From The VG Bookshelf: Five Presidents

From The VG Bookshelf: Five Presidents

From The VG Bookshelf: Five Presidents

Five Presidents — Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. They were the men who headed up the nation during some of the most tumultuous years of the 20th Century. Former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill was right there in the midst of it.

Clint Hill, along with co-author Lisa McCubbin, write a crisp, straight forward recounting of Clint’s 17 years from Eisenhower to his time as Assistant Director of the Secret Service (he retired in 1975). There is a kind of relentlessness in his chosen, linear format. So much of the day-to-day activities, duties and obligations of the Presidency becomes clear, regardless of who is actually in the Oval Office. Hill lays it out, with little embellishment, nary a bit of gossip or hearsay. One gathers the sense of the man, himself, as each chapter goes by. His Presidents are all long gone, but he never engages in any personal speculations or reveals of the tawdry.

If you’re looking for a combo of National Inquirer and The Daily Mail, you will be sorely disappointed by this book.

Those readers of a certain age will remember the television show Dragnet and creator/actor Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday. One of Friday’s most quotable line when interviewing witnesses was “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” And that’s what you’ll get from this book. Hill tells you what he saw, what he participated in. And, by golly, those facts weave quite the story on how different each President was.

Hill joined the Presidential detail in 1958. Eisenhower was not just a towering figure at home, but the tours he took through Europe demonstrated his overwhelming popularity there. This is where the book really shines, in the blow by blow descriptions – not just of the motorcades from point A to point B – but of how the whole operation of what it takes to protect the President. The pre-planning, connections with local law enforcement, checking out any known threats and sweating over the unknown.

While Hill clearly enjoyed and was dedicated to his job, the reader begins to realize just what is sacrificed by each agent in terms of time, family and even their own personal health.

While covered more extensively in two other of Hill’s books, he does cover his time with Kennedys. He headed up the detail that protected First Lady Jacqueline. And he was the agent pictured leaping up on the trunk of the limo carrying JFK when he was assassinated, shoving Jacqueline back into her seat and covering both her and JFK with his body. He brings the history of that infamous moment to horrible life.

Unflinchingly, Hill recounts how he was haunted for years, from nightmares to sudden anxiety, by the assassination. There was no word for post-traumatic stress syndrome in those days, and one was expected to pick up and deal with anything on one’s own. It is easy to read between the lines that Hill had a hard time dealing.

Now Hill found himself as part of the detail to the new President. The chapters covering Hill’s time with Lyndon Baines Johnson are quite eye opening. LBJ could really be the gold-plated s.o.b. He screamed at agents, ignored their advice on protection and seemed to delight in switching plans at the last minute causing mad scrambles and a lot of ulcers.

Hill also takes some time to note the historical events going during this time. Vietnam figures heavily with first LBJ then Nixon facing protestors and hostile reporters. From the U-2 spy plane incident to the 1969 Moon landing, Cuban missile crisis to Watergate. Clint Hill was there, not just a witness to history, but a participant. And a heroic one, at that.

It is a worthy story to read.

featured image, background original VG artwork by Darleen Click, book cover courtesy Gallery Books

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1 Comment
  • GWB says:

    If you’re looking for a combo of National Inquirer and The Daily Mail, you will be sorely disappointed by this book.
    WHAT?!? No pics of Johnson in a see-through dress? That’s unfortunate.

    Otherwise, it sounds like an interesting book.

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