While Clint Hill’s heroic actions were memorialized in the Zapruder film of the assassination, he was haunted by the President’s death for many years. “It was a failure on our part as agents and that ate at me for the rest of my life,” he says. “It still does.”
Forever associated with the Kennedys, Hill also had the extraordinary responsibility of serving four other presidents over a 17 year career. In his new memoir Five Presidents he shares a rare private glimpse of the men who occupied the Oval Office: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford.
For all of JFK’s nonchalant charm, Hill reveals he was greatly concerned about Jackie’s public image and became surprisingly controlling in how she’d be photographed on a trip to Italy in 1962.
“Before we went, he made sure I understood that he didn’t want any nightclub scenes, no scenes with glasses or bottles of wine on the table and no bikini shots, says Hill. “The only photos of Mrs. Kennedy in a bathing suit, other than long distance lens sometimes, were arranged by myself with the press. They said they’d back off if we could arrange for them to get a good photograph.”
For more on Clint Hill and the five presidents he served, pick up a copy of this week’s PEOPLE
Hill remembers how Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived at the Oval Office at 8 every morning, loved Westerns and was a bit obsessed with golf.
“Golf was his main activity outside of work,” he says. “He tried to do it three times a week, more if possible, and golf takes about three hours so when we got back in the afternoon, the day would be pretty much shot.”
He recalls Lyndon B. Johnson’s unpredictability and how one Christmas Eve, when Air Force One made a pit stop for fuel in the Azores, LBJ shopped for Christmas gifts at the store on the Air Force base, wearing a raincoat over his pajamas at 1:30 in the morning.
Although he remains fond of Gerald Ford, who was casual and “down to earth,” Hill was troubled by Richard Nixon, whom he found secretive and reclusive. Before Ford could move into the White House following Nixon’s resignation, he stayed in his modest home in Alexandria, Virginia.
“For the first ten days he was actually President, he had the same procedure he had when he was Vice President,” says Hill. “He’d go out the front door in his pajamas and pick up the paper, go back in the house and have some coffee.”
“One thing they all have in common is a large ego,” he says. “Though Eisenhower had to be persuaded [to run] and Ford was thrust into the position after Nixon’s resignation. And they were all completely different. There was no similarity whatsoever.”