Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

In JFK's Secret Service ; Ex-Owensboro School Chief Reflects on Protecting President

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

In JFK's Secret Service ; Ex-Owensboro School Chief Reflects on Protecting President

Article excerpt

A few days into his assignment in Florida, U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Frank Yeager introduced President John F. Kennedy to the hotel manager at the International Inn in Tampa, Fla. It was Monday afternoon, Nov. 18, 1963, and the president spoke to members of Tampa's United Steelworkers union at the hotel during his brief visit. Kennedy and then 28-year-old Yeager parted ways after that. Yeager headed up to Austin, Texas, for another advance assignment.

Kennedy, after a motorcade parade through the streets of Tampa and another speech, was destined for Miami.

For Yeager, a man behind the scenes in the last years of Kennedy's prolific life, it was the last time he saw the president alive.

Yeager, a retired superintendent of schools who oversaw Owensboro, Ky., public schools from 1984-91, was born in Louisville, Ky., in 1935. After a few years of teaching and coaching high school football in Jeffersonville, Ind., Yeager felt the urge to become a federal law enforcement officer.

"I was literally looking for the FBI office in Louisville," said Yeager, now 78. "I went to the post office and found the FBI was not located in the post office at Louisville, but the Secret Service was."

He became interested in what the Secret Service offered and, after clearing the necessary requirements, Yeager was offered a position with the service as a special appointment, meaning at some point in his career he'd have to work in the White House.

"I didn't have any law enforcement background, but I had been a pretty decent athlete," said Yeager, who played center for his undefeated college football team and was captain and coach for the 1957 baseball team for Centre College in Kentucky.

After some time working in the St. Louis field office "playing cops and robbers, trying to catch the bad guys," Yeager was reassigned to the detail for Rose Kennedy, the president's mother, in whose service he became acquainted with various members of the Kennedy family.

As for stories from his time with the family, Yeager has been very discriminate in what he has shared over the years.

"We lived with the families and that, in a lot of ways, put us inside the life of some people, and I know they're public figures, but I don't feel I'm in that kind of position to want to share that kind of personal stuff. I think the private stuff is private. I try to keep it separate in my own mind."

In 1961, Yeager joined Kennedy's detail until he was reassigned to Lyndon Johnson's detail following Kennedy's assassination.

"He was a great guy to work for - he had a great sense of humor, very, very bright and very caring," said Yeager of Kennedy.

For Yeager, the job was great. From protecting the president behind the Iron Curtain in Berlin to being a fly on the wall during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was there.

Kennedy's likability made him easier to protect, Yeager said. However, the public demand to be able to interact and visibly see the president posed its problems.

The biggest threat to presidential security? "Going in a pre- announced motorcade, in a big city, with tall buildings, with a lot of windows and roofs, and the high-powered rifle that somebody would have," Yeager said. "And that's Dallas, if you think about it."

On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, Yeager was in Austin, prepping for Kennedy's arrival. The president was to arrive in Dallas at 11:35 a.m., have a motorcade parade en route to the Dallas Trade Mart, then arrive in Austin at 3:15 p.m., before settling in at Vice President Johnson's ranch in the evening.

Yeager was in his hotel room at 12:30 p.m.

"An advance agent in the Secret Service has a direct line to the White House wherever you're at in the world," Yeager said. "I got a call from the White House saying, 'The president's been shot, stand by, get the midnight crew up,' who had been in Fort Worth the night before. …

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