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Breakdown

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

—JOHN F. KENNEDY

NOVEMBER 22, 1963

There are moments in history that change the world forever. Time is suspended when an event occurs that is so shocking, so unexpected, so inexplicable that from that moment forward nothing can ever be the same. In the blink of an eye, on that dreadful day in Dallas, the hopes and dreams of the nation and the world were shattered.

At the Dallas Trade Mart, 2,600 people were seated, anxiously awaiting the arrival of President and Mrs. Kennedy. Agent Dave Grant was at the entrance with Trammell Crow and John Stemmons, the two co-owners of the Trade Mart, discussing the proper procedure for greeting the president and escorting him to the head table. The White House telephone had been installed just inside the front entrance of the Trade Mart and at 12:30, the phone rang. Grant walked inside, picked up the phone, and the switchboard operator told him the motorcade had given the five-minute signal.

“Great,” he said as he looked at his watch. They were just five minutes behind schedule. He went back outside to wait with Crow and Stemmons for the arrival of the motorcade.

A few minutes later the sound of sirens could be heard in the distance, getting louder and louder. Suddenly Dave Grant saw the motorcade racing by the Trade Mart at about eighty miles an hour.

What the hell? The president’s convertible looked empty in the backseat—and there was a person sprawled out across the trunk of the car.

Grant ran inside and called the White House switchboard.

“What’s going on with the motorcade?” he asked breathlessly.

On the other end of the line, the switchboard operator said he had heard on the base radio that the president had been “hit” and that the motorcade was heading for the nearest hospital.

The operator didn’t know which hospital, nor did he know the extent of the president’s injuries.

Grant immediately thought of the overpass just before the Stemmons Freeway. Someone must have thrown a rock or a stick or something.

Grant found ATSAIC Stewart Stout inside the Trade Mart and told him what he’d learned.

They didn’t know the extent of the injuries but decided that they and the other agents should remain at the Trade Mart in the event the president wasn’t seriously hurt and might be returning to the Trade Mart after treatment.

Soon people started arriving at the Trade Mart who had been part of the motorcade and Grant learned that there had been some shooting and the president had been wounded.

Oh my God. When he had heard the word hit from the operator, he hadn’t imagined gunshots. Suddenly securing the Trade Mart was irrelevant. As soon as they found out that the president had gone to Parkland Hospital, the agents scrambled to find available cars to take them there.

Dave Grant looked up to see Admiral George Burkley, carrying his black medical bag, rushing toward them. He had just arrived on the VIP bus moments earlier.

Breathing heavily, he asked, “What hospital is the president going to?”

“Parkland Hospital. Apparently it’s not too far from here,” Grant replied.

“I have to get to him quick. I have his medication,” Burkley said with a look of panic on his face. Admiral Burkley was both anxious and irritated. Normally the admiral rode in a staff car in the motorcade, or in the rear seat of the follow-up car, but he and the president’s secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, had misjudged the timing of the motorcade’s departure from Love Field and wound up scurrying to the VIP bus. He was furious for not having been in his normal seat but had nobody to blame but himself. His sole purpose for being in the motorcade was to be close to the president in case anything happened, but who could have predicted this?

ATSAIC Stout was standing nearby with Agent Andy Berger.

“Andy, go outside and find a ride to the hospital for you and the admiral. We’ll follow as soon as we can round up some cars,” Stout directed.

Burkley had been the president’s personal doctor since October 1961 and was the only one who knew all the medications Kennedy was taking, not only for his severe back pain but also for Addison’s disease—something that was known only by Kennedy’s closest circle, including the agents.

Andy and the doctor moved quickly to the main entrance and looked outside. There was a police car with an officer standing next to it, parked out front.

“Come on, Admiral,” Andy said.

The two men picked up their pace toward the car. As they were approaching, the officer started toward them.

“Hey, I just heard over the radio that the president was shot,” the officer said.

Andy reached for his commission book and flipped it open. “I’m with the Secret Service and this is Admiral Burkley, President Kennedy’s doctor. We have to get to Parkland Hospital right away.”

“Hop in,” the officer said as he ran around to the driver’s side. He climbed in, started the car, and picked up the mike to call dispatch to let them know what he was doing.

Andy climbed into the front seat, and as the admiral was getting into the back, a Washington newspaper reporter rushed up and asked if he could go with them.

“No!” Admiral Burkley yelled as he slammed the door in the reporter’s face.

During the drive to Parkland, which seemed to take forever, twenty-six-year-old Andy Berger sat in stunned silence. His entire body was trembling. He felt as if he should be able to control himself, but it was as if his mind and body no longer had a connection. Andy looked over and saw Admiral Burkley’s hands. They too were shaking.

PARKLAND HOSPITAL 12:36 P.M.

Six minutes after the shots were fired, Chief Curry’s lead car, the president’s limousine, and the Secret Service follow-up car screeched up to the emergency entrance at Parkland Hospital. The agents from the follow-up car leapt off and swarmed the president’s limousine even before the cars had come to a stop. No attendants from the hospital were in sight.

