Authors: Ronald Kessler
One afternoon, Kennedy was cavorting in the pool with young women when Secret Service agents on Jackie’s detail radioed that she was returning to the White House unexpectedly.
“Jackie was expected back in ten minutes, and JFK came charging out of the pool,” says agent Anthony Sherman, who was on his detail at the time. “He had a bathing suit on and a Bloody Mary in his hand.”
Kennedy looked around and gave the drink to Sherman.
“Enjoy it; it’s quite good,” the president said.
According to Secret Service agents, Kennedy had sex with Marilyn Monroe at New York hotels and in a loft above the Justice Department office of then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s brother. Between the fifth and sixth floors, the loft contains a double bed that is used when the attorney general needs to stay overnight to handle crises. Its proximity to a private elevator made it easy for Kennedy and Monroe to enter from the Justice Department basement without being noticed.
“He [Kennedy] had liaisons with Marilyn Monroe there,” a Secret Service agent says. “The Secret Service knew about it.”
If Kennedy was reckless in his personal life, he was also rash when it came to security. Before his trip to Dallas on November 22, 1963, he received warnings about possible violence there. United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson called Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and urged him to tell the president not to go to Dallas. He said he had just given a speech in Dallas and had been confronted by demonstrators who’d cursed at him and spat on him. Stevenson said Senator J. William Fulbright also warned Kennedy.
“Dallas is a very dangerous place,” Fulbright told him. “I wouldn’t go there. Don’t you go.”
Nonetheless, Kennedy aide O’Donnell told the Secret Service that unless it was raining, the president wanted to ride in an open convertible, according to the Warren Commission Report, which was largely based on the FBI’s investigation. If it had rained, Kennedy would have used a plastic top that was not bulletproof. Kennedy—code-named Lancer—himself told agents he did not want them to ride on the small running boards at the rear of the car.
Shortly after eleven-fifty
, Kennedy’s limousine proceeded from Love Field toward a scheduled luncheon at the Trade Mart. The car made a gradual descent on Elm Street toward a railroad overpass before reaching the Stemmons Freeway at Dealey Plaza. The Texas School Book Depository was on Kennedy’s right.
Only two Secret Service agents had gone ahead to Dallas to make advance preparations for the trip. As is true today, the agency relied a great deal on local police and local offices of other federal agencies. At the time, the advance protocol did not include an inspection of buildings along the motorcade route, which was publicized in advance.
, the president’s limousine was traveling at about eleven miles per hour. Shots resounded in rapid succession from the Texas School Book Depository. A bullet entered the base of the back of the president’s neck. Another bullet then struck him in the back of the head, causing a massive, fatal wound. He fell to the left onto his wife Jackie’s lap.
Agent William R. Greer was driving the limo, and Agent Roy H. Kellerman was sitting to his right. But neither could immediately leap to Kennedy’s assistance, as would have been the case if agents had been allowed to ride at the rear of the car. Making things more difficult, the president’s limousine had a second row of seats between the
front and rear seats, where Kennedy sat. The “kill shot” to the president’s head came 4.9 seconds after the first shot that hit him.
Greer had no special training in evasive driving. After the first shot, he did not immediately accelerate or take evasive action. In fact, he momentarily slowed the car and waited for a command from Agent Kellerman.
“Let’s get out of here! We are hit,” Kellerman yelled.
Agent Clinton J. Hill, riding on the left running board of the follow-up car, raced toward Kennedy’s limousine. He pulled himself onto the back of the car as it gained speed. He pushed Jackie—code-named Lace—back into the rear seat as he shielded both her and the president.
“If agents had been allowed on the rear running boards, they would have pushed the president down and jumped on him to protect him before the fatal shot,” Chuck Taylor, who was an agent on the Kennedy detail, tells me.
Confirming that, Secret Service Director Lewis Merletti later said, “An analysis of the ensuing assassination—including the trajectory of the bullets which struck the president—indicates that it might have been thwarted had agents been stationed on the car’s running boards.”
Taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital four miles away, Kennedy was pronounced dead at one
Agents throughout the Secret Service were devastated.
Once again, an assassin had changed the course of history. For the Secret Service, the question was how well it would learn lessons from the assassination in order to prevent another one.
F SECRET SERVICE agents found Kennedy to be reckless, Lyndon B. Johnson was uncouth, nasty, and often drunk. Agent Taylor recalls driving Johnson, who was then vice president, with another agent from the U.S. Capitol to the White House for a four
appointment with Kennedy. Johnson—code-named Volunteer—was not ready to leave until three forty-five
Because of traffic along Pennsylvania Avenue, they were going to be late.
“Johnson said to jump the curb and drive on the sidewalk,” Taylor says. “There were people on the sidewalk getting out of work. I told him, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I told you to jump the curb.’ He took a newspaper and hit the other agent, who was driving, on the head. He said, ‘You’re both fired.’”
When they arrived at the White House, Taylor told Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy’s secretary, “I’ve been fired.”
Lincoln shook her head in exasperation. Taylor was not fired.
After becoming president on November 22, 1963, Johnson had affairs with several of his young, fetching secretaries. When his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, was away, the Secret Service would take him to the
home of one secretary. He would insist that the agents depart while he spent time with her.
“We took him to the house, and then he dismissed us,” Taylor says.
At one point, Lady Bird Johnson—code-named Victoria—caught him having sex on a sofa in the Oval Office with one of his secretaries. Johnson became furious at the Secret Service for not warning him.
“He said, ‘You should have done something,’” recalls a supervisory Secret Service agent.
After the incident, which occurred just months after he took office, Johnson ordered the Secret Service to install a buzzer system so that agents stationed in the residence part of the White House could warn him when his wife was approaching.
