When shots rang out in Dallas on November 22, 1963, U.S. Secret Service Agent Rufus W. Youngblood immediately lunged over the seat of the vice president's car and bravely used his body to shield Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Faced with the unknown, Youngblood maintained this protective position as they sped toward Parkland Hospital. Throughout that fateful day, he vigilantly remained by LBJ’s side to ensure his safety. This candid memoir includes Youngblood's first-hand account of the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath, as well as highlights from his twenty-year career in the Secret Service during which he protected Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Readers will enjoy Youngblood's behind-the-scenes look at some of the most pivotal events in U.S. history, humorous anecdotes, and descriptions of the complexities, risks, and constant tensions involved in protecting America's chief executive. A unique and comprehensive collection of more than one hundred photographs has been added to illustrate this agent's amazing story.
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About the Author
Rufus Wayne Youngblood is best known as the U.S. Secret Service agent who shielded Vice President Johnson during the tragic Kennedy assassination. Born in Macon, Georgia, in 1924, he was raised in Atlanta and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. During World War II, he flew in some of the Eighth Air Force’s earliest combat missions. After graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology with an industrial engineering degree, he joined the Secret Service in 1951 and protected Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon during his 20-year tenure. He retired in 1971 as the agency’s deputy director. He penned his memoir 20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life with Five Presidents, before returning to Georgia, where he resided with Peggy, his wife of 53 years, and his family until his death in 1996.
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The Impossible Mission
The eyes of Texas were upon us for the second day, thousands of them, peering down from countless windows, from rooftops, staring excitedly from curbside and doorways, from wherever they could get a view over the heads of those in front. Fathers hoisted little children onto their shoulders, and as the line of cars approached, cameras were lifted, aimed, whirring and clicking as we passed, and then lowered when we were gone, their own private moment of history recorded. It was November 22, 1963, and President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson had come to Dallas with the express purpose of being seen by as many people as possible, hoping this would help change the opinion Dallas had shown at the polls in 1960 when the elections came around again the following year.
I was there, one of sixteen Secret Service agents in the motorcade for the protection of the president and the vice president. I was the agent in charge of the Vice Presidential Detail, and in this capacity I rode in the front seat of the Lincoln convertible that took Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird, and Senator Ralph Yarborough through the crowded streets, two cars behind President and Mrs. Kennedy.
While the crowds watched the Kennedys and the Johnsons, the Secret Service watched the crowds. We were as unseen as the referee invariably is in a boxing arena.
This motorcade through Dallas, as planned, was virtually indistinguishable from three the previous day, in San Antonio, Houston, and Fort Worth. The streets through which a presidential motorcade moves may differ from city to city: the faces along the route are not the same, the worker sitting in an open window munching a sandwich on his lunch break is not the one you saw yesterday, yet there is a sameness about motorcades, whether they take place in New Delhi or New York, Dakar or Dallas — if they go according to plan. The Secret Service is there, in a sense, to maintain that sameness. It had been maintained in the other cities, but the Secret Service agent on protective duty lives on the brink of disaster. His job borders on the impossible.
It is a job of interception. When the eager young man with a camera in his hands breaks from the curb toward the cars, he must be intercepted and as unobtrusively as possible moved back into the crowd. The camera might not be a camera at all; it could be a bomb or a gun.
When the fellow standing in the front row half a block ahead, wearing a raincoat on a sunny day, pushes his hands into his pockets, an agent may drop almost casually off one of the cars and position himself between that man and the one he is assigned to protect.
As a Secret Service agent, you are constantly on the alert for the individual who somehow does not fit. You scan the crowd, the rooftops, the doorways, the windows, ready to take whatever action may be necessary should you observe something that could jeopardize your mission. You look into thousands of faces and you try to determine in each if he or she may be the one who came to do more than look. You seldom know whether some action on your part may have thwarted that individual — the young man with the camera or the man sweltering in the sun in the trench coat — because you have passed and he has melted back into the throng that dissolves in the wake of the motorcade. If he was the man, he may give it up altogether, or he may be at the corner of Fourth and Main in the next city when you get there, ready to try again.
He was there in Dallas, faceless, nameless so far, but he was there. He had a rifle powerful enough to bring down a grizzly bear, and he had a telescopic sight that extended its effectiveness. His training as a rifleman had been the best, the U.S. Marine Corps, and he had constructed a sniper's nest as perfect as a duck blind. He must have known the odds were in his favor; we — the Secret Service — knew it. The attack he planned was the one against which we were virtually defenseless at that time. We had long been concerned that when we had to move the president through the streets of a city in an open car, it was like moving him on the track of a shooting gallery and inviting one and all to step right up and take a shot.
The man in Dallas was not one of the faces at the windows, smiling and cheering. He hung back in the shadows, and as we moved directly toward him, we saw only a half-open empty window. The motorcade swung slowly into a tight curve directly beneath him, and one by one the big cars straightened, the Secret Service agents scanning the rooftops of the buildings and the windows where many of his coworkers sat and waved.
An agent in the lead car saw people standing on an overpass ahead, and he motioned for the Dallas policeman stationed there to move them away so that the cars would not have to pass below them.
