TOM PUTNAM: Good evening everyone. What a great honor it is to be here this evening on the stage with Clint Hill, the special agent in charge of Jacqueline Kennedy’s secret service detail, as well as a distinguished career in the secret service. We certainly thank all of you for coming.
As you know, there is considerable interest in Jacqueline Kennedy these days. There was a story on the front page of the New York Times regarding the oral history that Caroline will be officially publishing on Wednesday. And Caroline Kennedy will be here next Monday at this same time speaking about that oral history. And she’s also going to be on ABC News Primetime Special with Diane Sawyer tomorrow night that was filmed here at the Library. And that’s tomorrow night.
So, knowing that we were going to have this interest in Jacqueline Kennedy, we thought who would be better to help launch our Forum Series for this fall and open up this discussion about Jacqueline Kennedy, especially during her years in the White House, than Clint Hill?
Before I begin, I wanted to, on behalf of Tom McNaught, the Executive Director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and all of my Kennedy Library and Library Foundation colleagues, not only thank you, but thank our Library sponsors who support our Forum Series, including lead sponsor Bank of America, Boston Capital, the Boston Foundation, the Lowell Institute, Raytheon, and our media partners, the Boston Globe and WBUR.
So, I have a son who fantasizes about being a secret service agent, and I'm sure many of you can understand. And so, we wonder, Mr. Hill, when you were a young man, a young boy, did you ever imagine that you would be in the secret service? How did your life bring you to that spot?
CLINT HILL: Well, I did not as a young child. I grew up—I was going to be a teacher teaching history and coaching athletics. And, when I finished college, I had to go into the army. And the first thing after basic training, they selected me to go to army intelligence school. And I became a special agent in counterintelligence for the Department of the Army. Spent three years doing that. And, in the final year of that, or two years of that, my path did cross with secret service. I was assigned to Denver, Colorado. And President Eisenhower used to come out there frequently. And I got to know some of the agents there. And that piqued my curiosity. And that’s how I decided that maybe that’s the path I would like to go.
TOM PUTNAM: So you were initially assigned in the field office in Denver?
CLINT HILL: Denver, that’s correct.
TOM PUTNAM: And then, how did you end up getting the exciting assignment for the White House itself?
CLINT HILL: We all had to go back and do a 30-day assignment at the White House detail. It was an evaluation period to discern whether or not you were the type of individual they wanted to be there on a permanent basis. I did mine during the President Eisenhower administration.
And subsequently, I was assigned, on a permanent basis, to President Eisenhower beginning on November 1st, 1959.
TOM PUTNAM: And describe, what was it like protecting President Eisenhower? And with the changes going on—
CLINT HILL: Well, President Eisenhower was, you know, a five-star—had been a five-star general. We, the agents, were more or less like his troops. [laughter] He didn’t know our names. He knew the name of the agent in charge, Jim Rowley, and he knew the name of the agent who drove his car, Dick Floor(?). But the rest of us were just, “Hey agent!” when he wanted something. [laughter]
He was very prompt, very—you could set your watch. If they were supposed to leave the house at 9:05, at 9:04:58, he was in the car ready to go. [laughter] And that’s the way it was all that time. He was very, very popular worldwide. Just so happened, in 1959, the Air Force acquired three jumbo jets 707s, first jets that the White House had ever had.
And so, he decided he was going to travel. And, beginning in December of 1959, we went all through Europe, down into Karachi, Kabul, New Delhi, Ankara, Tehran, Tunis, Toulon, Paris, Rome. You name it, we were there. And then he decided we’d go all through South America. And then we went all through the parts of Asia. And then we came back and went back to France. And it was a wonderful experience for a young kid from North Dakota who had never even been on a jet plane before. [laughter] So that was my first experience in secret service. It was really, really exciting.
TOM PUTNAM: And you had a young family at the time?
CLINT HILL: I had, at that time, my son was born in 1956. And I was gone—During the Eisenhower administration, I was gone maybe 60 percent of the time, not too much. Then, when the Kennedy administration came into office, during the elections in 1960—the election was on November 8th. And they had selected a couple of agents to be with Mrs. Kennedy. And they were forming a detail to be with the president.
I was with President Eisenhower. He had decided to go to Augusta to play golf the day after the election. So we all went down to Georgia. I was working the golf course with some other agents. And my boss said, “I need to talk to you and these other two agents right after this golf match is over.” So we met him. He told the other two agents, “You guys are going to Palm Beach. Clint,” he said, “Secretary of Defense Tom Gates is down here seeing Ike. He’s going back to Washington. You get on the plane with him. Go back to Washington and see the director or the chief. He wants to talk to you.”
I had no idea what was going on. So I got back there, and I talked to him. And it was a long, drawn-out process, about an hour and a half. And they finally said, “Okay, we’ve decided what we’re going to do. You're going to be assigned to Mrs. Kennedy.” And I was really disgusted.
[laughter] I didn’t want that assignment. I had seen what former first ladies did. [laughter] Fashion shows, tea parties, ballet school [laughter] I didn’t want any part of that. [laughter]
But I had to accept it. And so that Friday, when President and Mrs. Kennedy returned from Hyannisport, they came back to Washington. I went and I met Mrs. Kennedy. She was about eight and a half months pregnant. And so, from that point on, I was assigned to her. And we started to establish a relationship that gradually grew. But it got stronger and stronger as we went along. And then, as things would happen, shortly thereafter, young John was born.
TOM PUTNAM: So we’re going to do something slightly different in this forum. We’re going to show some slides as we just continue the conversation that we have. And so, I’ll have to probably dim the lights slightly so folks can see the slides, but hopefully still see Mr. Hill. And so these first few slides are simply the day after the election. They're at Hyannisport. And again, so Mr. Hill wasn’t here at the time when President Kennedy, then President-elect Kennedy, officially announced.
And now, we have this picture of John Jr. coming home. And so, why don’t you tell that story. It was Thanksgiving weekend. And you were with the family. And the president actually flew off to Palm Beach.
CLINT HILL: Yeah, he had been in Palm Beach. And then, on the 23rd of November, he came back to spend Thanksgiving with Caroline and Mrs. Kennedy. And she was, you know, about a month away from delivering. And then, on Thanksgiving Day, which was the 24th, he left at about 8:30 that night, and got back on the plane. And it was the Caroline, the private plane of the family, and took off for Palm Beach.
Well, about an hour later or two hours later, I had gone home because she had said that she wasn’t going to do anything more that night. So I was at home. And I got a message, a telephone call from Jim Jeffries, who was actually the agent in charge at that time. And said, “Mrs.
Kennedy has been taken to Georgetown Hospital by ambulance. Get there right away.” So I rushed over to the hospital. What had happened was, she had contacted her doctor and told him that she was having problems. And he had called an ambulance. And we didn’t know anything about it. We had failed to really brief her on how our communications worked. [laughter]
And she had tried to get in touch with the president-elect on the Caroline, and they couldn’t get through to him. Now, we could have, if she had gone through us. We could have made sure we let him know. So he didn’t know anything about it until he got to Palm Beach, got off the plane, and there was a phone call for him, to tell him that his wife was in Georgetown Hospital. He better get back to Washington.
So they pushed the Caroline out of the way. They got on the press plane, which was a bigger plane. And they got back to Washington quicker. And they got back about 4:20 in the morning. And meanwhile, she had been rushed to the emergency room at Georgetown Hospital. And Dr. Walsh had performed a Cesarean. And I was there. And young John was born. The president got there about, I don’t know, 4:20 a.m. or something like that.
TOM PUTNAM: And did you pace the halls the way—[laughter]
CLINT HILL: Yeah, I did. I knew her history. I knew that she had had some problems in the past. And I was very, very fearful of what might happen this time. But, fortunately, everything turned out okay. And young John was born, he was healthy. But there was concern for him, but he was healthy. She was pretty weak afterwards. The president got there and went in to see her. But she was probably was out of it.