As Clint Hill slid off the back of the limousine, Roy Kellerman bolted out of the front seat and yelled, “Somebody get us two stretchers on wheels!”

Win Lawson sprang from the lead car and barreled through the double glass doors into the emergency room corridor. An orderly was awkwardly trying to push two gurneys by himself, and having a tough time keeping them moving in the same direction. Chief Curry had radioed the Dallas police headquarters and they’d called Parkland Hospital. So why the heck weren’t these gurneys waiting outside? Win grabbed the two gurneys, one in each hand behind him, and raced back down the corridor. He hadn’t seen the president, didn’t know the extent of the injuries, but he knew every second mattered. Several hospital personnel came flying out the door with him.

Emory Roberts flung the back door open. He had heard the fatal shot, seen the president’s head explode, but nothing could have prepared him for the gruesome scene inside the back of the limousine.

Mrs. Kennedy, dazed and in shock, huddled over her husband, who was lying faceup in her lap, with his eyes open. A chunk of his hair-covered skull was on the seat next to him. In front of the Kennedys, in the jump seats, Governor Connally was semiconscious, doubled over on his wife, Nellie. Fragments of gray tissue and white bone were splattered on everyone’s clothes, while the entire back compartment of the car was completely awash with thick, red blood.

“Mrs. Kennedy,” Emory said as gently as he could, “let us get the president.”

Her eyes were glazed over and she clutched her husband even tighter, unwilling to let go. Clint Hill edged in next to Emory.

“Mrs. Kennedy, please . . .,” Clint pleaded in a guttural voice.

Dave Powers had jumped out of the follow-up car and as soon as he saw the president, lying lifeless in the backseat, he began sobbing. “Oh, Jack . . .”

There was no doubt in Emory Roberts’s mind that the president was dead. With the experience of having protected four presidents and an innate ability to make astute decisions in the face of disaster, Emory Roberts knew what he had to do next. His duty now was to protect the next in succession—Vice President Johnson.

“You stay with the president,” he said to Roy Kellerman. “I’m taking some of my men for Johnson.”

To some his announcement may have appeared abrupt, but given the realities of the situation and the responsibility of the Secret Service, it was exactly the right thing to do. It was very rare for both the president and vice president to be together at the same time in the same place, and Emory was extremely concerned that whoever shot President Kennedy might also be targeting the vice president. There were more than enough agents to protect President Kennedy in the hospital, Emory thought, but a couple more agents could make the difference between life and death for Lyndon Johnson.

The way the jump seats folded out, Governor and Mrs. Connally were blocking the path to the president. They had to get Connally out first.

Despite his severe injuries, Governor Connally heard the discussion around him and mustered up every amount of strength possible to raise himself from his wife’s lap, but he got only halfway and slumped against the door.

“Governor, don’t worry,” Kellerman said as he and Hill lifted him up. “Everything’s going to be all right.”

The governor nodded as two other sets of hands helped lift him out of the limo, placed him on a gurney, and rushed him into the emergency room. Clint Hill and Roy Kellerman helped Mrs. Connally get out of the car. She was unharmed, and despite what she’d just witnessed, was incredibly calm.

Mrs. Kennedy still had not budged.

Clint could tell she was in shock; she couldn’t be expected to make any sensible decisions. But knowing her as well as he did, he knew that if anything, she was concerned with maintaining some semblance of dignity for her husband. There was nothing Clint could do to conceal the blood splattered on the pink designer suit Mrs. Kennedy was wearing, or the blood and bits of tissue, brain matter, and bone sprayed inside the car. The best he could do now was get the president inside the hospital with the remote hope there was something that could be done to save his life. He removed his suit coat and placed it over the president’s head and upper chest to shield onlookers from the gory sight.

He looked at Jackie, looked into the beautiful brown eyes now filled with unbearable sadness, and said, “It’s okay now, Mrs. Kennedy. Let us get him into the hospital.”

She looked at Clint, and slowly nodded. Clint’s jaw twitched as he struggled to force back the emotions that threatened to break through at any moment. Gulping hard, he turned to Win Lawson and said, “Win, move his feet. They’re stuck under the seat.”

Agents Hill, Lawson, Kellerman, and the sobbing Dave Powers lifted the president out of the limo and placed him on the gurney as Bill Greer steadied it.

When Agent Paul Landis helped Mrs. Kennedy out of the car he saw a bullet fragment in the back where the top would be secured. He picked it up and put it on the seat, thinking that if the car were moved, it might be blown off. And then he saw a bloody Zippo lighter with the presidential seal on it. He picked it up and put it in his pocket. He picked up her hat and purse and brought them inside.

The governor was already in Trauma Room No. 2, on the left side of the hallway. The agents could hear his groans as they jogged the president’s stretcher into the open room on the right, Trauma Room No. 1, with Jackie clutching the side of the stretcher. She couldn’t bear to let go. She had to stay with him.

Trauma Room No. 1 was suddenly filled with white-coated doctors and orderlies. The small room was packed and with the doctors needing to get to work immediately, the agents realized they needed to give the doctors space. Clint Hill urged Mrs. Kennedy to step outside with him, but she refused.