The man, waiting patiently behind stacked cartons of schoolbooks in a dingy storeroom six floors up, saw the car bearing his quarry as it began to move down the incline toward the overpass. The car, moving straight away from him and slightly downward, presented him with a target that was, in effect, almost stationary. He lifted the rifle to his shoulder, his finger touched the trigger, and he positioned his eye against the scope. In the cross hairs, the open limousine must have seemed almost close enough to touch. The figures were clearly defined in the bright Texas sun, the young woman on the left, the man on the right, his head and shoulders plainly outlined above the seat back.
The rifle barrel inched out the window, across the ledge. The finger, with the steady, deliberate movement of the marksman, tightened on the trigger. Between the three quick blasts, the men on the floor below could hear the shell casings bouncing onto the floor above them. In a matter of seconds, it was all over.
The Secret Service had carried the mandate of presidential protection for sixty-one years, with the shadow of a failure of the first magnitude hanging over it twenty-four hours of every day. There had been some close ones, but the record of no losses had held.
That record ended a few seconds after 12:30 p.m., November 22, 1963, on Elm Street in Dallas, Texas.CHAPTER 2
The U.S. Secret Service
I joined the Secret Service in 1951, not because of any burning desire to be a Secret Service agent — I had only a general idea of what the Service did — but because my chosen line of endeavor had fallen unexpectedly on hard times, and I had a family to support.
Like some sixteen million other Americans, I had put in my World War II time, some of it as a waist gunner aboard a B-17 bomber named Jack the Ripper. The GI Bill saw me through Georgia Tech, and I was well on my way with my industrial engineering degree.
At least that was my plan until an unaccustomed word — "recession" — began to crop up in everyday conversation. The recession hit the engineering profession, and I began looking elsewhere for work. The Georgia Tech Alumni Placement Office provided me with a lead: "The United States Secret Service is seeking qualified applicants for Special Agent positions, starting salary $3,825 per year."
I was in the Atlanta Secret Service office almost before I finished reading the notice. I suppose most people can look back and find an individual who was instrumental in determining the direction of their life's work. With me, it was a man named Raymond Horton. Ray was the Special Agent in Charge (SAIC) of the Atlanta office who interviewed me for the job. In listening to him talk about the Secret Service, it came across as more than a mere job. I was sold, and on March 26, 1951, Ray Horton took me to the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, where I raised my right hand and, repeating the oath after Judge Frank A. Hooper, became Special Agent Youngblood of the U.S. Secret Service.
I was a special agent in name only as I began a cram, on-the-job course. I learned that the Service performed two basic functions: safeguarding the nation's currency and other Treasury obligations, and the protection of the President of the United States. The first included the investigation of such crimes as counterfeiting, forging and uttering (illegally circulating) government checks, and various other criminal activities involving Treasury obligations.
It was counterfeiting that brought the Secret Service into being, and it is not without a touch of irony that it was conceived in 1865 in the administration of Abraham Lincoln, the first president to die at the hands of an assassin. The original mandate of the Service did not include presidential protection; that was to come nearly four decades later. In 1865, counterfeiting was more than a full- time job. By some estimates, half the bills in circulation were bogus, and the first Secret Service chief, William P. Wood, was given the tremendous task of "restoring public confidence in the money of the country."
Wood and his operatives were not hampered by many of the restrictions under which law enforcement officers operate today. The times were rough, and it took rugged men to survive. As Wood himself put it, somewhat euphemistically: "It was my purpose to convince them [the counterfeiters] that it would no longer be healthy for them to ply their vocation without being handled roughly, a fact they soon discovered. I was threatened with every species of demolition, but I took my chances at capture or being captured in those lively undertakings."
The suppression of counterfeiting was still a major function of the Service, but the advent of the government check and the hundreds of federal programs that spewed out millions of the little negotiable punch cards daily had led to the bread-and-butter work of the field offices. For every counterfeiting case that turned up in our Atlanta office, there were a hundred check cases. And while the intrigue and glamour associated with the detection and smashing of a multimillion-dollar counterfeiting ring might make headlines, the business of apprehending an individual who plucked a Social Security check from a neighbor's mailbox, forged an endorsement, and cashed it was of equal or more importance because it happened thousands of times every day.
As a rookie field agent, my first job was working check cases. Our office of six agents covered the state of Georgia and included Special Agents Clayton Kober, Bob Hancock, Lane Bertram, Roy Letteer, Ray Horton, and myself. Bertram and Hancock were journeyman agents who spent most of their time traveling the state. Letteer had been in the Service for about a year, but he had had law enforcement experience with the Atlanta police force and was a great help to me in learning much of the fundamental work. Kober was a gun buff, and from him I learned the finer points of firing the service revolver agents were required to carry.
After a few months of working with these men, Horton began to assign cases to me. My assignments, which took me all over the state, did not include any protective duties until Vice President Alben Barkley paid a brief visit to Atlanta that summer. Letteer and I were to meet the vice president at the airport, escort him to the functions he was to attend, and get him safely back to the airport the following day. Secret Service protection had been extended to the vice president only recently, and Barkley arrived via Eastern Airlines with his one-man detail, Special Agent Bob Holmes.