TOM PUTNAM: And here they are in Georgetown. But then they go down to Palm Beach as well, according—
CLINT HILL: Well, she couldn’t go for a while, until early December. And, in the interim, she had an appointment to go to the White House and get a tour of the White House. And Mrs. Eisenhower was going to give her a tour. She had talked to me about it. And I told her what I knew about the White House, and how things worked and everything. And she wondered if it’d be possible to have a wheelchair available to her. And I said, “Sure, no problem.” A friend of mine was the usher there, J.B. West. So I let him know.
And she got there. And J.B. met she and myself down at the entrance to the White House, took her to the elevator. And got to the elevator, and J.B. said, “Mrs. Eisenhower wants to take her on a tour alone.” And so, they went upstairs. I went to the usher’s office and stood by. When it was all over, she came back down. And she looked like she was really tired out. And what had happened was, there was a wheelchair up there, but Mrs. Eisenhower never offered to let her use it. [laughter] It was sitting behind a door. And she was afraid to ask her. And so, by the time she finished the tour, she was completely wiped out. Got in the car, took her back to Georgetown, and we went that afternoon down to Palm Beach.
TOM PUTNAM: So we have some pictures here of the inauguration. But you are actually with the children. Tell us more about where you were these days.
CLINT HILL: Well a few days before the inauguration, the agent in charge came to me and said, “When President and Mrs. Kennedy go back to Washington for the inauguration, we want you to stay here in Palm Beach and supervise the protection of Caroline and John.” I was upset again. [laughter] Because I had never been to an inauguration. [laughter] And I was really looking forward to it. But I was saddled with staying there in Palm Beach.
Of course it wasn’t so bad, since there was about a foot of snow in Washington. [laughter] But, on inauguration day, Caroline was there. And she was with Ms. Shaw. And we were at the ambassador’s residence. And there was a room there with a TV. And, during the inaugural ceremony, why Ms. Shaw was in there watching it. Ms. Shaw was from England. She had no idea what was really going on. [laughter]
And I was in there, and Caroline was in there in and out. And I was trying to explain to Caroline what her father was doing, and all this kind of stuff. She was more interested in finger-painting and swimming in the pool. And so, she really didn’t see much of the inauguration in 1961.
TOM PUTNAM: So we just have this lovely picture of Mrs. Kennedy congratulating her husband after his inaugural address. And here they are at the inaugural ball. So she was worried about the White House being a fishbowl, that her privacy would be invaded, and that she wouldn’t be able to live the type of life she wanted to live. How did she protect herself? Or how did she create a family life for herself and her children?
CLINT HILL: Well, that was one of the things she really insisted on. She wanted the children to be brought up as normal children. Nothing special. The agents were to treat them as if they were just one of their own. If the kids fell down, they got up. You didn’t help them. They had to learn all this stuff on their own. She wanted to avoid as much publicity as she could for the children and for herself.
We tried to shield her as much as we could. The press became more and more insistent as time went on, because they weren’t getting what they wanted. And so, when they're not fed properly, why they don’t, you know—they don’t behave the same. [laughter] But she was very, very protective, not only of she and herself and the children, but of him, too. She wanted as much normalcy as possible that he could come back to the residence and be completely just himself. And didn’t have to be so involved. But she didn’t really understand the office of the President-- that it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You may be somewhere on vacation, but you're not on vacation.
TOM PUTNAM: So here, were you there this day?
CLINT HILL: Yes, this is the day we came back from Palm Beach in early February of 1961, after the inauguration. And the people in the staff at the White House, the gardeners, had made a snowman for she and John. Of course, John was too young to appreciate it. He was only about two months old. But Caroline really thought this was great. And the head gardener made sure that it was properly done. And they headed out on the south—just next to the south portico, so that she could see it when they arrived back at the White House from Palm Beach.
TOM PUTNAM: So we have just a number of pictures of, again, this young family in the White House. Any anecdotes?
CLINT HILL: Well this is Easter, I believe, 1962. And probably—I’m not sure yet—It’s probably in Palm Beach. And that’s young John typically—He was doing that all the time. Every time he’d get up on his mother like that, he wanted to get at those pearls for some reason. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: And any other insights about her as a mother?
CLINT HILL: Oh, she was a great mother. She was very concerned about them, about their education. She formed a school there in the White House so that Caroline could go to school and had a bunch of—a number of young classmates brought in from outside, from all walks of life. And it was right up on the third floor of the White House, had two teachers. They used to play out on the south grounds.
TOM PUTNAM: Now, as much as he tried to protect the children from the press—I’m sorry, as much as Mrs. Kennedy did, the president would often call Cecil—[simultaneous conversation]
CLINT HILL: This only happened when Mrs. Kennedy was out of town. [laughter] The president would arrange for somebody to come in to the Oval Office and to get a photograph of the children. But she never said too much about it afterwards, and I think she knew that’s what he was going to do. It was one of those things.
TOM PUTNAM: Some lovely pictures.
CLINT HILL: This is walking from the office toward the colonnade going back to the mansion. And that’s just outside the Oval Office.
TOM PUTNAM: So this is Ms. Shaw.
CLINT HILL: That’s Ms. Shaw the nanny, from London. She was with them for the entire time that, when Caroline was born, all the way up through the mid-‘70s.
TOM PUTNAM: Here’s the school.
CLINT HILL: This was up on the third floor. A number of young children, some from various embassies. And she took a very deep interest in this. Made sure that they had the best teachers and the best—whatever they needed to have. Caroline loved to finger-paint.
This is a White House dinner and performance afterwards by Pablo Casals, who was a Puerto Rican—He’s from Spain, actually. And he refused to come to the White House to play until the president talked to him and convinced him that that was the thing to do. Because he didn’t want to do that because something to do with Generalissimo Franco’s relationship. But he finally decided to come. And it was a spectacular evening at the White House.
TOM PUTNAM: And she was known for organizing these cultural events.
CLINT HILL: She took a personal interest in each one of these events and made sure that they were all done properly, and checked the guest list to make sure who was going to be there. It was a cross-section of people. She asked me if I would be interested. And she knew that I was interested in music. And so, I was there that night that Pablo Casals played.
TOM PUTNAM: And comment again more the comment you made early on, when you first heard of your assignment, that you were worried that you would be going to social teas. And she kind of rejected doing what traditional first ladies had done, and really refashioned the entire job in a new way.
CLINT HILL: Completely, yeah. In fact, she didn’t go to teas. And she didn’t do the things that I anticipated she would be doing. We did go to two fashion show, one in New Delhi and one in Lahore, Pakistan. [laughter] But I don’t recall going to any others. And it was rather interesting. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: So here is a private moment between the two of them. You must have been witness to some of these moments, even in a public event, where they needed—
CLINT HILL: Oh, very much so. You know, you're with them all the time that they're not in on the second floor in their private quarters, we’re with them. So we know exactly what’s happening. And we see things that nobody else sees, and hear things that nobody else hears. And that’s as far as it goes. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: You sure you don’t want to tell us anything? [laughter]
CLINT HILL: No.
TOM PUTNAM: So this event, were you at this? This is the—
CLINT HILL: --Nobel Laureate, yes. That’s Mr. Frost standing there next to Mrs. Kennedy. And this is typical type of event she really liked to have. She had the very best, finest artisans and artists in the world at the White House. And she put them in a position so they were recognized, and so the world could see them.
TOM PUTNAM: And then, sometimes after the official event, the party might continue.
CLINT HILL: Sometimes it continued. And one party lasted until 2:30 in the morning, which is rather unusual. But it was—I don’t recall which one it was now. But it was a very, very happy event.
