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The Prophecy

July 2024
2min read

I was nineteen, and I’d just finished up a year as a member of President Eisenhower’s honor guard. I loved marching in the weekly tattoos at the Iwo Jima Memorial and at our own Marine barracks. I loved the street parades, the diplomatic arrival and departure ceremonies, the sentry duty at Blair House when the President received guests of state. And I loved the two weeks out of every six when our platoon rotated from Washington to the President’s retreat at Camp David.

Now it was time for the general from Kansas to transfer his power to the patrician from Massachusetts, and I wondered if my second year in the guard would prove as memorable as the first.

I didn’t enjoy the inaugural parade. Anyone old enough will remember the deep snow and bitter cold. I remember being outside in the Capitol staging area four hours early, along with the honor guards from the other services—hundreds of marchers and not a restroom in sight.

“This guy’s going to get himself killed one day.... He thinks he’s invulnerable. And he’s going to get himself killed.”

Our first glimpse of Camelot came that night, at the inaugural ball. The orchestra played “Hail to the Chief,” and the President and Mrs. Kennedy were announced. He looked properly squared away, although to tell the truth, he needed a haircut; she, in her elegant white sheath, simply looked amazing. The effect was unmistakable: We stood in the presence of royalty.

But royalty rarely has the time or inclination to consider commoners, and our humble status was confirmed when the Kennedys first visited Camp David in October. “Listen up, people,” barked the top sergeant at a platoon briefing the day before. “The President and the First Lady want Caroline to think she’s a normal kid living a normal life. They don’t want their daughter to see any men in uniform. If you see her coming, if you see anyone in the presidential party coming, just hide in the woods.” This was a complete turnabout from the days when the President and Vice President would stop to chat with base personnel. It did not leave us with good feelings.

Nevertheless we spent a crisp fall weekend trying to provide topflight security while hiding from anyone in civilian clothes. History records that we succeeded in the security department; we utterly failed at avoiding Caroline. The First Daughter had free run of the camp, and she was everywhere. She socialized with us in the recreation lodge; she hitched a jeep ride with the roving patrol; she even dropped by to see us in our barracks. So much for the presidential dictum.

While Caroline cavorted about the camp, a Secret Service agent privately groused in the sentry house at the main gate. “This guy’s impossible,” he said, referring to the President. The agent was a veteran; I remembered him from last year at the Summer White House in Newport. He had reason to complain. While President Eisenhower had religiously followed Secret Service precautions to guard his safety, Kennedy often did not.

“We clear a chopper route, he decides to take the limo,” the agent said. “So we clear a route for the limo, and he decides to go another way. There’s no time to clear the new route, so we have to drive it cold. He’s making us nuts.” He shook his head. “And when we tell him to put the bulletproof bubble on the convertible, he says no. Says he doesn’t want anything between himself and the people. Can you believe it? Listen. This guy’s going to get himself killed one day. He really is. He thinks he’s invulnerable. And he’s going to get himself killed.”

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