RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — This November will mark 54 years since an assassin’s bullet took the life of President John F. Kennedy. On Thursday, the U.S. Secret Service agent who shielded the president’s body and that of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was in Raleigh to speak at The Cardinal in North Hills.
Before addressing the crowd, retired Special Agent Clint Hill sat down with CBS North Carolina evening anchor Sean Maroney to share some of his experiences with the Kennedys and his perspective from that fateful day in Dallas.
“We were almost like family,” Hill said of the relationship between the agents and their charges. “We were so close to them.”
Still, it was always professional.
“It was always, ‘Yes, Mrs. Kennedy,’” Hill said. “‘Thank you, Mr. Hill.’”
Hill’s assignment was to the first lady’s protective detail. There, he closely observed her relationship with her two young children.
“Mrs. Kennedy was a real devoted mother,” Hill said. ‘They had a nanny, but the nanny took all of her orders from Mrs. Kennedy.”
“Whatever she wanted done was the way it was done.”
The Kennedy presidency came to an abrupt end on Nov. 22, 1963, when Lee Harvey Oswald shot at the president as his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas. In a silent, color motion picture sequence shot by a private citizen in the crowd, Kennedy’s assassination was captured on film, as was Hill’s first reaction to jump on to the back of the presidential limousine and cover the First Couple as they sped off.
“I was the only one who had a chance to do anything, and I was too late to provide [the president] the protection that we wanted to provide him,” Hill said.
When reminded that he was on the vehicle in less than two seconds after the first shot rang out, Hill said, “[I was] too late because he was hit by the third bullet.”
“That shouldn’t have happened,” Hill continued. “That should’ve hit me.”
Hill said it has taken him many years to make his peace with that day.
Four days after her husband’s burial, the widowed mother of two Jacqueline Kennedy told a journalist, “Don’t let it be forgot, that for one brief, shining moment there was Camelot.”
She was quoting her husband’s favorite Broadway musical, Camelot – a take on the myth of King Arthur in a world where goodness reigned supreme. The term “Camelot” stuck as a way the media and Hollywood described the young and active Kennedy family coming to Washington.
When asked if the term “Camelot” was an accurate portrayal of life in the Kennedy White House, Hill said, “Pretty much so.”
“Yeah, it was a wonderful time.”
Over the course of his career, Hill served under five presidents, from Eisenhower to Ford.
Now in retirement, he is an accomplished author with several books detailing his time protecting the presidents. He wrote his first book at the age of 80.