“I’m staying in here with him,” she said. Hill nodded and as he walked out, Roy Kellerman said, “Clint, contact the White House. And keep the line open.”

Hill had been thinking the same thing. They needed to notify Washington. What he and Kellerman hadn’t realized, however, was that even though it had been less than ten minutes since the president had been shot, the news was already spreading around the world. UPI reporter Merriman Smith had sent out the first bulletin at 12:34.

Hill asked Lawson for the number of the Dallas White House switchboard, which had been installed by the White House Communications Agency, and Lawson immediately handed him a card with the contact number. On a hallway phone close by, Clint dialed the special Dallas operator.

“Dallas White House,” the switchboard operator answered.

“This is Clint Hill. Give me Jerry Behn’s office in Washington and keep this line open.”

There was a click on the line and then Eve Dempsher’s voice. “Jerry Behn’s office.”

“Eve, it’s Clint. I need to talk to Jerry.”

Eve could tell by the tone in Clint’s voice that the call was urgent. She patched the call through to SAIC Behn.

Just then Roy Kellerman came out of the trauma room and took the phone from Clint.

“Jerry, this is Roy.”

A medic came rushing out a second later and asked if anybody knew the president’s blood type. Every agent carried a card with the president’s vital signs, and as Lawson and Hill reached for their wallets, Roy Kellerman blurted out, “O. R-H positive.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Hill saw Mrs. Kennedy walking out of the trauma room, alone. She looked as if she might faint, so he rushed over and grabbed her by the arms.

“Somebody get a chair for Mrs. Kennedy,” Paul Landis called out as he rushed to help.

I’m not leaving Mrs. Kennedy no matter what, he thought. Hospital staff seemed to be coming in from everywhere, gawking, and Landis felt he had to do everything he could to protect her from them. He was traumatized. As he looked at Clint and the blood-covered Mrs. Kennedy standing there, he couldn’t get the image of Clint lying across the trunk of the car out of his mind. It was as if he were still on the running board, as if time had been suspended and he was in some kind of surreal nightmare. Clint kept shaking his head back and forth, back and forth, and when he gave the thumbs-down sign, it was as if the world had come to a complete stop.

Agents and policemen were everywhere, but nobody knew quite what to do. It was chaos.

On the other end of the telephone line, Jerry Behn heard the commotion and asked, “What’s going on?”

“Jerry, there’s been a double tragedy,” Kellerman said. “Both the president and Governor Connally have been shot. We’re in the emergency room of the Parkland Memorial Hospital. Mark down the time.” It was 12:39.

A medic burst out of the trauma room and instinctively Clint Hill took a step toward Mrs. Kennedy. “He’s still breathing,” the man said as he rushed past.

Mrs. Kennedy stood up. “Do you mean he may live?” she asked.

No one answered.

Paul Landis couldn’t bear to tell her what he was thinking. There is no way President Kennedy is alive. . . . People are talking about hope, but there is no way. I saw it. If he survives he won’t have any semblance of mental capacity.

Kellerman handed the phone back to Hill and rushed back into the trauma room.

“Clint, what happened?” Jerry Behn asked earnestly.

“Shots fired during the motorcade,” Clint said as he kept an eye on Mrs. Kennedy across the hall. “It all happened so fast. We were five minutes away from the Trade Mart. . . . The situation is critical. Jerry, prepare for the worst . . .”

The operator cut into the line. “Attorney General Robert Kennedy wants to talk to Agent Hill.”

“What’s going on down there?!” Bobby Kennedy demanded.

“Shots fired during the motorcade,” Clint repeated. “The president is very seriously injured. They’re working on him now. Governor Connally was hit, too.”

“Well what do you mean seriously injured? How serious?”

Clint swallowed hard. It was all he could do to keep it together. How could he tell the attorney general that his brother was dead? That he’d seen his brother’s head explode before his eyes. He had to tell him something.

Clint closed his eyes and said, “It’s as bad as it can get.”

Meanwhile, the vice president and his detail had arrived moments after the president’s limousine and his Secret Service follow-up car. Agents Tim McIntyre and Glen Bennett, standing on the curb, still in shock, joined Rufus Youngblood and his shift agents assigned to the vice president. They quickly assisted Vice President and Mrs. Johnson out of the vehicle and immediately surrounded LBJ. One of Johnson’s agents, Warren “Woody” Taylor, grabbed Mrs. Johnson, and as the whole group proceeded inside, George Hickey scanned the area with the stock of the AR-15 on his shoulder and the barrel high, in a ready-to-fire position.

At the emergency desk, Emory Roberts requested a room for the vice president. The receptionist pointed one out, but there were two people in there.

“You need to get out,” Woody Taylor said as he escorted the male patient and a secretary into the hallway, while Agents Youngblood, Kivett, McIntyre, and Bennett stayed put with the Johnsons.

The vice president and Mrs. Johnson were told to stay low, in the corner of the room, while the agents closed all the blinds.

Emory Roberts directed Glen Bennett—his temporary agent on loan from PRS—to stand post outside the door, and told Rufus Youngblood, the vice president’s Special Agent in Charge, not to allow anyone in the room to see Johnson unless he knew them personally.

