Story used with permission of the writer. NLN 10/19/2010
September 27, 2010
Former Secret Service agent remembers day JFK was shot
By DELANIA TRIGG, City Editor Gainesville Daily Register
Former U.S. Secret Service Agent Mike Howard (left) meets a member of the audience following his presentation at
the Santa Fe Depot Saturday night. Howard talked about his security detail assignment during the Kennedy
Gainesville — Look closely at photos taken at Fort Worth’s Texas Hotel the night before John F. Kennedy was
assassinated and you might recognize former U.S. Secret Service Agent Mike Howard standing near President
Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline.
“I’m the one in the middle there, the one that’s got the dumb look on their face,” Howard quipped as he spoke to
group who gathered to hear him speak at the Santa Fe Depot Saturday night.
Howard used historic photos during his lecture for members of the Cooke County Heritage Society and other guests.
He kept the crowd spellbound as he talked about the final 24 hours of Kennedy’s life beginning with the Kennedys’
arrival at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth on a rainy night in November 1963.
Howard admitted that being a secret service agent had some drawbacks. Agents had to balance the president’s
desire to interact with the public with their need to keep him safe.
That night in Fort Worth was no different. Kennedy wanted to shake hands with his supporters as they clamored to
see him and touch him.
“I was trying to get (the president and Mrs. Kennedy) in the (hotel) elevator because we had the crowd and you
worry about those things. It was our job to keep them out of trouble, but you can’t keep them out of trouble if they
keep reaching out shaking hands with people,” he said.
Displaying a black and white photo of the couple at the hotel, Howard pointed out details.
It had rained that night and the ever-fashionable Jackie Kennedy had wet hair and wet clothes. But as always, she
was courteous to the crowd.
“Mrs. Kennedy is signing autographs here as she is getting into the elevator,” Howard noted.
He also reminded the audience things hadn’t been easy for Jacqueline Kennedy.
“She had just lost their third child, and she had already had a miscarriage one time before. But this one, Patrick, did
not make it and so she had not really gotten over that and that had been about three weeks (earlier.) She wasn’t
really up to this travel but she said she would go with Jack because of the fact that he felt like Texas and California
were crucial (for winning the election) and so they were on this trip,” he said.
Howard who worked with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Ford, said he especially liked his security detail with the
“Working with President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy and the children was a whole lot of fun really. They were fun
people,” he said. “Mrs. Kennedy was very bashful if you will. A lot of people said that she was somewhat snobbish.
Well, that wasn’t true at all. She was bashful and she wasn’t snobbish at all. She did not like to be in politics. She
did not like to go around the country and help him get elected. That’s because she didn’t like politics. Period. But
nevertheless she did, from time to time, go with him. Every time she got up to speak, she drew a better crowd or a
better ovation than President Kennedy did.”
Howard said huge crowds turned out to welcome the president and first lady on each leg of their ill-fated Texas trip.
“When they came in to Carswell Air Force Base it was pouring down rain. I thought, ‘They’ll stay on the plane at
least till it lets up.’ Couldn’t do that. They’re politicking and they’re trying to get the votes from people and the
streets were literally lined with people. Ten thousand people on the street all the way from Carswell Air Force Base
all the way downtown to the Texas Hotel. And people, with their umbrellas and (they) all were bent over, trying to
see in the car. So President Kennedy kept the windows down although he was getting soaking wet. He waved at
everybody and it was really something to see. We really didn’t like him to keep the windows down because we were
afraid there might be someone out there who wanted to take him out,” he said.
Howard said the Dallas and Fort Worth visits weren’t even on Kennedy’s original itinerary.
He was scheduled for just one stop in Houston before the couple headed for California. Then other politicians
convinced the president to visit their towns. A San Antonio congressman wanted Kennedy in his city to help garner
hispanic votes. Congressman Jim Wright wanted him to come to Ft. Worth to see “real Texans.” Another politician
pushed the administration to add a Dallas stop. Then an Austin congressman requested Kennedy visit the state’s
The grand finale of the trip was supposed to be a big barbecue and a stop at the LBJ Ranch.
Howard said it was difficult for the Secret Service to plan security for such an elaborate trip.
For one thing, there weren’t enough agents.
“We were short of people. In 1963, we had 325 Secret Service agents. That’s all we had for the 48 states and
Europe. At that time we only had 36 men assigned to the White House detail which is taking care of the president
and the first lady and the two children,” he said.
Funding for new equipment was another continuous issue.
“We could not get anything through Congress to save our life. We tried our best to get appropriations through there
and get more people and get better equipment,” he said.
Despite their high-profile assignments, Secret Service agents did not lead glamorous lives.
They drove cars confiscated from criminals and carried firearms from the 1920s.
“When I went in the Secret Service they issued me a .38 revolver. It was called a .38-41. Do you remember ‘The
Untouchables?’ Those guns were made for those people at that time — the 1920s and early 1930s. Here we were
in the 1960s using that same weapon. Most of the cars we had were cars that we confiscated from people. I’m
serious. What happened was if you had a counterfeiting case or a hot check case where they were forging and
cashing Treasury checks and if they were hauling these checks in the car, then we had a right to confiscate the car.
