Recently, I re-visited my adolescence obsession over the JFK assassination. Maybe it was because in high school, I had written a thesis paper on who I thought had killed President Kennedy. Maybe it was because of my mother’s fond comments of JFK Jr., who at the age of only 3, saluted his deceased father as his casket passed by him. Maybe it was the strong sympathy I felt for the Kennedy family when I learned of their subsequent tragedies: that his brother, “Bobby” Kennedy was later also assassinated, that his son, JFK Jr., and his wife died in a plane crash, and that widow, Jackie, died of cancer at the age of 64. When the movie, Jackie was released, I was reading two books written by Clint Hill, the secret service agent assigned to protect Jackie and the agent who threw himself over President Kennedy and Jackie after the first gunshot was fired. After watching the film, I was incredibly disappointed because of the horrible job it did. It failed to portray the charming, elegant yet strong Jackie; it had a list of historic inaccuracies which didn’t even enhance the movie; and it made a poor decision by not including scenes of emotional significance.
For those of you who want to learn more about Mrs. Kennedy, and I call her Mrs. Kennedy instead of Mrs. Onassis because the stories were when she was JFK’s wife, I encourage you to read Mrs. Kennedy and Me as well as Five Days in November, both written by Agent Clint Hill.
The movie, Jackie sucked. Jackie, played by Natalie Portman, was not Jackie. She had little charisma, First Lady presence, and strength. This was the First Lady who managed to charm the President of France, President de Gaulle, the leader who was notoriously known for being not so easy-going. Jackie used her fluency in French and her deep knowledge of the country (she had studied there during college) that helped build a positive relationship between President Kennedy and President de Gaulle. She was the woman whom JFK had joked in speeches that he was honored to be accompanying her on trips.
Contrary to the movie, Jackie never went back and forth about marching from the Capitol to the Cathedral then to Arlington National Cemetery for the president’s funeral. She made this decision from the beginning and stood by it despite the obvious safety nightmare because more than one hundred world leaders would be doing the same with her along with America’s new president, President Johnson.
After President Kennedy’s body was transported back to Washington, D.C., his casket was placed on a catafalque, in the East Room of the White House, surrounded by honor guards. Did you know that Jackie and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, his brother, later went into the room because they wanted to open the casket and see the president? Jackie then asked Agent Hill for a pair of scissors. After they left, Hill checked to ensure the casket was closed properly and checked his watch: the time was 12:46 P.M.. Hill returned the scissors back to the drawer and noticed that there was a strand of chestnut-colored hair. The movie never made this scene.
Painful memories could be an anti catalyst, keeping two people who once cared for each other away from each other.
In May of 1994, Agent Hill had already been retired for 19 years. He received a phone call to meet with the President at the time, Bill Clinton. Jackie had became ill and President Clinton asked about the agent who protected her because he wanted to personally thank him for his services. The appointment was set for May 19. Hill was honored at this request and met with the president at the Oval Office for about ten minutes. After he met with President Clinton, he did what he usually did before going to bed: watch Nightline. At 11:35 P.M., an announcement began: “Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died only a few moments ago, this evening at 10:15 eastern time at the age of sixty-four.”
When Hill learned the news of Jackie (through the media) becoming ill but was still treatable, he had wanted to call her to see how she was doing. Hill talked himself out of it because he knew the sound of his voice would bring pain to the both of them; it’d bring them back to the day when JFK was murdered right in front of them.
Hill had vowed that he would never share his experience in the Secret Service to any book. However, after participating in a Kennedy related project, he realized that his experience was of historic interest to the public. I am thankful that Agent Hill decided to share his anecdotes of the Kennedy family, especially of Jackie whom he loved and protected with his life, even though doing so had brought back sorrow to him and the readers.