“I don’t care what kind of ID they show you, if you don’t know them, they don’t get in.”

Emory entered the room and approached Johnson.

“President Kennedy has been very badly injured, and his condition is not good. I believe it would be best if you went back to Washington as quickly as possible. Air Force One could depart immediately. Right now it is the safest place for you to be and you will have secure communication,” Emory said.

Youngblood was nodding in agreement as Emory spoke, but Johnson disagreed.

“No. It would be unthinkable for me to leave with President Kennedy’s life hanging in the balance.”

The vice president looked to his trusted agent, Rufus, and asked, “What do you think?”

“I think you need to think it over, Mr. Vice President.”

“I need confirmation from Ken O’Donnell or Dave Powers,” Johnson said. “I can’t just take Air Force One.”

Emory strode off to find O’Donnell and left Youngblood in charge. The lines of authority had already begun to blur.

Mrs. Kennedy sat in a straight-backed folding chair outside the trauma room where doctors were doing everything they could to keep the president alive. Her eyes were glazed over, with no expression on her face whatsoever. Paul Landis and Clint Hill stood next to her, silent, focused on everything going on around them. Clint felt strange without his jacket on, but if he allowed himself to think about the jacket, his mind wandered to where it had gone, and he had to quickly snap his attention back to protecting Mrs. Kennedy.

Win Lawson, as the lead advance agent for the Dallas trip, tried to maintain his composure as he walked through the hospital and followed up on every detail he could think of. He made sure there were agents posted to provide the maximum coverage possible, that the emergency area was secured, and that the police outside the hospital were keeping the public away from the immediate area.

Emory Roberts had instructed George Hickey to secure the AR-15 back in its cabinet in the backseat of the follow-up car, and after doing so, Hickey walked into the emergency area. Agent Jack Ready was stationed at the doors leading to the hallway where Clint and Mrs. Kennedy waited in silence.

George had been able to hold his emotions in check thus far, but when he saw Jack Ready, he nearly lost it. Jack was in a stupor, his eyes so filled with pain it was almost unbearable to look at his face. George knew what he must have been thinking. Could he have made it? Could he have saved the president? If he had jumped, maybe the bullet would have hit him instead of the president.

But George had seen everything from the backseat. He’d seen Clint jump off and Sam Kinney swerve the car. Emory had been right to tell Jack not to jump. Kinney would have hit him for sure. But looking at Jack’s sickened expression, George could tell that Jack didn’t see it that way at all.

George wanted to tell him it was okay. That it wasn’t his fault. There was nothing he could have done. The bullet came from above. Everything happened so fast.

Before George could speak, President Kennedy’s aide Dave Powers approached from the other side of the hallway. His face was red, his eyes bloodshot. He looked at Jack Ready and said, “Jack, I need you to find a priest.”

Emory Roberts took Ken O’Donnell into the room with Vice President and Mrs. Johnson. As he’d been searching for O’Donnell, Roberts realized there was something else that needed urgent attention. The president’s limousine. It was still outside. Someone needed to secure it right away. When the horror subsided, there would be an investigation, and the car would be evidence.

While O’Donnell and the vice president were talking, Emory asked Lemuel Johns, one of Johnson’s agents, to make sure the president’s limousine was impounded.

Ken O’Donnell agreed with the Secret Service agents’ recommendation that Johnson should return to Washington as soon as possible and that yes, he should leave Dallas on Air Force One. Woody Taylor was told to call the Dallas White House switchboard and have them notify Colonel Swindal, the commander of the aircraft, to be prepared to take the vice president back to Washington, D.C., as soon as possible.

Decisions needed to be made rapidly. The security of the country was at risk as President Kennedy’s life hung in the balance. Nobody knew who was behind the shootings, or whom they might target next. Agent Rufus Youngblood realized Johnson’s daughters needed to be protected. Lucy Johnson was at the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., Lynda Johnson at the University of Texas. Youngblood told Jerry Kivett to make a call to Washington to get agents with them immediately.

Emory Roberts told Dallas police officials standing in front of the hospital that he needed to have an unmarked police car waiting for the vice president in front of the hospital and two more cars for other passengers and Secret Service agents to take Vice President and Mrs. Johnson to the airport. The press was not to be notified.

Vice President Johnson was still unsure of what to do. How could he take the presidential plane back to Washington? He wasn’t the president. How would it look? What about Mrs. Kennedy? What about President Kennedy?

When Emory Roberts returned to Johnson’s room, Lyndon Johnson asked Emory to double-check with Ken O’Donnell that it would be okay to take the president’s plane.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Jerry Behn sat in his office, stunned. He was supposed to be on vacation, but he’d come into the office for just a couple of hours. He couldn’t believe what Roy Kellerman and Clint Hill had told him. In the past three years, Behn and President Kennedy had become such good friends that receiving that call was the same as if someone had told him an immediate family member had been killed. He was sickened.

Although Jerry was anxious to hear the details, he was enough of a veteran to not jump to conclusions until all the facts were in. He slumped in his chair for a second, but then pulled himself back to an upright position. He had to contact Jim Rowley, the director of the Secret Service. But Rowley was attending a graduation luncheon for Secret Service school attendees at O’Donnell’s Sea Grill restaurant.