She’s meeting Emperor Haile Selassie from Ethiopia. That’s the chief of protocol behind the President, Angier Biddle Duke. He’s arriving at Union Station in Washington for a state visit.
TOM PUTNAM: Describe the secret service at that time. How many were you? How does it compare to the secret service today?
CLINT HILL: When I came into the secret service, there were 269 agents worldwide. And you didn’t get in unless somebody died or retired. There just were no openings. But in 1963, there were about 330 of us. At that time, there were 34 agents assigned to the president, to the detail, to the White House, to the president. Two of us were assigned to the first lady. And we had three agents assigned to the two children. So that meant 39. And that was the total.
Today, there are about 3,500 agents. It’s considerably different than it was then. We didn’t have the equipment they have today. We didn’t have radios. We didn’t have any personal communications of any type. We had none of the modern conveniences. Our computer system was really a three-by-five card with a photograph on one side. [laughter] And that’s about all we had.
And the training programs we had in those days were mostly on the job. Today they have an academy that first you go to eight weeks of federal law enforcement training center in Georgia. Then, if you finish that successfully, you then go to the academy in Washington at Belleville for another eight weeks. If you finish that, they will then make you an agent. But it’s very different than it was back in those days.
TOM PUTNAM: So I thought we would move from official White House to where she spent her weekends and summers. And you were always there with her. So can you tell us?
CLINT HILL: This is in Middleburg at Glen Ora. She’s riding a horse called Sardar. And Caroline is on a pony called Macaroni. That’s young John with Mrs. Kennedy on the horse. She loved to go to Glen Ora, which was an estate they rented near Middleburg. And then, they eventually—she picked out a piece of property near there at Atoka called Rattlesnake Mountain, and built a home. They eventually called that Wexford. But they only had that house for about two years. And they never got to really use it too much. They used it a few times. But she eventually found that she liked to go to Camp David. And she had done so reluctantly, to begin with. But eventually, when she found out what it really was like, she liked it.
TOM PUTNAM: I’m noticing my colleague. We’re going to be taking written questions at the end of this program. So, if you have a question, my colleague Amy MacDonald has index cards. And she’ll bring them around, and then she’ll bring them up to us. She often, if I understood, she might leave on a Thursday afternoon and then come back on a Monday morning. I mean, she liked to have her time in the country.
CLINT HILL: Oh yes. We spent considerable time in the country. She would go Thursday, and the president would try and come out on Saturday usually. And then, he would fly back on Monday. Usually we stayed through until maybe Tuesday. Depended a lot what she had to do in Washington. If there was a function, then we came back.
During all this time, of course, she was deeply involved in the restoration of the White House. And so, it was mounds of yellow legal pads, because she loved to write notes on yellow legal pads. And they were all sent back to various people that they were addressed to, to do this or that. And so, she was deeply involved in a lot of things. But, at the same time, she wanted her privacy out in the country in Virginia.
TOM PUTNAM: Now sometimes, you would just jump in a station wagon and drive her around. You have some stories about that, I understand?
CLINT HILL: Yeah, it was just the two of us usually. I’d—Wherever she wanted to go, I took her. We’d go over to a place called the Fout Residence, to begin with. That’s where the horses were kept. And she would ride there with—Eve Fout was a very good friend of hers from years before. And they were accomplished horsemen, horse women.
One day we were driving back to—this was a little bit later—we were driving back to
Rattlesnake Mountain. And it’s a dirt, winding road. And I’m driving along. And she’s sitting in the front seat with me. And I saw this turtle going across the road, but I couldn’t stop. I was too close, and I could—as I drove over it, I could hear the crunch of the shell as it cracked. And it was, “Mr. Hill, what have you done?” [laughter] You know, she just—And she never forgot that. [laughter] She always remembered that I had killed that turtle. So, whenever she wanted to get to me, why that’s—she’d bring that up. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: Now I have this picture. But there are more famous pictures of her falling off a horse. And were you there at that--?
CLINT HILL: Yes I was. One day she was gone to ride with the Piedmont Hunt. And they were riding across the Mellon property. And the secret service had determined that we would not ride with her. It was too costly to have horses, to train the agents, possibility of accidents and injury, all this kind of stuff. So we had to survey her in vehicles from whatever roadway we could traverse.
So I was out driving, watching the hunt group ride. And they were approaching the fences, and jumping. And, all of a sudden, I noticed there was a guy near a fence. And he stood up. And I recognized him. It was a guy named Hawkins from near Middleburg/Upperville area. He was a photographer who specialized in photographing hunts and riders and horses. And, as she approached this fence, he started to snap and click away. And the horse just stopped dead, and she didn’t. And she went right over the top of the horse and right over the top of the fence.
And I was really mad. And I jumped out of the car, because I thought maybe she was hurt. But she had extended her arms and fallen gracefully, got up back on the horse, and away she went. But I didn’t. I kept—I ran down after the photographer, and I got to him. And there was Marshall Hawkins. And I told him, “Okay, give me the film.” And he wasn’t going to give me the film.
And I knew this wasn’t a national security event, so I didn’t have any real justification to take the film.
So I tried to convince him that, you know, he didn’t want to embarrass the lady, for goodness sakes, to have it publicized all over the world that she had fallen off this horse. He was convinced that he was going to. And he kept the film. And he sold it to Life Magazine for about $25,000 dollars.
So then, I called him up, and I tried to get the film before he got the negotiation finished. She had asked me to see if I could get the film. And I couldn’t get the film. What I got was a photograph of that event from him, which I have now framed, and one that he sent to her as well. So that’s as much as we got out of it.
TOM PUTNAM: And there was another story of a secret service agent trying to help her up on a horse once.
CLINT HILL: Yeah. She was going to get up on this horse. And one of the agents was there, and she needed a little help to get up. And it just so happened this agent is a pretty buff guy, muscular as could be. And he’s from Chicago. He didn’t know much about horses, didn’t know much about putting ladies on a horse. [laughter] So she asked him for help. And he walked over. And she expected him to cup his hand and lift her up. Not Joe. [laughter] Joe grabbed her around the waist and up. [laughter] Trouble is, he put her right over the top of the horse. [laughter] And she came down on the other side. [laughter] But it worked right all right. She wasn’t injured. So that was—
TOM PUTNAM: No one caught that on film?
CLINT HILL: Thank God nobody caught that on film.
TOM PUTNAM: So you spent holidays with the family. I have a few slides of various holidays.
CLINT HILL: Oh yeah, every holiday it seemed. And this is Christmas. It looks like about 1962 in Palm Beach, Florida. We usually spent Christmas, New Years in Florida, Thanksgiving in Eastern Florida, and Thanksgiving up at the Cape. So this particular picture here is at Easter, Palm Beach, where they're coloring Easter eggs. That’s young John next to her.
This is also at Easter in Palm Beach, just before they were going to go to Mass.
TOM PUTNAM: And Easter as well. Tell us, what was it like to be away from your own family during these years, assigned to the Kennedy family? You had to spend all of your holidays and basically all of your weekends with them.
CLINT HILL: Yeah, that was rather difficult. I was gone about 80 percent of the time. I had— My oldest son was born in ’56. So he was four when I got the assignment. And then, I had another son born ’61. And so, during that entire time, they were pretty much without a father.
And specifically on holidays, I was never there for Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving, and usually not for their birthdays, and really not for their births either. I missed both of my sons’ births.
TOM PUTNAM: Why don’t you tell us what’s going on in this picture.
CLINT HILL: In February of 1963, it was on a Friday, February 22nd. I had just finished— gotten off, no more activity. So I had gone back to my hotel room. It was about 9-9:30 at night. The phone rang. It was Mrs. Kennedy. She said, “Mr. Hill,” she said, “Prince Radziwill and Chuck Spaulding are down here, very close friends of the president, you know. And they have a wager. And they're going to have a competition. They're going to go on a hike. And the president and I are going to go out there periodically and check on them. And we’d like you to go out there and go with them to make sure that they're okay, and to make sure everything is okay when the president and I come out to see them.”
