Clint Hill is the last surviving member of the JFK Presidential motorcade

First off, assuming anyone reads this blog on any type of a rolling basis, I apologize for not posting in a few days. I was busy doing this for the last couple of days (came in third, so that’s cool), but now I’m back with an itch to write some stuff.

The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination is next weekend; I’m not sure it’s even possible to quantify the amount of bandwith that will be taken up discussing that anniversary (oh, and TV specials too). They’re already started — just hit a Google News search.

One interesting angle you’re hearing a little less about is Clint Hill; he was the secret service agent who was behind the Kennedy limo and leaped on the back; here’s a good shot of that. He famously rode on the back of the limo all the way to Parkland Hospital. He’s actually the only person in the car when it arrived at Parkland Hospital who is still alive; he was actually assigned to Jackie Kennedy and is one of the people who began the urban legend that when she first climbed backwards in the car, she was “reaching for a piece of her husband’s head.”

Read this from the above link for a fairly good description of Hill at the time and the hours following the shooting:

When UPI correspondent Merriman Smith — who let the world know of the shooting minutes earlier with the first bulletin at 12:34 CST — ran into Hill at the hospital and asked him, “How badly was he hit, Clint?” Hill replied curtly, “He’s dead,” Smith wrote in his Nov. 23, 1963, eyewitness account.

Hill has been associated with recent books (here and here) about the event, but for most of the last 50 years, he’s been fairly silent on it, admitting that “something can remind you of it every day.” He also had trouble with alcoholism and may have separated from his wife.

Hill gave an interview in 1975 to Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes; at the time, Hill had recently retired from the Secret Service (after Kennedy, he protected Jackie, then LBJ, then Spiro Agnew). In this interview, while discussing neurological issues he’s experienced, he also talks about being one second late to taking a bullet for the President and how much regret he’s had about that over the years.

Based on the timing of the shot (and the fact that he couldn’t have possibly known, as he wasn’t facing that direction), there’s very little Hill probably could have done aside from what he did — and he received an honor for what he did do several days after Kennedy’s funeral (Jackie showed up to thank him in person) — but it’s insanely interesting to think about Clint Hill in the ‘sliding doors’ context of history. If he had moved up for some reason three seconds before, the entire course of American history might have changed (for better or worse, we don’t know). The event also changed the entire culture of the Secret Service (again, maybe not for the best).

Hill was very close to Jackie (he explains her reactions at the funeral here, and one of the above book links is about their relationship), and it makes fairly logical sense: in addition to protecting her through about the 1964 Presidential election, he also shielded her body for the entire ride to Parkland. He is reportedly the SS agent who gave the ‘thumbs down’ sign to other people in the car (i.e. Roy Kellerman, in the front) on the drive, signaling how grave the condition was.

Here are a few additional stories about Hill’s recent speeches/appearances on the anniversary: 1, 2, and 3. (That last link also references Paul Landis; he is still alive, but isn’t one of the people associated with the limo arriving at Parkland. In that sense, I believe Hill is the only remaining person alive.)

Clint Hill is a super interesting story, in my humble opinion. He was literally seconds from a fulcrum point in American history, rode on perhaps the most famous direct car ride in American history (covering one of the most glamorous women in the world at the time, who happened to be soaked in blood), and then had a majority of his own life affected by the events as well. The image of him jumping up onto the car, then losing control, then running and catching up again as it accelerated is seminal in American history. It might be one of the most famous single elements of that three-day stretch, although I don’t think anything tops this:

Personally, I hope Hill has well-resolved his demons 50 years later. He purportedly lives in Arlington, VA and enjoys going back to visit his North Dakota roots.

Ted Bauer