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Clint Hill: Don’t Call Me Hero

A man does what he must . . . in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers, and pressures . . . and that is the basis of all human morality.

—JOHN F. KENNEDY

Clint Hill’s health was rapidly deteriorating. He’d been having stomach problems for years, and when it finally started impacting his work, he went to a gastroenterologist. The doctor ran a bunch of tests, and then told him he really needed to see a neurologist. He had every test imaginable from top to bottom. His nerves were shot and soon he was really struggling to cope with the day-to-day activities. Thank God he’d named Paul Rundle as his deputy.

Rundle had never forgotten how Clint looked the morning of November 23, 1963, when he’d shown up at the White House with Jackie and the president’s casket at four in the morning. Rundle had asked Clint then what he could do to help. At the time, Rundle had felt helpless. Finally, all these years later, he’d found a way to offer support to his oldest friend. Basically, Paul Rundle was quietly filling in the gaps during the times that Clint was incapable.

In March 1975, Clint went to Bethesda Naval Hospital for his annual physical. In the same hospital where he’d spent those interminable hours, where he’d had to examine the shattered skull of Mrs. Kennedy’s husband, Clint Hill learned that he was in worse shape than he’d imagined.

Navy Captain M. William Voss was a physician who’d been a member of the White House physician’s office, and had known Clint for many years. Regret was written all over his face as he showed Clint the results of the physical. At the very end of the report the doctor had written, “Not qualified for continued duty as a Secret Service Agent.”

Clint was stunned. How could things have gotten that bad? What was he going to do now? He was just forty-three years old.

Clint sought legal advice to determine his options and learned that, based on the results of his recent physical exam, his medical history, and his Secret Service employment history, he could apply for retirement. It was a tough decision, but Clint felt as if he had no choice, and he advised Director Knight of his intentions. A board of physicians and government officials studied Clint’s case and concluded that he should be retired. On July 25, 1975, the board issued an order: as assistant director in the United States Secret Service, having been found physically incapacitated for further duty, Clinton J. Hill is retired effective July 31, 1975.

Clint Hill packed the personal things he had in his office, said goodbye to his longtime administrative assistant, Eileen Walsh, and was driven to his home in Alexandria by two Special Agents. His life in the Secret Service was over.

Now, with nothing to get up for in the morning, all Clint could do was think about the past. If he continued like this, he knew he would go insane. He had the rest of his life ahead of him and he had to find a way to pull himself together. On August 12, the direct phone lines to the White House were removed from his home in Alexandria. And that’s when it hit him hard. He had to get out of here. The only place he could think to go was back to his roots.

Two days later he flew to North Dakota, where his sister Janice lived on a farm with her husband. Their mother had passed away the year before and had left some acreage for Clint and Janice, adjacent to her and her husband’s farm. And so he went to work. The land had been left unplanted, so Clint would get up at sunrise and head into the field alone, and for the next twelve hours he’d pick rocks off the summer fallow, preparing the land for seeding. It was hard labor and every muscle in his body ached, but when he was in the field, it was as if he were sweating out twelve years of pent-up feelings he’d buried deep inside, feelings he’d stuffed into a corner of his soul, like the photographs and memories he’d packed away in the box in the basement.

He’d come back to the house at sunset, caked with dirt and sweat, covered in the dust of the land, nearly unrecognizable. Janice would laugh hysterically every day when he walked through the door.

“The only way I know it’s you is by the whites of your eyes,” she’d say.

This went on for a few weeks, until it was time for the harvest. His brother-in-law didn’t trust him with his expensive combine, so Clint ran the swather that cut the wheat into neat rows, and drove truckloads of grain to the grain elevator. Even as he was struggling to deal with the anger and guilt and frustration he’d locked away for so long, it felt good to work the land, to be with his sister, to be far away from Washington and politicians. There was a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day. But Clint knew he couldn’t hide out forever. Sooner or later he was going to have to find a way to deal with the past that continued to haunt him.

