Clint Hill (Secret Service)
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Clint Hill on the Presidential limousine seconds after Kennedy's assassination.
|Born||Clinton J. Hill
Larimore, North Dakota, U.S.
|Occupation||Secret Service Agent|
Clinton J. Hill (born 1932) is a former United States Secret Service agent who was in the presidential motorcade during the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. After Kennedy was fatally shot, Hill ran from the car immediately behind the presidential limousine and leapt onto the back of it, holding on while the car raced to Parkland Memorial Hospital. This action was documented in the famous Zapruder film. Hill is the last surviving passenger of the presidential limousine which arrived at Parkland Hospital.
Hill was born in Larimore, North Dakota to his Norwegian mother Alma Pettersen. His birth parents homesteaded near Roseglen. At three months of age, he was placed in an orphanage in Fargo, where he was adopted by another Norwegian family in Chris and Jennie Hill of Fargo. (Originally named Haugen, the family later changed its name to the English version of the name. Haugen is the word for "hill" in Norwegian ). Hill's new family took him to Washburn where he eventually graduated from Washburn High School. He also attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where he played football, studied history, and graduated in 1954. After college, Hill was assigned to the Denver office of Secret Service in 1958 and served on the detail for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. After John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States, Hill was assigned to protect the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.
The assassination of President Kennedy
President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, during a motorcade through the city, en route to a luncheon at the Dallas Trade Mart. The President and Mrs. Kennedy were riding in an open limousine containing three rows of seats. The Kennedys were in the rear seat of the car, the Governor of Texas, John Connally and his wife, Nellie Connally, were in the middle row, and Secret Service agent William Greer was driving and the president's bodyguard, Roy Kellerman, was also in the front seat.
Hill was riding in the car immediately behind the presidential limousine. As soon as the shooting began, Hill jumped out and began running to overtake the moving car in front of him. He climbed from the rear bumper, crawling over the trunk to the back seat where the President and First Lady were located.
Hill grabbed a small handrail on the left rear of the trunk, normally used by bodyguards to stabilize themselves while standing on small platforms on the rear bumper. According to the Warren Commission's findings, there were no bodyguards stationed on the bumper that day because
...the President had frequently stated that he did not want agents to ride on these steps during a motorcade except when necessary. He had repeated this wish only a few days before, during his visit to Tampa, Florida.
The notion that the President's instructions in Tampa jeopardized his security in Dallas has since been denied by Hill and other agents. Regardless of Kennedy's statement, photos taken of the motorcade along earlier segments of the route show Hill riding on the step at the back of the car.
As an alternate explanation, fellow agent Gerald Blaine cites the location of the shooting:
We were going into a freeway, and that's where you take the speeds up to 60 and 70 miles an hour. So we would not have had any agents there anyway.
Hill grabbed the handrail less than two seconds after the fatal shot to the President. The driver then accelerated, causing the car to slip away from Hill, who was in the midst of trying to leap onto it. He succeeded in regaining his footing and jumped onto the back of the quickly accelerating vehicle.
As he got on, Mrs. Kennedy, apparently in shock, was crawling onto the flat rear trunk of the moving limousine. Hill later told the Warren Commission that he thought Mrs. Kennedy was reaching for a piece of the President's skull which had been blown off. He crawled to her and guided the First Lady back into her seat. Once back in the car, Hill placed his body above the President and Mrs. Kennedy. Meanwhile, in the folding jump seats directly in front of them, Mrs. Connally had pulled her wounded husband, Governor John Connally, to a prone position on her lap.
Agent Kellerman, in the front seat of the car, gave orders over the car's two-way radio to the lead vehicle in the procession "to the nearest hospital, quick!" Hill was shouting as loudly as he could "To the hospital, to the hospital!" En route to the hospital, Hill flashed a "thumbs-down" signal and shook his head from side to side at the agents in the follow-up car, signaling the graveness of the President's condition.
The limousine then rapidly exited Dealey Plaza and sped to Parkland Memorial Hospital, only minutes away, followed by other vehicles in the motorcade. As the car moved at high speed to the hospital, Hill maintained his position shielding the couple with his body, and was looking down at the President. Agent Hill later testified:
The right rear portion of his head was missing. It was lying in the rear seat of the car. His brain was exposed. There was blood and bits of brain all over the entire rear portion of the car.
