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North Dakota native recalls years spent traveling the world with Jackie Kennedy

Clint Hill is best known as the Secret Service agent who was protecting the first lady on the day of the assassination, but his new book, "My Travels with Mrs. Kennedy," is a look back at the happier times and the deep bond between the world's most famous woman and the kid from Washburn.

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North Dakota native and Concordia College graduate Clint Hill was the Secret Service agent assigned to protect first lady Jacqueline Kennedy during her years in The White House and on trips like this one to the coastal resort city of Ravello, Italy. Most of the time he wore a suit and dark sunglasses, he dressed down on this trip. "My usual Florsheim wingtips looked out of place, so Mrs. Kennedy convinced me to buy a pair of handmade Italian loafers," Hill recalled.
Contributed / Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Clint Hill could only imagine what he’d see inside the trunk he had found in the garage that crisp September day of 2019.

It had been more than 50 years since he had laid eyes upon it, having been tucked way in the garage underneath the house since 1967.

It had weathered a lot through the years — heat, humidity, cold, even floodwaters.

“The drive was under waist-deep water at one time. That trunk was here then. I'm sure it's full of nasties,” he told his wife, Lisa McCubbin Hill, who was eager to see what was inside.

“As soon as Lisa saw it, she wanted to open that thing up,” Hill says with a chuckle.

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Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin Hill found an old trunk from Hill's time in the Secret Service. He dismissed a lot of the contents as worthless, but Lisa didn't. "He's pulling out unopened Air Force One cards and JFK tie clips and pins, and he said, 'Look, it's just junk. You know, just presidential gifts and stuff, nothing of any consequence.' And I'm like, 'OK, maybe not to you,'" she said.
Contributed / Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster

You can hardly blame her. This was no ordinary trunk. In white stenciled letters it was labeled, “Clinton Hill, The White House, Washington, D.C.”

Hill, a North Dakota native and Concordia College graduate, was a Secret Service agent from 1958 to 1975, serving five presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Gerald Ford. He is best known for being in the motorcade the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

What kind of memories from those days could be inside this trunk?

Clint convinced Lisa to wait a day to open it until they could get some rubber gloves and garbage bags.

“He really kind of scared me,” McCubbin Hill said. “I thought there were going to be worms and snakes and rats crawling out of it when we opened it up. So I was really kind of nervous about it.”

But she needn’t have been. The items inside had been amazingly well-preserved and, more importantly, provided a priceless glimpse inside Hill’s life during the Kennedy years. Not the memories so often associated with Hill and Jacqueline Kennedy — Hill climbing atop the car after the shots were fired and Mrs. Kennedy, in her bloodied pink suit, reaching for her husband.

Instead, the trunk contained the remnants of happier times when Hill traveled the world alongside the first lady with whom he formed a bond like he would no other.

Forgotten photos, mementos and handwritten notes helping shake loose the memories.

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While going through the trunk, Hill found old photographs, mementos, notes, and a scrapbook from his years traveling with Mrs. Kennedy. This is a page from the scrapbook Mrs. Kennedy put together for Hill when he left her service. The photo was from what he called his "favorite trip" to the Amalfi coast, where he had time to relax a bit with Agent Toby Chandler (left) and two Italian security men in the background.
Contributed / Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster

“And as we started to pull things out, one after another, you know, it reminded me of something back when,” Hill said, “The memories that came out of this trunk are very happy memories.”

Based upon what they found in the trunk, Hill and McCubbin Hill, both New York Times bestselling authors for their previous books about Hill’s service, decided to write another book, “My Travels with Mrs. Kennedy,” which gives readers a different view of the first lady, as she traveled from London and Paris to Greece, Morocco, Mexico and beyond in the early 1960s. It also details Hill’s experience of what it was like to protect her from the often adoring crowds.

A long way from North Dakota

Long before the exotic trips with the most famous woman in the world, Hill was just a kid growing up in Washburn, North Dakota. He later attended Concordia College, where he played football, basketball and baseball and studied history. Following graduation in 1954, Hill joined the army, became a Counterintelligence Special Agent and later joined the Secret Service.