Behn scrambled to find the telephone number of the restaurant to get the message to Rowley.

At the restaurant, Kennedy Detail agent Toby Chandler was in the middle of giving the graduation speech when he saw Rowley’s administrative assistant, Walter Blaschak, walk briskly into the room and whisper in Rowley’s ear. The director stood and held up his hand for Chandler to stop.

Rowley could scarcely believe what he was about to say. Calmly, he said, “The president has just been shot in Dallas. We all need to get back to the White House immediately.”

Agent Floyd Boring was relaxing at home on a rare day off when he got the call from SAIC Jerry Behn.

As Floyd drove immediately to the White House he wondered what could have happened in Dallas. The president’s trip to Florida the week before crossed his mind. He couldn’t help but wonder if JFK’s request had unnecessarily exposed him to danger.

PARKLAND HOSPITAL 12:39 P.M.

Cecil Stoughton, the White House photographer, had arrived, as had a growing crowd of reporters and cameramen. Like everyone else, he was consumed by grief, but he also knew the Kennedys on a much more intimate level, and like Clint Hill, he knew the president’s dignity had to be protected.

“No picture, no pictures,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear. The horrific scene of the bloody limousine was something Mrs. Kennedy would not want the public to see.

Within five minutes after the president’s limousine arrived at the hospital, the police cruiser pulled up with Andy Berger and Dr. Burkley. As Berger and Dr. Burkley rushed inside, another agent directed them to Trauma Room No. 1. Berger’s heart pounded as he looked at the hallway floor and realized they were following a trail of blood.

Dr. Burkley entered the room and wedged himself in among the Parkland physicians treating the president on the stretcher. After checking the president’s physical condition, Dr. Burkley knew immediately that there was no way President Kennedy could survive. He was still breathing, but he had a gaping hole in the back of his head. Death was certain and imminent. Still, Dr. Burkley felt compelled to do what he could.

He confirmed the president’s blood type and handed them some adrenal medication to place in the intravenous blood and fluids, as he asked them about their procedures. It was clear that they were doing everything possible, and correctly, despite the fact that there was no hope the president could be saved.

Standing outside the room where the president was being treated, Andy Berger felt devastated. He didn’t know where to go or what to do. Since the vice president was adequately guarded, Roy Kellerman told him to protect the lobby area leading to the trauma rooms.

Agents and policemen were everywhere and there was a sense of paranoia throughout the hospital. Andy tried to imagine what could have happened. Who had shot the president? Was it part of a larger plot?

An FBI agent showed up saying he’d received a call from J. Edgar Hoover. He immediately produced his credentials and said, “Hoover wanted me to let you know I’m available.”

Andy checked his credentials and recorded his commission book number, then directed him to Roy Kellerman. A representative from the CIA appeared a while later, and again Andy followed the procedure.

Andy took a deep breath and looked around the lobby. He remembered the last time he had been in a hospital, in September, when his son Andrew was born. Andy was in Hyannis Port with the president when his wife, Dolly, went into early labor, in New York. Their son was born with the same respiratory ailment that had caused the death of the president’s newborn son a month earlier. The heartbreaking memories of the president sobbing heavily on the day of Patrick’s burial at Brookline Cemetery were still fresh in Agent Berger’s mind when Dolly had called him. Her cries were painful to hear over the phone. As with Patrick, the chances for Andrew’s survival were slim.

When President Kennedy was told about the situation, he immediately arranged for a military aircraft to fly Andy to New York to be with his wife and son at the hospital.

By the time Andy arrived, the baby’s condition had improved, and miraculously, Andrew survived. A few weeks later, while working the 4:00 to midnight shift at the White House, Andy was informed that the president wanted to see him.

“My son didn’t make it,” President Kennedy said to Andy, “but your son did.” He handed Andy an etching of the White House that was engraved for his son: “Andrew Paul Berger from the President and Mrs. Kennedy.”

Now Andy thought about Caroline and John-John growing up without their dad. It was too much. He fought to hold back the tears.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Pulling away from the White House in the Secret Service unmarked Ford, Agent Tom Wells could see Caroline’s head bobbing up and down in the backseat of Liz Pozen’s station wagon as she talked animatedly with her girlfriends. He unlatched the microphone from his radio and pushed the button to make contact with the control room at the White House. “Crown, Crown,” he said, using the code name for the mansion. “This is Dasher. Lyric is en route to her destination.”

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Caroline attempts to make a funny face for the photographer—encouraged by SA Bob Foster. (PHOTOGRAPH BY CECIL STOUGHTON, WHITE HOUSE, JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, BOSTON)

Wells followed closely behind the station wagon, through the streets of Washington, making sure that no car could come between them. He had the car’s radio tuned to a music station. Halfway between the White House and the Pozen residence, on Connecticut Avenue, just in front of the National Zoo, the programming was interrupted with a news alert that shots had been fired at the president’s motorcade in Dallas.

No! Oh Christ! No!

