Inside the U.S. presidency: Secret Service agent served 5 presidents from 1958 to '75 | St. Louis Public Radio

Inside the U.S. presidency: Secret Service agent served 5 presidents from 1958 to '75

May 19, 2016

Former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill served silently beside Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Recently, he broke his silence about what that experience at the forefront of American history was like.

He recently published a book with author Lisa McCubbin called “Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford,” and on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, he discussed stories from his time serving the presidents.

Hill's close kinship with the presidency came into full view on the day of the interview, which coincided with the 22nd anniversary of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ death. During John F. Kennedy's presidency, Hill had been assigned to guard the president's wife.

“Mrs. Kennedy was a wonderful lady and I had the utmost respect for her and we got along very well,” Hill told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. “We had a wonderful relationship during the time I was with her. They had me stay with her for the year after the assassination and I got to know her very well. She was a person who loved her privacy and I tried to provide that to her as much as possible. During the time I was in the White House, we were somewhat successful for doing that for her and she was grateful for my doing that for her.”

Hill said that the public didn’t fully understand Kennedy for who she was.

“They didn’t realize how intelligent she was and how much she was devoted to her children and to her husband, the president. They didn’t realize how much of an athlete she was either. She was extremely capable athlete, an expert horsewoman, she loved to water-ski, played golf, tennis. She spoke French, Spanish and Italian, by the way, and that was helpful as they went through their administration.”

Clint Hill's book "Five Presidents" came out earlier this month.
Credit Clint Hill

During a Secret Service agent’s tenure, agents must maintain a strict code of silence. Over 40 years have passed since Hill retired — he said he was able to publish the book about what he felt comfortable sharing because it does not compromise current Secret Service operations.

This is the question that comes up often in relation to Hill’s service with President Kennedy and rumors of his infidelity.

“We were there not to judge him,” Hill said. “We were there to secure the area around him and to keep him safe. If he wanted to do anything, that was up to him. I have no personal knowledge of anything like that ever happening.”

The Kennedy presidency, of the five presidents that Hill served, holds some of his most vivid memories. The day Kennedy was assassinated, Hill was there and responsible for pushing Jackie Kennedy back into the car, an act that has puzzled bystanders for years. Hill said he believed Jackie was trying to collect parts of President Kennedy’s skull from the car — not that she was trying to escape.

The day is etched in Hill’s memory and for decades he suffered PTSD from the experience.

“I’ve heard him tell this story hundreds of times,” McCubbin said. “What’s amazing is that when I first met Clint in 2009, he told me that he had not talked about that day to anyone other than the Warren Commission and briefly to Mike Wallace in 1975 on ‘60 Minutes.’ As I’ve watched him grow over the past six years, he’s able to now talk about it objectively. At first, it was extremely painful.”

Hill said he didn’t realize the immense impact that experience had on him.

“But that’s what I was going through, PTSD,” Hill said. “I can now talk about it objectively. It is actually cathartic for me to do so.”

Hill had served President Dwight Eisenhower before Kennedy and went on to serve Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford during some of the most tumultuous years in recent American history.

You can listen to Hill recount some of his experiences with each president below and also on Thursday night at a speaking event at the Missouri History Museum. 

“One thing that I’ve always said is that anybody who raises their hand to take that oath of office better be prepared for a major challenge because they are going to have it,” Hill said. “You may not know it when you are sworn in but in a few days or a few months, you’re going to be challenged in a major way.”

Related Event

What: Meet Me Saint Louis presents a discussion with Clint Hill

When: Thursday, May 19, doors open at 6:30 p.m. and presentation begins at 7:00 p.m.

Where: Lee Auditorium, Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO, 63112

More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.