Monday, September 12, 2011

Jacqueline Kennedy's Still-Sorta-Secret Service Man

Clint Hill (yes, that's me below with him) is a legend in his own right: the man the Zapruder film will forever show as the Secret Service agent who climbed on the back of the limo as the assassination unfolded in Dallas. For four years -- three during the presidency and one after Jacqueline Kennedy and the kids left the White House -- Hill spent 80 percent of his time, including holidays away from his wife and two sons, protecting the former First Lady, and her children Caroline and John.

Tonight at the JFK Library, in a rare conversation, the tight-lipped "Mr. Hill," as Jackie called him, said he thought he'd be attending teas during his details with her. But that was not the case.

"She didn't go to teas," he said. "But we did go to two fashion shows -- one in Lahore and one in Karachi."

Hill said it was difficult protecting a woman who was adventurous; she loved to ride horses and water ski, neither of which he knew how to do. At her urging, Hill, from North Dakota, did take water ski lessons from the Navy man who drove Kennedy's boat. Hill wasn't very good at it and Jackie soon gave up asking him to ski along beside her.

He was also her (not so good) tennis partner. "For a very, very short time."

When he wasn't sporting, Hill did much of the advance work for her travel and stayed with her when she was abroad, including her time on Aristotle Onassis's yacht, the Christina, when Jackie went to recover after the loss of a preterm baby in the summer of 1963.

"Every day a sea plane would deliver the newspapers," Hill recalled of the their time on the yacht off Greece. "It was rather lavish."

A few weeks after that trip, Hill was surprised to hear that Jackie would take part in her first reelection campaign stop -- in Dallas. After the assassination, Mrs. Kennedy turned to him and said: "What's going to happen to you now, Mr. Hill?"

He stayed in the Secret Service until 1975 and had "a difficult time for a number of a years" processing the events of Nov. 22, 1963. In 1990, he returned to Dealey Plaza, looked down from the window of the school book depository and realized there was nothing he could have done to stop JFK's murder. "It was," he said, "completely out of my control."

Hill was reticent to talk about many things, but divulged some no-so-secret agent information:
1. Jackie was a closet smoker. "I was her enabler. I was the guy with the cigarette and the lighter. You can blame me."
2. The Kennedys never carried any money. "Going to Mass, when the plate came around, he [the President] would show his hand."
3. "She loved to read the scandal sheets -- especially about her. But she didn't want anyone to know, so I bought them for her."


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