MAJOR NEWS ARTICLE: "Did the Secret Service Lay Down on JFK?"
Central Florida Post
December 16, 2013
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David and Goliath: How One Amateur Historian Awakened the Sleeping Giants of President Kennedy’s Secret Service detail
On June 1, 2005, I sent a 22-page registered letter, signed receipt required, to former Secret Service agent Clint Hill (infamous for his leap onto the back of the limousine during the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963). My letter was, in essence, a “cliff notes” version of my own book Survivor’s Guilt: The Secret Service & The Failure To Protect President Kennedy, focusing mainly on the issue of the agents’ presence—or lack thereof—on the rear of the presidential limousine on 11/22/63, as well as the actions and inactions of three specific agents I have many misgivings about: Floyd Boring (the number two agent on the Kennedy Detail and the Secret Service planner of the Texas trip), Shift Leader Emory Roberts (the commander of the agents in the follow-up car in Dallas who became a little too close to Lyndon Johnson afterwards), and William Greer (the driver of JFK’s limousine). When I phoned the gentleman on June 13, 2005, I received a very cantankerous “non-reply”, so to speak: “[Referring to my letter:] About what? Yeah, I’m here. I’m just not interested in talking to you.” I did not really expect much, but it was worth a try (having received an unexpected recommendation to talk to Mr. Hill from former agent Lynn Meredith, who was gracious enough to provide Mr. Hill’s unlisted address and phone number).
Blaine’s book has no footnotes, endnotes, links, references, documented quotes or any confirmations that what he writes is true. It’s obvious that Blaine is not presenting his book as a scholarly work, but as biography of sorts. This is actually a great shame. Blaine obviously had a great number of inside contacts, people close to the action who would have felt more comfortable talking with Blaine than with a stranger. To not have all those discussions and interviews documented or recorded for the general public is a great loss.
The book gets off on the wrong foot with myself and others right away with the bold pronouncement: “JFK’s Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence” (which is also the subtitle of the book). This is hogwash: not only did several agents, including Clint Hill, testify to the Warren Commission, many of the agents spoke to the aforementioned William Manchester (including Blaine and Hill), Jim Bishop, and the HSCA, as well as to, among others, Prof. Philip Melanson (for his book The Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Enigmatic Agency), several prominent Secret Service television documentaries between 1995 and 2004 (Hill was involved in all of these productions that made their way to VHS and/ or DVD, as well), and, last but certainly not least, to myself, Vince Palamara, between 1992 and 2006 (again, including Blaine and Hill)! Things only get worse once one gets to the inside flap jacket: Blaine writes that JFK “banned agents from his car”, which is patently false- as Winston Lawson, the lead advance agent for the fateful Dallas trip, wrote to me in a letter dated 1/12/04: “I do not know of any standing orders for the agents to stay off the back of the car. After all, foot holds and handholds were built into that particular vehicle…it never came to my attention as such. I am certain agents were on the back on certain occasions.” For his part, ATSAIC (Shift Leader) Art Godfrey told this reviewer on May 30, 1996, regarding the notion that JFK ordered the agents not to do certain things which included removing themselves from the rear of the limousine: “That’s a bunch of baloney; that’s not true. He never ordered us to do anything. He was a very nice man … cooperative.” Godfrey reiterated this on June 7, 1996. In a letter dated November 24, 1997, Godfrey stated the following: “All I can speak for is myself. When I was working [with] President Kennedy he never ask[ed] me to have my shift leave the limo when we [were] working it,” thus confirming what he had also told the author telephonically on two prior occasions. As we shall see, Blaine makes much ado about this issue…for obvious reasons (Thou Protest Too Much).
