Dakota Datebook

Secret Agent Man

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 may have been surreal for many people, but for one North Dakota man, the events were all too near and real. Clinton J. Hill, originally of Washburn, was the bodyguard for Jacquelyn Kennedy and was present at the time of the assassination. On this day in 1963, the Washburn Leader reported that Hill had received a medal for his actions on the day of the assassination.

According to Hill, earlier in the week of the assassination, President Kennedy had asked the agents not to ride on the built in steps of the presidential car. Kennedy believed the agents formed a barrier between him and the people. Therefore, on the day of the assassination, Hill and the other agents were riding on the Secret Service car when the first shot was fired. Hill jumped to immediate action. He said:

I jumped from the car, realizing that something was wrong, ran to the Presidential limousine. Just about as I reached it, there was another sound, which was different than the first sound. I think I described it in my statement as though someone was shooting a revolver into a hard object–it seemed to have some type of an echo. I put my right foot, I believe it was, on the left rear step of the automobile, and I had a hold of the handgrip with my hand, when the car lurched forward. I lost my footing and I had to run about three or four more steps before I could get back up in the car.

Between the time I originally grabbed the handhold and until I was up on the car, Mrs. Kennedy–the second noise that I heard had removed a portion of the President’s head, and he had slumped noticeably to his left. Mrs. Kennedy had jumped up from the seat and was, it appeared to me, reaching for something coming off the right rear bumper of the car, the right rear tail, when she noticed that I was trying to climb on the car. She turned toward me and I grabbed her and put her back in the back seat, crawled up on top of the back seat and lay there.

From there, the car sped for the hospital. It was there they found out that President John F. Kennedy was really dead.

Only two men were awarded medals for their action on that historic day. One of those men was Hill. Because he had been the only agent to leave the follow-up car and attempt to protect those in the presidential car, Mrs. Kennedy awarded him the medal for “extraordinary courage and heroic effort in the face of maximum danger.”

Hill remained on duty as Mrs. Kennedy’s bodyguard until the 1964 election, when he was assigned to President Johnson. His service to the nation continued for several years thereafter. In 1967 he became the agent in charge of presidential protection, and when Nixon took power, Hill was moved to Vice President Agnew. After his service there, Hill moved to the headquarters where he became the assistant director of all protection. In 1975, Clinton Hill retired, ending his career of 17 years in the secret service.

By Tessa Sandstrom

Associated Press. “Washburn man was near JFK as bullets hit,” Bismarck Tribune. Nov. 23, 1963: 13.
“Clinton Hill presented award for bravery,” Washburn Leader. Dec. 5, 1963: 1.
“Clinton J. Hill on November 22, 1963,” JFK Lancer. http://www.jfklancer.com/CHill.html.
Lewine, Frances. “Honor Washburn agent: Clinton Hill gets medal for bravery,” Bismarck Tribune. Dec. 3, 1963: 1.
“Testimony of Clinton J. Hill, Special Agent, Secret Service,” http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/russ/testimony/hill_c.htm.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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