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Rufus Youngblood

John Simkin

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Rufus Youngblood joined the Secret Service in March, 1951 as a criminal investigator in Atlanta. Two years later he was assigned to Washington and later went to work in the White House where he helped to protect Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. In 1961 he was given responsibility to look after the safety of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Youngblood was one of the few members of the Secret Service who acted as he should have done on 22nd November, 1963. As soon as Youngblood heard the first shot he immediately turned and pulled the vice president below window level, then climbed over the seat and covered his body with his own. Youngblood received the Treasury Department's Exceptional Service Award for "outstanding courage and voluntary risk of personal safety" for his action under fire.

Youngblood was with Kennedy's body when it was taken back to Washington. This has raised suspicions about the motives of Johnson, but this is rejected by Youngblood: "I was telling Johnson that the safest thing for us was to get out of there and get back to Washington. He said that we were not leaving without Mrs. Kennedy, and she wasn't leaving without her husband's body. There was nothing sinister about it. Some people are just trying to make something up that isn't really there."

In 1964 LBJ remarked "My life is in the hands of Georgia and it is 24 hours a day under the direction of Rufus Youngblood, and no greater or more noble son has this state ever produced, and no braver or more courageous man." The following year Youngblood was promoted to assistant director of the Secret Service.

The picture shows Youngblood with LBJ.


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Gary Goettling interviewed Youngblood for his book, Eyewitness to the Death of a President (1992):

Rufus W. Youngblood has more than a passing interest in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Like millions of A Americans, the 1950 industrial engineering graduate remembers exactly where he was and what he was doing on November 22, 1963. He was riding in a motorcade in downtown Dallas.

As the special agent in charge of the vice presidential Secret Service detail, Youngblood rode in an open Lincoln convertible with Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, Texas Sen. Ralph Yarborough and a driver. Only a Secret Service follow-up car separated him from the president's limousine, and the violence that unfolded there with graphic finality on a warm Dallas afternoon 28 years ago.

Who killed Kennedy? It's a question Youngblood has been asked hundreds of times, and his firm answer defies popular opinion: "Lee Harvey Oswald."

"I support the findings of the Warren Commission. (Conspiracy theorist) have had investigation after investigation, and nobody has come up with anything concrete. Nothing."

Actor Kevin Costner "should have stuck to dancing with wolves," Youngblood says tartly, referring to the movie "JFK." Although he says that he has not seen the Oliver Stone film, he is familiar with its premise, which implicates Lyndon Johnson and the secret service in a massive conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy and cover up the crime. Stone, he notes, "is making a whole bunch of money from it," a motive that he believes drives other conspiracy proponents as well.

Youngblood has not read any of the dozens of "conspiracy books" that promulgate theories ranging from CIA plots to French hit-men, but he is generally familiar with their assertions. In particular, he labels as "ridiculous" an upcoming book that blames the assassination of "friendly fire" from a secret service agent.

"I don't think any Secret Service guy fired his weapon down there that day. I could look ahead and see (George) Hickey, an agent in the president's follow-up car, who had the AR-15 (rifle). He stood up and looked, but didn't see anything to fire at."

Kennedy's body was removed from Parkland Hospital by the Secret Service and flown back to Washington aboard Air Force One, technically a violation of Texas law which states that homicide victims must be autopsied in-state. Many conspiracy proponents point to that as evidence of Secret Service complicity in an assassination cover-up.

"That's nitpicking," Youngblood says. "I was telling Johnson that the safest thing for us was to get out of there and get back to Washington. He said that we were not leaving without Mrs. Kennedy, and she wasn't leaving without her husband's body. There was nothing sinister about it. Some people are just trying to make something up that isn't really there."

Youngblood is particularly bothered because "children growing up are not going to know what to believe because the apparently the adults don't know what to believe," he says, a reference to polls which indicate that over 70 percent of the public does not support the lone-gunman conclusion in the Warren Report.

The bi-partisan Warren Commission did a thorough investigation of the crime, including the subsequent killing of Oswald, and reached the most reasonable and logical conclusions, Youngblood says. Acknowledging that there are some "honest skeptics," Youngblood believes that more people would concur with the commissions' findings - if they read them.

"I'd say that 90 percent of the public has never read (the summary), says Youngblood, who keeps a bound copy of the report on a living-room bookshelf. And although he has not read all 26 volumes himself, he has read the two-inch thick summary, and reviewed the other volumes...

Inevitably, the conversation drifts back to 1963 and the tragedy that staggered the world - and put Rufus Youngblood's name in a hundred reporter's notebooks.

Up until the time the presidential motorcade turned onto Elm Street, "it looked like just another very successful political trip," Youngblood remembers. "They wanted crowds, and they got crowds.

As the procession crawled into Dealey Plaza, Youngblood glanced up at the clock on the roof of the Texas School Book Depository. It flashed 12:30. Less than a minute to the freeway, and only five minutes to the Trade Mart, he thought. That instant, piercing through the shouts of the thinning crowd, and the stuttering and backfiring of police motorcycle's, Youngblood heard the shattering crack! of a rifle. His reaction was immediate and instinctive.

"Get down!" he yelled. "Get down!" And in the time it takes to pull the bolt of a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, Youngblood had vaulted over the back of the limousine seat onto Vice President Johnson, pushing him to the floor of the Lincoln convertible and shielding Johnson's body with his own...

Lyndon Johnson, on the other hand, did not receive universal high marks for his performance after the assassination, mostly from people who felt he jumped into the presidency with more enthusiasm than appropriate or necessary. "I'm really surprised at a lot of the things that have been written," Youngblood says. "Some nasty things have been said about him, and the guy could not have been any more considerate toward the president's family and the president's staff. I mean, not only on that day and the flight back, but through the ensuing months and even years. They didn't treat him as nicely as he treated them."

Youngblood is still dogged by the Kennedy assassination - not so much by the past as the present; but the outrageous speculation and accusations of people who literally spent years dissecting decisions made in a few chaotic minutes or seconds. Once upon a time it may have hurt and sometimes it still makes him angry. But mostly, he is just tired of it.

"I wish they would just put it to rest," he sighs. "But they won't - not as long as someone can make a buck off it."

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"I was telling Johnson that the safest thing for us was to get out of there and get back to Washington."

How odd. Why didn't someone tell Bush that when he hung around a schoolhouse full of children for half an hour after being informed by his chief of staff (not by anyone from the Secret Service) that "America is under attack"? I recall that a military aide who was there with Bush was heard to say impatiently, "We're out of here," but I guess the Secret Service just looked at the aide like he was crazy, since no one went anywhere. Instead Bush (after finishing the pet goat story) sat down and composed a little speech while watching the WTC burn on TV.

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