His bravery did not go unnoticed.
Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, recalled in a moving interview for the American Veterans Center what it was like to be witness to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The motorcade was intended to show the President at “maximum availability and maximum exposure” to the public which is why open-air convertibles were used on the tour. Hill said that all along agents had been “concerned” about the openness of the vehicles, but said they didn’t have a choice in their orders.
As the cars moved through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, Hill was in the vehicle directly behind the President’s. This car was kept at three to five feet from the presidential car at all times. And, Secret Service agents on the tour were advised to “back off as much as possible” to allow the processions to move easily and to further that open feeling with the public.
Once the first shots were fired Hill leapt from the vehicle and jumped into the presidential limousine. According to Hill, the President “grabbed at his throat and started to fall to his left” but couldn’t didn’t slump much since he was wearing a back brace at the time. The President was plagued by chronic illness his whole life, including Addison’s disease, back troubles, and a spinal surgery that almost killed him.
Experts now believe that the back brace, which he had been advised against during that time, may have ensured his death. If he had been able to slump down after the first gunshot he might have avoided the second (or some say third), which was the fatal bullet.
Hill said that as soon as he got to the car he could tell that the President had been shot through the cranium. Hill recalled, “…his eyes were fixed. There was a hole in his skull. I could see in that hole there was no brain matter left.”
Hill was able to get to the President since he had been riding on the left-hand running board of the Secret Service car. Eight agents and two members of JFK’s staff were in the rear car that day.
In press photos First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is seen reaching back as Hill climbs over the trunk of the presidential car. Hill hoped to block any further bullets that were fired at President Kennedy or the First Lady. He recalled that the crowd had thinned out by the time they approached what would later become known as the grassy knoll. The motorcade was planned to exit the area right after Dealey plaza and get on the highway to take the President to give a speech. Instead they rushed at over 70 miles an hour to get the President and Texas Governor, John Connally, to the nearest hospital.
Hill was honored in a ceremony in Washington D.C. just days after the President’s funeral for his brave actions. Jacqueline Kennedy herself attended the event. Hill was a counter intelligence agent from 1954 until 1957 and was a Secret Service agent from 1958 until 1975, serving under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. Hill is the last surviving Secret Service member present at the assassination of President Kennedy.