He flashed his lights—a previously arranged signal—for Mrs. Pozen to pull over.

Mrs. Pozen had just heard the same news bulletin and had quickly turned off the car radio so Caroline wouldn’t hear it. When she saw the flashing lights behind her, she knew it must have something to do with the report, so she pulled over as soon as she could. She rolled down the window as Wells walked up to the car.

Wells bent over and through the open window looked into the backseat, where Caroline and the other girls had gotten suddenly quiet. He hoped to God Caroline hadn’t heard the news. “Did you have your radio on?” Wells asked Mrs. Pozen.

“Yes, I heard the bulletin and then I immediately turned it off.”

“Okay, good,” he said as he glanced back again to Caroline. It didn’t appear that she’d heard anything. “Let me get more information and if plans change, I’ll flash again.”

Wells started the ignition and picked up the radio. “Crown, Crown. This is Dasher. Request immediate instructions regarding Lyric in view of the present situation in Dallas. Over.”

There was no immediate response. He was about to relay the message again when he heard, “Stand by.”

By this point the radio station had begun continuous coverage from the White House news pool in Dallas, but the reports were sketchy. The situation didn’t sound good, but nothing had been confirmed other than that the president and Governor Connally had been shot and had been taken to a hospital.

Wells still had not received word from the White House, but he was getting more and more nervous about Caroline being in the car ahead of him, rather than with him as she normally was.

“Crown, Crown from Dasher. Request immediate—repeat immediate—instructions in connection with previous inquiry. Contact Dresser or Duplex immediately. Over.”

“Dresser” was Bob Foster’s code name. Wells knew his supervisor was at the White House with John-John. “Duplex” was Jerry Behn, and Wells was certain he had to have been notified of the situation, even though he was supposed to be on vacation.

Finally Wells got in touch with Foster.

“Dasher to Dresser. I feel the danger has grown. We don’t know whether this is an isolated incident, a plot, or a coup. I want Lyric back in a secure setting. Unless I hear anything to the contrary, I’m taking Lyric back to Crown.”

On the other end, Foster couldn’t help but agree. He knew the decision was going to break Caroline’s heart, but Wells was right. Foster went upstairs to inform the children’s nanny, Maud Shaw, while Wells once again flashed his lights to signal the station wagon in front of him.

The two cars pulled over and Wells turned off his radio before turning off the car. He hoped to God that Caroline hadn’t heard anything and he wondered how he was going to explain to her that the sleepover had suddenly been called off.

Wells walked up to Liz Pozen’s car and said, “I have to take Caroline back to the mansion.”

This was not what Mrs. Pozen wanted to hear. “Why?” she questioned indignantly.

“Security reasons.”

The girls in the backseat were silent but listening closely. Caroline looked as if she were about to burst into tears.

Mrs. Pozen tried to argue that Caroline would be better off at her house. “No one would ever know she’s there,” she whispered. “It’s safer for her.”

She doesn’t understand, Wells thought. He was responsible for Caroline’s life. He was the one making decisions here, not her.

Curtly, Wells said, “It’s not my decision,” and then he opened up the back door and said softly to Caroline, “Caroline, we have to go back to your house. Bring your bag with you for now.”

Tears welled in her eyes as she leaned away from him. “I don’t want to go.”

“We don’t have a choice, Caroline. Come on now. Something has come up.” And then he added, “Maybe you can go back later.” He, more than anyone, hoped that was true. He hoped the news reports were mistaken. But right now he had to do what he thought was best.

Sullenly she got out of her friend’s car and into the backseat of the Secret Service car. Her mother and father didn’t tolerate disrespectfulness, and they’d told the Kiddie Detail agents early on not to spoil the children. Right now Wells was grateful for that advice. Other than the first brief outburst, Caroline didn’t make a fuss.

They got into the car and Wells radioed to Dresser that Lyric was with Dasher, on the way back to Crown. At one point Caroline asked, “But why? Why do we have to go home?”

Wells looked in his rearview mirror and realized he owed the teary girl an explanation. “Mummy is coming back early. She’s changed her plans and she wanted you and John to be home.”

Wells couldn’t tell if Caroline believed him. He wondered if she’d heard the radio report, but he didn’t dare ask.

During the drive along Rock Creek Parkway someone in a green Studebaker sedan recognized Caroline in the backseat of Wells’s car. The driver sped up to stay even with them and kept looking over at Caroline. This was a common reaction whenever any member of the Kennedy family traveled. In fact, there had already been several accidents when agents were traveling off the record with the Kennedy children. Drivers would recognize them, become distracted, and run into the car in front of them. Agent Wells didn’t want this to happen, especially on this day, so he sped up and zipped in and out of traffic, to lose the Studebaker. A few minutes later they arrived at the White House, and after Wells got Caroline inside, he phoned his wife, Shirley.

“Pack a suitcase and bring it to the Southwest Gate for me,” he said. “I don’t know when I’ll be home.”

