Abraham Zapruder captured a defining and tragic moment in history when his camera recorded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The film was originally locked away by Time Life but was finally released to the public years later as a result of the investigation of Jim Garrison into Kennedy’s murder. The film leaves the view speechless and speaks more than a thousand words. Next to the gruesome murder of the President, there’s an iconic sequence that occurs that also remains cemented in the memory of the witnesses in Dealey Plaza that day and the millions others who have repeated watched the film. As the motorcade speeds toward the triple underpass, a Secret Service agent is seen jumping on to the back of the car as it speeds up to transport the mortally wounded Kennedy to Parkland Hospital. The agent is Clint Hill, a veteran of the Secret Service who served several presidents during his multi-decade career. Now 84, he’s become an author over the years, having written a few books, one of which is this account of the fateful trip to Dallas, Texas and the tragedy that ensued.
The book begins on November 21 as the party prepares for the departure to Texas. Hill shines light on the commotion and last-minute maneuvers that are required to make the trip go as smoothly as possible. We also see the softer side of the President as he embraces his children for the very last time. And as Air Force One departs for San Antonio, the first stop, no one aboard knows that this is the last trip that they will make with Kennedy. After receiving a warming welcome at San Antonio, the party is jubilant about the potential to mend political fences in Texas to bolster Kennedy’s chances for reelection in 1964. The morning of the 22nd starts out on a positive note as the President makes his last speech at the Ft. Worth Chamber of Commerce. The flight to Dallas is only fifteen minutes and the first couple emerges after landing to a crowd of eager supporters. The motorcade makes its way through the streets of Dallas and at 12:29 p.m. everything goes dark as the nightmare begins changing history and Hill’s life forever.
As the tragedy unfolds in Dallas, Hill serves as our point man takings us through each development as it happened. We also get a feel for the emotions and thoughts going through the minds of everyone as they struggle to remained composed in the face of an unspeakable tragedy. The vivid reality of the chaos in Parkland and later on Air Force One becomes even clearer as Hill takes us through the day and all the way until Kennedy’s body returns to the east coast for the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital and his final placement in the coffin in which he was buried. Funeral arrangements, the arrival of family and guests combined with the changing of the guard in Washington prove to be heavy tasks on all present and each does their best under the strain. Up until Kennedy’s final moment before he lowered into the ground, Hill remains a loyal agent and intimate family friend.
Because this book is written by a former agent on Kennedy’s detail, some would expect it to have possible clues as to who might have killed the President. This is not the case and Hill sticks to the government’s story of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman. Whether Hill continues to believe that is beyond the scope of the book and a completely different discussion. What this book is, is a poignant memoir by a man who remains haunted by those five days in November, 1963.