(CNN) — It’s been more than 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was shot, but of the Secret Service agents on the scene that horrifying day, says he’s still coping with a tremendous sense of guilt.
Clint Hill’s an 82-year-old grandfather who blends in with the tourists while visiting the Kennedy gravesite. Hill’s connection though to the late president is deep and haunting. “I was there when he was killed and was unable to prevent it from happening,” said Hill.
On November 22nd, 1963, Hill was a young Secret Service agent who was in President Kennedy’s motorcade as it turned into Dealey Plaza. After the President was hit with one bullet, Hill jumped on the limo, but he didn’t get there in time to shield Kennedy from the second shot.
Hill says he knew at that moment what no one else did, “I could see his eyes were fixed, and there was a hole in the skull. And I could see into the brain cavity that most of the brain-matter was gone from that area. I immediately assumed that it was a fatal wound.”
With a sense of guilt as searing as his recollection of that moment, Hill would face years of trouble, including the disintegration of his marriage. Hill recalls those troubling times, “And I pretty much just lived in my basement in my home. I drank heavily, smoked terribly. And that lasted for almost six years.”
“Well you know that’s where that sense of failure and guilt come in. Is that you realize that if I had been able to make that difference, the United States and the world would’ve been a different place. It was that close.” – Clint Hill
At Hill’s lowest he did an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes where he broke down about what he thought he could have done differently. Hill doesn’t regret that moment, he feels it was an important step on his way out of depression, “The fact that I broke on the camera while on TV probably was the best thing that happened because from that point later on, I realized that I had to change what I was doing and I recovered.”
Hill has since written two books about his experience and reconnected with his family. He still believes it would’ve been better if he’d taken that bullet. He still carries the burden of that guilt to this day, “Well you know that’s where that sense of failure and guilt come in. Is that you realize that if I had been able to make that difference, the United States and the world would’ve been a different place. It was that close.”
Clint Hill went back to Dallas several years ago and retraced all the steps and angles in Dealey Plaza. He came to the conclusion that there was no way he could’ve gotten to John F. Kennedy in time to save him. Though he still lives with that guilt and has made his peace with it.
Copyright CNN 2014 (Script modified for web)
Footage Courtesy: CNN, CBS “60 Minutes”, The Sixth Floor Museum