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Secret Service Agent Provides an Intimate Look Into the JFK Assassination

Madeline Hiltz
(Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

Virtually anyone alive on November 22, 1963, remembers what they were doing when they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated — it was the kind of news that made people stop in their tracks. One man’s experience of the tragic event is completely unique and gives us a different view of the killing of a president. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill has gone down in history for his bravery when he jumped into the president’s limousine after Kennedy was hit. Here, we take a look at Hill’s perspective on Kennedy’s assassination, including his inner thoughts and feelings and the aftermath of the event.

Who is Clint Hill?

Clint Hill climbing on the back of the limo

Clint Hill climbing on the back of the presidential limo after Kennedy was shot. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

Clint Hill is a former United States Secret Service agent who served under Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. Hill solidified his place in history when he jumped in JFK’s motorcade on November 22, 1963, after President Kennedy was fatally shot.

Hill was assigned to be Jackie Kennedy’s bodyguard shortly after John F. Kennedy was elected as president in 1960. He was not looking forward to being assigned to Jackie Kennedy because he had seen other agents assigned to the first ladies of the United States. Initially, Hill associated being assigned to Mrs. Kennedy with having to go to “tea parties and fashion shows.”

Jackie Kennedy and Clint Hill 1964

Jackie Kennedy and Clint Hill (left) in Washington, 1964. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

Hill soon realized that Jackie Kennedy was much smarter and much more intuitive than he initially believed her to be. Interestingly, Hill notes that one secret service agent had to be available whenever Mrs. Kennedy was awake. There were only two agents assigned to Kennedy (including Hill), which meant it was inevitable that Hill would become close with the first lady and the entire Kennedy family.

Hill’s perspective

Clint Hill 2016

Clint Hill in 2016. (Photo Credit: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

The Kennedys were riding in a Lincoln convertible limousine for their tour of Dallas in November 1963. According to Clint Hill, the motorcade was intended to show the President at “maximum availability and maximum exposure” to the public, which is why open-air convertibles were used on the tour. However, Hill notes that both himself and other secret service agents were concerned about this choice of an open vehicle. The agents were instructed to stay as far away as they could from the Kennedys to help the public feel like there was no barrier between them and Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy.

On November 23, 1963, Hill was in the car directly behind the presidential motorcade. Hill recalls that his car was only three to five feet behind the presidential car and was filled with eight secret service agents and two members of President Kennedy’s staff. Hill remembers scanning Dealey Plaza as the motorcade passed through. He recalls noting that windows were opened in high-rise buildings, with four or five windows open at the Texas School Book Depository building.

Kennedy's in Dallas

JFK and Jackie Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, November 23, 1963. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

Hill heard the first gunshot but initially didn’t realize what the sound was. It wasn’t until he turned his head toward the noise that he saw President Kennedy’s reaction. This reaction made Hill realize that shots had been fired. He remembers Kennedy grabbing at his throat and falling to his left. Hill notes that Kennedy had a back brace on, which prevented him from bending forward much.

After Hill determined that shots had been fired, he remembers immediately getting out of his car and running towards JFK’s car. His goal was to get on top of the back of the car to provide a shield for both the president and Mrs. Kennedy. Hill was told about the second shot, which happened as he ran toward the Kennedys, but he doesn’t recall ever hearing it.

Just as Hill was getting to the car, he heard the third gunshot. Not only did he hear that third gunshot, but he remembers “feeling it.” This third shot hit President Kennedy in the back of his head, which ultimately would be fatal.

Clint Hill on the back of the presidential limo

Clint Hill can be seen holding on to the back of the presidential limo. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

As Hill started to get up on the presidential limo, Jackie Kennedy began climbing up on the trunk. He remembers thinking, “what is she doing? what is she doing?” when he saw Mrs. Kennedy climbing onto the back of the motorcade, but ultimately realized she was trying to collect some of JFK’s brain matter to put back into his head.

Clint Hill remembers very intimate details from the moments after President Kennedy was shot. He remembers hearing Jackie Kennedy screaming, “My God! They have shot his head off.” He remembers giving the thumbs-down signal to the car behind them to indicate to the other secret service agents that JFK was in bad shape. The other seven agents in the car behind the presidential limo had turned away from the president when they heard the gunshots, meaning they were unaware of what was happening in JFK’s limo.

It took the presidential limo about four minutes to get to Parkland Memorial Hospital after JFK had been shot. Hill was hanging onto the back of the limo as it drove, trying not to slide off. On the drive to Parkland, Hill remembers no one saying a word.

Clint Hill, Robert Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy opens the door to the ambulance carrying President Kennedy’s body. She is followed by Robert Kennedy and Clint Hill. (Photo Credit: Wally McNamee/ Getty Images)

Governor Connally, who had also been shot, had to be removed first from the limo. He was put on a gurney and rushed into the operating room. Hospital workers and secret service agents then attempted to get President Kennedy onto a gurney, but Hill recalls that Jackie Kennedy refused to let go of her husband. He remembers saying multiple times, “please Mrs. Kennedy- let us help the president.” However, at this time, Clint Hill had been with the first lady for three years. He realized that she didn’t want to let go of her husband because she didn’t want anyone to see his condition. Hill took off his suit coat to cover up JFK’s head and upper back, and Mrs. Kennedy let go after that.

While JFK was in surgery, Clint Hill reached the White House on a hospital phone to inform them what was going on. Robert Kennedy then got on the phone and was asking Hill for updates, wondering what had happened to his brother. Robert Kennedy asked Hill how bad the situation was, and Hill remembers not wanting to tell Kennedy that his brother was dead. So, instead of outright telling Robert Kennedy of his brother’s fate, Hill told the Attorney General that the situation was “as bad as it could get.

Hill notes that the trauma surgeons realized almost instantly that there was nothing they could have done for President Kennedy. In fact, the surgeons didn’t even turn JFK’s body over. They only looked at him from the front. This meant that they didn’t realize there were two gunshot holes in Kennedy’s back. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome; rather, it just puts into perspective how badly Kennedy was hurt.

Clint Hill being honored

Clint Hill is honored in a ceremony after JFK’s assassination as Jackie Kennedy looks on. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

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Clint Hill was honored for his brave actions in a ceremony in Washington D.C. days after President Kennedy’s funeral. Today, Clint Hill is the only living person from the presidential motorcade on November 22, 1963. He will go down in history for his bravery, and his story of Kennedy’s assassination brings a more personal level to that historical event that we’ve rarely seen.