The pictures of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination that fateful November day in 1963 stayed imprinted in my mind ever since I first saw them as a boy of 12. I have read ever so many accounts of the assassination in the decades since then. In all of them I remembered the heroic figure of Secret Agent Clint Hill as he clambered upon the President’s Lincoln Continental in a vain bid to protect the President and Mrs Kennedy, the First Lady. All these memories rushed back to my head as I sat down to read, ” Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford” by Clint Hill and his co-author Lisa McCubbin. Ms McCubbin has collaborated with Mr Hill in several of his books.
This book, which is so appropriately titled, is indeed about an extraordinary journey. A journey that took Hill as a young, Secret Service Agent appointed to the prestigious White House detail when Eisenhower was the President to nearly two decades later when Gerald Ford became the fifth President he served.
Written with candour, the book describes his impressions, based on his experiences as a Secret Service Agent, of his illustrious protectees. Each of the five Presidents that Hill and others protected was very different from the other. They also lived in different time periods. The United States saw years of glory in the decades following the Second World War when it emerged as the most powerful nation on earth. There were also periods of great despair such as the tensions of the Cold War culminating in the threat of nuclear war when the Cuban crisis took place in the Kennedy presidency; the seemingly never-ending Vietnam War which cut short Johnson’s hope that he would become President for another term; the scandal surrounding the Nixon Administration and his unprecedented impeachment.
These were but a few of the historical moments for which Hill had a ring side seat, as it were. He saw at very close quarters how the Presidents thought and acted, at all time conscious of being probably the most powerful person on earth. Some of them experienced enormous wrath from the people of the United States for their policies and decisions. They also saw how all over the world successive Presidents of the United States, be they Eisenhower, Kennedy or Johnson received tremendous adulation, warmth and respect from the people of the many countries they visited. These countries and their peoples looked upon the United States as a powerful friend and ally.
Hill was witness to many historic events and he has written about them without fear or favour. To many, the life of the Secret Service agents at the White House may appear to be glamorous, jetting as they do wherever the President of the time goes. Hill’s book tells you of the difficulties involved in carrying out this assignment, often having to protect Presidents who frowned upon security and insisted on getting close to the people who came to see them because after all they were their voters. The extremely long hours at work, the endless tension of having to be on the alert all the time, and the vagaries of the Presidents they served made this job most demanding. As we read the book, we witness the changes in Presidential protection over the decades especially after President Kennedy’s assassination.
Highly recommended for those who like contemporary history and politics, especially of the United States.