I thought, “Oh my God, what am I going to do, going on a hike? I don’t have anything”—you know. But I didn’t say anything. I said, “Yes, ma’am. What time is this going to start?” And she said, “Well, they thought they’d leave about midnight.” [laughter] So it’s 9-9:30 at night, so I quickly ran back to where they lived. Got a driver and a station wagon. Got a whole bunch of water and food stuffs and put that in the back. Got a hold of a navy corpsman, had him lined up to go with us.
And they also arranged for a photographer, Mark Shaw, out of New York, he was going to be there. So away we go. Chuck Spaulding, Prince Radziwill, myself, a driver, photographer, and a corpsman, out to the Sunshine Parkway. And we start walking south toward Miami. [laughter] Luckily the parkway had not been opened yet. There was no traffic, no cars. And so, we could just walk. And we walked, and we walked. And periodically, sure enough, there would come President and Mrs. Kennedy out. And they’d walk along maybe a quarter of a mile, half a mile. “See ya.” Away they’d go. [laughter]
I was there in my Floresheim shoes. [laughter] These guys had been practicing hiking for about three months. They had hiking boots and every kind of equipment you could imagine. So, when it was all over, we did make 50 miles. [audience response] We got back—We got back to Palm Beach. So they had a little party. And that’s what this is.
And the President had made a metal and a necklace out of paper. And he had inscribed it and said, “To Dazzle, the Pacemaker Award.” [laughter] “The secret service will follow you to the battle of the Sunshine Parkway.” [laughter] I still have that, as a matter of fact, today. I still have it in my memory bank.
TOM PUTNAM: So this is Mr. Hill receiving his medal from the President. [laughter] So you were having to protect a woman who had a real spirit of adventure here. She is waterskiing.
CLINT HILL: She loved to waterski, loved to waterski. And she liked to waterski tandem, with two people. I had never waterskied in my life. I came from North Dakota. [laughter] We had a lot of land and a lot of wheat. We didn’t have much water. [laughter] And she thought that it would be wonderful if I’d learn to waterski and could ski with her. [laughter]
And so, we had a navy guy that ran the boat for us, Jim Bartlett. And she asked, she said, “Jim, don’t you think you could teach Mr. Hill to waterski?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I’ll try.” [laughter] He’s from Maine. So, when we’re all through, when she was all through for the day and gone back to the house, and I was all assured that nothing was going to happen, I’d go out on the boat with Jim and I learned how to waterski.
And it, at first, was an absolute disaster. I was spending more time underwater than I was on top. [laughter] He finally got me up on top. Then I was supposed to learn how to slalom ski, so we could ski in tandem. That didn’t work, believe me. [laughter] And so, she finally gave up with that idea. But I did learn how to waterski.
TOM PUTNAM: And, for a short amount of time, you were also her tennis partner.
CLINT HILL: That was a very, very short period of time. [laughter] I played baseball in college and high school, American Legion. And I was a pretty good baseball player. When it came to playing tennis, that was a whole different sport for me. She asked me if I’d play tennis with her. And I told her, I said, “I’ve never played tennis. But I’ll give it a try.” So one day, she met me at the south portico with two rackets and a bunch of balls. And down to the tennis courts we went. Of course, I was dressed in a suit. [laughter] She told me that I wasn’t properly attired. [laughter]
But we managed. We went down there. And she’d serve, and I’d hit the ball, and it went right over the fence. [laughter] She’d serve, and I’d hit the ball, and it right over the fence. [laughter]
We got to volleying once in a while back and forth. But eventually, after this happened about two or three times, different days, she turned to me one day and said, “You know,” she said,
“Maybe tennis is not your game.” [laughter] And we found a teaching pro who we brought into the White House to play tennis with her.
TOM PUTNAM: So we’ve been talking about the fun side and the family side. But then, there were crises happening around you as well. So you were in Virginia when these first reports came about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
CLINT HILL: We had been spending some time in Virginia. And we recognized—agents that were close to he and she—that something was going on internationally, because there were a lot of off the record meetings with National Security Council. The Executive Committee had been formed. And the people that they were meeting with were specialists in Soviet relations and that type of thing. So we knew there was something happening.
But they were trying to make it appear as there was nothing wrong. And the president was making a lot of trips out of town. Eventually, he had to reveal to the American people what was going on. It was called the Cuban Missile Crisis. He finally called one day, he was out of town. And he wanted her to come back to the White House, make sure that she was at the White House. And so, we went back to the White House.
I realized I had to explain to her what we were going to do if something happened, because we had never really discussed what we were going to do for she and the children if there was an attack on this country by missiles. And so, I tried to explain to her that we were going to take she and the children, if they were at the White House, down into the shelter, the bomb shelter, which was underneath the White House. And we’d secure them there until everything was all clear.
She just looked at me, and she said, “You may go down to that shelter Mr. Hill.” She said, “I’m going to take Caroline and John, and we’re going to walk hand in hand out on the south grounds. And we’re going to stand there on the lawn. Now, if you want to come with us, you can.” But, she said, “I’m not going to let that third rate dictator determine my future.” She was determined that she was not going to give in to the threats that had been made by the Soviets and by Castro.
TOM PUTNAM: There’s just a picture of the EXCOMM during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So again, other things were going on throughout the Kennedy presidency. This is about the space program.
CLINT HILL: John Glenn.
TOM PUTNAM: John Glenn.
CLINT HILL: Orbiting the earth. That’s the vice president and the President and Mrs. Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger in the background, watching it on TV. She was very interested in the space program. And he was, naturally. But John Glenn came to the Cape, and he waterskied with her. [laughter] He fell too, but he waterskied. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: So here is where they go to Miami. You accompany them on this trip?
CLINT HILL: Yes. This is in the Orange Bowl in Miami. President and Mrs. Kennedy went down to address the Cuban Brigade. This is after the Bay of Pigs disaster. And the veterans from the Bay of Pigs all gathered at the Orange Bowl. And he spoke to them, and she spoke to them in Spanish. And this particular picture here, she’s speaking to the leaders of that brigade and the former President of Cuba. And you can see the massive crowd in the Orange Bowl at that time.
There's this same group of individuals. Many of them were amputees, had been severely injured and not properly taken care of while they were prisoners in Cuba.
And this is as we’re leaving that function from Miami on the helicopter.
TOM PUTNAM: Did she have a sense of just what a powerful symbol she was? How did she handle moments like this and the attention?
CLINT HILL: I don’t really think she ever really knew how important she was, both to him as a political figure, but to the United States, the people as a whole. If you would have been with her in India or Pakistan, you could see it there, because she was there without the president. And she was just idolized by these people. Wherever we went, there were massive crowds, and sometimes more so than we could handle pretty much. But I don’t think she ever really recognized the fact that she had the influence that she did have.
TOM PUTNAM: We’re going to go on some of those foreign trips. So you did the advance work on this trip to France.
CLINT HILL: Yes, 1961. I was sent over in advance with Tish Baldridge. And we did the advance in Paris. The French government and the French people were very cooperative, so much so that they took a brand new car and cut the top off and put a plastic top on it, so that people could see her. Because they knew that everybody in France wanted to see her. And she was extremely popular, being of French descent, and having spent some time in France. Spoke French. President De Gaulle really was enamored by her. And the French security people that I knew said that they had never seen him react to anyone like they reacted to her.
TOM PUTNAM: And this is her with Mrs. De Gaulle.
CLINT HILL: With Mrs. De Gaulle at one of the functions that went to, away from the President. That’s myself just behind Mrs. De Gaulle.
TOM PUTNAM: That’s Mr. Hill right there. [laughter] Now you weren’t in Vienna.