Mrs. Kennedy was completely covered with blood. There was so much blood you could not tell if there had been any other wound or not, except for the one large gaping wound in the right rear portion of the head.
Although the Secret Service was shocked at its failure to protect the life of President Kennedy, virtually everyone agreed that Clint Hill's rapid and brave actions had been without blemish. He was honored at a ceremony in Washington just days after the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy, despite being in deep mourning, made an appearance at the event to thank him in person.
After the assassination
Hill remained assigned to Mrs. Kennedy and the children until after the 1964 presidential election. He then was assigned to President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House. In 1967, when Johnson was still in office, Hill became the Special Agent in Charge (SAIC) of Presidential protection. When Richard Nixon came into office, Hill moved over to SAIC of protection of Vice President Spiro Agnew. Finally, Hill was assigned to headquarters as the Assistant Director of the Secret Service for all protection. He retired in 1975.
In a 1975 interview with Mike Wallace, Hill tearfully surmised that if he had reached the vehicle a second earlier, he would have been able to take the third shot to his own body, and felt a great deal of regret for not having been able to reach there in time.
Hill wrote the foreword to Gerald Blaine and Lisa McCubbin's 2010 narrative, The Kennedy Detail.
In a BBC Today interview, broadcast in December 2010, Hill recalled the assassination and his first visit to Dallas in 1990 since the events of 1963, during which he surveyed the scene of the shooting. Asked whether he thought that the President's life might have been saved if things had been done differently, Hill replied that "He had all the advantages that day. We had none. And it was a very easy job to accomplish because of the way everything was laid out."
In April 2012, the book Mrs. Kennedy and Me was published, in which Hill looks back at his career and describes his working relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy.
Hill was married to Gwen Hill at the time of Kennedy's assassination. The couple had two sons. In his 2012 interview with Brian Lamb, Hill suggested that he had been divorced or separated from Gwen for many years.
In popular culture
- In the two-part Quantum Leap episode "Lee Harvey Oswald," Dr. Sam Beckett leapt out of Oswald and into Clint Hill, immediately before the well known shot of Hill leaping onto the back of the Kennedy motorcade. Dr. Beckett feels great guilt that this did not stop the President from being assassinated; however, as Beckett's friend Al points out, in the "original" history, Oswald also assassinated Mrs. Kennedy, which Beckett/Hill prevented.
- In the alternate history novel Surrounded by Enemies: What if Kennedy Survived Dallas? by Bryce Zabel, Hill was killed in the process of saving Kennedy from being assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. After Leslie Coffelt, he was only the second Secret Service agent to have been killed in the line of duty.
- – Hun var i sjokk og sa «Jeg har hjernen hans i hendene» - TV 2 Nyhetene
- Ogden, Eloise (September 25, 2012). "A witness to history: Former Secret Service agent talks about N.D. & Jacqueline Kennedy". Minot Daily News (Minot, North Dakota). Retrieved September 26, 2012.
- ‘Mrs. Kennedy’: A relationship of respect, protection, love. USA Today, April 2, 2012. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
- Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. p. 45.
- CNN: "JFK Secret Service agents reflect on loss of a President", CNN.com (Nov. 22, 2010)
- King, Larry (March 22, 2006). "Larry King Interviews Mike Wallace". CNN.
- Dobbin, Muriel (November 19, 2010). "BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Kennedy Detail’". The Washington Times (Washington, D.C.). Retrieved May 26, 2013.
- "JFK assassination 'was easily done'". BBC. December 1, 2010. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
- Q & A - Clint Hill. C-SPAN, May 27, 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2012.
- "Book review: ‘Mrs. Kennedy and Me’". The Washington Times. April 6, 2012. Retrieved April 7, 2012.
- Q&A interview with Clint Hill and Gerald Blaine, C-SPAN, November 28, 2010.
- Television interview with Clint Hill, from The Today Show, April 5, 2012.
- Clint Hill interviewed by Mike Wallace in 1975, from 60 Minutes Rewind, January 11, 2011.