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Clint Hill received a lot of media attention back home in North Dakota when he was assigned to first protect President Eisenhower and later Jacqueline Kennedy. Reporters wrote about him in great detail. From a 1961 story from The Forum: “(Hill) is a well-knit chap with close-cropped, curly brown hair. He carries 185 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame and a 38 revolver on his left hip. He looks as if he could have turned in a pretty fair performance as a halfback in college. But he was an end instead at Concordia College.”
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In 1958, Hill served on the detail for President Eisenhower. After Kennedy was elected president, Hill was assigned to protect the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.

Hill said at first his relationship was “cold and distant” with Mrs. Kennedy because she didn't want anybody looking over her shoulder 24 hours a day.

“And I understood that. But as time went on we developed a better relationship and she began to really trust me, have confidence in me and rely on me for certain things,” he said.

By 1962, after two years with the first lady, she trusted Hill so much he was one of only two people she took on a trip to Ravello, Italy. The first was her personal assistant. It was Agent Hill she trusted to handle the press, the protocol and the contact with foreign governments.

“Well, that was not in my job description. But I knew that's what it was going to be from that point on. And it was. It was interesting and fun. It was nice to know she trusted me that much,” Hill said.

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Clint Hill said Mrs. Kennedy loved Greece and was relaxed as she toured the ruins during this 1961 trip. He added, "I was rather conspicuous in my dark suit and sunglasses."
Contributed / Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster

'Vive Jacqueline!'

Guarding Mrs. Kennedy wasn’t always easy. On a 1961 visit to Paris thousands lined the streets, many chanting “Vive Jacqueline!” President Kennedy, who was also on the trip, joked to the French press, "I do not think it's altogether inappropriate for me to introduce myself — I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris."

Hill said she was met with the same adoration whether traveling in Europe, Latin America or the Middle East.

“Every place we went, she was adored by the people and not because of who she was, but the things that she did," Hill said. “She’d go to hospitals and visit sick children, she spoke their language. She was wonderful, intelligent, really down to earth.”

Hill said Mrs. Kennedy loved interacting with everyday people, but he learned when it was time to jump in.

“She’d give me a look when it was time for me to intercede and get her out of the mess she had gotten herself into,” he said.

'How did I get here?'

The book contains photos that have rarely or never been seen from Mrs. Kennedy’s travels — riding camels in Pakistan, yachting in Italy or touring the ruins in Greece. Behind the often smiling, relaxed first lady is Hill, often in dark sunglasses and a suit. Other times, he chose to blend in with the rest of the Kennedy party wearing shorts and sandals.

Hill said as he set foot in every new country he tried to send postcards home to his mother back in North Dakota. She even kept a scrapbook of all of his letters, postcards and newspaper clippings. He said during his most exotic trips, he’d often ask himself, "How did I get here?”

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Clint Hill walking ahead of Jacqueline Kennedy following a church service in Italy.
Contributed / Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster

“All the time, all the time,” he said, “Driving into New York and looking up at those big buildings saying, ‘Damn that could sure hold a lot of wheat!’ I mean, no matter where I was, it was amazing to me that I was there,” he said.

McCubbin Hill said her husband frequently talks about North Dakota and is proud of where he’s from. Take, for example, the day the Blue Angels, featuring another North Dakota native and Concordia graduate, Brian Kesselring, were practicing in the skies above D.C.

Brian Kesselring's boyhood air show experience helped shape future course.

“Every time they would fly over our house, for those several days they were practicing, Clint would point and say, 'That guy up there, he's from North Dakota,'" she said.

After the assassination

In the immediate days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Hill’s focus was on helping Mrs. Kennedy and her children, Caroline and John Jr., navigate their lives without the president, keeping them away from tourists, well-wishers and the media from Georgetown to New York City.