CLINT HILL: This is in Vienna. No, when I finished the advance in Paris in 1961, I was sent to Greece to advance a trip that she was going to make to Greece in about a week. From Paris, she and the president went to Vienna. And he met with Chairman Khrushchev. And from there, they went to London. They met with Prime Minister McMillan. But they also went to London for the christening of her sister Lee’s youngest daughter Christina.
TOM PUTNAM: And then she went to Greece.
CLINT HILL: Then we went to Greece. She went there at the invitation of Prime Minister and Mrs. Karamanlis, although it wasn’t an official visit. She was their guest. And she stayed in the villa owned by Mr. Nomikos. And he made available the use of his yacht, the Northwind. This is at one of the—I think this is at the Coliseum or the Parthenon in Athens. And she loved this trip. I’m right there behind Mrs. Kennedy. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: She is so young, I mean in this picture, especially. She looks—
CLINT HILL: Well, she was only—She was 31 when they came into office. And this was in ’61. So she was 32 years old, not quite 32.
TOM PUTNAM: Yep. And you don’t need to reveal too much, but you were about the same age.
CLINT HILL: Pretty much so. I was about a year and a half younger.
TOM PUTNAM: And yet, you're meeting these heads of state who are—
CLINT HILL: Well, on this trip, for example, we went to see King and Queen of Greece, and met the daughters and their son, who pulled a fast one on me and took her for a ride in a car. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: How often did she escape your--?
CLINT HILL: That was one of the few times. And he paid for it. [laughter] Not from me, but from the King’s military aide. When we got to the first stop, the military aide got in the car, and Mrs. Kennedy got out. And I could hear him being talked to as we drove away.
TOM PUTNAM: And she was a bit mischievous herself.
CLINT HILL: Oh, very much so. She loved practical jokes. And she just—she had a great time. This is in Epidaurus in Greece, arriving. It’s an outdoor theatre that she wanted to attend. That’s the Northwind, the yacht that she came there on. She’s being presented flowers by two young girls. The gentleman next to her in the dark glasses is a man named Nick Dimigos. He worked in the embassy in Greece. He was one of my security consultants, a wonderful guy.
TOM PUTNAM: And there is Mr. Hill there. And here is in Mexico.
CLINT HILL: In Mexico. When they went to Mexico, Mexico City, it was the largest crowd that had ever witnessed—that they had ever seen on the parade route. There were two million people. And it was really difficult for the agents, because the confetti and things being thrown out of the buildings were so dense we couldn’t see anything. The elevation is way higher than a mile. And running at that—through that paper and at that elevation was really tough on the agents. I, fortunately, was riding at the time. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: And here she is meeting some school children.
CLINT HILL: That’s school children in Mexico City.
TOM PUTNAM: And then the trip that you’ve alluded to already, but the famous trip that she took to India and Pakistan on her own. And again, you did advance on this trip.
CLINT HILL: I had to set up the trip in India in March of 1962. We went there in February. We got there, and they kept on delaying the trip. So we were there for weeks ahead. And it was a very complicated trip with a lot of stops. And then, when she left New Delhi for on the outer cities in India, I went down to Pakistan to set up her trip to Pakistan. This is her in India. I believe it’s in—it’s either Benarus or Udaipur. She went to both those places, and went to Jaipur, went to Fathepur Sikri and had a wonderful time. Rode an elephant.
TOM PUTNAM: What did that do to a secret service agent when the first lady—
CLINT HILL: Well, we knew—we knew that this was going to happen. I mean, it’s all set up, so that it wasn’t really a surprise. And riding an elephant is not a problem. Riding a camel was a little bit of a problem. [laughter] And there they are on a camel. Of course, this is a camel owned by a very famous camel driver. His name was Bashir. And he’s famous, because prior to Mrs.
Kennedy going to Pakistan, Vice-President Johnson had been in Pakistan. And he was driving along the road one day, and there were some camel drivers. And he made the guy stop. And he picked this one camel driver out. And it turned out to be Bashir, and made him a celebrity.
Brought him to the United States, had him on various TV shows, various things. And then, when he went back to Pakistan, he was a celebrity. [laughter]
And so, when we went to Pakistan, it was arranged for him to be there with his camel, with his wife, with his children, so that she could see them. And then, he wasn’t—the camel was not supposed to be up. When they got on, just for photographic purposes, that was going to be the end of it. They insisted that the camel get up, she and her sister. And so, Bashir kept looking, “Is it okay, you know? Let them up.” So the camel got up. And they went for a ride. Then they wanted to try and get the camel to run. [laughter] Fortunately, Bashir listened, and we didn’t let the camel run. [laughter]
This is in Lahore, Pakistan. That’s President Ayub Khan with the reins on this horse. We had just been to the International Horse Show in Lahore. And President Ayub Khan had given her, on behalf of the Pakistani government, a horse named Sardar. That’s his photograph and his handler. It was somewhat of a problem, because we had to get Sardar back to the United States. [laughter]
In India, the Ayer India people had given her two tiger cubs. [laughter] And the first two tiger cubs died the second day. Then, they replaced them. And now we had to get the tiger cubs and the horse back to the United States. [laughter] Well, and there are certain restrictions and rules that you—you know, you just don’t bring a horse in the United States, and that’s it. There’s quarantine and all kinds of things.
Well, she pleaded with her husband, “Don’t let the poor horse go through all this distress. I mean, it’s bad enough he’s going to get air sick. He shouldn’t have to be quarantined and treated like that. You know, Prince Philip’s polo ponies, they didn’t have any problem with them. Why should I have a problem with my new horse?” Well eventually, the president—he, you know, “Okay.” And he got a hold of Orville Freeman, who was the Secretary of Agriculture. And they worked out a deal. The horse arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. But he had to be in some kind of quarantine. So they took him to Fort Myer, and they put him in a stable. Of course, she didn’t like that either. So we went to Fort Myer to make sure the horse got out of the stable like no other horse had. [laughter] And she could see the horse.
And Ayub Khan had sent this guy with the horse. [laughter] And so, he didn’t stay too long, but he stayed for a while to make sure the horse was fed properly, and groomed properly, and taken care of. Because Ayub Khan didn’t want anything to happen to the horse.
TOM PUTNAM: And this is her riding him.
CLINT HILL: This is her riding Sardar out in the Middleburg area, jumping a fence. She was an excellent horse woman.
TOM PUTNAM: So I thought we’d talk about the summer of ’63. They rent a place on Squaw Island, and you spend the summer there. But any memories of that particular summer?
CLINT HILL: She was pregnant at the time. She came to me early in 1963 and told me that she was going to have to curtail her activities because she was pregnant. And I was very happy for her. And so, that summer we went to the Cape. And they rented a house on Squaw Island rather than stay at their house. They owned a house there, but it was in the Kennedy Compound, which made it rather complicated with all the other family members.
So we stayed there at Squaw Island. This is she and some of the menagerie we had with us.
[laughter] That’s Charlie the dog with Caroline. That’s Clipper in the upper right. He’s a German shepherd given to her by her father-in-law. That’s Wolfie laying down on the bottom. By the way, Clipper was the dumbest German shepherd you’ll ever find. [laughter] We sent him to obedience school and he didn’t learn a thing. [laughter] And that dog beside young John is Shannon, who was a gift from the president of Ireland.
This is the president with his father. And that’s, I guess, Ann Gargon(?) in the background. Ambassador Kennedy had a stroke in December of 1961. When we came back, we had been on a trip to Puerto Rico, Caracas and Bogota. Came back to Palm Beach, and he met us at the airport, met them. And they went to—They were staying at the Paul residence. And he went to his residence. And the president had developed a cold, and he went to bed and stayed in bed. He was supposed to go back to Washington, but it was delayed a day.