As for the “Ivy League Charlatans” remark JFK allegedly uttered to ASAIC Floyd Boring and, again, first made famous by Manchester, Boring this author, “I never told him [Manchester]that.” As for the merit of the quote itself, Boring said, “No, no, no—that’s not true,” thus contradicting his own report in the process, stating further: “He actually—No, I told them … He didn’t tell them anything … He just—I looked at the back and I seen these fellahs were hanging on the limousine—I told them to return to the car … [JFK] was a very easy-going guy … he didn’t interfere with our actions at all.” In a later interview, Boring expounded further: “Well that’s not true. That’s not true. He was a very nice man; he never interfered with us at all.” If that weren’t enough, Boring also wrote the author: “He [JFK] was very cooperative with the Secret Service.” Incredibly, Boring was not even interviewed for Manchester’s book! We may never know Mr. Manchester’s source for this curious statement: he told the author on August 23, 1993 that “… all that material is under seal and won’t be released in my lifetime” and denied the author access to his notes (Manchester has since passed away). Interestingly, Manchester did interview the late Emory Roberts—an agent this reviewer is most suspicious of— and GERALD BLAINE, Manchester’s probable “source(s)”
As for Blaine, this is what he told this reviewer: Blaine told the author on February 7, 2004 that President Kennedy was “very cooperative. He didn’t interfere with our actions. President Kennedy was very likeable—he never had a harsh word for anyone. He never interfered with our actions.” [Emphasis added.] When the author asked Blaine how often the agents rode on the back of JFK’s limousine, the former agent said it was a “fairly common” occurrence that depended on the crowd and the speed of the cars. In fact, just as one example, Blaine rode on the rear of JFK’s limousine in Germany in June 1963, along with fellow Texas trip veterans Paul A. Burns and Samuel E. Sulliman. Blaine added, in specific reference to the agents on the follow-up car in Dallas: “You have to remember, they were fairly young agents,” seeming to imply that their youth was a disadvantage, or perhaps this was seen as an excuse for their poor performance on November 22, 1963.Surprisingly, Blaine, the WHD advance agent for the Tampa trip of November 18, 1963, said that JFK did make the comment “I don’t need Ivy League charlatans back there,” but emphasized this was a “low-key remark” said “kiddingly” and demonstrating Kennedy’s “Irish sense of humor”. However, according to the “official” story, President Kennedy allegedly made these remarks only to Boring while traveling in the presidential limousine in Tampa: Blaine was nowhere near the vehicle at the time, so Boring, despite what he conveyed to this reviewer, had to be his source for this story (more on this in a moment)! In addition to Emory Roberts, one now wonders, as mentioned previously, if Blaine was a source (or perhaps the source) for Manchester’s exaggerated “quote” attributed to Boring, as Agent Blaine was also interviewed by Manchester . Blaine would not respond to a follow-up letter on this subject.
Hill: “I did the same thing approximately four times.”
Specter: “What are the standard regulations and practices, if any, governing such an action on your part?”
Hill: “It is left to the agent’s discretion more or less to move to that particular position when he feels that there is a danger to the President: to place himself as close to the President or the First Lady as my case was, as possible, which I did.”
Specter: “Are those practices specified in any written documents of the Secret Service?”
Hill: “No, they are not.”
Specter: “Now, had there been any instruction or comment about your performance of that type of a duty with respect to anything President Kennedy himself had said in the period immediately preceding the trip to Texas?”
Hill: “Yes, sir; there was. The preceding Monday, the President was on a trip to Tampa, Florida, and he requested that the agents not ride on either of those two steps.”
Specter: “And to whom did the President make that request?”
Hill: “Assistant Special Agent in Charge Boring.”
Specter: “Was Assistant Special Agent in Charge Boring the individual in charge of that trip to Florida?”
Hill: “He was riding in the Presidential automobile on that trip in Florida, and I presume that he was. I was not along.”
Specter: “Well, on that occasion would he have been in a position comparable to that occupied by Special Agent Kellerman on this trip to Texas?”
Hill: “Yes sir; the same position.”
Specter: “And Special Agent Boring informed you of that instruction by President Kennedy?”
Hill: “Yes sir, he did.”
Specter: “Did he make it a point to inform other special agents of that same instruction?”
Hill: “I believe that he did, sir.”
Specter: “And, as a result of what President Kennedy said to him, did he instruct you to observe that Presidential admonition?”
Hill: “Yes, sir.”
Specter: “How, if at all, did that instruction of President Kennedy affect your action and—your action in safeguarding him on this trip to Dallas?”
Hill: “We did not ride on the rear portions of the automobile. I did on those four occasions because the motorcycles had to drop back and there was no protection on the left-hand side of the car.”