The afternoon of September 5, when Clint returned to Janice’s house after working in the fields all day as usual, his sister greeted him with a concerned look on her face.

“Clint, you better come in here. There was just a report on television that somebody tried to assassinate President Ford.”

Clint shook his head and walked rapidly into the living room toward the television. Even out here in the plains of North Dakota, he couldn’t escape.

The details were limited. Clint couldn’t stand not knowing what had happened, so he called Gwen to see what she knew about the situation. For the first time, Gwen had more information than Clint.

A twenty-seven-year-old woman who was a follower of convicted murderer Charles Manson had tried to assassinate President Ford with a .45-caliber automatic as he shook hands with spectators near the state capitol in Sacramento, California. Secret Service agent Larry Buendorf had seen the gun and quickly threw the woman to the ground before the pistol could fire, while the other agents rushed President Ford into the capitol. Fortunately he was uninjured.

Hearing the still sketchy details from Gwen made Clint painfully aware that he was now on the outside. He was no longer in the middle of the activity, no longer able to make a phone call and get immediate information from the inside.

Gwen had some other news to share with Clint, too. The Secret Service was having a conference at the end of the month, and agents were coming from all the field offices. Additionally, they were planning a retirement party and Clint was to be the honoree. It was just the push he needed, so he made arrangements and returned home to Washington on September 19.

He’d been home three days, and then there was another assassination attempt on President Ford—also by a woman, also in California. As President Ford exited the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, a matronly woman named Sara Jane Moore fired a revolver at the president from forty feet. Just as the shot went off, a bystander managed to grab Moore’s arm and the shot missed. Secret Service agents flung the president into the waiting limousine and raced away from the scene.

Again Clint felt himself yearning to be a part of the activity. It was in his blood. The only thing he knew was protection. What in God’s name was he going to do with the rest of his life?

In truth, the two assassination attempts did not surprise Clint at all. He’d been in the business of protecting presidents long enough to know it was only a matter of time. No matter who was president, there would always be assassination attempts. Fortunately, in both these cases the attempts were unsuccessful.

Clint’s retirement party was three days after the second attempt on President Ford’s life. Clint had no idea what to expect—and wasn’t even sure he wanted to go—but Paul Rundle and his wife, Peggy, picked up him and Gwen and headed downtown to the Washington Hilton hotel.

When Clint walked into the ballroom of the hotel, he was stunned. There had to be at least two hundred people there. Secret Service personnel from headquarters, protective details, and those who had come in from all over the country for the conference were there, and the rest of the guests read like a Who’s Who of Washington.

Seventy-nine-year-old former first lady Mamie Eisenhower had driven down from her Gettysburg home with her Secret Service detail especially for the party. She spent some personal time with Clint and the other agents who had been in the Denver office watching over her mother almost twenty years earlier. There was Hubert Humphrey, former vice president Spiro Agnew and his wife, Judy, and even Senator Ted Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy. Paul Landis, who had ridden on the other side of the follow-up car in Dallas and had resigned shortly after the assassination, had flown in from Cleveland with his wife. Clint was astonished and humbled. He couldn’t believe that so many people had made the effort to come to a party in his honor. It was as if he were surrounded by everybody who had been a part of the last sixteen years of his life.

The only person missing was Mrs. Kennedy.

Not long after the retirement party, Clint got a call from Paul Loewenwarter, a producer for the CBS television newsmagazine 60 Minutes. Loewenwarter wondered if Clint would consider coming on the program to talk about his life in the Secret Service. The call took Clint completely by surprise. With the recent assassination attempts, he knew that the subject of Kennedy’s assassination would undoubtedly come up, but twelve years had passed, and Clint was sure he could handle any question asked.

On October 8, Clint and Gwen met reporter Mike Wallace, Paul Loewenwarter, and a bunch of the staff from 60 Minutes, and the show was discussed in broad terms. It would be a taped interview—Gwen was welcome to be there, too—and the focus would be on Clint’s career in the Secret Service, which spanned five presidents over sixteen years. President Kennedy’s assassination was barely mentioned, and by the time the meeting was over, both Clint and Gwen were looking forward to the interview. It sounded like fun.

