FARGO — This Friday marks the 56th anniversary of one of the most tragic days in American history: The assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The anniversary allows us to reflect on the heroism of Washburn, N.D., native and Concordia College graduate Clint Hill.
Hill, 87, was a Secret Service agent who served with distinction under five presidents. On that fateful day in Dallas, he was in the presidential motorcade positioned on the left front running board of the Secret Service vehicle, right behind the presidential limousine. It was a day that Hill vividly remembers. I had the honor of interviewing him about it.
“I saw the president grab at his throat and started to fall to his left,“ Hill said. “At that time I realized it was a gunshot.”
So, Hill immediately demonstrated tremendous bravery and courage as he tried to protect the Kennedys, while risking his own life.
“I jumped from my position and began to run toward the presidential vehicle in an attempt to get on top of the rear, and form a barrier to protect the president and Mrs. Kennedy…As I approached the presidential vehicle another shot rang out and this one hit the president right in the head. That caused emptying of material, brain matter, bone segments and blood, and that material got all over me, the back of the car, and Mrs. Kennedy, and then he fell to his left.”
Hill said at that point, Jackie Kennedy got up on the trunk trying to grab the president’s brain material, and he put her in the back seat again.
“I looked down and I could see a hole in his skull,” Hill said. “So I turned and gave a thumbs down to the agents in the follow up car. It just lasted around six seconds. And then I hollered to the driver to get us to a hospital.”
Hill said the assassination changed his life, and he’s had a difficult time dealing with it. “I had a sense that I should have done better,” Hill said. “I was given a responsibility to protect the president of the United States, and I along with my team of guys failed to do so, and that really bothered me over the years.”
Hill has been too hard on himself. He did all he could, but there was nothing he could have done to save Kennedy. In 1990, 27 years after the shootings, Hill went back to Dallas and checked out the area where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots. Hill said he realized that Oswald had all the advantages, so he feels better about himself, but he will still never get over what happened.
“This happened on my watch and we should not have allowed this to happen,” he said.
Hill disputes any of the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination. “There’s no question in my mind that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone,” he said. “The evidence is conclusive.”
For his esteemed career, Hill received the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award last year, the highest honor in North Dakota.
“It’s kind of special being acknowledged by your home state. It’s probably the highest award I could ever receive,” Hill said. “I am very proud to say I am a North Dakotan.”
North Dakota and the nation are very proud of Clint Hill.