President Johnson with SAIC Lem Johns

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

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.

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