On Sunday, October 12, Clint and Gwen drove to the Madison Hotel in Washington for the taping.

Before the interview began, Gwen pulled Mike Wallace aside.

“Mike,” she said, “I know it’s not apparent on the outside, but I just wanted you to know that Clint is emotionally fragile. Please take it easy on him. He’s had a rough time recently.”

Clint and Gwen sat together on a sofa, with Wallace to their left in a wingback chair. Clint lit up a cigarette as the taping began, and the interview started off just fine. Wallace made him feel completely at ease. There were questions about his background—why and when he entered the Secret Service—followed by a few questions about the recent assassination attempts on President Ford. Gwen’s words must have had an impact on Wallace, because when he came around to asking about the Kennedy assassination, he merely glossed over it, and moved straight into how Clint wound up becoming the Special Agent in Charge of President Johnson’s detail.

When the interview was finished, Clint breathed a sigh of relief and thanked Wallace and the rest of the crew. It had gone very well and Mike promised to call Clint to let him know when the story would air.

A few days later Clint was sitting at home when the phone rang.

“Hills’,” Clint answered.

“Hi, Clint, it’s Mike Wallace.”

“Hey, Mike. How are you?” Clint assumed Mike was calling to tell him when the interview would be airing.

“Well, I’m fine, Clint,” Wallace began. “But it seems we’ve had a slight problem.”

Wallace explained that when they went back and reviewed the tapes there were some technical problems and they needed to reshoot some portions of the interview. He wanted to set up a date—again at the Madison Hotel. Wallace would treat them to lunch beforehand. Clint didn’t think anything of it, and readily agreed. Before Wallace hung up the phone he added, “Oh, and one last thing. Please be sure you and Gwen both wear the same clothes as you did for the first interview, as we’ll be editing the two tapes together.”

So when the day came, once again Clint put on his light gray plaid suit, a white shirt, and his rust-colored tie, while Gwen wore the powder blue two-piece pantsuit with the floral print blouse. At noon, they walked into the restaurant at the Madison Hotel and were surprised to see not only Mike Wallace and Paul Loewenwarter already seated at the table, but also 60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt.

The menu featured steak tartare, which was one of Clint’s favorite dishes. Mike Wallace ordered before Clint, and when he ordered the steak tartare, Clint laughed and said, “Well, that’s exactly what I was going to have.” The waiter told them it was a very large portion—enough to serve two people. So Wallace said, “Well, why don’t we split it, then.”

The conversation was casual and comfortable as the men from 60 Minutes explained how the taping would work, while Clint and Mike Wallace shared their meal of raw beef and minced onions. They finished lunch and moved into the small banquet room, where the lights and equipment had already been set up.

When they walked into the same room where they’d done the first taping, everything looked exactly the same, with the exception that this time, Don Hewitt was there. Clint made a joke about how it felt like déjà vu, and they took their places—Clint and Gwen on the sofa, with Mike Wallace to the left in the wingback chair.

Once again Clint lit up a cigarette as the cameras started taping.

Wallace eased in with a few questions, similar to what he’d asked in the first interview and then, out of the blue, he said, “Can I take you back to November 22, 1963.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. Mike Wallace was about to take him back to that dreadful day in Dallas.

Gwen could sense Clint suddenly stiffen, and her heart started racing.

Oh no, she thought.

Clint took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

Without waiting for Clint to respond, Wallace continued, his voice coming out like rapid fire. “You were on the fender of the Secret Service car, right behind President Kennedy’s car.”

Clint turned his gaze down at his knees, unable to look at Wallace. His eyebrows shuddered as a pained expression washed over his face. The cameraman zoomed in for a close-up as Wallace’s words hit Clint like a round from a machine gun.

“At the first shot you ran forward and jumped on the back of the president’s car. In less than two seconds . . . pulling Mrs. Kennedy down into her seat, protecting her.”

