Washington: Former US president John F Kennedy told his secret service agents to give him space to campaign days before he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
On the 47th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, his bodyguards, talking for the first time, said the charismatic president was a difficult man to protect.
After years of trying to figure out what they could have done differently, many agents have come to accept that Kennedy’s death was not their fault.
Four days before the fateful 1963 motorcade in Dallas when John F Kennedy was fatally shot in the head, the young president had requested that his secret service agents give him some space.
"President Kennedy made a decision, and he politely told everybody, `You know, we`re starting the campaign now, and the people are my asset`," said agent Jerry Blaine. "And so, we all of a sudden understood. It left a firm command to stay off the back of the car."
Blaine`s revelations, as well as those from JFK`s secret service agents in a forthcoming book, "The Kennedy Detail" and in a series of interviews with the Discovery Channel, reveal how challenging this charismatic president could be to protect and how shaken his murder left those whose job it was to keep him safe.
They were well trained and extraordinarily professional. They were dedicated to the President and especially to the honour of the presidency. Most of all, the Secret Service agents assigned to protect John F Kennedy were stoic and silent.
They did not talk about their feelings for JFK. And they did not discuss their emotions about his death -- not with each other and not to the world -- until now.
Forty-seven years later, their words offer a new window into an event that transformed not just the nation, but also the men who were supposed to keep him safe.
What emerges from the interviews is a deep sense of grief and remorse. For their jobs and their country, the agents sacrificed sleep, personal freedoms, and time with their families in order to protect the lives of others.
They became a tightly knit group. As they reunite with each other and recount their memories of the assassination, many of them unleash tears.
"It was an assault on our country, on every single thing that we stand for," said agent Toby Chandler, who was giving a speech to agents-in-training when the news came in from Dallas.
He added: "It was a thing that just must not be allowed to happen. And we were supposed to prevent it. And we failed."
Still, the shooting in Dallas surprised everyone. When agent Paul Landis heard the first shot from his seat in the car behind Kennedy, he continued to scan the buildings and the crowds. But he didn’t see anything.
"I thought, `Well maybe there was a blow-out or something. When the third shot happened, I saw the President’s head explode, just like a melon. And well, I knew as soon as he’d been hit, there was no way he was gonna survive that’," Landis said.
For the men who weren`t on the scene, shock hit first. But they had jobs to do. So, they pushed aside their emotions and went to work -- moving the children to a home in Georgetown, escorting the President`s body to the White House, and later accompanying the First Lady on her powerful, yet dangerous walk from the White House to St Matthew`s Cathedral.
Eventually, each agent moved on.
As close as they were during the Kennedy administration, many of the agents lost touch with each other in the years following the assassination. Many agonised about what they could have done differently to prevent the shooting. Eventually, they tried to forget.