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Video: Secret Service agent recalls Jackie Kennedy

TODAY contributor
updated 4/5/2012 10:01:02 AM ET 2012-04-05T14:01:02

Secret Service agent Clint Hill trails first lady Jackie Kennedy. He has written a new memoir about their friendship.

His code name was “Dazzle” – a Secret Service agent charged with protecting first lady Jackie Kennedy.

For Clint Hill, the job meant being present for some of the most painful and poignant moments of the Kennedy family’s life. Now Hill has broken a 50-year silence, sharing his experiences in a memoir, “Mrs. Kennedy and Me.” He sat down with TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie to discuss the deep bond he shared with the iconic first lady.

Clint Hill with Jackie Kennedy. The former Secret Service agent spoke emotionally of his deep admiration for her.

“You write about her with such admiration and affection and almost, dare I say it, love for her,” Guthrie said.

“I’ve been accused of that,” Hill said. “I think that’s a little bit too strong an emotion. Yes, I admired her a great deal. I really respected her. I don’t think you could really say that I loved her.”

‘Oh Jack, what have they done?’
Nonetheless, Hill's friendship with the first lady was genuine and close. He was there on Nov. 22, 1963, when a bullet pierced President John F. Kennedy’s skull, splattering both the Secret Service agent and the stunned first lady with blood and gore.

Story: ‘Mrs. Kennedy and Me’: A fond look back from a special agent

The memory haunts him still. “There was some material from the president's head that had gone off to the right rear,” Hill told Guthrie. “And she had got – come up on the back of the car, trying to retrieve that material. She didn't know I was there. And so when she came up in the car, I finally got a hold of her and helped her get it into the backseat. When I did that, the president's body fell to its left into her lap.”

Hill said he’ll never forget the words the first lady said then: "They shot his head off. Oh Jack, what have they done?"

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In the days that followed, Hill witnessed the public heartbreak Americans felt at Kennedy’s assassination, as well as the family's personal grief. During a private viewing of the fallen president, the first lady and Bobby Kennedy “approached the casket and stood there. About that time, she turned to me and she said, 'Mr. Hill, will you get me a pair of scissors, please?' So I ran back to the usher's office and got a pair of scissors. And I stood there and I could hear, you know, clip-clip-clip. I knew what was going on.”

Hill believes the first lady cut a piece of her husband’s hair. Later he stood nearby as the family wept and witnessed “great remorse, great — very sad. It was just — no words were spoken.”

Slideshow: Kennedy's legacy (on this page)

Hill was also there when President Kennedy’s son was born — and on the day John F. Kennedy Jr., then 3 years old, saluted his father’s coffin. The image of the tot saying goodbye to his father is emblazoned on his memory.

“That must have broken your heart,” Guthrie said.

“It still does,” Hill said sobbing.

TODAY.com political contributor Halimah Abdullah is TODAY.com’s woman in Washington.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: Kennedy's legacy

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  1. Baby face

    John F. Kennedy at the age of six months in Brookline, Mass., 1917. His mother, Rose Kennedy, named him in honor of her father, John Francis Fitzgerald, the popular Boston mayor known as "Honey Fitz." (John F. Kennedy National Historic Site via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Childhood memories

    Young John F. Kennedy, his brother and three sisters are shown in 1923 with his mother, Rose Kennedy. The children are,from left, Eunice, Kathleen, Rosemary, John, and Joseph, Jr. When John was just three years old, he became sick with scarlet fever, a potentially life-threatening illness. He recovered but was never very healthy as a child. (Kennedy Family Album via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Young athlete

    Kennedy in the football uniform of the Dexter School, a private elementary school in Brookline, Mass., in 1927. The Kennedy children were encouraged to be competitive and play to win. He and his older brother, Joe, collided while racing bicycles and John ended up with 28 stitches. (Boston Globe via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Big family

    American multi-millionaire Joseph Patrick Kennedy, right, the newly-appointed ambassador to London, with his wife Rose Kennedy, second from right, and eight of their nine children, in London, 1937. From left: Edward, Jeanne, Robert, Patricia, Eunice, Kathleen, Rosemary and John F. Kennedy. After graduating from high school, John followed his brother Joe to Harvard and also played football. There, he ruptured a disk in his spine, which bothered him the rest of his life. A summer break visit to London sparked his interest in history and government. (Keystone / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. War hero

    Kennedy aboard the PT-109 in the South Pacific, in 1943. After graduating from college, both John and Joe joined the Navy. John was assigned to the South Pacific where he commanded a patrol torpedo boat. On Aug. 2, 1943, his crew was struck by a Japanese destroyer splitting their boat in half and killing two of his men. Kennedy led his surviving men to a small island where they were found by natives six days later. His brother, Joe, was killed a year later when his plane blew up during a mission in Europe. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Start of a career

    Kennedy at one of his campaign headquarters in 1946. Upon returning from the war, Kennedy had serious discussions with his father, who convinced him to run for Congress. He won the seat and began his political career, serving three terms in the House. In 1952, he was elected to the Senate. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Finding his mate

    Sen. Kennedy and his fiancee, Jacqueline Bouvier, prepare a sailboat in Hyannis, Mass., June 27, 1953. She was working as a photographer at the Washington Times-Herald in 1951 when they met at a dinner party in Georgetown. They were engaged two years later. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Wedding bells