Clint reached for his cigarette and took a long drag. He blew out the smoke, and as he stared into nothingness, Wallace continued.

“First of all, she was out of the trunk of that car,” Wallace stated.

Clint suddenly interrupted. “She was out of the backseat of that car, not out of the trunk of that car.” His head was trembling and his eyes, his eyes had gone numb.

He still wouldn’t—couldn’t—look at Wallace or at the camera. His mind was back in Dallas, reliving those endless seconds.

Mike Wallace interviews Clint Hill for 60 Minutes on December 8, 1975. (3:41)
Source: CBS News

Wallace attempted to clarify. “Well, she had climbed out of the back and she was on the way back, right?”

Still looking down, Clint nodded. His face had contorted into a pained expression, his brow furrowed, his cheeks taut.

Clint, visibly tormented, said, “And because of the fact that her husband’s—part of her husband’s head . . .” He paused, and his face winced into a painful grimace. “. . . had been . . . shot off . . . and had gone off into the street.”

Incredulous, Wallace asked, “She wasn’t trying to climb out of the car?”

Clint was shaking his head, still looking at the floor, his eyes reddening as the memory flashed like a vivid movie in his mind.

“She was simply trying to reach that head . . . part of that head.”

The look on Clint’s face was gut-wrenching. Gwen sat frozen. Her heart broke for Clint.

“To bring it back?” Wallace asked.

“That’s the only thing,” Clint said. His head dropped as he winced. Torment was written all over his face, as the emotions he’d suppressed for all these years came flooding out, in one sudden tidal wave. It was so poignant, so visceral, that Wallace himself had begun to tear up.

“Clint,” Wallace said. “Let’s take a break. Stop the cameras.”

Clint stood up and took a deep breath. He didn’t know what had come over him. He had to get control of himself.

He walked out into the hallway, away from the bright lights and the cameras, as Gwen followed behind. She didn’t know what to say. She had never talked to Clint about the assassination. They had never discussed it. She had no idea he would react like this.

Wallace came into the hallway and offered some words of empathy. He knew how difficult this had to be for Clint, to talk about the tragedy in front of the cameras.

“It’s not that,” Clint said. Tears streamed down his face as he desperately tried to hold them inside. “I’ve never spoken about this to anyone. Not anyone. Not Gwen, not the other agents. You’re the first person I’ve ever spoken about this to.”

Wallace appeared shocked. It had been twelve years and Clint had never talked about the assassination with anyone? He’d been holding this inside for twelve tormented years? It was heartbreaking.

They talked for several minutes and finally Clint said, “Okay. Let’s go back in and finish this.”

“Are you sure you’re ready?” Wallace asked.

Clint nodded.

They walked back into the room, took their places, and began again. Wallace eased into the questioning. He repeated some of the questions he’d asked before, asked them in a different way, and then went in a different direction.

“In the twelve years since that assassination, undoubtedly you have thought and thought and thought again about it. And studied it. Do you have any reason to believe that there was more than one gun, more than one assassin?”

Clint’s head shook gently, his face contorted with pain, as Wallace continued: “Was Lee Harvey Oswald alone, or were there others with him?”

“There were only three shots.” Clint shrugged. “And it was one gun. Three shots.”

“You’re satisfied Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone,” Wallace confirmed.

Finally Clint looked directly at Wallace, and with one hundred percent conviction, he said, “Completely.”

“You’re satisfied,” Wallace repeated, and then added, “Was there any way, anything the Secret Service or that Clint Hill could have done . . . to keep that from happening?”

The cameraman pulled the shot back, wider. The smoke from Clint’s cigarette swirled around him.

Clint slumped back into the sofa and closed his eyes. What could he have done? Was there anything he could have done? It was a question he’d asked himself a million times. But he’d never answered it out loud. And as the words came out of his mouth there was a look of sheer torture on his face.

“Clint Hill . . . yes.”

“Clint Hill, yes?” Mike Wallace asked. “What do you mean?”