“The alarm system was put in because Lady Bird had caught him screwing a secretary in the Oval Office,” a former Secret Service agent says. “He got so goddamned mad. A buzzer was put in from the quarters upstairs at the elevator to the Oval Office. If we saw Lady Bird heading for the elevator or stairs, we were to ring the bell.”
Johnson did not limit himself to the women he hired for his personal staff. He had “a stable” of women with whom he had sex, including some who stayed at the ranch when Lady Bird was home, another former agent says.
“He and Lady Bird would be in their bedroom, and he’d get up in the middle of the night and go to the other room,” the former agent says. “Lady Bird knew what he was doing. One woman was a well-endowed blonde. Another was the wife of a friend of his. He had permission from her husband to have sex with her. It was amazing.”
“We had gals on my staff he screwed,” says Bill Gulley who headed Johnson’s military office. “One … showed up [for work] when she wanted to show up. I couldn’t tell her to do anything.”
Johnson “would screw anything that would crawl, basically,” says William F. Cuff, Gulley’s executive assistant in the military office. “He
was a horny old man. But he had a totally loyal White House staff. There was one common enemy everyone in the White House had, and that was him [Johnson]. Therefore, everyone got along fine because they were afraid of him.”
Asked in a 1987 TV interview about her husband’s rumored infidelities, Lady Bird Johnson said, “You have to understand, my husband loved people. All people. And half the people in the world were women.”
Air Force One crew members say Johnson often closed the door to his stateroom and spent hours alone locked up with pretty secretaries, even when his wife was on board.
“Johnson would come on the plane [Air Force One], and the minute he got out of sight of the crowds, he would stand in the doorway and grin from ear to ear, and say, ‘You dumb sons of bitches. I piss on all of you,’” recalls Robert M. MacMillan, an Air Force One steward. “Then he stepped out of sight and began taking off his clothes. By the time he was in the stateroom, he was down to his shorts and socks. It was not uncommon for him to peel off his shorts, regardless of who was in the stateroom.”
Johnson did not care if women were around.
“He was totally naked with his daughters, Lady Bird, and female secretaries,” MacMillan says. “He was quite well endowed in his testicles. So everyone started calling him bull nuts. He found out about it. He was really upset.”
Johnson was often inebriated. He kept bottles of whiskey in his car at the ranch. One evening when Johnson was president, he came back to the White House drunk, screaming that the lights were on, wasting electricity.
“He is the only person [president] I have seen who was drunk,” says Frederick H. Walzel, a former chief of the White House branch of the Secret Service Uniformed Division.
“He had episodes of getting drunk,” George Reedy, his press secretary, told me. “There were times where he would drink day after day. You would think, ‘This guy is an alcoholic’ Then all of a sudden, it would stop. We could always see the signs when he called for a Scotch and a soda, and he would belt it down and call for another one, instead of sipping it.”
Johnson’s drinking only fueled his outbursts.
“We were serving roast beef one time,” says MacMillan. “He [Johnson] came back in the cabin. Jack Valenti [Johnson’s aide] was sitting there. He had just gotten his dinner tray. On it was a beautiful slice of rare roast beef.”
Johnson grabbed the tray and said, “You dumb son of a bitch. You are eating raw meat.”
Johnson then brought the food back to the galley and said, “You two sons of bitches, look at this. This is raw. You gotta cook the meat on my airplane. Don’t you serve my people raw meat. Goddamn, if you two boys serve raw meat on my airplane again, you’ll both end up in Vietnam.”
Johnson threw the tray upside down onto the floor and stormed off.
A few minutes later, Valenti went back to the galley.
“Sorry about your dinner, Mr. Valenti,” MacMillan said.
“Do we have any more rare?” Valenti asked.
“We have plenty of rare,” MacMillan said.
“Well, he won’t be back. He’s done his thing. Don’t serve me any fully cooked meat.”
Gerald F. Pisha, another Air Force One steward, says that on one occasion when Johnson didn’t like the way a steward had mixed a drink for him, he threw it onto the floor.
“Get somebody who knows how to make a drink for me,” Johnson said.
At his ranch in Texas, Johnson was even more raunchy than at the
White House. At a press conference at his ranch, Johnson “whips his thing out and takes a leak, facing them [the reporters] sideways,” says D. Patrick O’Donnell, an Air Force One flight engineer. “You could see the stream. It was embarrassing. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a man who is the president of the U.S., and he is taking a whiz out on the front lawn in front of a bunch of people.”
A Secret Service agent posted to his ranch recalls that Johnson would take celebrities on a tour of the ranch in a car that—unknown to them—was amphibious. As he approached the Pedernales River, he would drive the vehicle into the river, terrifying his guests.
At six one morning, the agent was posted outside a door that led directly to Johnson’s bedroom.
“I’m looking at the sun coming up and listening to the birds, and I hear this noise,” the former agent says. “I turn around, and here’s the most powerful man in the world taking a leak off the back porch. And I remembered a saying down in Texas that I heard when I first got on that detail: When LBJ goes to the ranch, the bulls hang their heads in shame. This guy had a tool you wouldn’t believe.”
The former agent was present when LBJ held a press conference with White House pool reporters as he sat on a toilet, moving his bowels. He had discarded his girdle, which he wore to hide his girth.
“I just couldn’t believe that this stuff was going on,” the former agent says. “But this was an everyday thing to the guys that were with him all the time.”
After Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, an agent was told to wake Johnson in the morning so he could meet with his press secretary.
“I tapped on his bedroom door,” the former agent says. “Lady Bird said to come in.”