When I first met retired U.S. Secret Service agent Clint Hill 6 1/2 years ago, he told me two things. “I don’t talk to anybody about that day ever,” and, “I will never write a book.”
Two days ago, we received our first copies of Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.
Clint Hill’s third book. And yes, it includes that day. Never say never.
It was August 2009 when Clint Hill agreed, begrudgingly, to meet me at the Hay Adams Hotel just a short distance from the White House.
“Two hours,” he had said. “I’ll give you two hours.”
I was extremely nervous to meet this man who was known around the world as “the Secret Service agent who jumped on the back of the car” heroically trying to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was now 78-years-old and had not given any in-depth interviews since that infamous 1975 60 Minutes piece called “Special Agent #9” in which he broke down when Mike Wallace probed him about that day.
The only reason he was speaking to me was that I was writing a book with one of his former colleagues, Gerald Blaine, and Blaine had told him he could trust me. But I soon learned that Clint Hill doesn’t trust anyone.
After two hours with him, I must say he didn’t give me much more information than I could have found in any of the countless books written about JFK’s assassination. He spoke calmly, with a measured tone, the voice of a seasoned law enforcement professional. He politely answered my questions, but didn’t offer much in the way of details. I sensed he had built a wall around this part of his past, and no one was going to get in. Not even me.
And then, when I questioned him about the death of President and Mrs. Kennedy’s son Patrick, tears welled in his eyes. He winced, and I realized that his emotions, although they’d been buried deep, were still raw, even all these years later. Nearly 47 years after that day, the memories were as painful as if it had happened only yesterday. I felt compassion for him, and although I didn’t push him to stay longer than the two hours he’d so kindly given, I had a hundred more questions swirling in my mind.
Over the next several months, I called him frequently as I was writing The Kennedy Detail, and slowly he began to open up. Little by little the story came out. It was clear to me that he still suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and my heart broke for him.
As it turned out, talking, and eventually writing about that day was the therapy Clint Hill had needed all along. It was during the writing of Mrs. Kennedy and Me that I began to see his wonderful sense of humor as he relived the good times he had shared with Jacqueline Kennedy. Once the book was published, as we traveled around the world on the book tour and with speaking engagements, Clint saw how much people wanted and needed to hear his memories.
He can speak for an hour solid, and you can hear a pin drop in a room filled with 1000 people. He is a riveting storyteller, and people couldn’t get enough. For him, simply telling the stories over and over again set him well on his path to healing.
As it turned out, we were both struggling with our own issues, and writing together has been therapeutic for both of us. It was ironic how we found each other–neither of us searching for help, but finding it in history—his story—history.
Never say never. Three books. That day. And so much more. Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford is on sale May 3. Visit Clint Hill at ClintHillSecretService.com