One of my favorite things about writing with Secret Service agent Clint Hill is going through the piles of photos he has in his personal collection. Every photo tells a story and when Clint Hill sits right beside me, pointing out details I might not have noticed, it allows me enormous insight into the challenges the Secret Service faces in varying scenarios. For instance, forty-nine years ago this week, Clint Hill traveled to Guam with President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The purpose of the trip was for LBJ to meet with officials from South Vietnam to discuss options for peace. As the Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Clint Hill was the number two man on the Presidential Protective Division (PPD). It was March 1967, in the midst of the Vietnam War, college campuses were exploding with protests, and the threats to the president were ever-present.
About 2000 people were waiting at Agana Naval Air Station to see the arrival of President Johnson on Air Force One. The 1968 presidential campaign was one year away, but LBJ went straight to the fence line to greet the people who had come out to see him. No magnetometers, no screening, and nothing between the President of the United States and a potential assassin except the handful of Secret Service agents around him.
This past Sunday, March 20, 2016—forty-nine years to the day this photo in Guam was taken—I sat next to Clint Hill, watching on television, as Air Force One landed in Cuba. While I saw the big picture, his eyes caught the minute details. Sitting on the edge of his seat, he pointed out the positioning of the agents—some of whom he knows by name—and I could feel the inner tension rising inside him, just as if he were right back there alongside the President of the United States.
Lots of things have changed in the Secret Service in the past half-century—the communications are leap years ahead of what they were in the 1960s and the number of personnel has increased substantially—but one thing remains the same: the dedication of the Secret Service to their mission. You could see the same determination and laser focus on the faces of the agents in Cuba as you see in the photo in Guam. It was remarkable that President Obama traveled to Cuba, and it was thanks to the U.S. Secret Service that he was able to take such an historic trip at all.
For more about Secret Service Agent Clint Hill: ClintHillSecretService.com
Lisa McCubbin is the coauthor of the upcoming book FIVE PRESIDENTS: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford (Gallery/Simon and Schuster) On sale May 3, 2016.