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A best-seller that goes deep inside the Secret Service

Five Presidents

By Clint Hill, with Lisa McCubbin

Gallery Books

451 pages, $28

By Lee Coppola

Clint Hill, best remembered as the Secret Service agent who scrambled onto the trunk of the presidential limousine to protect Jacqueline Kennedy when President Kennedy was shot, now reveals aspects of his career before and after that fateful day in Dallas.

And what juicy tips of presidential doings does the reader learn?

• That Richard Nixon demanded a certain agent be assigned to guard presidential candidate Ted Kennedy so the Nixon camp would have an informant inside a political rival’s campaign.

• That the author often would accompany Dwight Eisenhower on the golf course, carrying in his bag two old clubs and a .30 caliber carbine.

• That before he was to guard Jacqueline Kennedy on a trip to Greece, the author was told by her husband, “whatever you do in Greece, do not let Mrs. Kennedy cross paths with Aristotle Onassis.”

• That Mrs. Kennedy, just before her husband’s casket was closed, snipped off a lock of his hair.

• That Lyndon Johnson, in his pajamas, shopped for gifts on Christmas eve in the PX of an air force base in Portugal.

• That Spiro Agnew, once aboard Air Force Two, played pinochle or gin with secret service agents and fit his out-of-town schedule to coincide with Baltimore Colts games.

• That Nixon operatives most likely were behind the investigation that led to Agnew’s criminal conviction and resignation.

• That Gerald Ford was kind and humble, but doomed his presidency when he pardoned Richard Nixon.

For the most part, Hill provides detailed insight into the lives of secret service agents who spend far more time with those they guard than with those they love.

Much of Five describes the meticulous details attended to when a president leaves the White House to travel domestically or overseas. For instance, for a summit meeting with Russian President Boris Kosygin in Glassboro, N.J., the service took over the house of the president of Glassboro State College.

“In the wee hours of June 23,” Hill writes, “Secret Service agents and White House Communications Agency engineers streamed into the house. The first problem was that the house had no air conditioning. Unfortunately, the home’s antiquated wiring system couldn’t support even small window air-conditioning units, so the power company was called in to deliver and install a transformer, while electricians rewired the entire house.”

Furniture was removed for conference-style tables and chairs, telephone lines were installed for both American and Soviet delegations, heavy drapes were hung for privacy and the kitchen was ripped apart for professional, heavy-duty appliances.

All for two days of discussion.

Hill manages to mingle his Secret Service duties with presidential personalities, and he makes it obvious that Nixon was his least favorite of the five presidents who comprise the book’s title.

He was the agent in charge of the Lyndon Johnson detail, so Johnson and his penchant for doing the unexpected gets the bulk of the book’s attention. Johnson’s tendency to leave the protection of his armored limousine to greet adoring crowds, for instance, or his habit of bolting without notice from his Texas ranch to take guests for a ride in his convertible.

What’s missing in “Five,” perhaps because of a reluctance to speak ill of his bosses, were any tawdry revelations about the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Oh, there was the time Nixon snuck off in the dark of early morning to the Lincoln Memorial where flabbergasted agents found him preaching to a group of college students. But no mention of female guests sneaked into the White House during President Kennedy’s reign.

And although he hints at the toll an agent’s life takes on his family, Hill fails to elaborate on how the weeks away and the missed holidays and special occasions affected his family.

How that fateful day in Dallas affected him he does explain. “My anguish had been buried inside of me for twelve years,” he writes about a “60 Minutes” interview in which he tearfully told Mike Wallace he felt guilty he had not acted a split-second sooner and perhaps saved President Kennedy’s life. And he admits he drank too much and fell into depression after he was deemed physically unfit to serve. But, again, nothing about how that impacted his family life.

Hill has written two other books about his Secret Service days, both in collaboration with Lisa McCubbin. The first, “Mrs. Kennedy and Me,” outlines the year he spent guarding the president’s widow and her children after the assassination. The second, “Five Days in November,” covers the assassination and its aftermath.

Lee Coppola is a former print and TV journalist, a former federal prosecutor and the former dean of St. Bonaventure University’s Jandoli Journalism School.

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