So the next day, he was going to go. And the ambassador came down and rode with him to the airport. And the ambassador went back to play golf. And Mrs. Kennedy and Caroline went from the Paul residence up to the ambassador residence to swim. And while there, he came back from this golfing outing. I knew that they hadn’t been gone long enough to play golf. He didn’t look very good. And he said something to her, and they talked a little bit. And he went up to his room. And shortly thereafter, became that he had had a stroke. And an ambulance was called and took him to the hospital. And he never did fully recover.
TOM PUTNAM: You told a story that you, in this instance, decided, since they were going to spend the entire summer on Squaw Island, that you rented a little cottage for your family and brought your family up. And that one day, she suggested that, since your children were about the same age as her children, that you invite your children over so they could play together.
CLINT HILL: Yeah she did. She wanted me to bring my two boys over to play with Caroline and John. My son was born in ’57 or ’56. Caroline was born in ’57. So they weren’t that far apart. John was born in ’60. Cory was born in ’61. But I could just see it. [laughter] My oldest son pushed Caroline down and something happened, a broken tooth or anything, I was going to be in Butte, Montana the next day. [laughter] And so, I finally convinced her, I said, “This just isn’t a good idea. I’m a government employee. You're the wife of the president. They're the president’s children. I don’t think it’d be a very good idea for my two children to be playing with your two children, and something should happen.” She finally understood the problem and said, “Okay.”
TOM PUTNAM: Now, related to that, even though you clearly got very close, and she trusted you immensely, you always referred to one another as--?
CLINT HILL: Oh, I always called her Mrs. Kennedy, and she always called me Mr. Hill. It was never anything different.
TOM PUTNAM: But one moment, again, where you were there for her was the moment she delivered that child, Patrick. Do you want to tell us about that?
CLINT HILL: Yeah. She had gone with Caroline that morning to go out to the stables where Caroline rode. And Agent Landis had taken them out there. And one of the other agents had followed. And I actually had a day off that day. And I was home at the house I rented there in Hyannisport. And the phone rang, and it was the grand setter(?) saying that Paul was on his way back to the Kennedy compound with Mrs. Kennedy. They were calling in a helicopter. She was having labor pains. They wanted to get her to Otis Air Force base as quick as possible. We had established a place there for her to, in case of an emergency, and her obstetrician, Dr. Walsh had agreed, and was living there on the Cape for the summer, just in case, luckily.
And so, they put her in a helicopter and brought her to Otis. I raced to Otis by car. I got there about the same time. And Dr. Walsh came, and she delivered a little boy. They named him Patrick Bouvier Kennedy. He developed serious lung problems. And they decided that they’d have to transport him to Boston.
In the interim, the president was in Washington at the White House. So we notified him what was going on. And so, he requested Air Force One be made available right away. Turned out, Air Force One was airborne doing something, or was not available. And so, they commandeered couple of Jetstars, which were small, about 8-passenger jets, and flew into Otis. He came right to the hospital to see her. And we had taken Patrick by that time to Boston. Agent Landis had gone with him. And then, the president went to Boston to be with Patrick. They didn’t, at first, think it was going to be that serious. But turned out, it was very serious, and he died two days later.
TOM PUTNAM: You remained with her?
CLINT HILL: I stayed at Otis Air Force with her. The president came and told her what had happened. The funeral was held in Boston.
TOM PUTNAM: She wasn’t able to come.
CLINT HILL: She was not able to go because she was at Otis in the hospital. And she went into a very deep depression. She was very upset. And it was decided that maybe she needed to get away for a while. And so, it was arranged for her to go to Greece and go on a cruise.
TOM PUTNAM: You traveled with her on that cruise?
CLINT HILL: We took her to Greece, to Athens. And we got onboard a yacht there called the Christina owned by Aristotle Onassis. [laughter] And she and her sister-in-law and her brother- in-law, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. and his wife, a few other people. And we cruised the Greek Islands up into Turkey. One of the things she wanted to do was see the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. And we got up, going up into Turkey. And the current is very strong in that area. And Christina was going one way. And I had to go from the Christina over to the Blue Mosque to set it up, to make sure it was okay.
And they brought a launch alongside for me to get on and to go over there. But they couldn’t get it right up next to the ship, because the current was so terrible and strong. And there was about a four or five-foot span between the Christina and the boat. And I’m standing there—And I had to make that. Because I knew if I didn’t, I was going underneath, you know. I jumped and I made it. Got over there and set it up. And then, they brought her and the other guests aboard, and we toured the Blue Mosque. She enjoyed that very much.
TOM PUTNAM: So what was it like for a kid from North Dakota to be on Aristotle Onassis’s yacht? [laughter]
CLINT HILL: Well, it’s an experience you’ll never have. [laughter] We were treated very well. Every day the seaplane would deliver the newspapers, so we were up to date on current events. There was a helicopter onboard in case we needed it in emergency. There was a pool on the aft deck. If you didn’t want to go swimming, you’d push a button. The bottom of the pool would raise to the surface, the ceramic tile. And you could use it for a dance floor. There was a bar. The stools were covered in whale hide. Gold things next to the bar. Whale teeth for some kind of armrests. I mean, it was rather lavish. [laughter] But she had a wonderful time. We spent almost ten days on that. And then, we flew from there to Morocco on the King of Morocco’s plane to be a guest of the King of Morocco in Marrakesh.
TOM PUTNAM: I included this slide because there's a story about your wife related to this event, the Black Watch.
CLINT HILL: This is the Black Watch at the White House. And this was in 1963. They came and performed on the south grounds. And we had all been invited to bring our families. And my wife had never met Mrs. Kennedy or the president. And she was really hoping that I’d introduce them that day. But I never felt comfortable doing that, and so I didn’t. And so, she never did meet her until after the terrible events in the later November of that year. But I was hopeful that I would be able to introduce them, but it just didn’t turn out that way.
TOM PUTNAM: So we’ve talked about Mrs. Kennedy. But clearly, you have insights into President Kennedy as well, and interactions with him. Anything you want to share?
CLINT HILL: Well, you know, I explained what Eisenhower was like, a general. We were the troops. With President Kennedy, when he took over—or as president-elect it started out down in Palm Beach—he got to know each and every agent by name, called them by name. Then he knew who your wife’s name was, knew who your children’s names were.
One day, one of the new agents down in Palm Beach, he was standing out on post. He had just come in from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He had been with the Eisenhower grandkids. And he had on a nice charcoal gray wool suit, heavy, because it had been cold up in Gettysburg, and wearing a hat. Standing on post.
And the president went out by the pool in his swim trunks, going over some papers. And he saw this agent standing over there sweating like crazy. [laughter] And he just—you know, “What the heck is this?” And he walked over, and he said, “What’s your name?” And the guy said, “My name is Harry Gibbs, Mr. President.” He said, “Why are you standing here in the sunshine? You could move over there in the shade. And why are you wearing winter clothes?” He said, “Well, Mr. President, this is my post. I can't move over there. That’s not where I’m supposed to be.” And he said, “I’m wearing these clothes because I just came from Pennsylvania. It’s cold in Pennsylvania.”
So he just shook his head. He turned around, and he walked away. He walked in the house. Came back out. He had a whole stack of polo shirts. [laughter] Walked over, and he gave one to Harry. He said, “Now you put this on. You can't do your job when you're uncomfortable like you are, sweating and with all those heavy clothes. And give one of these to each of the other agents that are assigned here. I want them all to be comfortable and to do the job that they want to do, but do so comfortably.”
And that’s the way he was. He was a very personable individual. He knew all of us by name. I dealt with him a lot on a personal basis because of being with Mrs. Kennedy and the children. A lot of times we’d be someplace and she would want something clear. And I’d call back, and I’d always call Evelyn Lincoln, his secretary. And Evelyn would always go in and tell him that I was on the phone and I had this question. And I would expect Evelyn to come back and give me the answer. That never happened. The next voice I heard was him telling me exactly what he wanted me to do, and why you could do this, and why you shouldn’t do that. He was just a down to earth guy.