    Sen. Kennedy and his bride, Jacqueline Bouvier, walk down the church aisle shortly after their wedding ceremony on Sept. 12,1953, in Newport, R.I. Soon after they wed, Kennedy had two operations on his back. While recovering, he wrote a book about several U.S. senators called "Profiles in Courage," which won the Pulitzer Prize for biographies in 1957. (Keystone / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Reaching out

    Kennedy greets residents of Baltimore on May 13, 1960. Kennedy won Maryland in the 1960 election with 54 percent of the vote. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. JFK at the DNC

    Kennedy addresses his supporters at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Defeating Lyndon Johnson, Adlai Stevenson and other rivals, Kennedy was nominated as the Democratic Party's choice for president. He delivered his acceptance speech on July 15, the final night of the convention. (Ed Clark / Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Nominating a VP

    Kennedy speaks to Sen. Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 1960. Southern Democratic leaders told Kennedy he could not win the presidency without having Johnson on the ticket. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Turning point

    A view from the control room as Kennedy and Richard Nixon participate in the first televised presidential debate on Sept. 26, 1960. Nixon looked tired and ill during the debate, while Kennedy looked well-rested and healthy. Those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won; television viewers thought it was a victory for Kennedy. After the debate, polls showed Kennedy taking a slight lead over Nixon. (CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. First lady's touch

    Jacqueline Kennedy greets her husband following his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961. In his inauguration speech, he urged Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." (Henry Burroughs / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Inheriting Vietnam

    Kennedy speaks from behind the podium as a map of Laos at left reads "Communist Rebel Areas, 22 March 1961," at the State Department Auditorium in Washington, D.C., March 23, 1961. Kennedy continued the policy of his predecessesor, Dwight D. Eisenhower in supporting the government of South Vietnam. (Abbie Rowe / National Park Servie via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Discussions with Ike

    President Kennedy meets with former President Dwight Eisenhower at Camp David in Thurmont, Md., on April 22, 1961 to discuss the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. CIA-backed Cuban emigre forces failed to overthrow the Cuban government, led by Fidel Castro. (Paul Vathis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Cold War heats up

    Kennedy meets with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Vienna summit at the U.S. Embassy in Austria on June 3, 1961. The two leaders clashed sharply over the future status of the divided city of Berlin. (Ron Case / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Cuban Missile Crisis

    Kennedy addresses the nation on Oct. 24, 1962, about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The president announced that days earlier, the United States discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. In his speech, the president stated that the United States would regard an attack "...against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union." The crisis ebbed after Soviet leader Krushchev agreed to remove Soviet rockets from Cuba in return for the United States removing its missiles from Turkey. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Stops on the trail

    Kennedy chats with a group of miners during his travels on the 1960 campaign trail. (Hank Walker / Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Space mission

    Astronaut John Glenn, right, shows President Kennedy his "Friendship 7" space capsule at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in this Feb. 23, 1962 photo. In May of 1961, only four months after taking office, Kennedy addressed Congress, making space travel a goal of his administration. On July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon. (Cecil Stoughton / The White House via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Ich bin ein Berliner

    Thousands watch Kennedy give a speech on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin, Germany. Kennedy's support of a democratic West Germany was central in the Cold War, a conflict that defined the Kennedy administration. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Civil rights

    Kennedy speaks with civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on Aug. 1, 1963. In June of that year, Kennedy sent a bill to Congress that aimed to give all Americans the right to service in public facilities. This legislation would later become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law less than a year after Kennedy's death. (Three Lions via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Family vacation

    President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, with their children, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy, along with the family dogs, in Hyannis Port, Mass., Aug. 14, 1963. (Cecil Stoughton / The White House via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Three brothers

    President Kennedy and his brothers, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, left, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, center, outside the Oval Office, Aug. 28, 1963. (Cecil Stoughton / The White House via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Nuclear test ban

    Vice President Lyndon Johnson (far right) and a group of senators watch Kennedy as he signs the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on Oct. 7, 1963. Kennedy joined leaders of the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom in signing the treaty to ban all above-ground testing of nuclear weapons. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Kidding around

    Kennedy works in the Oval Office while his son, 2-year-old John Jr., plays under his desk on Oct. 15, 1963. John Jr. was born less than three weeks after Kennedy won the election in November 1960. (Liaison Agency via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Shots fired in Dallas

    President Kennedy and his wife travel in the motorcade in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963. Moments later, Kennedy would be fatally shot in the head by a gunman. He was the fourth president to be assassinated. ((PRNewsFoto / Newseum) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A new president

    Just two hours after President Kennedy was shot, Jacqueline Kennedy stands by Vice President Johnson as he takes the oath of office from federal judge Sarah Hughes (left), on Air Force One. Johnson would aim to continue the programs of the Kennedy administration. He would also create the Warren Commission to investigate Kennedy's death. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Junior salute

    John F. Kennedy Jr., 3, salutes as the casket of his father is carried out from St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 25, 1963. (JFK Presidential Library) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Funeral procession

    Kennedy's funeral procession enters Arlington National Cemetery. When he took the oath of office, Kennedy was the youngest ever to be elected to the presidency. Less than three years later, he was the youngest president to die. (National Archives / Newsmakers via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Lasting tribute

    Bugler Army Sgt. Maj. Woodrow English plays taps during a burial ceremony for Sen. Ted Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, Aug. 29, 2009. The final resting place of American heroes opened its gates to embrace one more, as Edward Kennedy was buried near his two slain brothers. Former President John F. Kennedy's gravesite, marked with the eternal flame, is at the lower right. (Richard A. Lipski / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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