J. Walter Coughlin, who helped do the San Antonio advance with the late Dennis Halterman (deceased 1988), wrote this reviewer: “In almost all parade situations that I was involved w[ith] we rode or walked the limo [emphasis added].” Coughlin later wrote: “We often rode on the back of the car.” (For the record, Ned Hall II, who helped with the advance in Fort Worth, passed away in 1998; his son, Ned Hall III, had no comment to make on the matter. The other agent on the Fort Worth advance, Bill Duncan, never has said a thing regarding this issue, officially or otherwise, and it is not apparent if he was even contacted for Blaine’s book or not). Ronald Pontius, who helped advance the Houston stop with the late Bert deFreese (died sometime in the 1980’s), wrote this reviewer that JFK DID convey these alleged orders “through his staff [emphasis added],” and here is why this “staff” notion is so important: this is a notion that Blaine doesn’t even touch in the book! For the record, Presidential Aide (Chief of Staff / Appointments Secretary) Kenneth P. O’Donnell does not mention anything with regard to telling the agents to remove themselves from the limousine (based on JFK’s alleged “desires”) during his lengthy Warren Commission testimony (nor to author William Manchester, nor even in his or his daughter’s books, for that matter); the same is true for the other two Presidential aides: Larry O’Brien and Dave Powers. In fact, Powers refutes this whole idea—he wrote this reviewer in a letter dated 9/10/93 that “they never had to be told to ‘get off’ the limousine. “ JFK’s staff is not mentioned as a factor during any of the agents’ Warren Commission testimony, nor in the aforementioned five reports submitted in April 1964. Furthermore, Helen O’Donnell wrote this reviewer on 10/11/10: “Suffice to say that you are correct; JFK did not order anybody off the car, he never interfered with my dad’s direction on the Secret Service, and this is much backed up by my Dad’s tapes. I think and know from the tapes Dallas always haunted him because of the might-have-beens—but they involved the motorcade route [only].” In addition, former agents Art Godfrey and Kinney denounced the “staff/O’Donnell” notion to this reviewer, despite what a small minority of the agents I contacted—Yeager, O’Rourke, and Pontius—suggested (although, again, Yeager and O’Rourke agreed that JFK was easy to protect and that no order came from him).
Just WHY are these seemingly contradictory accounts of this minority of agents’ Yeager, O’Rourke, and Pontius (seemingly contradictory, that is, to this reviewer AND definitely contradictory to Blaine) so very important? Because Blaine’s alleged 11/25/63 “meeting” mentions not a thing about staff interference or input, his BOOK mentions not a thing about staff interference or input, and, in fact, on page 352, Blaine even writes: “If ever asked about whether JFK had ordered them [the former agents] off the back of his car, the answer was always, “Oh, no. President Kennedy was wonderful. He was very easy to protect. No, I don’t remember him ever ordering agents off the back of his car [Emphasis added].” This is simply false. In addition to the aforementioned three agents (Yeager, O’Rourke, and Pontius), several agents contacted by the author would not comment, several would claim not to remember, and three (one, contacted by myself, the other two, via the HSCA) gave hazy second-hand information (of dubious quality) seeming to blame JFK after all! If that weren’t enough, Rufus Youngblood in his book and Emory Roberts in his report, claimed it was THE MOTORCYCLES that got in the way of the agents (Ready especially) getting onto the rear of the car…geez. Finally, in addition to Blaine, former agents Lynn Meredith, Larry Newman, and Don Lawton mentioned the “Ivy League Charlatan” remark to myself, although none claimed to have heard it from JFK (Meredith told me: “I must admit that I was not along on the trip and was back at the White House with Caroline and John, Jr. .. I do not know first hand if President Kennedy ordered agents off the back end of his limousine.” The former agent said that “No Secret Service agents riding on the rear of the limousine” was the number one reason JFK was killed! Newman, not interviewed for Blaine’s book, said “supposedly, I didn’t hear this [the “Ivy league charlatan” comment] directly” and that Manchester’s book was “part of myth, part of truth”. Newman added: “There was not a directive, per se” from President Kennedy to remove the agents from their positions on the back of his limousine. For his part, Lawton told me: “I didn’t hear the President say it, no. The word was relayed to us—I forget who told us now—you know, ‘come back to the follow-up car.’ ” Lawton also added: “Everyone felt bad. It was our job to protect the President. You still have regrets, remorse. Who knows, if they had left guys on the back of the car … you can hindsight yourself to death.”)
