Being a secret service agent means you have two primary missions: to protect the President of the United States and… to investigate financial crimes.
Yes: the secret service was originally created for the purpose of finding criminals who were counterfeiting money in the late 1800’s. Later, they were repurposed to protect the President.
Clint Hill joined the secret service in the late 1950’s under then President Eisenhower. During those years, Eisenhower was a celebrated hero and wherever he went, he was enthralled with crowds of upwards of a million people. Clint Hill was with him on his journey around the world to England, Afghanistan, India, France, and other nations. The Secret Service was very different in the 1950s. Clint recalls a story where President Eisenhower opened up the White House lawn to the public for his birthday. There were no K9 dogs, no snipers, not even that many on the police force to retain order.
After Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy ascended to office where he ran a entirely different ship than Eisenhower. Being a military man, Eisenhower had little compassion when it came to Secret Service agents, while Kennedy was compassionate and caring toward his body guards. One story Clint tells was during a very hot day in Florida. Apparently, Clint was wearing the traditional wool suit in the heat and Kennedy grabbed hawaiian shirts for all the Secret Service agents so they’d be more comfortable. It was sometime after this that Clint was relocated to duty with the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. Being off the President’s team seemed like a step down, but it actually served Clint’s career very well with what happened next.
President and Mrs. Kennedy went to Dallas to campaign for the upcoming Presidential election. On that fateful day, President Kennedy was shot in Dealey Plaza and Clint was one of the first to respond to the shooting. When the first gunshot rang out, Clint can be seen, on the amatuer film that imortalizes the shooting, running over to the car. Mrs. Kennedy is seen almost trying to escape the car and Clint pushed her back into the seat as it drove off to the hospital. For his actions, he was rewarded with a medal and put on President Johnson’s Secret Service team. He would live with the PTSD of the events that day for the rest of his life, something he refers to frequently throughout the book.
President Johnson was, again, quite different than the previous two Presidents. Coming from Texas, he had an air of spontaneity to him. He would randomly make decisions that forced the Secret Service to scramble to make sure what happened in Dealey Plaza never happened again. He admired those he trusted, and those whom he didn’t trust, he wanted far away from him. This happened to Clint: he retells a story where he was almost forced off the President’s detail because he served Kennedy and Johnson was unsure of his loyalty. Clint tells again and again of how he took his job as bipartisan: protecting the President is not about politics, it’s about keeping the President safe. He was allowed to stay on Johnson’s detail and ended up becoming good friends with the President. After Johnson left the office, he wanted Clint to run his Secret Service detail in retirement. Clint chose to stay with the Secret Service in Washington, but the point remains: he was a hard worker dedicated to the safety of the President. Johnson also was dealing with events in world history that were entirely unlike Eisenhower and Kennedy. Eisenhower was President during the U-2 spy plane incident, where the plane was spying on the Soviets without them being aware of the Americans presence; the plane was shot down and Eisenhower had to admit to the world his cunning foible. Kennedy saw the Bay of Pigs fiasco which manifested into the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. Kennedy also saw the beginning of the Vietnam War. Johnson, however, saw the full force of the Vietnam War and the protests that were flaring up around the country. It was a trying time to be President, there are few doubts about this.
After Johnson, Clint worked on the Vice President detail of Agnew Spiro. Clint had uneasy feelings about then President Nixon after Nixon wanted a “spy” attached as a Secret Service agent to Senator Ted Kennedy’s detail. Later, the Watergate scandal forced Nixon and Spiro to resign.
Lastly, President Ford ascended to the Presidency in the place of the ousted Nixon. It was during his short tenure that Clint retired from the Secret Service after 17 years of service to his country. What is incredible about his story was the political and social upheaval that he experienced during his time on the Secret Service. The 1960’s were a tumultuous time in American history and the Presidency reflected this. Eisenhower reflected old time values; Kennedy was a young wiz-kid from New England who was murdered in cold blood; Johnson took control during the height of the hippie era; Nixon left office disgraced; Ford was anything but conventional. Each President was unique and different and guided America during this difficult period in its history.
Another theme is the vast effect of PTSD on people in general. Clint said that it was only recently, almost 50 years after the event, that he could talk openly about the details regarding President Kennedy’s assassination. It would haunt him throughout his career and he never spoke of the events to anyone until years afterwards.
This book is a really compelling look at both how the Secret Service has evolved and American history in the late 1950’s, 60’s, and early 70’s. I felt like the pacing and the information was interesting and the narrative throughout was well written. Typically I feel like books such as this with a “ghost” author are really forced and fake. But this book was unique in that respect.