That’s how we got most of our cars,” he said.
In addition, the agents didn’t have radio equipment and used primitive, often unreliable mobile phones in the cars.
Howard said Kennedy’s assassination led to changes in the Secret Service.
“I have to tell you this, that the assassination of John F. Kennedy finally got us new equipment. It took that because
these congressmen had the attitude that they didn’t think it was right for the President of the United States to be
getting protection if they, the congressmen, didn’t have it,” he said.
Kennedy’s Texas campaign trip was also exhausting for the agents.
“We hadn’t had any sleep for days because of the fact that we were working on this trip for them to come in to Fort
Worth,” Howard said.
The morning of the assassination, Democratic leaders had planned a $500-a-plate breakfast fundraising at the
Howard said several politicians including then-Texas Governor John Connally and Vice President Lyndon Johnson
were at the event.
The president arrived and took his place on the platform, but Jacqueline Kennedy was still in her suite on the hotel’
s sixth floor.
“There was one seat that was open, and it was the one for President Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline. That seat was
open, and people noticed it and wanted to know (where she was.) You could wear it all over the room. It was a like a
wave. It said, ‘Jackie. Jackie. Jackie.’ They wanted to see Jackie,” he said.
Speaking through a two-way radio, an agent told Howard the president wanted Jacqueline there when he spoke. He
told Howard to go upstairs and get the first lady.
Howard said he was reluctant to hurry Jackie Kennedy along, but felt compelled to follow orders.
He went to the president’s suite and found Secret Service Agent Clint Hill sitting outside the door.
In an aside, Howard reminded the audience that Hill is the agent seen in the Abraham Zapruder home movie which
captured the moment Kennedy was struck by bullets near Dealey Plaza.
“(Hill) is the one that jumped on the limousine and pushed Mrs. Kennedy back on the seat,” he said.
The two agents discussed the situation. Neither were eager to ask Jacqueline Kennedy to hurry up. As it turned out,
they didn’t have to.
“Just as I was about to tap on the door, the door opened and there she was in that pink suit and pill box hat and
black leather purse and black leather shoes. And she said, ‘Oh, good morning Mr. Howard. Isn’t it a beautiful day?’”
Howard said the crowd went wild when Jacqueline walked in. There were even some whistles from “some Texas
boys in the back of the room,” he said.
Kennedy made two speeches at the Texas hotel that morning —one in the hall for his supporters and another in the
parking lot for people who weren’t at the fundraiser.
After Kennedy left for the plane ride to Dallas, Howard and another agent made a sweep of the hotel suite, picking
up anything the president and first lady left behind in the rooms.
They took everything from discarded newspapers to a plastic shower cap from the bathroom. Howard said he was
standing near one of the president’s three television sets when he heard a single sentence. “There’s been a shot
fired in Dallas.”
He knew immediately it was an assassination attempt.
After a white-knuckle ride in his friend’s police interceptor, Howard arrived at Parkland Hospital in Dallas where he
found out the news was grim.
Jacqueline Kennedy was leaning against a wall in the hospital, still wearing her blood-spattered pink suit, Howard
He said Kennedy’s body was wrapped in a mattress cover because there wasn’t an appropriate body bag.
A deputy constable tried to keep Kennedy’s body in Dallas, claiming it was part of a murder investigation.
Jackie wouldn’t hear of it.
“She said, ‘No. He’s coming home,’” Howard said.
One of his most poignant memories is of Jacqueline Kennedy climbing into a limousine with her husband’s body.
“She wanted to ride with him,” Howard said.
Howard then shifted gears focusing on the hours after the assassination when the nation was in shock and those
who were assigned to the president focused their efforts on regrouping.
At least one suspect was taken into custody fairly quickly.
The suspect turned out to be a 20-year old man from Ranger who had purchased two firearms and had nothing to
do with the assassination.
When Lee Harvey Oswald was taken into custody, Howard was one of the agents assigned to Marina Oswald’s
He got to know Marina Oswald and gained some insight into the life she shared with her erratic, often abusive
Speaking through an interpreter, the Russian-born Marina Oswald told stories which left no doubt in Howard’s mind
that Oswald was the sole assassin.
“It was a conspiracy. A conspiracy of one,” he said when asked if others were involved in Kennedy’s death.
Howard also said he believes Oswald’s target may have been John Connally because Connally was once Secretary
of the Navy, and it was Connally who signed Oswald’s dishonorable discharge from the Marine Corps.
Howard has spoken many times about his life as a Secret Service agent. A Wise County native, he comes across as
a man who was part of a dark time in history yet never lost his optimism.
“I don’t know whether you would say that I was famous or infamous for this one reason: I was in the emergency
room when they pronounced John F. Kennedy dead and I was with President Johnson when they pronounced him
dead,” he noted.
Despite his penchant for entertaining crowds with his words, Howard said he has no plans to a write book.
He divides his time between teaching at Collin College and raising Appaloosas with his wife Martha.