Clint lifted his head and looked Mike Wallace straight in the eye. “If he had reacted about five-tenths of a second faster, or maybe a second faster . . . I wouldn’t be here today.”

“You mean you would have gotten there and you would have taken the shot?”

“The third shot. Yes, sir,” Clint said, still looking at Mike to make sure there was no confusion about what he was saying.

“And that would have been all right with you?” Mike asked.

Clint shook his head, remorsefully. Tears welled in his eyes. “That would have been fine with me.”

Wallace couldn’t help but see that the man sitting in front of him was about to break down completely. “But you couldn’t, you got there in less than two seconds, Clint. You couldn’t have gotten there. You don’t—surely you don’t—have a sense of guilt about that?”

“Yes, I certainly do,” Clint said. The sheer anguish of the moment transferred from him through the camera as he acknowledged out loud, for the first time, what he’d been holding in for twelve torturous years. “I have a great deal of guilt about that.”

Mike Wallace was suddenly silenced by the broken man in front of him.

“Had I turned in a different direction, I’d have made it,” Clint said. “It was my fault.”

As Clint crumbled, emotionally defeated, Mike Wallace attempted to rescue him.

“No . . . No one has ever suggested that for an instant,” Wallace said. “What you did was show great bravery and great presence of mind. . . . What was on the citation that was given you?”

The cameraman zoomed in close—Clint’s pain spread out for the whole world to see, as Wallace tried to save him. “For your work on November twenty-second, nineteen sixty-three . . .”

Clint’s face had completely transformed into the image of what could be described only as pure anguish. “I don’t care about that, Mike . . .”

“Extraordinary courage and heroic effort in the face of maximum danger,” Wallace rattled off as Clint violently shook his head.

“Mike, I don’t care about that.” He winced and Wallace let him continue. “If I had reacted just a little bit quicker . . . and I could have, I guess.”

Clint let out a deep breath and in one last wrenching contortion of his face, he said, “And I’ll live with that to my grave.”

Finally, the questions stopped. The cameraman stopped recording. Gwen reached over and hugged her husband. She was so relieved it was over. It was heartbreaking to see Clint in such agony.

“Thank you, Clint,” Mike Wallace said as he stood up and unclipped the microphone from his lapel. “I know that was so difficult for you. But thank you so much.”

Gwen walked over to Don Hewitt and thanked him. It had been terribly rough on Clint, but she felt that Mike Wallace had handled the interview with compassion.

Clint stood up and steadied himself. He felt sick inside. He didn’t know what had come over him. He shook hands with Mike Wallace and Don Hewitt, but he felt as if he were in a fog. He just wanted to go home.

Before they left, Gwen mentioned to Don Hewitt that she admired his sport coat. It was a caramel-colored ultrasuede jacket. Hewitt said it was one of his favorites, too—from Saks in New York.

Clint and Gwen drove home in silence and as soon as they walked in the door, Clint poured himself a strong scotch and soda. He had suppressed the memories for twelve long years and Mike Wallace had forced him to face his demons. He needed a drink.

Several days later, a package appeared on the Hills’ doorstep. A box from Saks. Inside was the women’s version of Hewitt’s ultrasuede jacket with a note from Hewitt for Gwen. She couldn’t believe it. Clint agreed it was a nice gesture and when Gwen said that now she just needed to buy the matching skirt, Clint rolled his eyes and agreed to take her to Saks.

On Wednesday, December 3, Mike Wallace called Clint and told him that his story was going to be airing that week, that Sunday evening.

“Well, we’ll be sure to watch it,” Clint said.

They called the story “Secret Service Agent Number Nine” and it was one of the most-watched episodes of 60 Minutes ever. As Clint watched himself, as he saw his literal nervous breakdown on television, he gulped down a big ol’ scotch and soda. When the show was over, the phone started ringing immediately and didn’t stop for a week. His sister Janice called—she was so worried. After what she’d seen on the farm, and now this. She urged Clint to get help.

