
Secret Service. But in time, as she told Hill, she found that the Secret
Service agents were her best allies in trying to create a normal life for
herself and her children.

And she and Hill clearly understood one another, to the point that
she had him promoted to be the senior agent responsible for her protection; he
handled things the way she wished for them to be handled.

That’s Clint Hill, over Jacqueline Kennedy’s right shoulder (just behind the nurse’s hat). 
credit: Abbie Rowe, White House Photographs, John F. Kennedy Presidential
Library and Museum)   

The fascinating thing about their relationship is that they spent
more time together than they spent with their own spouses. They referred to one
another as “Mrs. Kennedy” and “Mr. Hill,” but it’s clear that there was a
closeness, a respect, and an understanding that they shared.

Much of the book consists of a behind-the-scenes look at the
events in Mrs. Kennedy’s life during the White House years. There are photos
sprinkled through the book, many of them with Hill standing near Mrs. Kennedy
in his role as protector.

The thing I did not
expect was to cry while reading this book. Which makes me realize: I don’t
think I’ve ever cried over Kennedy’s death before—even though he’s my favorite
of all the presidents. It’s a weird thing. I think it must be because I was
born after his assassination, so it was always just an accepted part of my

But when I read Clint Hill’s description of the days after JFK’s
death, there were sentences that tore me apart. (The man has been dead all my
life, yet still, I mourn. It’s a strange thing, that. But stranger, perhaps,
that it never happened before.) In this case, it was the devastation
experienced by those left behind that really got me.

I’m just so grateful Clint Hill broke his silence. He was a key
participant in a major event in American history, and it makes me feel relieved
that his story now has been shared in a way that ensures that it will be
preserved and remembered. 

5 thoughts on “Thank you, Mr. Hill

  1. Charlotte Johnson, dallas tx

    I say "thank you mr hill" also. I just finished Clint Hill's book today on July 4th 2014. It is a beautifully written tribute to the Kennedy family, the historical signifigance of those years. Mrs. Kennedy's grace, strength, wit, and love of her husband and children shines through. Clint Hill's historic role was his brave destinity. I am so happy he "broke the code of silence".

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