President Johnson with SAIC Lem Johns

President Johnson with SAIC Lem Johns
President Johnson with SAIC Lem Johns

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Monday, June 25, 2012

LEM JOHNS

A life of Secret Service

By RICK WATSON
Inverness resident and former Secret Service agent Lem Johns holds a photo of himself standing behind President Lyndon Johnson and Jacqueline Kennedy as Johnson took the oath of office following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Photo by Rick Watson.
On November 22, 1963, four shots rang out at Daley Plaza in Dallas, the shots that were heard around the world.
Former Secret Service agent Lem Johns of Inverness remembers all too well where he was on that fateful day – less than 150 feet behind John F. Kennedy’s Lincoln Limosine.
“I was in the right rear seat of the car following the vice president’s limo, and I heard a shot that came from the right,” he said. Johns was riding in the third car in the motorcade with his door cracked, and the instant he heard the shot, he bolted from the vehicle and raced toward Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s limo.
Johns’ primary responsibility was protecting Johnson, and he needed to be in the car with him.
Film taken at the time of the assassination showed that Johns and his boss Rufus Youngblood both reacted instantly to protect the vice president when the first shot was fired.
But even with the lightning reflexes of the Secret Service, it was too late for Kennedy, the target of the bullet.
In a historic photograph taken later that evening, Lem Johns stands just behind Jacqueline Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson on Air Force One as he took the oath of office to become the thirty-sixth president of the United States.
After the assassination, Johns continued his role as Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAIC) but his duty station moved to the White House. He already had experience in the White House protecting President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the late 1950s.
“Being in the White House with Eisenhower gave me a chance to learn how things were done there,” said Johns.
The Secret Service had been understaffed for years, but after the Kennedy assassination, the organization ramped up its protection of high-level government officials as well as candidates for the presidency.
As the role of the Secret Service expanded, Johns became ASAIC for not only the presidential detail but for all the Secret Service. His role as ASAIC put him in a position to implement a number of initiatives that helped the Service to be more effective.
For example, he made presidential drivers and mechanics part of the Service. The drivers helped with advance team preparation whenever the president traveled. Johns also upgraded the weapons used by agents and acquired a bulletproof limousine, even though the president was hesitant to approve the expenditure.
During Johns’ time at the White House, President Johnson ushered a law through Congress that gave the Secret Service more power to coordinate with the military and other security organizations. Once enacted, the law was useful when the Service needed additional resources.
Another example of Johns’ creative problem solving came during the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami. The Secret Service needed 500 rooms to house the agents necessary to provide security for the convention. He soon learned there were so many candidates, delegates and media personnel at the event that there were no rooms available for the Secret Service.
Johns phoned the Joint Chiefs of Staff and requisitioned a naval ship to serve as lodging for agents. The ship was in dry dock in Norfolk, Va., undergoing renovation, but it was the only ship large enough to fit the bill.
“I asked them to double the work crews and complete the renovations on the voyage to Miami,” he remembered. And his strategy worked.
Hoover-based filmmaker John Jenkins took interest in Johns’ remarkable experience with the Secret Service and recently produced a documentary about his life that aired on Alabama Public Television.
Still, his life was not all the glamour worthy of films. Civil unrest of the 1960s made the job of the Secret Service even more stressful. There were a lot of divorces because of the demands on the agents, according to Johns.
“I always said, being an agent requires a team of two: the agent and his wife,” he said.
Johns and his wife, Nita, have been married 65 years, and his service must have made an impression on his family. His son, Jeff, became a Secret Service agent for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and his grandson Michael has served as a Secret Service agent for the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
Perhaps they were inspired by how Johns never regretted the stress and risks in his work.
“At any given moment, an agent is a foot away from history, but I’ve always considered it a great honor to serve.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CLINT HILL RE: VINCE PALAMARA

I am honored that, for the second time on C-SPAN (2 for 2), CEO Brian Lamb and Clint Hill (last time, with Gerald Blaine included) talked about me. 47:03 Clint talks about the JFK autopsy, burning his notes in 2005, nine OTHER agents who drank on a presidential trip (he was one of nine who drank the night before JFK was killed), and Vince Palamara

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Youngblood: Macon’s famous agent

