On November 18, 1963, in the middle of a campaign trip, US President John F. Kennedy told Secret Service Agent Floyd Boring that the guards traveling on the special platforms installed next to the trunk of his car they had to back up and follow him from another vehicle.
“It is excessive, Floyd. And it is giving the wrong impression to people,” said the president. “We have an election around the corner. It’s about me being accessible to people“, he would have added, according to the Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig in her new book ‘Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service’, which will go on sale this May 18.
According to the author, who in her work recounts the presidential history from the point of view of the Secret Service, Kennedy’s irritation at the proximity of the agents was not unusual for those who were protected by that federal agency, especially the presidents of the United States. However, after Kennedy assassination four days later, some agents wondered if that extra distance from the presidential car prevented them from saving the life of the US president.
“Kennedy’s Secret Service agents saw a man courting danger”
In Kennedy’s case, his personal charisma and frequent flirtations with young women made him a special challenge for officers. “Privately, Kennedy’s Secret Service agents saw a man courting danger,” Leonnig writes, quoted by New York Post, who had access to the book. “Kennedy was extremely reckless with his own personal safety. His actions made some of his protectors uncomfortable and some quite angry. Professionally, it was his most difficult task, “he stresses.
The reporter details that at that time the White House Secret Service had only 34 guards, so in order to cover the president’s busy schedule, agents worked double shifts and on their days off, often instead of one sleep night.
In addition, Leonnig explains that often the problem was not the lack of personnel, but Kennedy himself, as he would get rid of his guards at any opportunity, ultimately believing them to be ineffective. “If someone is crazy enough to want to kill a US president, they can do it“the president told his spokesman.” All you have to be willing to do is give your life for the president’s, “he declared.
The agents also witnessed “a constant parade of secretaries, ‘vedettes’ and even prostitutes escorted to the president’s bedroom, in hotels and in his private residence,” writes the author, adding that the guards “were not allowed ask the women’s names. “
“I knew it had to have been in the back of that car!”
When Kennedy began a week-long tour in November 1963 through the states of Florida and Texas, the Secret Service was already exhausted after months of intense travel. When they drove through the city of Dallas, the agents who normally had to be next to the president were, by order of Kennedy himself, a distance of one car behind him.
For his part, Clint Hill, head of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s bodyguard, was also in the follow-up car, apparently the only bodyguard who heard the first shot and realized immediately what had happened. see that the president “put his hands on both sides of his throat.” “‘I knew he had to have been in the back of that car!'” Thought Hill. “His body could have prevented the killer from getting a direct shotLeonnig writes, noting that the other officers heard the shot, but were initially confused about the source and the target.
Meanwhile, driver Bill Greer thought a motorcycle had broken down, so he slowed the car, inadvertently giving Lee Harvey Oswald an easier target for his next two shots. The third shot hit the president’s right side of the head. For his part, Hill immediately “pressured the first lady to return to her seat and spread her body over the back of the wide convertible to protect the couple,” according to the reporter.
After the shooting, numerous officers ran towards the presidential couple spreading their bodies over them in an effort to prevent, deflect or even absorb the violence aimed at the president. However, in the following years, several of them were blamed for not being able to do more. “Hill would end up being considered a hero by the generations of officers who followed him for jumping into a moving car,” Leonnig writes.
But on the drive home from Dallas Hill he was “plagued by incessant pangs of guilt that would haunt him for most of the rest of his life: ‘If only he had been on the back steps of the car, I would have been close enough to get to him before the third shot‘, thought. ‘If only it had been faster.’
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