01 September 2013

What They Knew of That Day

Survivor's Guilt: The Secret Service and the Failure to Protect the President by Vince Palamara (Trine Day, 2013) is not a book to be read for pleasure. It is not a sterling contribution to literature. Short, but packed with names, dates, citations and, significantly, stripped of narrative, it is probably the best compendium of verifiable facts having to do with the United States Secret Service (or USSS) circa 1963—specifically, one particular day towards Thanksgiving.

I must disclose here that I am not a JFK Assassination Conspiracy nut. I vividly remember the day Kennedy died and I have my own theories about what happened. But I'm no expert. Conspiracy theorists who get into the game usually choose one exclusive aspect or another to cover, and Palamara has chosen the Secret Service detail assigned to protect President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Palamara is not so much a journalist as a persuasive arguer and is more than enough of a thorough researcher and impartial interviewer to back up his ideas.

And there is no disputing what happened that day: Simply, the Secret Service detail assigned to the President failed to protect him from a fatal bullet. There was sloppiness in their protocol and security checks, a host of bad choices and, worse, substantial evidence of agents drinking and carousing while on duty. But it's what the Service did immediately afterwards that's remained the thorniest issue these nearly fifty years. Blatantly confiscating evidence, falsifying documents, illegally taking people into custody—these were some of the acts committed by agents almost as soon as the alleged assassin was arrested by Dallas police. Rumors persist to this day that they did far worse things to preserve the image of the Service—or as some people would term it, cover their asses. The Church Committee in 1978 found a hornet's nest of misdeeds, and it’s clear that many more will never be known, since in 1992 the Secret Service infamously destroyed all their records regarding Kennedy’s final trip, rather than turn them over to the newly-formed House Select Committee on Assassinations.

It's old news, but it's still a hurtful subject to some, not least of all to the most important agent still living, Clint Hill, the focus of a recent account entitled The Kennedy Detail by Gerald Blaine and Lisa McCubbin. I mention this 2010 book because, if chronology can be correctly interpreted, Detail was written by Hill's former superior in the USSS, Gerald Blaine, as a direct response to Survivor's Guilt, which was first published in 2006 and for which Palamara interviewed, among others, Blaine and Hill themselves. Palamara's book must certainly have opened old wounds.

The initial publication of Survivor's Guilt: The Secret Service and the Failure to Protect the President quickly garnered excellent endorsements from the very people in key positions to know the facts of that day and some who were there. Get it, read it, use it as a springboard for your own private investigation, and to remove the bad taste of The Kennedy Detail's whitewash.

~ Cantara Christopher

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