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DEARBORN, Mich. — To pin-drop silence, former Secret Service agent Clint Hill recalled everything in detail about the morning of Nov. 22, 1963.
At the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich., on Tuesday, Hill recounted the pivotal moments from the motorcade's tight turn on Elm Street in Dallas to his leap onto the presidential limousine in a desperate effort to protect first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Hill, assigned to her detail for years, said he "heard an explosive noise over my right shoulder, from the rear. … I realized something was wrong. The president grabbed at his throat and moved to his left … I jumped." But it was the third shot, he said, that did the most damage. "I heard it. I felt it … because it hit the president in the head."
Standing on a stage to the right of that same four-door Lincoln Continental, now on display at the Dearborn historic museum, Hill, 81, described the moment when Jacqueline Kennedy refused to let go of her husband, John F. Kennedy, outside Parkland Hospital.
He took off his jacket to cover the assassinated president's head. "She didn't want anybody to see the condition he was in, because it was horrible," he told the rapt audience.
Hill's appearance was part of the Henry Ford's "JFK Remembered" events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that tragic day in Dallas.
The vehicle used by Kennedy that day, which was rebuilt and returned to the White House motorcade in 1964, is one of the history-preserving site's most popular exhibits.
This week was Hill's first encounter with the limo since his retirement from the Secret Service, according to the museum.
Tuesday night, Hill stood onstage before about 430 people with Lisa McCubbin, co-author of his 2012 best seller, Mrs. Kennedy and Me, as well as his new book that came out Tuesday, Five Days in November. To a backdrop of photos and videos, McCubbin guided Hill through a look back at the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination.
Hill stood throughout the presentation as he offered his recollections, often with his hands clasped behind his back and never turning to look at the car where it all happened.
He talked about key moments, such as the flight back to Washington, D.C., on Air Force One, during which Jacqueline Kennedy asked to speak to him. "She stood up, she grabbed my hand and said, 'Oh, Mr. Hill, what's going to happen to you?' " he said, describing her concern for others at a time when she was still wearing her blood-spattered pink suit.
Hill addressed his decades-long struggle to deal with the emotions of that day. "It has been very cathartic for me to finally unload this information, really," he said of working with McCubbin on the books, noting how he was persuaded ultimately to share his story for history.
For those in attendance who were not alive in 1963, they said they learned a lot from Hill.
"I think it was very cool he told his story. Now I have a better perspective than I had before. This is someone who was actually there at the time," said Dresden Cogan, 13, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Also in the audience was Paul Landis, who served on Jacqueline Kennedy's Secret Service detail with Hill and drove from the Cleveland area for the event. "I just wanted to be here tonight to see Clint," he said.