JFK ‘told Secret Service to keep a distance away’ before assassination

·3 min read
<p>President John F Kennedy died on 22 November 1963</p> (Getty Images)

President John F Kennedy died on 22 November 1963

(Getty Images)

President John F Kennedy told the Secret Service to keep a distance on the day he was assassinated, according to a new book on the subject.

On 18 November 1963, Mr Kennedy told Secret Service supervisor Floyd Boring that agents should tail him from a follow-up vehicle, rather than ride on special boards installed near to his car boot, so as to seem more “accessible to the people.”

Mr Kennedy told Mr Floyd that it was “excessive” and “giving the wrong impression to people” with an election coming up.

Just four days later, being that extra car length away may have prevented Secret Service agents from saving the then-president’s life.

“Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service,” by Carol Leonnig, tells the story of presidential history from the point of view of the Secret Service including how various factors including inadequate budgets, resistant protectees, political infighting and a macho culture have at times left the agents badly prepared for vital missions.

For Mr Kennedy, it was his personal charisma and desire to interact directly with the public which proved to be problematic. Indeed, he broke all records for presidential trips outside the White House, just after taking up office in 1961.

Ms Leonnig writes: “In private, Kennedy’s Secret Service agents saw a man courting danger.”

Adding: “Kennedy was extremely reckless with his own personal safety. His actions made some of his protectors uneasy and a few quite angry. Professionally, he was their toughest assignment yet.”

As a result of the president’s desire to get out and about, agents had to double up and sometimes forgo a night’s sleep to help cover his busy schedule. Mr Kennedy however, would often ditch the guards when possible as he apparently felt they were ineffective.

Indeed, Mr Kennedy said: “If anyone is crazy enough to want to kill a president of the United States, he can do it.”

“All he must be prepared to do is give his life for the president’s.”

According to the book, Mr Kennedy also threw caution to the wind in his “insatiable appetite for sexual conquest,” often slipping into an unmarked car with “random women.”

Background checks were forbidden for the president’s mistresses which led to fears that “within a sea of random women he met for trysts, one would try to blackmail, poison or kill him.”

When Mr Kennedy began what would be his last tour of Florida and Texas in November 1963, the Secret Service was apparently depleted after months of intense travel across the country. Then Mr Kennedy ordered his agents to stay one car away, a move which ultimately may have resulted in his death.

On 21 November, the agents spent almost 24 hours straight on duty, with several heading out to a nightclub after work finished. This meant they could have only slept for a few hours, having been in their hotel between 2:45am and 5am.

Several hours later, the president and his agents were driving through Dallas when disaster struck. Clint Hill, head of the first lady’s detail, was riding in the car behind the Kennedys and appeared to be the first agent to realise that shots had been fired at the president.

Ms Leonning writes Mr Hill said:“I knew I should have been on the back of that car!” She added: “His body could have kept the assassin from getting a clear shot.”

The driver of the car, Bill Greer, thought that a motorcycle had backfired and inadvertently slowed down the car. This allowed the assassin Lee Harvey an easier target for his following shots, the third of which caught Mr Kennedy in the head.

Mr Hill sprang into action, jumping into the car and “spread[ing] his body across the back of the wide convertible to shield the couple,” wrote Ms Leonning.

She added: “Mr Hill would eventually be considered a hero by generations of agents after him for his leap onto a moving car.”

Mr Kennedy never recovered from the fatal gunshot and died on 22 November 1963.

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