As JFK docs opened, North Dakotan Secret Service vet cries foul on conspiracy theories
Almost 54 years have passed since John F. Kennedy was slain in Dallas, and Clint Hill--a North Dakota native and member of the president's Secret Service detail--can still clearly remember every detail.
Almost 54 years have passed since John F. Kennedy was slain in Dallas, and Clint Hill-a North Dakota native and member of the president's Secret Service detail-can still clearly remember every detail.
It was Hill who leapt onto the back of Kennedy's automobile after shots echoed into Dealey Plaza, urging the driver to get the president to the hospital. It was Hill who coaxed a distraught Jackie Kennedy into letting go of her husband's body.
Hill, for decades, has found the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination "sickening." And though he knows there's intense interest in the new trove of assassination documents released by the Trump administration, he said he's sure they won't change what the history books-and his own experience-can tell him.
"If it had been released a long time ago, we'd have had all this information that people could digest over a long period of time and come to their own conclusions," Hill said in a Tuesday phone interview. "Now that they're going to have the opportunity, I'd say 'Have some good eyesight,' because there's a lot of reading to do."
The recent release has long been the subject of speculation. In 1992, Congress ordered the release to occur by Thursday. Most documents were released that evening online, though President Donald Trump ordered that some of them remain classified for at least the next six months pending further review.
Those thousands of documents, released Thursday, offer wide-ranging insights, outlining talks of secret operations against Cuba and shedding new light on the U.S.-Mexico intelligence partnership. They also threaten to breathe new life into the conspiracy-mongering that has been a hallmark of the assassination's history for decades. Hill, present for the assassination, watched those theories metastasize soon afterwards.
"It's just kind of sickening to know that people aren't listening to reason or the facts. All these are theories, and there is no factual information whatsoever," Hill said. He ticked through a kind of litany shortly after he said it, hitting all the relevant numbers. Three shots fired, a sixth-floor window, three spent shells found in the "sniper's nest."
"They just quite can't get it through their mind that one person could do all that, although, if they look at very recent history, they'll find out that there was one guy in Las Vegas recently who did considerable damage recently all by himself," Hill said. "There was a young man in Arizona who shot and seriously wounded (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.) all by himself, neither of whom had come to the attention of anybody before."
But UND history professor Al Berger said the new trove of documents won't silence conspiracy theorists. While there's no immediate evidence that the documents will revise popular understanding-that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone-he said that the fact that the government itself is releasing the files means conspiracy theorists will always wonder what else there is to know.
"I think, though, the most important takeaway for the story is the documents are available online," he said. "Don't take my word for it. Take a look for yourself."
Hill was born in Larimore but grew up in Washburn, N.D., and, though he splits his time between Virginia and California, he still calls North Dakota home. He juggles a busy schedule that, in recent years, has been dominated by the three books he's co-authored about his life in the Secret Service.
The life that comes with authorship-speaking and thinking consistently about the event that affected him so deeply-has had a therapeutic effect on Hill. Assigned to a desk job after the assassination, his health deteriorated, and he was "retired" in 1975. He had nightmares, and he carried a heavy sense of guilt. Now, Hill said, he's come to realize he was grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I've learned it's a lot harder than you think it is to let go of it. It's so embedded in your brain that it's difficult to deal with," he said. "I can understand, when troops come back from Afghanistan or Iraq or some places, the things that they had witnessed are so ingrained in their brain that they're going to suffer."
But even though Hill has learned to grapple with what happened in Dallas 54 years ago, he finds it hard to avoid thoughts of Kennedy's Camelot-a feeling likely visiting countless Americans this week as they remember where they were on Nov. 22, 1963.
"Every day, there's something that reminds me of either the Kennedy administration, Mrs. Kennedy, or President Kennedy or the children," Hill said. "There isn't a day that goes by that there isn't a song I hear, a magazine I see the cover of, a newspaper article, something mentioned on the TV or on the radio-every day, there's something."