Youngblood: Macon’s famous agent By ED GRISAMORE — gris@macon.com Posted: 10:08pm on May 5, 2012; Modified: 10:21pm on May 5, 2012 2012-05-06T02:21:14Z By ED GRISAMORE Rufus Youngblood Story Photos Secret Service agents are supposed to lurk in the shadows, with their dark glasses and pinstriped suits. They are designed to blend in with their surroundings, like camouflage paint on a canvas of campaign stops and stump speeches. They are the no-see-ums of the law enforcement world. They surround and protect the president and other high-ranking officials with an invisible shield. They are never supposed to be on the front page. Ever. Unless they are a hero. It is in times like these I wonder: What would Rufus have done? You probably have never heard of Rufus W. Youngblood Jr., which is the way it was supposed to be. When he was growing up, many folks knew him as “Wayne.” He was born in Macon, moved to Atlanta and spent 20 years in the Secret Service protecting five presidents. He made the front page in the days following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. He was assigned to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and was riding in the motorcade through Dallas, two cars behind Kennedy. Youngblood was in the front seat when the fatal shots were fired at 12:30 p.m. He did not know if a car had backfired or if someone had exploded a firecracker on one of the streets along Dealey Plaza. He immediately turned and jumped into the back seat, pushing LBJ down on the floorboard of the Lincoln convertible and shielding him with his body. At Parkland Hospital, he guarded the sequestered vice president with his revolver drawn. Four hours later, Johnson climbed aboard Air Force One. It was Youngblood who handed a Bible to Lady Bird Johnson, who gave it to her husband to use as he was sworn in as the 36th President by federal Judge Sarah Hughes. Youngblood was promoted to chief of the White House security detail. The following year, the year he turned 40, he returned to the city where he was born as part of a campaign rally on Oct. 26, 1964. An estimated crowd of 35,000 gathered in front of Macon City Hall. Youngblood would go on to be appointed deputy director of the Secret Service before he retired in 1971. Two years later, he wrote a book called “20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life With Five Presidents.” His publisher, Simon and Schuster, sent him on a book tour. He appeared on “Today” and “The Tonight Show.” Sales of the book, however, proved to be disappointing. Youngblood would later shrug and claim it never had a chance competing against the New York Times bestseller “Joy of Sex.” And, while we’re on the subject … No, I don’t think he ever went to Colombia. If he did, he probably stayed at the Holiday Inn and ordered room service. I have been able to piece together some details of his life. He was born in Macon in 1924. His father, Rufus W. Youngblood Sr., worked as a conductor for the Central of Georgia Railroad, riding the freight rails between Macon and Columbus. Rufus Sr. died in a train accident in Fort Valley when Rufus Jr. was 1 year old. He was crushed between two boxcars while attempting to turn on an air brake. It saved the life of a black man, Earl Burden, whose truck had crossed the tracks. So the father was a hero, too. The family moved to Atlanta, and Youngblood graduated from Tech High in the spring of 1941. Seven months later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He had to get his mother’s permission (he was only 17) to join the Army Air Force. He was a navigator and a gunner on the B-17s and participated in some of the first bombing raids over Nazi Germany. He was wounded during an air raid and received a Purple Heart. Youngblood went to Georgia Tech on the G.I. Bill and graduated with a degree in industrial engineering. He thought about joining the FBI. He even considered enrolling in law school at Mercer. He was working for an air-conditioning and refrigeration company in Waycross when he learned through the placement office at Tech about a job in the Atlanta office of the Secret Service. His first duties were as a criminal investigator for counterfeiting and check fraud. His starting salary was $3,825 a year. Within two years, he was transferred to Washington, where he was assigned to protect Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. While Truman liked to play poker, Ike was an avid golfer. So Youngblood and the other agents in the security detail would often play either in front of or behind the president’s foursome, carrying high-powered rifles in the their bags along with their 7-irons. Richard Nixon was the last president he protected. He was 47 when he retired and moved with his wife, Peggy, to Savannah, where they sold real estate. He died of lung cancer in 1996 at age 72. His heroic actions of almost 50 years ago earned him the Exceptional Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Treasury Department. He was always modest about his acts of courage. He was just doing his job. He was one of the good guys. Perhaps we all need a reminder.

Friday, March 30, 2012

"Mrs. Kennedy and Me"

OUTSTANDING: SECOND ONLY TO "WITHIN ARM'S LENGTH"! I so wanted to dislike this book. As the leading civilian literary expert on the Secret Service, I had previously----and rightfully---lambasted Lisa McCubbin's prior effort entitled "The Kennedy Detail" for its rewriting of history, blaming JFK for his own death and putting words in the late president's mouth that he never once uttered, as verified by the prior accounts of numerous top agents and White House aides, many of whom WERE there in Dallas (unlike former agent Gerald Blaine). As previously stated, it was my 22-page letter to former agent Clint Hill that angered him and his best friend to whom I had also spoken to, the aforementioned Blaine, that directly led to the writing of "The Kennedy Detail" and, by extension, the need to write a follow-up tome, "Mrs. Kennedy & Me" (whenever a book is even a mild best-seller, which their first effort was, it is almost a guarantee that, if there is any gas left in the tank, so to speak, a further literary work will be forthcoming). In fact, both agents Blaine and Hill debated the merits of my research on television and, if that weren't enough, I was mentioned on pages 359-360 of "The Kennedy Detail" (without naming me, of course). One could argue several other pages refer to my work, directly or indirectly, but I digress from the matter at hand. Simply put, "Mrs. Kennedy & Me" is stupendous: a literary home run, second only to another brand new work, the outstanding 2012 book "Within Arm's Length" by former agent Dan Emmett, as attaining the mantle of being the greatest book on the Secret Service by a former agent ever to date (1865-2012 and counting). I almost cannot believe I am writing this but, alas, honesty prevails: Mr. Hill and Ms. McCubbin have alot to be proud of for this book---it is consistently everything "The Kennedy Detail" is not: truthful, honest, no axe to grind, not dry or boring, well written, and coming from the perspective of a brave and dedicated public servant who WAS truly there (to be fair, even "The Kennedy Detail", and certainly the documentary it was based on, had its moments, although my judgment is rightfully clouded by what I and others feel are the purposeful untruths and propaganda contained throughout, as well as the exasperating third-person narrative interwoven throughout the book, making it hard to pin down exactly WHO was responsible for specific passages. President Kennedy did NOT order the agents off his limousine in Tampa, in Dallas, or anywhere else, for that matter- SAIC Behn, ASAIC Boring, ATSAIC Godfrey, many of their colleagues, and several prominent White House aides said so). Do I still have misgivings about some of the agents on the Kennedy Detail? Sure; that will never change. Am I also an ardent admirer of the Secret Service? You bet: the agency has a whole lot to be proud of. Clint Hill at least TRIED to do something that fateful day in Dallas and carried much guilt and depression over the sad events of that time and place. That is a whole lot more than several of his colleagues can lay claim to. That aside, "Mrs. Kennedy & Me" is highly recommended to everyone for its honesty and rich body of true, first-hand accounts of guarding First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Too bad this book wasn't even longer and "The Kennedy Detail" did not exist, but one cannot ask for everything. Please purchase this fine book as soon as possible!