Paul Landis called, and Jerry Blaine and Paul Rundle. They stopped by the house. They needed to make sure he was okay. They were worried about him.

At CBS, the interview with Agent Number Nine had sparked a response in viewers the likes of which they’d never seen before. Letters came flooding in. Mike Wallace called Clint a week after the interview to see how he was doing. Even he was worried about him.

I’ll be okay, Clint said. I’ll be okay.

In the days that followed, his enjoyable scotch and soda became a necessity. Soon, after a few scotches, he’d start in with a sweet Rob Roy on the rocks. He didn’t go outside, didn’t want to see anyone. Day after day he lay curled up on the couch, drinking and smoking, and reliving those few seconds in Dallas, the torturous hour at Parkland Hospital, the long plane ride back to Washington, the funeral, and then back to the motorcade, and the shots, and the race to Parkland. Day after day, week after week, smoking and drinking, and thinking.

Finally Gwen convinced him to get help. The answer was Valium and later Elavil—neither of which, it turned out, mix well with alcohol. For the next seven years—seven years—Clint lived in the prison of his memories, barely surviving as he tried to dull the constant, searing pain with pills and booze.

In 1982, his doctor confronted him. “You’re addicted to alcohol, Clint. You’re killing yourself. If you don’t stop drinking you will die.”

The stark realization of what he’d allowed himself to become was shattering. He’d grown up in a home where neither alcohol nor tobacco was allowed, and look where he’d wound up. He was beyond disappointed in himself. He had reached the bottom.

It was not easy, but slowly Clint gave up drinking. Once he became sober, he tackled the cigarettes. He quit cold turkey and almost tore the pocket off his shirt reaching for what was not there.

Slowly, slowly, things started to get better. The nightmares became fewer and fewer. He began to exercise again. He started socializing.

In 1990, the Association of Former Agents of the United States Secret Service was holding its eighteenth annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. The organization, founded in 1971, had been Floyd Boring’s idea. After his retirement in 1967, Boring realized how much he missed the unique comradeship of the agents, and he envisioned a group with membership exclusive to former Secret Service agents and their wives. It would be a safe haven that would provide support and a place where memories could be shared in complete confidence. It was heartily approved by then director of the Secret Service Jim Rowley. Rowley provided Floyd with names and addresses for some of the agents who had recently retired or resigned in good standing. Eve Dempsher offered to help with the group’s paperwork, and prospective members were sent invitations to become charter members. Jerry Blaine and former SAIC Jerry Behn were among the twenty charter members of AFAUSSS. Later the organization became open to Secret Service agents who had completed at least one full year of service and by 1990, membership had grown to over five hundred members.

During the summer of 1990, Clint and Gwen decided to attend the conference with Gwen’s sister Gloria and her husband, Dave Grant, who had also retired from the Secret Service by this time. They would fly to Dallas, rent a car, and drive to San Antonio. On the way back they’d stay overnight in Dallas, where Gloria still had friends from her Braniff Airways days.

Besides wanting to see his old pals from the Secret Service at the conference, Clint had another intention, which he hadn’t shared with anyone. He was ready to return to Dealey Plaza.

When Clint, Gwen, Dave, and Gloria were checking into the Marriott hotel adjacent to the River Walk in San Antonio, familiar faces began to appear. People Clint had not seen in fifteen years; people with whom he had served in good times and bad. Everybody was shocked to see him there. They’d all seen his appearance on 60 Minutes and were aware that he had been going through an emotional deterioration since that time. The warm welcome they gave him, however, made Clint know that this was the right thing to do. He was back where he belonged—among friends, among family. Because that’s what this was. It was more than a conference—it was a family reunion—the Secret Service family.

That evening, Clint and Gwen joined a large group for some of the Tex-Mex food for which San Antonio is so well-known. They were seated around a large table and as the waitress came around everybody ordered drinks to go with the nachos and tacos. Most were ordering beers or margaritas and when it came to Clint’s turn, you could have heard a pin drop.

