On Nov. 18, 1963, within the midst of a whirlwind marketing campaign journey, President John F. Kennedy told Secret Service supervisor Floyd Boring that brokers driving on particular boards put in close to the trunk of his automobile ought to drop again and tail him from a follow-up automobile as a substitute.
“It’s excessive, Floyd. And it’s giving the wrong impression to people,” mentioned Kennedy. “We’ve got an election coming up. The whole point is for me to be accessible to the people.”
Kennedy’s bristling on the proximity of the brokers was not unusual for these being protected by the Secret Service, particularly US presidents. But after his assassination 4 days later, some brokers puzzled if that further car-length prevented them from saving JFK’s life.
“Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service,” by Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig (Random House, out May 18), recounts presidential historical past from the service’s viewpoint, documenting how insufficient budgets, resistant protectees, political infighting and a macho, frat-boy tradition have usually left the brokers ill-prepared for his or her very important, lifesaving missions.
In the case of JFK, his private charisma — best when he might work together straight with the general public — and his frequent dalliances with younger girls made him a particular problem.
“In private, Kennedy’s Secret Service agents saw a man courting danger,” Leonnig writes.
“Kennedy was extremely reckless with his own personal safety. His actions made some of his protectors uneasy and a few quite angry. Professionally, he was their toughest assignment yet.”
Kennedy, capitalizing on his telegenic attraction, broke all data for presidential journeys outdoors the White House instantly upon taking workplace in 1961.
At the time, the White House’s Secret Service element had solely 34 brokers, working in six-man groups in rotating eight-hour shifts.
In order to cowl the president’s blazing schedule, the brokers labored double-shifts and on their days off, usually forgoing an evening’s sleep.
But oftentimes, the issue was not lack of manpower, however Kennedy himself, as he would ditch his guards at any alternative, believing them finally ineffective.
“If anyone is crazy enough to want to kill a president of the United States, he can do it,” Kennedy told his spokesperson. “All he must be prepared to do is give his life for the president’s.”
It was on this spirit, then, that Kennedy would slip into “an unmarked car with his brother or a friend. . . trying to feed a seemingly insatiable appetite for sexual conquest” at the same time as “members of his detail feared that within a sea of random women he met for trysts, one would try to blackmail, poison or kill him.”
And whereas the Secret Service routinely performed background checks on anybody who met privately with the president, this was forbidden for the president’s mistresses.
Agent Tim McIntyre joined JFK’s element in 1963 and tried to make mild of the president’s affairs, joking with different brokers, “What happens if one bites him?”
McIntyre, writes Leonnig, “stood witness to a steady parade of secretaries, starlets, and even prostitutes escorted to the president’s bedroom — in hotels and in his private residence. The Secret Service agents weren’t allowed to ask the women’s names.”
When Kennedy embarked on a week-long tour of Florida and Texas in November 1963, the service was depleted after months of intense journey, relying on skeleton crews and infrequently sending only one agent to plan a visit’s advance safety as a substitute of the same old two.
Then, in the course of the journey, Kennedy ordered his brokers to the first step automobile again.
On Nov. 21, Kennedy’s brokers spent virtually 24 hours straight on responsibility, strolling or operating greater than 10 miles within the course of.
That night time, as a substitute of heading to sleep, 9 of the brokers — 4 of whom had been scheduled to report for responsibility very first thing within the morning — wound up at a “legendary and scandalous nightclub” known as The Cellar after 1 a.m. Over the course of the night time, three extra brokers joined them on the Fort Worth institution.
Drinking liquor on the highway was forbidden, since brokers “could be called for duty at any time when the president was traveling,” however this rule was extensively ignored.
The Cellar had no liquor license, however the homeowners served a free concoction of fruit juice and grain alcohol that they stored behind the bar.
The brokers returned to their lodge between 2:45 a.m. and 5 a.m. The day shift started at 8 a.m.
As they drove by means of Dallas a number of hours later, brokers who would usually be driving by the president’s facet had been a car-length behind him as a substitute.
Clint Hill, head of the primary girl’s element, was driving within the observe automobile as a substitute of in his typical spot subsequent to her girl. He appeared to be the one agent who heard the primary shot and instantly realized what had occurred, seeing the president “raise his hands to either side of his throat.”
“I knew I should have been on the back of that car!” Hill thought. His physique might have stored the murderer from getting a transparent shot,” Leonnig writes, noting that the opposite brokers heard the shot, however had been initially confused concerning the supply and the goal.
Bill Greer, the motive force, thought a bike had backfired and reflexively slowed the automobile down, inadvertently giving Lee Harvey Oswald an easier target for his subsequent two pictures. The third shot related with the suitable facet of the president’s head.
In the following chaos, a shocked Jackie Kennedy “stretched her torso and right arm out over the car’s trunk. She reached out to retrieve something on the shiny black metal of the trunk’s lid — a small chunk of her husband’s brain and skull.” The first girl would keep that in her hand till she might give it to the surgeon.
Hill instantly “pressed the first lady back into her seat and spread his body across the back of the wide convertible to shield the couple.”
In the break up however agonizing seconds throughout and instantly after the taking pictures, quite a few brokers carried out valiantly, scurrying towards their protectees and selflessly sprawling their our bodies throughout them in an effort to forestall, deflect and even take in the violence supposed for the president.
But within the years that adopted, a number of of them had been tortured by guilt that they weren’t ready to do extra.
“Hill would eventually be considered a hero by generations of agents after him for his leap onto a moving car,” writes Leonnig.
But on the airplane trip dwelling from that nightmarish journey, he was “racked by unremitting pangs of guilt that would trouble him for most of the rest of his life: “If I’d only been on the rear steps of the car, I would have been close enough to get to him before the third shot,” he thought. If solely I’d been quicker.”