The notion of assassinating Alben Barkley probably never crossed even the sickest mind, but on June 28, 1951, when he came down the ramp at Atlanta Airport, there was one green agent standing there watching everything that moved. As far as I was concerned, the place was crawling with potential assassins, and I was ready for them.
There was certainly nothing spectacular about Barkley's one-day stay in Atlanta. When he flew back to Washington, Roy and I went back to our routine work. It was not until the following spring, when I had completed my probationary period as a special agent, that I was assigned to protective duty again. This was a thirty-day training and orientation assignment in Washington, required of all agents.
I reported to the Washington Field Office in the Treasury Building on the morning of April 23, 1952. After three days of intensive training to augment what I had already been required to learn about protective work, Special Agent Jerry McCann showed me around the White House and familiarized me with the various posts and duties I would be performing. The extensive rebuilding of the mansion had been completed, and President Truman had recently moved back from Blair House. My first assignment was on the four-to-midnight shift, as a trainee, with Paul Usher as my supervisor.
From the original five men assigned to the protection of Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, the White House Detail had grown into a complex, tightly knit unit of well-trained and highly professional men whose job was as important as any in the world. I was impressed with the place, the job, and the people. Before coming to the White House as a Secret Service agent, I had never seen Harry Truman — or any other president. It was, to me, a rarefied atmosphere I worked in for the next few days, standing my assigned posts, learning my way around the White House, and moving with the president as part of the team.
Possibly, I was overimpressed. One morning, after I had been rotated to the eight-to-four shift, I saw what I considered a legendary figure moving through the White House to an early appointment with the president. I was on my way to report in, and as I reached the office, I stopped at shift leader John Campion's desk, where he was working on some papers.
"Guess who I just saw!" I said, pointing back toward the corridor.
Without looking up, he said seriously, "Not John Wilkes Booth, I hope."
The sarcasm missed me entirely for the moment. "No! General Omar Bradley, that's who!"
He looked up then, and, turning toward the clerk at the adjoining desk, he said, "Say, didja hear that? Youngblood just saw General Omar Bradley!" He looked around at me. "Say, Youngblood, with your luck, if you'd been around here about eighty years ago, you mighta seen General Grant. Yes sir, you sure might!"
"General ... Grant ..." I mumbled. I was learning more than protective work. In a nudist colony, you don't stare. At least not after the first couple of days.
That afternoon, just before the shift changed, I stood my post outside the president's Oval Office in the West Wing. The door opened, and Truman stepped out, his arms overflowing with papers. He glanced around, and, seeing no one in the immediate vicinity but a Secret Service agent, he said in his always polite tone, "Excuse me, sir, but I wonder if you would mind giving me a hand with these? I want to take them upstairs so I can read them this evening."
I was well aware that these were the first words spoken directly to me by the president. I was also aware that he was asking me to do something that normally I was not supposed to do, and that was to encumber myself in such a manner as to make it difficult to get to my revolver should the need arise.
Of course, President Truman was not intentionally asking me to violate my orders, and what could I do — let him stand there almost in a state of collapse while I explained why I was not supposed to do such things while on duty? We were inside the White House, completely surrounded by concentric circles of protection stretching as far out as the perimeter of the grounds.
"Why certainly, Mr. President," I said, and, with the divided load, we walked through the corridors to the elevator, where an aide relieved me. President Truman thanked me and went up to the living quarters with his homework.
Along with my training on this Washington assignment, I did some research on political assassinations, and how the Secret Service wound up with two basic jobs that seemed to have no logical connection with each other. For well over a century, our presidents were given protection only as the occasion seemed to demand, and by whatever resources were at hand. Before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, if the question of a specially trained force for this particular purpose had come up at all, it could easily have been argued that whatever was being done was obviously sufficient.
Of the fifteen men who occupied the presidency before Lincoln, only one was the object of an overt assassination. On January 30, 1835, President Andrew Jackson was attending the funeral services of a South Carolina congressman in the Rotunda of the Capitol. As the casket and the procession of mourners moved slowly through the East Portico, a man by the name of Richard Lawrence suddenly stepped before the president, flung open his coat, and pulled two pistols from his pockets. He leveled one at Jackson and squeezed the trigger. The cap fired, but the powder failed to ignite.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "20 Years in the Secret Service"
Copyright © 2018 Rebecca Youngblood Vaughn.
Excerpted by permission of Figeli Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Impossible Mission 1
Chapter 2 The U.S. Secret Service 5
Chapter 3 Ike 23
Chapter 4 Back to the Field 37
Chapter 5 JFK and LBJ 43
Chapter 6 Preparing for Dallas 71
Chapter 7 Dallas 81
Chapter 8 The Flight Home 97
Chapter 9 The Aftermath 111
Chapter 10 LBJ 1964: Unfinished Business 125
Chapter 11 The Warren Report 139
Chapter 12 LBJ: 1965-1967 147
Chapter 13 Hubert Horatio Humphrey 165
Chapter 14 The LBJ Ranch 175
Chapter 15 Dark Days: 1968 183
Chapter 16 The New Nixon 193
About the Presidents 205