The Final Witnesses: What JFK’s Secret Service Bodyguards Saw

The Warren Commission concluded Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin in JFK's murder and that all three shots came from the Texas School Book Depository. The Secret Service team wasn’t so certain.


November 22, 1963, was the end of innocence for a generation. It was also a profound setback for the 34 US Secret Service agents assigned to protect the youthful president, even when John F. Kennedy sometimes banned them from his car or spontaneously engaged with crowds.

The handful of Secret Service agents who survive still carry their terrible guilt and conflicting memories. Here are five personal recollections of November 22, 1963, a day that continues to haunt so many.

Paul Landis, US Secret Service

Author: The Final Witness (2023)
Role:
Protecting Jacqueline Kennedy
Personal Details:
Born 1935 in Worthington, Ohio. Landis joined the Secret Service in 1959, at age 24, initially to look after the Kennedy children.


Former Secret Service Agent Paul Landis was standing near the rear bumper of the follow-up car behind the US president when he heard the sound of a high-powered rifle. He turned and saw a bullet hit John F. Kennedy.

Paul Landis, US Secret Service during the JFK assassination
Paul Landis

When the motorcade stopped at Parkland Hospital, Kennedy was lifted onto a gurney. That’s when Landis said he found a bullet on the top of the rear car seat behind where Kennedy was shot. He recalled picking it up and bringing it into Trauma Room No. 1, then placing it on a white cotton blanket on the president’s stretcher. He expected the bullet to be found by the doctors during an autopsy.

If Landis’ recollection is accurate, his account could upend key conclusions of the Warren Commission - including the lone gunman theory. Memories can be affected by trauma, however.

Landis, who said he had PTSD for years after the shooting, didn’t testify before the Warren Commission. Instead, Landis left the Secret Service months after the assassination. He felt unable to even read about Kennedy's death until 2014 when he began to process his memories. Landis broke his silence in his 2023 book The Final Witness, which led to questions about his recollection. Despite the apparent inconsistencies with Landis’ earlier statements, the revelations forced a reconsideration of one of America's most pivotal moments.

Clint Hill, US Secret Service

Author: Five Days in November (2013)
Role:
Protecting Jacqueline Kennedy
Personal Details:
Born in North Dakota 1932. Worked in US Army counterintelligence and joined the Secret Service as a Special Agent in 1958.


Hill was on the running board of the car behind the Kennedys, scanning the grassy area to his left as they approached an overpass. He was about 10 feet from the US president. “All of a sudden I heard this explosive noise over my right shoulder. I turned my head, started looking toward the right, but only got as far as the back of the presidential vehicle and I saw the president grabbing his throat and starting to fall to his left,” Hill recalled in a 2023 interview

Clint Hill, US Secret Service during the Kennedy Assassination
Clint Hil

Desperate to ward off further gunfire, Clint Hill ran from the follow-up car and hurled himself onto the president's limo to shield the Kennedys. As Mrs. Kennedy started to get up on the trunk, Hill helped her back into her seat. He saw the president’s condition and did not believe JFK was alive. Hill turned and gave a thumbs down to fellow agents in the follow-up car.

Still clinging to the limo with his left hand and one foot, Hill recalled arriving at the hospital and trying to convince Mrs. Kennedy to let go of her husband’s body. Hill, who’d been with the First Lady for three years, took off his suit coat and covered the president. “And, when I did that, she just let go.”

Hill was tormented by the events, wondering if he could have done more to save the president. He drank himself into a depression. “Every advantage went to the shooter that day, and we had none,” Hill said later. He discovered talking was a cure when he met Washington journalist Lisa McCubbin. They became friends and married in 2021. The memories still trouble Hill every day.

Roy Kellerman, US Secret Service

Role: Senior Agent In charge of the Secret Service operation on November 22, 1963.
Personal Details:
Native of New Baltimore, Michigan (1915 -1984). He was a former trooper for the Michigan State Police.


Roy Kellerman had more than 20 years of experience with the Secret Service and was in charge of the Dallas security operation on Nov 22, 1963.

