Mrs. Kennedy and Me 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
and threw himself
on top of the Kennedys. Dealey
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, 1963.
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 other.
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).
(Photo 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 world.
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.