Title: “Five Presidents: My extraordinary journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford”
Authors: Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Tuesday marks the 53th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Each year on the anniversary of this horrific event, the country is reminded of the heroics of North Dakota’s own Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent who climbed upon the back of the Kennedy limousine to protect first lady Jacqueline Kennedy as shots were being fired.
This painful day is recounted in “Five Presidents.” Hill, who was raised in Washburn, writes: “It would be nearly 50 years before I could recount the details of what happened in Dallas — not because I was sworn to secrecy or because I had anything to hide. The reason is simple: The memories were just too damn painful. To this day, every moment is still vivid in my mind.”
“Five Presidents” offers not only unrivaled insight into the U.S. Secret Service, it’s a retelling of history from someone who had a front row seat. “Five Presidents” takes the reader inside the White House, across the country and around the world as Hill delivers a moving, narrative-filled perspective on some of the greatest events of our time.
The book, with co-author Lisa McCubbin, documents Hill’s colorful and detailed stories of 17 years as a member of the most elite protective force in the world, the Secret Service. In this span, he protected the office of the president of the United States occupied by Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford.
On Nov. 1, 1959, Hill was assigned to the presidential detail for President Eisenhower. Hill was with the president on an 11-nation tour to promote peace and goodwill. Domestically, Hill witnessed the changing tone of U.S. and Russian relations at the start of the Cold War.
When President Kennedy was elected in 1960, Hill was assigned to be special agent in charge of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Prior to the trip to Dallas, Hill experienced the stress Kennedy felt dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis and saw first-hand the grief in the Kennedys’ hearts over the loss of their son, Patrick.
“Five Presidents” gives insight on the emotional toll the assassination had on Hill. In the final chapter, Hill describes his “60 Minutes” interview in 1975 with Mike Wallace during which he speaks for the first time about the assassination. He breaks down after saying he held himself responsible for not being able to save the president’s life. “If I had reacted about five tenths of a second faster, or maybe a second faster … I wouldn’t be here today ... I could have taken the third shot.” Hill was awarded a certificate of bravery for his actions on the day of the assassination, praising him for “extraordinary courage and heroic effort in the face of maximum danger.”
Hill’s next assignment was on the protective detail for President Johnson. Interestingly, Johnson questioned Hill’s appointment to his protective detail, wondering if he could be loyal after having served so closely to the Kennedys. But Hill’s supervisors assured the president that Hill was the consummate professional and his only allegiance was to the mission of the U.S. Secret Service.
Hill stayed and earned the president’s trust. As Johnson was leaving office, he even asked Hill to head his protective detail at the LBJ Ranch. Hill was there during the Johnson years, marked with legislative successes but societal stresses including U.S. involvement in Vietnam, racial tensions heightened with the assassination of Martin Luther King and the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968 and won a landslide re-election in 1972. In the Nixon administration, Hill was named special agent in charge of the detail for Vice President Spiro Agnew, who resigned his position in 1973 after being found guilty of tax evasion. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, after his entanglement and cover-up of the Watergate break-in came to be known. Hill was there to watch the president leave the White House and board the helicopter that carried him away.
When Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th president on Aug. 9, 1974, Hill was there to hear the soothing remarks of the nation’s new president: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws, not of men.”
The stress placed on Hill during this 17-year run ultimately took its toll. He retired in 1975 as assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service at age 43.
When Johnson left office, he told a group of agents that he had offered incoming President Nixon this advice: “You will have many problems. Of course, you will have a lot of friends when you come in. But the best friend you will have when you come in and when you go out will be an organization — that will be the Secret Service of the United States.”
North Dakota can be extremely proud of its native son and his exemplary service to this elite protective detail — all of which you can learn about in “Five Presidents.”