The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right sidebar.
Five Presidents by Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin is a non-fiction book written as a page turning historical novel. People might not recognize the author, but the photo of him jumping on the Presidential car is engrained in most everyone’s mind. He is the Secret Service Agent that heroically leaped onto the Kennedy car in Dallas after the President was shot.
Knowing people have played Monday morning quarterback for decades about the JFK assassination, Hill dispelled to blackfive.net some of the rumors: “I don’t think what the FBI knew would have made a difference. Nothing indicated Lee Harvey Oswald had a grievance against President Kennedy. There was no conspiracy because no one would have utilized a guy like Oswald, who was not intelligent or capable enough for anyone to put trust in him. He was a failure: his wife split up with him, unable to become a Marine, and could not hold down a job. Even his defection to the Soviet Union did not work out. He came back to the US and was extremely upset because no one honored him. He did the assassination in an attempt to seek recognition.”
The reason the car did not initially speed up was “the driver apparently heard and thought perhaps the noise was a blown tire. I know he tapped the break pedal ever so briefly because I saw the brake lights come on momentarily. After that he did begin to accelerate, which was about the time I reached the car. Understand, this is a big heavy car so acceleration did not happen instantaneously.”
Hill succeeds in allowing readers to have a rare glimpse into the personalities and characters of the five uniquely different Presidents, from Eisenhower to Ford. As a secret service agent assigned to protect them he was able to view their strengths and weaknesses, a witness to the historical decisions made by these men. He reflects on the tumultuous times involving the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War and Watergate. However, it is more a book about personalities and their human side; how the Presidents spent their private time, treated people around them, and interacted with their families.
Able to sympathize with those in the military who suffer from PTSD, Hill admitted to blackfive.net that he had PTSD from the assassination, “You never completely overcome it. I am better off today than I was. Talking about it with my co-author Lisa, writing about it, and talking to the public about it was very therapeutic. What also helped was going back to Dealey Plaza in Dallas and spending time there, examining the situation. I looked at everything, the angles, location of the shooter, the motorcade, weather conditions, and the type of transportation we were using. I realize now I had done everything I could have done that day. All the advantages went to the shooter and we did not have any.”
The best parts of the book are the well-written stories and anecdotes. Anyone wondering if there is anything new to be said, the answer is an unequivocal yes!
These include President Eisenhower traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan to adoring crowds, allowing readers to understand how times have changed; how Eisenhower was also revered for his trustworthiness, yet during the U2 Spy incident with Francis Gary Powers he hedged the truth to the American people; Hill having personal demons as he struggled with PTSD over the Kennedy assassination; the auspicious humiliating first greeting with President Johnson in October 1964 as the President ignored Hill’s handshake, and instead blew his nose in a handkerchief; Hill’s decision to place the White House files under protection after a midnight phone call about Watergate; how Nixon attempted to put an informant on the Secret Service detail of Senator Ted Kennedy; and President Ford’s willingness to travel to five different countries even though there was no sitting Vice-President.
There is also a reminder to Americans how secret service agents are a lot like those in the military and intelligence, where their personal life must be sacrificed for the good of the nation. Hill witnessed the joy, triumphs, agony, disappointments, egos, and frailties of these five Presidents; yet missed many of his own.
Hill gave the example of the Cuban Missile Crisis, “I write in my book that the worst part for all the agents was knowing in the case of a nuclear attack or a possible missile launch from Cuba we would go with the President and his family to a relocation site while our families would most likely perish. If someone tried to get aboard the helicopter that was not authorized it may come to the point of causing bodily harm to protect those we were guarding. Our obligation is to complete the mission and perform our job, which ultimately means we would have to leave our families to fend for themselves. Anyone wanting to be an agent has to be extremely devoted, dedicated, and willing to sacrifice.”
Five Presidents illuminates the lives of each leader in an insightful way. Hill has allowed readers to take the memory journey with him as he opens up about the private world he observed. This book is an incredible inside account.