Roy Kellerman

He was in the front passenger seat of JFK’s limo and briefly turned back when the first shot was fired. He described a shot that sounded like a firecracker, then two more gunshots that ended in a ‘flurry’ of shells, indicating more than three shots had been fired.

Kellerman told the Warren Commission that Kenneth O'Donnell - special assistant to Kennedy - had decided that the bubble top on the President's car should be removed if the weather was clear that day. After Roy Kellerman's death, his widow reported that her husband was convinced there had been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.



The Final Witnesses: What JFK’s Secret Service Bodyguards Saw

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The Warren Commission concluded Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin in JFK's murder and that all three shots came from the Texas School Book Depository. The Secret Service team wasn’t so certain.


November 22, 1963, was the end of innocence for a generation. It was also a profound setback for the 34 US Secret Service agents assigned to protect the youthful president, even when John F. Kennedy sometimes banned them from his car or spontaneously engaged with crowds.

The handful of Secret Service agents who survive still carry their terrible guilt and conflicting memories. Here are five personal recollections of November 22, 1963, a day that continues to haunt so many.

Paul Landis, US Secret Service

Author: The Final Witness (2023)
Role:
Protecting Jacqueline Kennedy
Personal Details:
Born 1935 in Worthington, Ohio. Landis joined the Secret Service in 1959, at age 24, initially to look after the Kennedy children.


Former Secret Service Agent Paul Landis was standing near the rear bumper of the follow-up car behind the US president when he heard the sound of a high-powered rifle. He turned and saw a bullet hit John F. Kennedy.

Paul Landis, US Secret Service during the JFK assassination
Paul Landis

When the motorcade stopped at Parkland Hospital, Kennedy was lifted onto a gurney. That’s when Landis said he found a bullet on the top of the rear car seat behind where Kennedy was shot. He recalled picking it up and bringing it into Trauma Room No. 1, then placing it on a white cotton blanket on the president’s stretcher. He expected the bullet to be found by the doctors during an autopsy.

If Landis’ recollection is accurate, his account could upend key conclusions of the Warren Commission - including the lone gunman theory. Memories can be affected by trauma, however.

Landis, who said he had PTSD for years after the shooting, didn’t testify before the Warren Commission. Instead, Landis left the Secret Service months after the assassination. He felt unable to even read about Kennedy's death until 2014 when he began to process his memories. Landis broke his silence in his 2023 book The Final Witness, which led to questions about his recollection. Despite the apparent inconsistencies with Landis’ earlier statements, the revelations forced a reconsideration of one of America's most pivotal moments.

Clint Hill, US Secret Service

Author: Five Days in November (2013)
Role:
Protecting Jacqueline Kennedy
Personal Details:
Born in North Dakota 1932. Worked in US Army counterintelligence and joined the Secret Service as a Special Agent in 1958.


Hill was on the running board of the car behind the Kennedys, scanning the grassy area to his left as they approached an overpass. He was about 10 feet from the US president. “All of a sudden I heard this explosive noise over my right shoulder. I turned my head, started looking toward the right, but only got as far as the back of the presidential vehicle and I saw the president grabbing his throat and starting to fall to his left,” Hill recalled in a 2023 interview

Clint Hill, US Secret Service during the Kennedy Assassination
Clint Hil

Desperate to ward off further gunfire, Clint Hill ran from the follow-up car and hurled himself onto the president's limo to shield the Kennedys. As Mrs. Kennedy started to get up on the trunk, Hill helped her back into her seat. He saw the president’s condition and did not believe JFK was alive. Hill turned and gave a thumbs down to fellow agents in the follow-up car.

Still clinging to the limo with his left hand and one foot, Hill recalled arriving at the hospital and trying to convince Mrs. Kennedy to let go of her husband’s body. Hill, who’d been with the First Lady for three years, took off his suit coat and covered the president. “And, when I did that, she just let go.”

Hill was tormented by the events, wondering if he could have done more to save the president. He drank himself into a depression. “Every advantage went to the shooter that day, and we had none,” Hill said later. He discovered talking was a cure when he met Washington journalist Lisa McCubbin. They became friends and married in 2021. The memories still trouble Hill every day.

