The Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) invited me to meet Paul Landis, a former U.S. presidential secret service agent, who was with President John Kennedy the day the president was assassinated. Landis was in Dallas as part of the Kennedy Secret Service detail November 22, 1963, and one of the bullets came over his right shoulder. I can't wait to meet him and hear the details of Kennedy's assassination. The meeting will take place this Sunday, November 15, 2015 in Cleveland.
Landis was within a few feet of the presidential limousine, the top of which had been removed at the president's request. He and several other secret service agents were trailing the limousine, watching for any unusual movement in the crowds of people who lined Dallas streets to get a view of the nation's chief executive.
When he heard the first shot, his eyes turned toward where he thought the shot had originated. Still searching the crowd, there came another shot in quick succession. Landis later reported, "And when my eyes came back to the president again, it was a third shot and that was the one that hit him in the head."
After he joined the secret service, he was transferred to duty at the White House, where his responsibilities included guarding First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the couple's children, Caroline and John Jr. Many newspaper photos from the past show Landis with the Kennedy children or Mrs. Kennedy. In one photo, he is running alongside a galloping horse ridden by Caroline, who is now U.S. ambassador to Japan.
He remembers wearing sunglasses and standing between the President and Mrs. Kennedy at the Dallas airport. Everyone was smiling, including the First Couple...then minutes later the smiles through Dallas and America turned into frowns as the nation, and world, mourned. Paul Landis said afterwards, "We had a job to do and that was to protect the president or whomever we were assigned to and if you fail, you fail."
It will be an interesting meeting this Sunday with Landis and I hope to learn more facts to relay. In the days before the diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder, he and other secret service agents were haunted by the assassination. He grieved inwardly for decades. Oddly, he said, agents rarely spoke of their inner feelings on the death of the president and there was no professional psychological counseling for the Secret Service agents who witnessed the murder of the president.
"No, that wasn't even thought of and heard of," said Landis, matter-of-factly. But the hurt was there in his mind and in his memory. "Very much so," he added.
The Discovery Channel produced a documentary, "The Kennedy Detail," where each man told his story of the assassination and how it had impacted his life. Perhaps, the documentary provided a therapy for Landis, who said, "That's the best thing that's happened to me since the assassination." He has recently stated that he is no longer haunted by the event that day and talks easily of the Kennedy Detail and of what he saw and heard that November day in Dallas.
After the Dallas assassination of President Kennedy, all presidents have been secured much more and Landis talks on how heavily armed agents are these days, although their weapons are not easily visible under their jackets. On that tragic day in November of 1962, he was carrying a .38 pistol.
At Parkland Hospital, where President Kennedy was rushed, Landis sat in a hallway with Mrs. Kennedy. He said she stared into space and said nothing. We all remember the media photos of her, dressed in a pink suit covered with her husband's blood stains. The images of her in the hospital and leaving Dallas on the Air Force One trip back to Washington sticks in all our minds.