As a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service, I had the honor and privilege of serving five presidents—Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and Gerald R. Ford—three Republicans and two Democrats. From my unique vantage point, I had the rare opportunity to observe the human side of these men—the most powerful men in the world—as each dealt with the enormous responsibilities and unforeseen challenges thrust upon them, and how their individual characters and personalities affected grave decisions.
My seventeen years in the Secret Service spanned the period that encompassed the U-2 spy incident; the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy; the civil rights movement, riots and burning of major U.S. cities; the Vietnam War; Watergate; and the resignations of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and President Nixon. In less than two decades, America went from being unquestionably the most respected and admired nation in the world to a country whose image had become tarnished by violence, scandal, and deceit.
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 casualties 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 appointed Gerald Ford as vice president. Thus, upon Nixon’s resignation, Ford became president, never having been elected to the office.
It was a turbulent time, and there I was, in the middle of it all.
As with our two previous books, my talented writing partner, Lisa McCubbin, and I have attempted to bring history to life through my experiences. While Mrs. Kennedy and Me focused on my interactions with Jacqueline Kennedy, and Five Days in November detailed those tragic days surrounding the assassination, the Kennedy section in this book focuses on my observations of and interactions with President Kennedy. There is unavoidably some overlap, but the recollections of my years with Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford are revealed here for the first time.
There is no doubt that the assassination of President Kennedy was a defining moment for me, and it would affect me on many levels for the rest of my life. I was thrust onto the pages of history, but it has often bothered me that I would be remembered solely for my actions on that one day. For there was much that led up to that moment, and much that followed.
Like the five presidents I served, there were many things that influenced the decisions I made, the actions I took, the man I became.
It has indeed been an extraordinary journey.