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Did Kennedy's charisma kill him?

Last updated on: October 22, 2010 17:35 IST

Did Kennedy's charisma kill him?

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Former US President John F Kennedy wanted to stand up in an open-top car and wave, get out and shake hands, unencumbered. And that may have been why Dallas happened, says a new book

Former US President John F Kennedy wanted to stand up in an open-top car and wave, get out and shake hands, unencumbered. And that may have been why Dallas happened, says a new book

Just four days before his assassination in Dallas in 1963, former US President John F Kennedy had asked his secret service agents to back off and give him some space to campaign, his bodyguards have revealed.

"President Kennedy made a decision, and he politely told everybody, 'You know, we're starting the campaign now, and the people are my asset'. And so, we all of a sudden understood. It left a firm command to stay off the back of the car," said agent Jerry Blaine.


Image: President John F. Kennedy is seen working in the Oval Office in the White House
Photographs: REUTERS/JFK Presidential Library/The White House/Robert
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'We lost a symbol of our country'

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Blaine's revelations, and from other JFK's secret service agents in a forthcoming book, The Kennedy Detail reveal how challenging the charismatic president could be to protect, and how shaken his murder left those whose job it was to keep him safe, the Discovery News  reported.

Now, 47 years after the 35th US President was fatally shot on November 22, 1963, his bodyguards are sharing their memories about a charismatic man, his glamorous family, and a tragic ending.

"It was an assault on our country, on every single thing that we stand for. It was a thing that just must not be allowed to happen. And we were supposed to prevent it. And we failed. In our work, and in military work and things like that, you either get the job done or you don't.

"There are very few excuses. You can always say, 'Well, you know, it would have been a nice picnic if it didn't rain, but it rained'. And it rained on us. And so we lost a symbol of our country," said agent Toby Chandler, who was giving a speech to trainee agents when the news came in from Dallas.


Image: President John F Kennedy with his son, John Jr, in Newport, Rhode Island in this September 12, 1963 photo
Photographs: JFK Presidential Library/The White House/Robert Knudsen
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'He wanted to get out and shake hands, unencumbered'

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Compared to the presidents before him, JFK was a challenge to protect, especially in a motorcade, said agent Jerry Blaine. Eisenhower kept to himself and travelled in a closed-top car, Blaine explained, making him easy to cover. But Kennedy was charismatic. He wanted to stand up in an open-top car and wave. He wanted to get out and shake hands, unencumbered. He loved crowds. And the crowds were big. Still, the shooting in Dallas surprised everyone.

When agent Paul Landis heard the first shot from his seat in the car behind Kennedy, he continued to scan the buildings and the crowds. But he didn't see anything. "I thought, 'Well maybe there was a blow-out or something,'" Landis said. "When the third shot happened, I saw the President's head explode, just like a melon. And well, I knew as soon as he'd been hit, there was no way he was gonna survive that."


Image: President John F Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and Texas governor John Connally ride through Dallas moments before Kennedy was assassinated, November 22, 1963

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They pushed aside their emotions and went to work

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For the men who weren't on the scene, shock hit first. But they had jobs to do. So, they pushed aside their emotions and went to work, moving the children to a home in Georgetown, escorting the President's body to the White House, and later accompanying the First Lady on her powerful, yet dangerous walk from the White House to St Matthew's Cathedral.

"When all this is going on, your personal feelings are one of a tremendous emotional hit because of the respect you have for that family and for the president," remembered agent Tom Wells, who was escorting young Caroline to her sleepover when he heard the news that Kennedy had been shot.


Image: President John F. Kennedy's brother, Robert Kennedy, sister Patricia Lawford, daughter Caroline Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and his son John Jr depart the US Capitol after accompanying the president's casket to the Capitol rotunda in this November 24, 1963 photo
Photographs: JFK Library/National Park Service/Abbie Rowe
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