AUSTIN, TEXAS

The agents on the midnight shift had checked into Austin’s Commodore Perry Hotel around 11:00 A.M., which left them with a chance to rest and relax before the president arrived later that day. Like Jerry Blaine, most of the agents wanted nothing more than sleep, and after breakfast everybody but Bob Faison and Jerry O’Rourke retired immediately to their shared rooms. O’Rourke had an errand to run, and Faison was still searching for a pair of cowboy boots for his young son. He hadn’t found any that he’d liked in Fort Worth.

There was a Western store not far from the hotel, and fortunately they had exactly what Faison had in mind, and at the right price. He couldn’t wait to give them to his son.

He went directly back to the hotel and, as he was walking through the lobby, a television blared from the adjacent bar.

“President Kennedy has been shot in his Dallas motorcade . . .”

Faison rushed to the room he was sharing with Art Godfrey. Godfrey was sound asleep.

“Art! Art! Wake up!” he said as he shook his supervisor. “The Boss has been shot in Dallas!”

Art pulled on a pair of pants and rushed down the hall, still in his white undershirt, and banged on the door of Blaine’s room so hard he almost splintered the wood. Blaine was in a deep sleep.

“Jerry! Wake up!” he yelled. “Wake up!” Finally, after what seemed like several minutes, Blaine groggily opened the door.

“Jerry, the president’s been shot in Dallas. Turn on the television and get dressed. I’ve gotta tell the others.”

Blaine tried to clear his head as he walked back to the bed and sat down, not knowing if he was awake or having a nightmare. Several minutes later the agents gathered in Godfrey and Faison’s room.

Sitting on the beds, they watched the television coverage in silence. Individually their minds raced as they tried to make sense of what was being reported. They couldn’t imagine what their colleagues must be going through in Dallas. It was unfathomable.

Details being broadcast on television about what had happened in Dallas were sketchy, but it was reported that an agent had been killed and the condition of President Kennedy was unknown. Still, they said nothing. Each man focused on his own scenario about what might have gone wrong.

Clearly all plans had changed, so Art Godfrey called the White House switchboard to find out what they should do. He hung up the phone and said to his silent, distraught men, “Pack your bags. We’re going to Bergstrom Air Force Base and catching a plane back to Washington. Immediately.”

PARKLAND HOSPITAL 12:50 P.M.

Because Dr. Burkley was not a member of the medical team administering emergency treatment to the president, and he could see they were doing everything that would be expected under such circumstances, he did not interfere. He needed to let Mrs. Kennedy know that it wasn’t looking good.

He stepped out of the room but before he could say anything, Mrs. Kennedy stood up and said, “I’m going in there.”

A nurse inside had heard her and suddenly appeared at the door. Tersely she said, “You can’t come in here.”

Mrs. Kennedy was undeterred. “I’m coming in and I’m staying,” she said as she attempted to push past the nurse.

Admiral Burkley decided to take charge. Mrs. Kennedy was right. Her husband’s death was imminent, and she should be in there with him when he died.

“I’m bringing her in,” Burkley said to the nurse defiantly as he pushed through the swinging doors. Roy Kellerman, standing nearby, followed Dr. Burkley and Mrs. Kennedy back into the emergency room.

A small army of doctors hovered over the president, still working valiantly to keep him alive. Burkley stood stoically next to Mrs. Kennedy, wondering if he should put his arm around her. He’d never done it before, so it seemed inappropriate. Suddenly she knelt down and prayed.

As Mrs. Kennedy stood up, one of the doctors said, “It’s no use. His life is gone.”

Dr. Burkley edged in between two doctors and checked the president’s vital signs. He took a deep breath, turned around, and stepped over to Mrs. Kennedy, who was looking at him with hope in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Kennedy. The president is dead.”

She’d known he couldn’t have survived. She’d held a piece of his brain in her hand. But still, to hear the words. Softly she began to weep.

The door opened and two priests walked in. They’d arrived a moment too late but they immediately began to administer Last Rites. The doctors moved away so that Mrs. Kennedy and Dr. Burkley could stand with the priests, and together they prayed.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the President of the United States, was dead.

Roy Kellerman, the acting Special Agent in Charge of protecting the president on this fateful trip, walked out of the room and closed the door gently behind him.

Clint Hill, still holding the phone, with Jerry Behn on the other end of the line, saw Roy come out, and from the obvious expression of pain on his face, he knew that the president was gone.

“Clint, tell Jerry that this is not for release, and is not official. But the man is dead.”

Clint took a deep breath and relayed the message to Jerry Behn.

There was only silence on the other end of the phone.

Clint couldn’t see him, but Jerry Behn, normally unshakable, had slumped over the desk, like a broken man.

Clint was struggling to remain composed, to be professional, to think rationally, but hearing SAIC Behn’s broken gasps for breath was tearing him apart.

“Jerry,” he said, “I think you should advise the attorney general and the other members of the president’s family immediately so that they don’t hear it through the news media. I don’t know how long it will be before the word gets out.”

Finally, Behn spoke. “Yes. Yes, I’ll do that.” After he hung up the phone, Behn sat, staring at his desk. Cecil Stoughton, the White House photographer, had dropped off a few photos for him before he’d left for Texas. Stoughton was great about that. If he’d caught a shot of an agent with the president or Jackie or the kids, he always made an extra copy to give to the agents in the photo. As Behn picked up the black-and-white glossy photograph on the top of the stack, which showed Behn standing behind the smiling president outside the White House a few weeks earlier, just one thought kept repeating itself in his mind.

