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Meet The Secret Service Agent Who Was There When Kennedy Died

Clint Hill visits the Texas Standard studio.

When the National Archives made public thousands of documents on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy earlier this year, there was a lot of anticipation about what was in those files.

What we may learn is far from clear, but it’s possible that nothing from those files will be quite as powerful as the real-life recollections of the man who recently sat in the Texas Standard’s studios.

Clint Hill served in the U.S. Secret Service under five presidents from Eisenhower to Ford, though he’s best remembered as the brave agent who jumped on the back of the limousine carrying President Kennedy and the First Lady when Kennedy was shot in Dallas. Clint Hill is now the co-author of three books recalling his experiences.

He says that, because of his goals, he never gets tired of telling his stories.

“I’m trying to convince people and make them understand what really happened because the movie “JFK” that Oliver Stone put out is such a fabrication of truth that it’s distorted the way people see history in that era,” Hill says. “And so I’m just trying to straighten the record, really.”

The record is particularly shaky surrounding November 22, 1963 – and that’s what he still hopes to fix.

“There only was one shooter. There only were three shots fired. And that’s the thing that most people can’t really accept, that they don’t think that’s possible,” Hill says. “Well, if you look back in history, you’ll find out that that’s exactly the case in most instances of attempted assassinations or successful assassinations.”

In his memoir “Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford” Hill tells the story of his career in the Secret Service.

He was trained as a counterintelligence agent by the U.S. Army, joined the Secret Service in 1958, and spent his entire career in Washington attached to the White House or the protective operations.”

He says the job is even more difficult than you might imagine.

“You have to be willing to sacrifice a great deal because you’re never home – that’s one thing. I was gone about 90 percent of the time,” he says. “I had a wife and two children, but my two boys never really had a close relationship with me because I was gone all the time.”

In the Secret Service, he was able to witness history. He remembers late one night when President Nixon went outside to talk with student protestors. Nixon tried to talk about the Syracuse football team, but didn’t get far.

“Well these kids weren’t in town because they were interested in football games,” Hill says. “They were there because they were anti-Nixon. Anti-Vietnam is what it was. So they had no interest in that conversation whatsoever.”

During the LBJ administration, the president had Hill fitted for “ranch clothes.” At the ranch, Hill says, “[LBJ] requested I put them on. And he happened to be in the swimming pool at the time and he asked I come out to the swimming pool and model them. It was extremely embarrassing but I had to do it.”

In 2009, he was interviewed for a book about the Kennedy assassination. He says he was finally able to talk about the emotional baggage he’s carried ever since 1963.

“I blame myself for not being able to do something to prevent the assassination from happening. It was our responsibility to keep the president safe and we failed to do so. And I felt guilty and that responsibility just bothered me for years and years,” Hill says. “It just ate at me and it’s why I was retired in 1975. Because by that time, that emotional baggage had caused my physical condition to deteriorate to the point where I couldn’t even pass the physical.”

Today, Hill says he’s in much better shape because he’s been able to work through his emotional baggage – particularly through writing his three memoirs.

Written by Jen Rice.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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