Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin

Title: Five Presidents:  My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford
Author: Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin
Read by: George Newbern
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 14 hours and 32 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

Clint Hill was a secret service agent for five presidents starting with Eisenhower.  Raised in a Lutheran family in North Dakota, Hill married girlfriend Gwen while a junior in college.  After college he served in the army and then looked for a steady history teacher / coach job, but couldn’t find one that would support his family.  He applied for a secret service job and after a few retirements was lucky to be hired on full time with the secret service.

What Clint Hill didn’t realize at that time, was that he was about to become a firsthand witness to many of the iconic events of United States history from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.  He is most remembered as the secret service man that crawled up onto the back of the car after JFK’s assassination and pushed first lady Jackie Kennedy back into the seat for protection.  That would ultimately define Clint Hill to not only the nation, but also to himself as he struggled for years from the post-traumatic stress of the event.

I enjoyed this book immensely and have been telling all of my friends, relatives, and students great tidbits of history from it.  While the raucous 2016 election cycle continues, I enjoyed learning more about past presidents and how different and similar they are to our current political climate.  One of the things I was most disturbed about was that Clint Hill thought the events of 2016 reminded him of the tumultuous year of 1968.  What was the best for me is that Hill was able to tell the story of these presidents from a different side than I had read before.  This was someone who was intimately involved with these great leaders and had no political agenda.

Clint Hill greatly admired Eisenhower and learned a lot from traveling with him and seeing the adoration he inspired from countries all over the world.  He also saw that he was truly lucky to have been born in the United States.  Eisenhower had a great work schedule that I am in awe of.  He would have intense work for half the day and then would golf the other half.  For all that gets said in the media about the golf and vacations of our last two presidents, they have nothing on these presidents of the past.

I enjoyed learning about the Kennedy years where Hill was assigned as the first lady’s secret service.  As Kennedy was the first Catholic President, there was a lot of fear at that time of the unknown.  I enjoyed learning about how personable Kennedy was, learning all of the secret service men’s names and families.  They felt like part of the family.  Hill describes it as being the glowing Camelot years as you’ve always heard about, that’s what makes the assassination of President Kennedy even more devastating.

Lyndon Johnson was a complicated man.  He didn’t trust his detail or make their guard of him very easy, which I found strange as the president right before him had been assassinated.  He was crude, loud mouthed, and vulgar at times, but although he didn’t seem to have empathy for those that were close to him, he had great empathy for the people of the nation.  I was touched by how the Vietnam War affected him so deeply and of his secret prayer meetings with a Catholic priest.  Being raised by parents who always blamed Johnson for Vietnam, it was interesting to read about how much he truly suffered and tried to get the United States out of the conflict.

After being in charge of the President’s detail, Hill was moved to guard Vice President Spiro Agnew.  In a political year where there seems to be no bars, it was interesting to read how taxes brought Agnew down and the entire Watergate Scandal brought down Nixon.  I didn’t know much about Agnew besides his resignation, but he sounds like he was a good man.  Hill moved up the chain at the end of Nixon’s administration, but the pressures of the job took their toll and he retired early, not too far into Ford’s administration.

Hill has written two more books about the Kennedy years and I really would like to read them.  Not only was the living history excellent in this book, but I also enjoyed learning more about the pressures of working for the secret service.  I thought I work a lot, but Hill hardly saw his family or spent the holidays with them with his travels with the Presidents and duties.

George Newbern was an excellent narrator and I thought of him as the voice of Clint Hill.  I listened to this book on my way to and from downstate Michigan and it kept me riveted the entire way and also kept me from falling asleep!

Favorite Quote:

“If there was one thing I had learned . . . it was that politics was a damn dirty business”

Overall, Five Presidents is an excellent book of living history of what it took to be a secret service man and the details of the moments that made our modern United States history.


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  2. Excellent review, Laura! This sounds very interesting and informative. Timely listening as we approach election day!