A lot of things happened, enjoyed out there on the water. He loved the Honey Fitz or the Patrick J. or the Manitou, one of the boats that we had available. He just loved it. And I got so I loved it myself.
TOM PUTNAM: So we come to her decision to join him on the political trip to Texas.
CLINT HILL: This was a real surprise to me, because she had not really been active in going to any political events at all in 1960 because she was pregnant. She didn’t participate that much. And now, we had just come back from Greece. And she told me that she was going to go with the president on this trip to Texas. First, the president was going to go to Florida, which he did. But then, the trip to Texas was set up. So he was going to go from—We were going to go from Washington to San Antonio to Houston to Fort Worth to Dallas to Austin out to the LBJ ranch. And they were going to spend the weekend at the ranch with the Vice-President and Mrs. Johnson.
So we went first to San Antonio. And they went to a hospital and dedicated that hospital. Then to Houston, where they—it was a fundraiser for a congressman. And then to Fort Worth—a morning rally outside the hotel they were staying at, and then a breakfast. And that morning, I got up at six. And the president had to be outside at eight. And then he came in for the breakfast. And I always got a copy of her schedule and everything. On her schedule, she had made a note in red pencil next to the breakfast, “Probably not going to do this.” So I didn’t think she was going to go to the breakfast.
But I had gone down to her—her room was next to mine, and waited there until I figured she was ready to do something. And pretty soon the phone rang. The agent from downstairs at the breakfast. And he said, “The president wants you to bring Mrs. Kennedy down here to breakfast right now.” I said, “Okay.” You know. So I go into the suite, and I tell her, “The president would like to have you come down to the breakfast right now. They're kind of waiting for you down there.” She was very surprised. She didn’t think that she was supposed to go. So she got herself together, and down we went to the breakfast. That’s what this picture is, of our walking into the breakfast in Fort Worth, Texas, the morning of November 22nd, 1963.
TOM PUTNAM: And then, again, Mr. Hill is in these pictures. This is at Love Field.
CLINT HILL: This is Love Field in Dallas.
TOM PUTNAM: That’s Mr. Hill there, right by—So, you know, the moment is etched in all of our memory. And, for those who don’t know, Mr. Hill was the secret service agent who climbs up onto the car after the shots were fired, rushed to the hospital. You also were the person credited for there being no photographs taken at the hospital. You wanted to protect Mrs. Kennedy’s privacy.
CLINT HILL: No, I knew what she wanted was absolute privacy. And she didn’t want photographs taken of the president. His condition was such that there shouldn’t have been any photographs taken. And so, I told the photographers and told the White House photographers, “No pictures. No photo gaps.” And they agreed, and they didn’t.
TOM PUTNAM: She insisted on being in the room with her husband.
CLINT HILL: Yes, in the room when she could be, or in a—There were two trauma rooms, one and two. The president was one, the governor was in the other one. And Mrs. Connolly and she were in kind of a little passageway between them. And, when she could, she would go in there. But there were so many doctors involved, I mean they were doing everything they could to resuscitate him. They worked vigorously to try and get him back to life. But it wasn’t to be.
TOM PUTNAM: A priest was called.
CLINT HILL: Priest was called, and given the last rites. And he was declared dead at one o’clock that day.
TOM PUTNAM: And you accompany her back to Air Force One.
CLINT HILL: We went back to Air Force One and got onboard. They had to arrange for a judge to come onboard to swear in the vice-president as president.
TOM PUTNAM: And you tell the story of really an extraordinary moment that happened just before this photo was taken. Maybe you could share that with us.
CLINT HILL: She was in the aft part in the plane where we had placed the casket with the president’s body, she and Dave Powers and Ken O’Donnell, and one agent Dick Johnson. I was in the forward part of the plane, trying to make arrangements back in Washington. And they were just about going to swear him in. That’s the judge standing there in front of Johnson. I got word that she wanted to see me. And so, I came back from the front part of the plane, through the Presidential compartment, to where she was. And she just stood up and reached out her hand.
And she said, “Oh, what’s going to happen to you now, Mr. Hill?” She was so much more concerned about my wellbeing and that of the other agents that were involved, that she wanted to make sure that we were going to be okay.
And I told her, “I’ll be okay, Mrs. Kennedy. I’ll be okay.” She hadn’t changed clothes. She hadn’t cleaned up. She hadn’t done anything. She just was in shock. And she was more concerned about us than she was about herself.
TOM PUTNAM: And then you're with her during the funeral.
CLINT HILL: All during the funeral. There's a story about young John learning how to salute. The agents tried to teach him how to salute, at her request. Because on November 11, 1963, the president was going to go to Arlington National Cemetery. And she wanted John to go along.
John loved military, loved helicopters, loved uniforms. And she wanted him to learn how to salute so he could pay a tribute to his father.
And so, the agents were trying to get him to salute. And they got him to do it pretty good, except he wouldn’t do it with his right hand. He kept on saluting with his left hand. And they just couldn’t break him of the habit. And the day that the president’s body was placed in state up in the US Capitol, young John and Caroline were there. John became a little rambunctious, so the agents took him down the hall to a separate room. And, while there, they thought, “Well, what the heck? Let’s keep him busy, get him to salute.”
So they were in there, trying to get him to salute. And the same old story. There was a marine colonel standing at the doorway, and he was watching all this stuff. He just shook his head, you know. And he came in, and he said, “John,” he said, “That is not the way you do it.” And he showed him how to salute. And I’ll be darned, it took maybe five minutes for this colonel to teach the kid how to salute with his right hand. It took the agents six weeks. [laughter] They never did get him to do it right.
TOM PUTNAM: She insisted on walking. You're here behind her, right behind.
CLINT HILL: Yeah, this is on the way to St. Matthew’s Cathedral behind the caisson. And she insisted on walking. We all tried to talk her out of it. That’s Agent—If you're looking at that picture, on the left hand side, the agent is Bill Livingood standing there. If you ever watch a presidential address of Joint Session of Congress, and you see somebody walk up and say, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States,” that’s the person right there. He’s a retired agent. And he’s now the Sergeant of Arms of the US House of Representatives.
But she insisted on walking. And we tried to talk her out of it, but that was to no avail.
TOM PUTNAM: And she had incredible composure.
CLINT HILL: Oh, she stood up so well. She just was so brave. Her composure and her ability to do what she did kind of held up the rest of us.
TOM PUTNAM: And you tell a story about later that evening.
CLINT HILL: Later that evening, after everything was over, she called. She wanted to go back to the cemetery. It was she and the Attorney General. And she took a little bouquet of flowers with her. She wanted to see the eternal flame at night and to go back and pay her respects privately, because if you know, a distant mass of people. And so, that’s what we did. And we took her there, and she spent about 10 or 15 minutes at the cemetery that night.
Right after the services, there were all the heads of state came to the White House. And she greeted them. And this is on that occasion. That’s Senator Edward Kennedy there, Angier Biddle Duke with his back to the camera, General McHugh on the left hand side, McGeorge Bundy, the National Security Advisor with the glasses. Over to the right, underneath the arch, is Nancy
Tuckerman, who was Mrs. Kennedy’s social secretary, and a social aide with the white gloves on, and that’s myself on the right hand side.
TOM PUTNAM: And so, then you were assigned, and you remained on her detail for a year after the assassination. She moved—
CLINT HILL: Yes, Congress passed a law granting her protection and the protection of the two children until the children became 16, and for her for life unless she remarried. And I was given the responsibility of running that protection. And I had to call in a number of people. One of them is sitting in the front row. John Francis Michael Walsh is a Bostonian from Southie. [laughter] And he stayed with the Kennedy children longer than anybody else. He stayed until they were 16 years of age.