Importantly, no mention is made of any alleged orders via President Kennedy’s staff.
And, again, there is nothing about what JFK said or “requested” on November 22, 1963, the critical day in question!
Mr. Blaine states that President Eisenhower almost always rode in a closed car- WRONG ANSWER: the exact OPPOSITE is true. In point of fact, Ike often rode in an OPEN limo- just do a Google image search;
Mr. Blaine states that JFK hardly ever rode in the limousine with the bubble top on the car- WRONG ANSWER: again, just by doing a Google image search, I found at least twenty different times—in good weather—that President Kennedy rode under the top (New York, Boston, Caracas, Paris, Ireland, England, etc);
Mr. Blaine, during an earlier interview with Palamara, thought SAIC Gerald Behn was on the Tampa trip- WRONG ANSWER: Mr. Behn was on vacation;
Mr. Blaine, in an online video, said that fellow agent Art Godfrey “gave his blessings” to his book: WRONG ANSWER- by his own admission, Mr. Blaine did not even begin his book until over three years AFTER Mr. Godfrey passed away!;
Mr. Blaine states in an online video that he “has never spoken to an author of a book”: WRONG ANSWER- he spoke to both William Manchester and Vince Palamara. Manchester’s book references a 5/12/65 interview. What’s more, Mr. Blaine is thanked by Mr. Manchester in his other JFK book “One Brief Shining Moment”. Thus, Mr. Blaine is 2 for 2: he is in both Manchester JFK books. In addition, Mr. Blaine spoke to Mr. Palamara in both 2004 and 2005;
Mr. Blaine states, in yet another online video, that he never spoke to Mr. Manchester: WRONG ANSWER;
Mr. Blaine writes on page 201 of his book that the presidential limo “just didn’t gather speed as quickly as he [Agent Greer] would like”: WRONG ANSWER- Agent Kellerman told the Warren Commission under oath “we literally jumped out of the God-d*mned road” and many films depict the limousine traveling at a very high rate of speed (Agent Lilley told Mr. Palamara that the limo reached speeds of over 50 mph- with two agents on the rear of the car- during one motorcade);
Mr. Blaine, on pages 221-222 of his book, referring to the president’s physician, Admiral George Burkley, writes: “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”: WRONG ANSWER: Burkley protested that the Secret Service placed him further away from JFK than he normally rode (on 11/18/63 he rode in the lead car)- see Burkley’s JFK Library oral history, among other sources;
Mr. Blaine writes, on page 74 of his book: “”… the only way to have a chance at protecting the president against a shooter from a tall building would be to have agents posted on the back of the car.”: WRONG ANSWER/ NOT COMPLETE- as he himself wrote in his final survey report for the Tampa trip, the OTHER way to guard against a shooter is to have the building rooftops guarded (as they were in Tampa and many other cities);
Roberts was the President’s receptionist during the Johnson administration while still a member of the Secret Service, effectively replacing loyal JFK aide Dave Powers. There are alarming parallels between what LBJ thought of Roberts and Bobby Baker, a man he referred to as his son (Baker was his longtime aide who was later embroiled in scandal, serving time in jail): “Bobby is my strong right arm. He is the last person I see at night and the first person I see in the morning.” LBJ said this of Roberts on 11/23/68: “He greets me every morning and tells me goodbye every night.”
Clint Hill: recent comments to the media
LAMB: Did you – did you keep notes? HILL: I did, but I destroyed them a few years ago which really made it more difficult. LAMB: Why did you destroy them? HILL: I promised that I would never write a book. I vowed that I would never do so, never contribute to a book, never talk to anybody about it and so just to kind of make sure I would never get my self involve, I burned everything. There are few mementos I kept, but for the most part, I burned all my notes and now when the opportunity presents itself and I decided to do it. I had to go back and talked to other agents who I work with, who did have – still have some notes. And to check everything through newspaper archives for dates and times and places to make sure I was accurate and so it was very tedious to go through this and write the book. LAMB: Do you remember the year you burned your notes? HILL: It is 2012 – it was [pause] maybe 2005, something like that.