Hill was assigned to stay with the family until after the Nov. 1964 election. His last trip with Mrs. Kennedy was in August of that year. It was unlike some of the others. While in London, Mrs. Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Polish Prince “Stash” Radizwell (married then to Mrs. Kennedy’s sister Lee) insisted Hill be a guest this time. He let Hill stay in a master suite and provided him with the services of a butler. Later Radizwell insisted Hill sit by him so “the girls could be together.”

“It was just a simple thing, but for a kid from North Dakota to have a prince ask you to sit next to him was pretty special,” Hill writes in the book.

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"My Travels with Mrs. Kennedy," by New York Times Bestselling authors Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin Hill, details Hill's days as a Secret Service agent protecting Jacqueline Kennedy.
Contributed / Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster

As his travels with Mrs. Kennedy were coming to an end, there was no denying an intimacy had developed between him and Mrs. Kennedy.

“It wasn’t romantic, but it was beyond friendship. We could communicate with a look or a nod,” he said.

Even so, they were still always “Mrs. Kennedy” and “Mr. Hill” to each other.

“That was really important, really. We never let it get any closer than that. We had a bond. We had so many shared experiences,” he said.

When they parted, Mrs. Kennedy even gave Hill a gift, a scrapbook of their time together, entitled, “The Travels of Clinton J. Hill.”

Hill and McCubbin Hill found the scrapbook at the bottom of the trunk, a priceless gift that hadn’t seen the light of day in a half-century.

“The photos Mrs. Kennedy had chosen and the humorous captions she had written brought back only good memories. I suppose that’s what she’d hoped they would do,” Hill wrote.

Saying goodbye

By 1965, Hill was assigned to serve President Lyndon Johnson. However, Mrs. Kennedy would occasionally call him with concerns over his Secret Service replacements.

“She would have complaints about how the kids were being handled. She wanted them to have more freedom and some of the agents were playing it a little bit too close. So I handled it, and offered a few suggestions,” Hill said.

Flash forward about 30 years and it was those children, Caroline and John, who invited Hill to the internment for their mother at Arlington National Cemetery following her death from non-Hodgkins lymphoma in May of 1994. The Kennedy children knew how fond their mother was of Hill.

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Clint Hill with John F. Kennedy, Jr. John and his sister Caroline would later invite Hill to come to the exclusive funeral service for their mother when she died in 1994. Despite not seeing Hill for more than 25 years, John and Caroline knew how fond their mother was of him.
Contributed / Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster

Hill says despite being asked to be part of President Clinton’s motorcade to the cemetery, he chose to drive himself. He was also asked to stand toward the front of the small group of mourners but he chose instead to stand in the back (behind Mrs. Kennedy’s niece Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger).

But why?

“Because I thought that's where I belong. I was always in the shadows when I was working with her. And I prefer it that way. I didn't want to try and get in anybody's way or upstage anybody,” Hill said.

“He really doesn't like to be the center of attention,” adds McCubbin Hill. "He’s had this whole life of serving other people. I think he just doesn't know any different. He just has such a huge heart. And he wants to make everything easy for everybody else."


What was Jackie Kennedy really like?

"She was a wonderful person. She was very intelligent, very athletic. And she loved being just down with the Joe Smith and Johnny Jones on the street. I mean, the regular people. That's where she was happiest" - Clint Hill about Jackie Kennedy

And it’s pretty clear he made life a lot easier and safer for Jacqueline Kennedy. Now as the 90-year-old Hill reminisces about those days 60 years ago, he remembers the woman who, perhaps, defined his life more than any other.

What they shared — the photos, the scrapbooks and the notes — are now seeing the light of day and providing evidence of a bond, beyond friendship or romantic love between the most famous woman in the world and a North Dakota guy who dedicated his life to putting others first.

“She knew that I would do whatever she asked. She also knew that anything I requested of her was for her own well-being," he said. "All I wanted was for her to be happy and safe.”

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Clint Hill and his wife Lisa McCubbin Hill today. They are both New York Times Bestselling authors. Their latest book, "My Travels with Mrs. Kennedy" was released in October 2022 to rave reviews.
Contributed / Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster

Tracy Briggs is a News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 30 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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