Next month marks 51 years since an assassin’s bullets tore through the body of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s body and ended his life. Although the Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy, there have been no shortage of conspiracy theories. A new report suggests that White House Secret Service members charged with protecting JFK during his visit to Dallas, Texas were sleep-deprived from partying the night before President Kennedy’s assassination. Moreover, the new information also suggests nine U.S. Secret Service agents were too drunk to take evasive action.
In the wake of a recent string of alleged missteps with the Secret Service, and on another approaching anniversary of the JFK assassination, Vanity Fair probed into the role the president’s security detail played into his death on November 22, 1963. And what they uncovered from multiple sources and insiders, including former agents assigned to protect Kennedy on that fateful day, was alarming.
The new information about JFK’s assassination centers on charges that nine of 28 agents assigned to protect Kennedy in Dallas spent the night before partying into the early morning hours and drinking alcoholic beverages. Consuming alcohol, no matter how slight, is prohibited in the official Secret Service handbook.
Reportedly, a number of agents went in search of food on November 21, and when they couldn’t locate any late night eateries, they wound up at a “local watering hole called the Cellar.” Pat Kirkwood penned letters slamming rumors Secret Service agents partook in alcohol at his place of business because it was a “dry” bar. However, he recanted his story years later and confessed that the Cellar was a known spot in the city that furnished police and politicians with “booze.”
Agent John Norris offered his take on the agent’s behavior at the time of the fatal shooting. In Bill Sloan’s book, J.F.K.: Breaking the Silence, and also as part of an interview for Vincent Michael Palamara’s book Survivor’s Guilt: The Secret Service and the Failure to Protect President Kennedy, Norris shared his angst.
“Except for George Hickey and Clint Hill, [many of the others] just basically sat there with their thumbs up their butts while the president was gunned down in front of them.”
Perhaps, the most bothersome witness testimony into the Secret Service agent’s behavior came from another agent who was part of the detail, and who overheard something worrisome from another agent who was assigned to protect the president in Texas.
Abraham Bolden was the only African-American agent assigned to the Kennedy detail in Dallas. In the 2008 book, The Echo from Dealey Plaza, Bolden talks about racism aimed at him in the department, and how he was framed and sent to prison in retribution for speaking out about systemic negligence throughout the Service.That day, after Kennedy was assassinated, Bolden was back in his Chicago office where he heard a fellow Secret Service agent cry out.
“I knew it would happen. I told those playboys that someone was going to get the president killed if they kept acting like they did. Now it’s happened.”
Apparently, the words validated what he already knew: Had it not been for partying and drinking the night before, the agents would have not acted in a “lackadaisical” fashion. He shared his opinion with Vanity Fair.
“The biggest problem I ran into with the Secret Service when I was an agent was their constant drinking. When we would get to a place one of the first things they would do was stock up with liquor. They would drink and then we would go to work. Their reflexes were definitely affected by, number one, the loss of sleep and, number two, the fact that [some may have] consumed that amount of alcohol.”
Days after John F. Kennedy was killed, his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, appointed Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren to head up a panel to investigate the JFK assassination. Evidently, when Warren received information of agents staying out late and partying the night before the motorcade was scheduled through downtown Dallas, he was outraged. He questioned the decisions made by the Secret Service the night before Kennedy died.
“Don’t you think that if a man went to bed reasonably early, and hadn’t ben drinking the night before he would be more alert than if he stayed up until three or five o’clock in the morning going to beatnik joints and doing some drinking along the way?”
Seymour M. Hersh, an investigative journalist, noted in his book, The Dark Side of Camelot, that agents were overworked and often worked with little or no sleep before their shifts. He added that the relaxed culture of the Secret Service increased in frequency over the years, and by late 1963, a number of agents were known to regularly frequent bars until late morning hours.
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