LAMB: As aside by the way, the fellow we talked about in the last interview, Vince Palamara. HILL: Yes. LAMB: You’ve seen his letter about your book? HILL: I have not read it, no. LAMB: I’m sure you probably know that he said that ”Mrs. Kennedy and Me” is highly recommended to everyone for its honesty and rich body of truth. He actually fully endorsed your book even though he’s been critical of … are you worried that he’s not being …? HILL: Maybe he has some secret agenda, I don’t know. But I accept his praise, thank you.
LAMB: Now, we got some video from YouTube, one of the things you say in your book, that made you want to write this book was all the conspiracy theories and you talked about the movie from Oliver Stone. This is a man named Vince Palamara. Do you know him? BLAINE: I am familiar with him, I don’t k now him. LAMB: He says that – and I guess we’ll talk about this, that he sent you a 22 page letter? HILL: I recall receiving a letter which I sent back to him. I didn’t bother with it. LAMB: You didn’t talk to him ever? HILL: he called me and I said ”Hello” but that was about it. LAMB: And over the years, have you both been called about this assassination on many occasions. HILL: I had been called numerous times. LAMB: What has been your attitude, how have you approached the people… HILL: For the most part, I just said I have no comment, I just have nothing to say. LAMB: And why is that? HILL: Well, most of it is from people who are writing conspiracy theory books that don’t make any sense to me so if they are not going to deal in facts, then I don’t want anything to do with it. LAMB: And how about you, what you been… HILL: I have never talked to any author of a book and that – I just felt we had it on our commission books, worthy of trust of confidence and I felt those were issues that you should never talk to anybody on the outside about. And it was – I had to weigh and evaluate when I wrote this book because I felt I wasn’t talking about the Secret Service, I wasn’t talking about the Kennedy Family, but I was talking about the agents that I work with and the incidents that occurred and those were my friends. So that’s when I decided to write. LAMB: Did you have to get permission to do this from the secret service? HILL: No. LAMB: So this wasn’t cleared by the Secret Services? HILL: No. BLAINE: No, but we had lunch today with the director of the Secret Service who thanked us very much for our contribution. LAMB: Here is this video, it’s not very long and this man’s name is Vince Palamara, he is a citizen who has taken it on its own to become an expert. He is from Pennsylvania and I don’t know him, I have talked to him and I have just seen it on the web and he is – I believe he is a graduate of Duquesne University so let us watch this and I’ll get your reaction. BLAINE: OK. START OF VIDEO. VINCE PALAMARA: Hi, this is Vince Palamara. The self described Secret Service expert that Jerry Blaine accuses me of – naming me, OK? Back with my obsession about the Kennedy detail. I got to read this, this is rich. Page 287, is what Blaine is claiming that Rowley said. Rowley turned to Jerry Blaine. ”And Jerry, since you are in the lead car, did you ever hear this over your radio as well?” ”Yes, sir. I did. I heard exactly what Floyd just told you.” The thing about this, this is the whole thing about the Ivy League charlatans’ thing. Jerry Blaine told me that the Ivy League charlatans thing came from the guys. I can’t remember – I can’t remember who said it. Boy, his memory got real good five years later because now, he is claiming he heard it over the radio, Floyd Boring, OK? It’s unbelievable, and it’s just amazing to me, you know, there never would have been a book if I didn’t send a 22 page letter, OK, to Clint Hill, that pissed him off so much that his very good friend, Jerry Blaine, came out with his book as counter. OK? These are some things I recommend everyone to buy it online, no censorship, it’s my First Amendment rights, OK? There are some nice pictures and nice known assassination things, and there are even some good assassination related things in here but it’s very odd, since other people picked up on that’s why there are some really bad reviews on Amazon right now, mine is the best, mine is a three stars too. It’s very obvious that it’s a thinly veiled attempt to rewrite history and to blame President Kennedy without trying to blame him for his own assassination. END OF VIDEO. LAMB: First of all, his is not of the best of the reviews, there are seven with five stars just in case for the record that I saw today when I looked on Amazon. What’s your reaction, could you hear? BLAINE: Well, he wrote an assessment of the book about the – first time about five weeks before it was released. The second time on