“I’ll have iced tea,” he said. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief and from then on, it was a fun evening filled with levity, remembrances, and true friendship.

Various activities were planned for the attendees and while some played golf, Clint and Gwen opted for a bus trip through the Texas hill country to the LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, for a tour of the Johnson home, which was now open to the public. On arrival at the ranch, they were met by Jim Hardin, the SAIC of Lady Bird Johnson’s protective detail, a longtime friend and former coworker of Clint’s. Another remembrance of times gone by, both good and bad.

The weekend seemed to fly by because of the wonderful camaraderie both Clint and Gwen enjoyed. Among the familiar faces were Art and Betty Godfrey; Joyce and Jerry Blaine; Paul and Peggy Rundle; Win and Barb Lawson; Walt and Ann Coughlin; Bob and Peggy Foster; Tom and Shirley Wells; Ham Brown—the list went on and on.

When the conference was over and all the hugs and handshakes had concluded, Clint got into the driver’s seat with Gwen, Gloria, and Dave in the car, and drove to Dallas.

The year before, on Presidents Day in 1989, a nonprofit museum had opened at the site of the assassination. It was on the sixth floor of what used to be the Texas School Book Depository but was now the Dallas County Administration Building. The exhibits told what had happened starting with the early 1960s and the Kennedy presidency and continuing through the assassination and investigations. No theories, just history, with a lot of pictures, text, and videos.

Clint parked the car in the parking lot behind the brick building, and the four of them walked around to the front. As Clint stood at the intersection of Houston and Elm streets, the memories came flooding back, as he knew they would. But he was stronger now; he was ready to face them.

It was eerie to be back here after all these years, and Clint was struck by how little had changed. A few tall skyscrapers had gone up in the downtown area of Dallas, but here in Dealey Plaza, it looked almost exactly as it had in 1963. The only visible difference was that the trees had matured, and grown taller.

For nearly two hours, Clint walked around the area and went over the sight lines, the angles. He ignored the man on the corner hawking a brochure that claimed to tell the “real story” of the assassination—the conspiracy theories—complete with photos and analysis by “experts.”

Back and forth he paced on the street, looking up toward the grassy knoll and back to the brick building. He walked back to Main Street and turned around, and as he turned the corner from Main onto Houston Street, following the same path he’d ridden nearly twenty-seven years earlier, he could hear the crowds, the motorcycles. There was so much noise.

And then he turned left onto Elm Street and passed in front of the brick building, and as he walked down the hill, as the road curved, in his mind he heard an explosive sound.

He was ready to go into the museum. His stomach was in knots. Gwen held his hand as they took the elevator to the sixth floor. There was no turning back.

As he walked through the exhibits, he was struck by how many pictures and references to him there were. There he was, frame by frame in still photos on the wall, racing toward the president’s limousine. He looked so young. His chest tightened as he walked toward the lair that Oswald had built of book boxes—reconstructed as it had been found the day of the assassination. Clint looked out the window and saw the clear view to the street, saw how close it was. He shook his head. He was an expert marksman, and even without a scope could hit anything he wanted on the street below. It would have been easy—especially when the trees had been so much shorter. For Lee Harvey Oswald, having had military training in the use of firearms, and with the assistance of a scope, hitting the target would not have been difficult at all.

After walking the streets below and now seeing the clear view that Oswald had, Clint realized that even if he had been on the back of the president’s limousine, Oswald could have hit the president as the car approached the intersection of Houston and Elm. The assassin had all the advantages that day. The Secret Service had none. But even knowing all this, the gnawing in the gut, the visual memory of the explosion of the president’s head, the knowledge that he and the other agents had been responsible for President Kennedy’s safety, still lingered. And he knew now, it would never go away. But at least he had reconciled with himself that he’d done the best he could.

As Clint neared the end of the exhibit, there was a guest book. He opened it and looked at all the people who had signed their names—they’d come from all over the world. He reached for the pen and wrote down a name. But it wasn’t his name. He didn’t want anybody to know he had been there.