If only I’d been there. If only I’d been there . . .

He’d taken his first vacation in four years, and the president had been assassinated. His journey down a path of unforgiving guilt had only just begun.

Image

SAIC Jerry Behn was always by President Kennedy’s side. He took his first vacation in four years the week JFK was assassinated. (PHOTOGRAPH BY CECIL STOUGHTON, WHITE HOUSE, JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, BOSTON)

HYANNIS PORT, MASSACHUSETTS

Agent Hamilton P. “Ham” Brown, assigned to Ambassador Joseph Kennedy—who had suffered a severe stroke early in his son’s presidency—was sitting in the Secret Service trailer in the compound when Ann Gargan, the ambassador’s niece, called from the house in a panic.

Ham rushed into the residence to find Ann standing with Rita Dallas, the ambassador’s nurse, and Frank Saunders, Rose Kennedy’s driver. They all seemed to be holding their breath.

“Ham, we’ve just heard that the president has been shot,” Ann said. Before Ham could react, Rose Kennedy, the president’s mother, came into the room.

“Aunt Rose,” Ann said, “Jack has been shot.”

“Mr. Brown”—Rose Kennedy turned to Ham, her face contorted into a mother’s look of despair—“what do you know of this?”

“I don’t know what the details are, Mrs. Kennedy. I’ve just heard it myself. I’ll make a call and let you know right away.”

Ham ran to the phone that connected him to the White House. Secret Service agent Stuart Knight answered the call.

“Stu, I’m with Rose Kennedy and she would like to know what’s happening. Was the president shot?”

Stu Knight, who had earned a Silver Star in World War II, was Vice President Johnson’s Special Agent in Charge. He’d just been promoted and reassigned, which was why Rufus Youngblood had taken over the Texas trip.

“Yes, I am afraid it is true, but I have no further details,” Knight said. “I’ll call you back as soon as I know more.”

Ham Brown went to Mrs. Kennedy’s room and told her what he knew. By then she had been on the phone to her youngest son, Senator Ted Kennedy.

“Ham, Ambassador Kennedy is not to be told until the rest of the family arrives,” Rose Kennedy said. She was afraid the news would literally kill her already fragile husband. “They’ll all be here by tomorrow.”

Ham immediately disabled the radios and televisions in the house and told the maids not to let the ambassador see any newspapers.

PARKLAND HOSPITAL 1:00 P.M.

As soon as Ken O’Donnell was informed of the president’s death, he walked up to Clint Hill. It looked like O’Donnell had aged ten years in the past half hour. His face was ashen, his eyes lifeless.

“Clint, I need you to call a funeral home. We need to get a casket so we can get the president’s body back to Washington as quickly as possible.”

He had to get a casket for the body of the president. A casket for the body of the president. At least he had a task. As long as he had a task for his mind to focus on, the other thoughts could be pushed further away.

Two minutes later he was in a small office, on the phone with someone from the Oneal Funeral Home. One of the hospital administrators had told him they were the best.

“I need a casket delivered to Parkland Hospital’s emergency entrance. Right away. The best one you have,” he said. “It’s for . . .” His voice started to break. Stay on task, stay on task. “It’s for the president.”

Clint hung up the phone and was standing, looking at nothing, seeing nothing. He walked back into the hallway and saw Mrs. Kennedy coming out of the swinging doors of the trauma room, followed by two priests. Paul Landis had not moved from his position outside the trauma room.

“Mrs. Kennedy, why don’t you sit down,” he said as he guided her toward the chair in the hallway. She reached for the chair as if to steady herself, and then sat down. Her shoulders drooped, and then she sat up straight and tilted her head up to the priests, and thanked them for being there. For praying for the president.

She was calm, but there was something different about her. What was it? Had she changed her clothes? And then Clint realized. The blood on her suit and her face and her hands and her legs had begun to dry and was turning from liquid red to crisp brown.

Clint heard Emory Roberts giving orders for some agents to get to Love Field, to secure the area around the presidential planes.

“Clear all the buildings, hangars, warehouses, everything,” Emory demanded. “I don’t want any people there but our agents and local law enforcement. Call Colonel Swindal and tell him we’re heading back to Washington.”

We’re heading back to Washington. Clint looked at his watch and realized the casket would be coming in a few minutes. And then the two thoughts collided. We’re heading back to Washington. The casket for the body of the president. Oh God.

His chest tightened as he strode back to the room with the phone. He took a few deep breaths as he waited to be connected to the White House. Another phone call. Another task.

“This is Clint Hill,” he said as soon as he was connected to the White House. “I need to speak to Bob Foster, immediately.”

The White House was certainly the safest place for Caroline and John-John, both agents agreed. But in the end it was decided that they should be moved to Mrs. Kennedy’s mother’s home in Georgetown. If John-John were at the White House he’d hear the helicopter landing on the lawn and would be expecting to see his daddy. But this time, his daddy was coming home in a casket.