Roy Kellerman, US Secret Service

Role: Senior Agent In charge of the Secret Service operation on November 22, 1963.
Personal Details:
Native of New Baltimore, Michigan (1915 -1984). He was a former trooper for the Michigan State Police.


Roy Kellerman had more than 20 years of experience with the Secret Service and was in charge of the Dallas security operation on Nov 22, 1963.

Roy Kellerman

He was in the front passenger seat of JFK’s limo and briefly turned back when the first shot was fired. He described a shot that sounded like a firecracker, then two more gunshots that ended in a ‘flurry’ of shells, indicating more than three shots had been fired.

Kellerman told the Warren Commission that Kenneth O'Donnell - special assistant to Kennedy - had decided that the bubble top on the President's car should be removed if the weather was clear that day. After Roy Kellerman's death, his widow reported that her husband was convinced there had been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.



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William Robert Greer, US Secret Service

Role: JFK’s driver
Personal Details:
William Greer (1909 - 1985) was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, and emigrated to the US in 1929. Greer, a former chauffeur, enlisted in the US Navy and joined the Secret Service in 1944.

William Greer, JFK's driver in Dallas, Texas
William Robert Greer

US Secret Service Agent William Greer was driving the Kennedy's limo and his actions are still analyzed today. Did Greer slow down when he should have sped up? Greer insists he accelerated but the Zapruder home movie suggests otherwise, as do some - but not all - eyewitnesses.

Greer later said, "I heard this noise… And then I heard it again. And I glanced over my shoulder. And I saw Governor [John] Connally, like he was starting to fall. Then I realized there was something wrong. I tramped on the accelerator, and at the same time Mr. Kellerman said to me, 'Get out of here fast.' … I cannot quite remember anymore. I did not see anything happen to me anymore because I was occupied with getting away."

Greer said he heard three shots - all coming from behind. But his recollection of Kennedy's condition at Parkland Hospital contradicted photos published later.

Gerald Blaine, US Secret Service

Author: The Kennedy Detail (2011) Role: Special Agent working with the Advance Team on Nov. 22, 1963.
Personal Details
: Born in Boise, Idaho in 1932, Blaine worked for the Secret Service from 1959 to 1964, starting with Eisenhower and ending with Johnson.

Gerald Blaine was a Secret Service Special Agent in the ‘60s, an era when agents operated with hand signals and pocketed a stack of 3” x 5” cards describing what the threats might be. There were no special weapons or fingerprint scanners.

Gerald Blaine

On November 22, 1963, Blaine was doing advance security in Austin, Texas, the president’s next stop after Dallas. Blaine was in his hotel room when his shift leader banged on the door telling him the president was hit. The Secret Service team immediately left for the Air Force base and headed home. Not a word was exchanged on the trip.

They learned at Andrews that John F. Kennedy was dead. Blaine was reassigned to cover Lyndon Baines Johnson, the new president. “It just kind of knocked the wind out of you,” Blaine said later. “It was like losing a friend.”

The Kennedys arrive in Dallas, November 22, 1963

Memories fade with age

The White House has hundreds of Secret Service agents protecting the US president today compared to 34 back in 1963. Among the very few survivors of the assassination, their memories may have faded with age or been distorted by the trauma. The US Secret Service agents didn’t even discuss Kennedy's death as part of a group until a 2010 reunion, Gerald Blaine said. Some never talked about it as a team.

Clint Hill, known forever after November 22, 1963, as the agent who jumped on the back of the presidential limo, finally returned to Dealey Plaza in 1990. He went up to the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository and wandered around the area for a week. He did the same again in 2010, searching for the answer to a question that gnawed at him for decades: Could he have saved the president?

Hill concluded that the weather, the street configuration, and the location of the Book Depository all played a factor in Kennedy’s death. ”The shooter who had secreted himself on the sixth floor had an ideal situation develop,” Hill added and, after almost 50 years, Hill finally let go. “From that point on, I quit blaming myself for the president’s death."

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