It is interesting to note that of these five presidents, only Eisenhower had a normal run as president- elected by the people and serving two full terms. Kennedy was elected in 1960 by the slimmest of margins, and his term lasted just one thousand days, cut short by an assassin. Suddenly, the vice president became president. Johnson was reelected the following year, but when the demands of the office and the causalities of the Vietnam War became more than he could bear, he chose not to run for a second term. Nixon was elected in 1968, and again in 1972, but in the wake of the Watergate scandal, he became the first United States president to resign, in 1974. A year earlier, when Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned in disgrace, Nixon appointment Gerald Ford as vice president . Thus upon Nixon’s resignation, Ford became president, never having been elected to the office.
Sorry for the long quote but it is the best introduction/ synopsis of Clint Hill’s Five Presidents which is part memoir and part history book about the years Hill was an agent in the Secret Service. I read Mrs. Kennedy and Me last year but that focused on just a small portion of Hill’s career protecting the first families of America. Clint is best known for being the first agent onto the car in Dallas following the assassination of President Kennedy and he has written two books (Mrs. Kennedy and Me as well as Five Days in November) that focus on his time with the Kennedy family. This book, which only briefly touches on the Kennedy years, is all encompassing of his decades long career with the secret service. Fans of American history will enjoy this book if not for the first hand point of view Hill offers then at least for the pages of personal photos provided.
Hill is a serviceable writer but his unparalleled experiences elevate this book to a must read for anyone interested in past presidents. Like Kate Anderson Bower’s The Residence, Five Presidents gives the reader unfettered access to the day to day activities of the most powerful man in America. This was also an interesting history lesson because Hill was around for many changes that are still in effect today; for example, prior to Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, presidential candidates did not have secret service agents and, prior to Spiro Agnew, the vice president did not have a government provided residence, plane or even staff doctor!
I spent much of this book wondering what the current secret service agents must be feeling- and who will retire first and pen a novel on the Trump years- because while agents have to be apolitical they still have opinions on what is going on around them. Hill, who was taken off the presidential service when Nixon came on board because Nixon didn’t like how close Hill had been to Kennedy and LBJ, indicates he wasn’t a big fan of the 37th president especially when things began to go south for the administration.
In the end, Hill’s health was greatly affected by the hours and stress the job put on his body, as well as the undiagnosed PTSD he suffered from following the Kennedy assassination, and he was ultimately forced to retire shortly into the Ford administration when he failed his physical. To this day Hill is deeply affected by the events that transpired on November 22, 1963.