ex-United States Secret Service Agent
June 26, 2019
Most people who were alive and older than four or five distinctly recall where they were on November 22, 1963. The day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas became ensconced in the collective American conscious for all time. While millions recall their whereabouts with ubiquitous clarity, few recall it in quite the same manner as Rad Jones. You see, Rad Jones was supposed to be there, in Dealey Plaza.
Instead, Rad “Wedge” Jones was in Washington, D.C. shopping for televisions, when the news of JFK’s assassination broke. While he was shocked along with the rest of the world, his feelings led to immediate action. That’s because Jones wasn’t just an ordinary American citizen, he was a member of the elite United States Secret Service, and assigned specifically to protect JFK and his family. Having been with the President on his recent re-election tour, he’d asked for the day off in Dallas because his wife was expecting and they had some preparing to do.
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Jones, at 23 years old, was the youngest of the agents. After growing up in Hillsdale, Michigan, he attended Michigan State University to play baseball and earn his criminal justice degree, after which he applied and was selected to the Secret Service. His very first assignment was protecting the Kennedy clan at “The Little White House”, the family compound in Hyannisport, Massachusetts. While there, he and his fellow agents were able to establish an easy bond with JFK, America’s youthful president.
Unlike most of the world who remained physically and emotionally frozen after learning of the shooting, Jones went home, threw a suit on and headed to the White House where he would protect the first family, Caroline, John Jr., and Jackie Kennedy, during the following tumultuous days.
As impossible as it is to fathom in an era of omnipresent cell phone cameras, and video, there was only one color, moving film of the assassination. Taken by Abraham Zapruder, it was confiscated, suppressed, and not shown to the American public until 1975, nearly 12 years after the assassination.
A vast amount of the details of the event remained a largely unexplored public topic, and unbelievably, it was never discussed amongst Kennedy’s Secret Service agents for 20 years. But as Jones described it—it was probably denial and trauma that prevented any dialogue—or even a late night bar room conversation.
The agents there in Dealey Plaza were seriously psychologically harmed by what they’d witnessed. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was not an accepted condition yet in 1963—and would not be for decades to come. Given that level of trauma. It’s not that difficult to understand why they might not want to relive it. For Jones there’s always an element of “I should have been there”. Logically, he doesn’t believe he could have saved the President, but emotionally, it’s another story.
The aftermath of the Kennedy Assassination did, however, fundamentally altered the way the Secret Service performs their job. Rad was an integral part of that shift.
He would go on to protect six Presidents in all: JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan.
Two of those presidents, Ford and Carter, would each visit Flint during their Presidencies. (As an aside, President Ford, would stay in the same hotel and suite The Who had destroyed after their Atwood Stadium appearance in 1967 and when drummer, Keith Moon, infamously deposited a large vehicle in the hotel pool.)
His protection included heads of state, first families, Vice Presidents, and Presidential candidates. Rad also was coordination of security during the 1976 Presidential inauguration.
After 20 years, he moved from the Secret Service, where he was Special Agent for the Michigan Division, on to Ford Motor Company becoming their Manager of Security and Fire Protection, a position with global responsibilities, where he stayed for 21 years. He was listed as one of Security Magazine’s top 25 most influential security professionals in 2009. Among his many associations and positions, today, he is a Masters Level instructor in Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice.
Jones is an eyewitness to Flint history, American history, and indeed, many of the social, economic, and geopolitical movements and people who have largely crafted the world we all live in today. In many ways, large and small, Rad Jones is a national treasure. It’s an honor and a privilege to preserve some of his experiences here on Fish and the Flint Chronicles!
John F. Kennedy in Flint
As in communities throughout the country, President Kennedy was revered in Flint. Many of my friends' homes, regardless of race or religion, featured a framed photo of JFK on the wall, as though he were a member of their family. He was viewed as a champion of civil rights, the working man, and to many, a youthful visionary who challenged them with, "Ask not what our country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." He visited Flint, on of his target cities, during his campaign to claim the Presidency. Following a parade down Saginaw Street, JFK gave a memorable--and foresighted--speech at Flint's Atwood Stadium, where he warned the city against the coming changes in manufacturing, and the impact automation and technological progress would have on the community and jobs.