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A native of North Dakota, Hill was actually Jackie Kennedy’s bodyguard. He’d worked with her for three years, from age 28. He had joined the Secret Service after serving in the Army upon graduating college.
Brought up to be reserved, he took that quality to the extreme after the assassination. Apart from addressing the Warren Commission inquiry and stating his belief that Lee Harvey Oswald was the mentally unbalanced lone assassin, he didn’t discuss intimate details of that day for 12 years.
He was repeatedly promoted to the highest ranks of the Secret Service, but by 1975 he was a wreck, and retired.
When he then agreed to appear on “60 Minutes” to talk about his career, he had a breakdown on camera when suddenly asked about the moments on the trunk of the limo.
He walked off camera into a hall and, weeping, revealed that he had never spoken about Jackie reaching for JFK’s brain matter to anyone before — not even his wife, Gwen, or his fellow agents.
“It was just too painful to talk about it,” he said. “Each of the agents hurt in our own way. We buried it.”
former Secret Service agent
Hill suffered flashbacks and nightmares. He became deeply depressed and would numb his anguish with whiskey.
Today he would probably be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and treated.
“We (the agents) were never offered counseling or any help, and we didn’t ask for it,” he said. “I have no question that counseling would have been very beneficial, and maybe I would not have gone through the long period of depression that I did.”
He eventually kicked the drink on doctor’s orders. But after more than 40 years of marriage and residence in Virginia, Hill and his wife separated recently, and he said the effects of the assassination “played a part.” He now lives near San Francisco.
One consolation is that Jackie Kennedy made it clear to the agents that she didn’t blame them for her husband’s death. In recent years, Hill has finally accepted that he did his best.
In turn, the agents have never — at least not explicitly — blamed the chronic short-staffing problems the Secret Service was suffering at the time, nor JFK’s love of motorcades and mingling with crowds.
But Hill said Kennedy constantly lived “on the risky side.”
The archives are full of pictures of JFK around the world sitting high up on a platform car seat or standing in a limo convertible, torso and head completely exposed to unscreened crowds 15 deep on the sidewalks — and hanging from the balconies and windows of high buildings. Kennedy would ask agents not to hover, and he was frequently mobbed like a celebrity. He would dive, off schedule, into the febrile crowds — unthinkable today.
Conspiracy or not, it would always have taken just one loser with a rifle in an upstairs window.
“It’s as good a phrase as any to say he was a sitting duck,” Hill said. “It happened in Dallas, but it could have happened anywhere, looking back.”
Hindsight is 20-20, of course. Had the president been explicitly warned how easily he could be assassinated? Hill said he was warned, but not so explicitly.
“In the past, all the presidential assassinations had been up close and personal,” Hill said.
Agents were least expecting the shot from above.
When it came at 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963, Hill saw Kennedy grab at his throat, so he sprang toward the car. Three shots were fired within six seconds, and it was never humanly possible for Hill to get onto the limo from his position and shield the president from the fatal shot.
But if he had been crouching on the step at the back of the limo throughout — as he had on and off earlier in the Dallas motorcade, against Kennedy’s explicit instructions — he believes he would have made it in time.
Would one second have made the difference?
“Yes,” he said.
Has he spent 50 years wishing he’d been killed instead of Kennedy?
“Of course,” he said. “Of course.”