Amazon.com, he and four of his friends or four of his aliases put a statement on assessing the book a one, a two, and a three. My assessment of Mr. Palamara is that he called probably all of the agents, and what agent who answers a phone is going to answer a question ”Was President Kennedy easy to protect? Well, probably he was too easy to protect because he was assassinated.” But the fact that the agents aren’t going to tell him anything and he alludes to the fact that when I wrote the book, most of these people were dead. Well, I worked with these people, I knew them like brothers and I knew exactly what was going on and always respected Jim Rowley because he stood up to the issue and said ”Look, we can’t say the President invited himself to be killed so let’s squash this.” So that was the words throughout the Secret Service and he – Mr. Palamara is – there are a number of things that had happened that he has no credibility, he is a self-described expert in his area which I don’t know what it is, he was born after the assassination and he keeps creating solutions to the assassination until they are proven wrong. So he is… LAMB: A lot about – HILL: But he alleges that because he sent me a letter 22 pages in length apparently, and that I discussed that with Jerry. I forgot that I ever got a 22-page letter from this particular individual until I heard him say it on TV and I never discussed it with Jerry or anybody else because it wasn’t important to me. And so far as him being an expert, I don’t know where the expert part came from. I spent a long time in the Secret Service in protection and I’m not an expert, but apparently he became an expert somewhere up in Pennsylvania, I don’t know where.
KING: What are you doing Clint? HILL: I am completely retired. I’m a homebody, my wife and I and our kids and grandkids
KING: Clint, I thank you very much. I salute you for your service. HILL: Thank you, Larry. KING: And I thank you for coming here tonight on this special occasion for Mike Wallace. HILL: Thank you very much. Good luck Mike. WALLACE: Same to you Clint. HILL: My wife says hello
“Hill, who lives in Virginia, is “happier than I have ever been” with Lisa McCubbin, the journalist he co-wrote the memoir with. “The calendar says I’m 81 and she’s 48, but I feel 52.” In his book he credits McCubbin “…for bringing me out of my dungeon, where I languished for years in my emotional prison … you helped me find a reason to live, not just exist”. “I was there for her children, but I wasn’t there for the birth of either of my sons [Chris and Corey, now 56 and 51 respectively]. They grew up without a father. My wife Gwen raised them herself.” (They separated, “emotionally”, years ago, but have not divorced.)
-agents on the rear of the limo (other than Clint Hill, briefly, 4 times before they got to Dealey Plaza);
-military aide in front seat between driver and agent in charge (McHugh was asked, for the first time in Dallas, not to ride there!);
-press photographers flatbed truck in front of limo (canceled at last minute at Love Field);
-fast speed of cars (slow in Dallas);
-ASAIC Boring on trip (SAIC Behn and Boring always accompanied JFK in motorcades. A third-stringer, Kellerman, goes in their place);
-multi story rooftops guarded;
-multiple motorcycles running next to JFK in a wedge formation (they did 11/18-11/22/63 [morning in Fort Worth]…until Dallas);
-White House Press Photographer Cecil Stoughton riding in follow-up car taking photos (he did 11/18-11/21/63…until they got to Dallas);
-Pierre Salinger on trip (Assistant Malcolm Kilduff makes his first trip on his own to Texas; Salinger said he missed only “one or two trips” with JFK…Texas was one of them!);
-Dr Burkley close to JFK (Burkley protested being placed far away from JFK in Dallas, for this was the only time, save in Rome, this ever happened to him);
Blaine’s book makes numerous references to JFK being a great person to work and be around. But it seems Blaine includes such anecdotes to balance out his claims about JFK being reckless. Blaine takes direct aim at JFK in a way that contradicts most other accounts of his personality:
[The Kennedy Detail, page 332]
Blaine compares JFK to his predecessor, Eisenhower, whom Blaine appears to have seen as a president with fewer personal faults:
President Eisenhower did not have a narcissistic bone in his body. He was a career military man and grew up with armed men around him. When he achieved commanding rank he had protection. …. He did not necessarily like crowds and did not feel that he had to run over and shake every person’s hand. He rode in a closed-top car and did not like parade-type motorcades. … with the agents, but he had confidence in his agent’s ability and he understood unnecessary exposure.
[The Kennedy Detail, page 398]