But we had a good group of guys. And it was a very difficult time, especially the first six weeks. Because that included Thanksgiving and Christmas. And Christmas in 1963 was a disaster for myself, trying to keep her spirits up and the children, you know, they really didn’t know what had happened. They just weren’t old enough. And to see them going through this Christmas alone was really difficult to handle.
But then, things got a little bit better. And it got very active, went skiing up in Stowe, Vermont. Went to Antigua. That summer, in ’64, we went back to Italy. We did a number of things.
TOM PUTNAM: And to the World’s Fair.
CLINT HILL: And to the World’s Fair in New York. She and Caroline—John didn’t go to that but Caroline did. And so she kept the children busy and occupied. During the interim, she was living in a house in Georgetown at first, the house that was donated to be used by Ambassador Averell Harriman. Then she bought a house across the street in Georgetown in the same street. But the tourists were just terrible. And they wouldn’t leave her alone. The buses were coming every day. And she just couldn’t tolerate it anymore. And she said, “I’m going to look in New York.” So we came to New York and sought out a place for her to live, and she found it, she and Nancy Tuckerman, 10 45th Avenue. And she moved there in 1964.
TOM PUTNAM: These were hard days for you, too. And as you famously told Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, I mean, you were haunted and felt some responsibility for those events. But then later, you visited Dealey Plaza, actually went to the 6th floor museum, and resolved things in your own mind. Do you want to talk about that?
CLINT HILL: Well, I stayed in the service until 1975. And I went—I was promoted up. I was agent in charge of presidential protection and agent in charge of vice presidential protection. And then, eventually, assistant director. Then retired. But I had a real difficult time for a number of years. Finally, in 1990, I started to confront the issue, and I went to Dallas. And I went to Dealey Plaza, spent quite a bit of time there, walked the area, looked at everything possible. Went up in the sixth floor, where the shooting had occurred from, looked at that. And I finally came to the conclusion that there was nothing that I could have done that I didn’t do. That what happened happened. I couldn’t have changed it anyway possible. But it just was one of those things that was completely out of my control.
TOM PUTNAM: So I’ll turn now to your questions. Is there anything about Mrs. Kennedy which the public is not generally aware, that you would like us to know?
CLINT HILL: [laughter] Well, other than, you know, she was a wonderful lady. She was very interested in the arts, as you all know, very concerned about everybody that was around her. She was a closet smoker. [laughter] I don’t know if you know that or not.
TOM PUTNAM: I avoided that question.
CLINT HILL: I was her enabler. [laughter] I was the guy with the cigarettes and the lighter. So you can blame me. [laughter] But that was one of the things she didn’t want anybody to really know, that she did smoke, and tried to keep it as private as possible. If there were anybody who’d show up when she had a cigarette, she no longer was a smoker. I was. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: And she famously, and her husband, didn’t carry much money.
CLINT HILL: They never carried any money. It was one of those things you just accepted. Going to Mass, when the plate came around, so did his hand, you know. [laughter] Because it was—you know. And she was the same way. And she would want something—Like she loved to read magazines, the scandal sheets, especially if they were about her. [laughter] But she didn’t want anybody to know that she read. And so, I bought them. [laughter]
You know, we’d just do a lot of things like that, that people just don’t know. She was a wonderful gal.
TOM PUTNAM: Could you comment on the Paris trip and Jacqueline Kennedy’s relationship with Charles De Gaulle? And excerpt from the new book quotes her as critical of De Gaulle. Yet other stories describe a reciprocal friendship.
CLINT HILL: Oh, I think it was a reciprocal friendship and respect, respect for him as not only the head of France at that time, but what he had done for France during the war. And from him to her because of her knowledge. And he admitted that she knew more about French history than most French people did. And they talked about French history while they were together in 1961 in France. And he was very much impressed by that.
TOM PUTNAM: Is it more difficult to protect the first family now than during your time?
CLINT HILL: It’s always difficult. And I suppose it gets more different each and every year because of new things that are developed and new things that happen worldwide. They have more resources to utilize today to protect the president than we had. We didn’t have armored cars in those days. We had the problem of having to protect in an open car, which was their request.
Today you’d never see a [president] in an open car. But it’s got to be more difficult today than it was then, I’m sure of that.
TOM PUTNAM: Was there any special training to assist for handling the children as a secret service agent in charge of handling children?
CLINT HILL: No, there was no special training. All of the guys involved had children of their own, except one. And he had been with the Eisenhower grandchildren previously. So they had the experience of being around children. And they had the right kind of personality. I think today, if you ask Caroline about those agents that were around her, including Jack Walsh, she’d say, you know, like Bob Foster, Lynn Meritis, those guys, Paul Landis, Tommy Wells, they were their friends. I have a photograph of Caroline as about five years old slapping a bubble from the mouth of an agent as he blew a bubble for her chewing bubble gum. [laughter] I mean, that’s just the relationship they had. And it was wonderful.
But, at the same time, Mrs. Kennedy insisted that there would be absolute respect on the part of the children for any adult, including the agents. And, if there was any deviation from that, she wanted to know it, or the president wanted to know it immediately.
TOM PUTNAM: There's a question here about your relationship with her after she left the White House. And I thought it might be a good moment for you to tell the story of your going away party after you had been with her for a year, and then you knew you were going to be assigned to—
CLINT HILL: Yeah, in November of 1964, it was decided by headquarters that I would be reassigned to the White House detail in Washington with the new President Johnson. And so, I would be leaving Mrs. Kennedy. We were in New York. And Nancy Tuckerman was her chief of staff in New York. And they decided to throw me a going away party in New York.
And so, Mrs. Kennedy was there, and members of the staff. Well, one of the things they presented to me was a poster of a cutout of a profile of an agent with dark glasses. And everybody had signed it, including Mrs. Kennedy, including Robert Kennedy, other members of the Kennedy family. And on top of the poster said, “Muddy Gap, Wyoming welcomes its newest citizen.” Because everybody thought I was going to be sent to the hinterlands for sure. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: So a question about whether Mrs. Kennedy had a sense of humor.
CLINT HILL: Oh, she had a great sense of humor, always trying to—She liked to pull practical jokes. I have a little—We used to have demonstrators up in Hyannisport or various places. And she had a little—One day she drew a picture of some demonstrators with placards, and with a note on it, “Mr. Hill, see what you can expect next time you come back to Hyannisport,” or something to that effect, you know. She always had a sense of humor. She was a great person to be around and to enjoy.
TOM PUTNAM: Did JFK spend a lot of time with the children?
CLINT HILL: As much as he could. And his time was limited, obviously. But, whenever he had the opportunity, he would be around the children. And when he was in the Oval Office, they built a little jungle gym type of thing out there near the Oval Office. And he could see them out there playing, the kids. And he would go out there periodically, see how they were doing, what they were doing. He spent as much time with the children as he possibly could.
TOM PUTNAM: Well, this has been a delightful evening. I would like to end with a letter that Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to Douglas Dillon, who was the Secretary of the Treasury and oversaw the secret service. And I should also mention that we’re joined by two other former secret service agents, Jack Haggerty and John Connelly. We’re honored to have you and Jack Walsh. And this is what Mrs. Kennedy wrote to Douglas Dillon:
Our secret service detail, the children’s and mine, are such exceptional men. You cannot imagine the difference they made in our lives. Before we came to the White House, the thing I dreaded most was the secret service. How wrong I was. It turned out they were the ones who made it possible for us to have the happy close life we did, by protecting us with such tact, devotion and unobtrusiveness, they made our White House years the happy ones they were.
So let me conclude this evening with four simple words: Thank you, Mr. Hill.
CLINT HILL: Thank you. [applause]