Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to the Secret Service and Presentation of an Award to James J. Rowley

November 23, 1968

Mr. Secretary, Director Rowley, members of the Secret Service, ladies and gentlemen:

I asked you to take a few moments this morning to come out here so I could say something to you that I have thought for 8 years and have rarely expressed.

That is the feeling that the President and the members of his family have, for their associates under the laws of the United States--the Secret Service.

President Harry Truman once said that the Secret Service is the only boss the President really has. I think he meant in addition to Mrs. Truman.

But I think all the Presidents that have worked with the Secret Service have shared that same feeling. Implicit in that statement is the great respect that we all have for the quality and the character and the dedicated service that this particular breed of men brings to their country and to the Presidency.

For more than 8 years now my life and the life of my family have been entrusted to you. I have never made a secret of my admiration for you. But the means by which you protect the President and his family, and the Nation's highest officials, are something I think that the country doesn't fully recognize or appreciate. Your protection is given by preparation and weary, backbreaking hours of hard work. I have seen it all around the world. There is no greater testimony to your efficiency than the recent trip we took when we were in the air 59 hours and on the ground 53 hours, and conferred with more than a dozen heads of state in that many countries.

Several of those men speaking for those countries said to me, "Mr. President, what an extraordinary group of men accompany you."

As long as I live I am going to have a very special memory of this extraordinary group of men and a sentimental, affectionate feeling for each of them.

This may be a surprise to most of you because I don't express that sentiment through the days. I know that sometimes you are surprised at the way I react to your orders and sometimes I am surprised at the way you react to mine.

I will never forget that day in Dallas when a great big, husky roughneck from Georgia threw 185 pounds of human weight on me, and said, "down." And there wasn't any place to go but down because he was on top of me.

His life was being offered to protect mine.

At least he thought so.

I will never forget the daily knowledge that my wife and my family--no matter how frequently they are drawn into public--were protected by the finest professionals in the world. And if there is anyone that we love outside of our family, it is the Secret Service.

Mrs. Johnson said to me just this week that one thing she was blessed with that other mothers weren't blessed with was that Luci and Lynda had, in the absence of their husbands, in their general vicinity, the finest protective care that this Nation could produce.

A lot of things you have had to live through with me. If I could rewrite them, I would change a lot of them because I have abused you, I have criticized you, I have been inconsiderate of you, and all of those things that you know better than I do.

I have spent more of my time telling you what you did wrong than what you have done right. But Luci, Lynda, and Mrs. Johnson remind me every day of how blessed you have been to them.

As I stand here on this lawn this morning, I think about the sunsets and the sunrises we have seen together in the hills of home. I also think about the occasions that we have grieved together--in Dallas; and I remember in Australia when I just couldn't keep back the tears when I looked in the face of Jerry Kivett, Dick Johnsen, Jerry McKinney, Lem Johns, and Bob Heyn, and the dearest of all, Rufus Youngblood, with that paint streaming down their faces, splattered all over them, but their chins up and their President safe.

I remember Bob Taylor standing there and letting the Cadillac run over his foot in order to protect his President from harm.

I will never forget the great integrity that each man in this Service has shown, and I don't except any of them--I mean every one of them. And I think that is unusual.

You hear a lot about the FBI. I admire them and I applaud them. But I don't yield to them a bit in integrity and competency when you talk about the Secret Service. We are thankful that we have both of these services.

Night before last, I was giving Tom Johnson the dickens for a mishap when I was going to drop in on a group of directors of the Urban League. One of the directors invited me there.

I said, "Notify them we are coming?' Tom passed on the instruction and Clint Hill executed it in his usually intelligent way by code.

The fellow on the other end just didn't understand all of the code. He came back and said, "I can't find that party here out of 300 or 400 in 3 or 4 seconds."

So Hill said, "I am not sure they have arrived yet, Tom," and we had to drive around the block a time or two. By that time, I became impatient. I realized that Tom was in a new capacity since Jim Jones was out honeymooning.

I felt a little sorry for myself that late in the evening and I said, "Tom, why do you do this to me?" Then characteristically, Clint Hill, before Tom could answer, said, "Mr. President, that is my mistake--my error."

I said, "Well, why did you make it? What is wrong with you?" He said, "I communicated a code and we didn't understand it."

So before any more time passed, I started feeling sorry for Clint instead of myself. I was grateful that I had a man who had integrity enough to step up and face the music and say it was his fault, because that is the kind of a man that we all admire.

I want to close by saying that I don't think that there has ever been a burden placed on any agency that was more heavy or more spontaneous or more sudden than the burden placed upon you to guard the presidential and vice presidential candidates this summer, as well as the three Presidents and their families.

Overnight, you received this assignment in, oh as I recall, 3 o'clock in the morning-you took up your posts of duty. You shifted your assignments. You left your families. You adapted yourselves to unprecedented demands and as usual you carried out your job with quiet heroism and with the dedication for which you have become very famous.

I think you ought to know this: I think every single candidate, including the President-elect and the Vice President-elect, took time out of their busy schedule during that campaign and afterwards to write the President and say how they appreciated the courtesy and the quality of service that you had given.

But no one could be more grateful to you than I am. I am most appreciative that my withdrawal from the Presidency, I am sure, will be made a good deal easier by the knowledge that you are around me still and in the general vicinity as long as I live.

As a very great character said here one time, I think rather nonchalantly--an expression that grew into one of our most memorable phrases due to the cooperation of the fourth estate--"I know I am going to sleep a little better each night knowing you are around."

Now, I am sure the press with their usual objectivity will wonder why I have mentioned agents like Rufus Youngblood, Clint Hill, Lem Johns, and Bob Taylor without saying anything about Director Rowley.

Well, I have a lot to say about Director Rowley because he symbolizes all of them. And what I say about him applies to each of them. We have a little surprise for Director Rowley this morning. At least I hope it is a surprise. Most of the surprises I plan don't turn out that way, because I learned a long, long time ago it is hard to keep a secret from the Secret Service.

I didn't tell anybody but George Christian yesterday that I was going to have an examination-some X-rays made before I left. And in 15 minutes, the doctor came up and said, "Is it true you are going to the hospital today?" And I said, "No. How did you get that information? Did George Christian tell you that?" He said, "No, sir." I said, "Who said it?" He said, "the Secret Service."

Well, Jim, although the citation I am about to read is directed to you, I hope that each of your agents throughout this land in some 60 or 70 offices will recognize that it is for them, too.

To you, and Emory Roberts, who I am sorry can't be here today--he greets me every morning and tells me goodby every night-to all the members of your family, I want to say that I believe of all the employees that I have known in the Federal Government in 38 years that I have worked, from a doorkeeper, to secretary, to Congressman, Senator, and Vice President, I don't believe that I have ever seen any collective group that is possessed with as much integrity, as much character, as much selflessness, and as much courage as your men.

So, if you will bring me that citation, I will read it. The President's Federal Civilian Service Board, made up of Mr. Macy, Mr. Nitze, and other distinguished members, on the recommendations of Secretary Fowler and others, has recommended to the president, and the President has approved, this award.

There will be several that will come later in the year for outstanding civil servants as we do each year. But this is a very special one. And I want to present It now while all of you are here.

I am so happy that Mr. Rowley's family can be here because they have sacrificed so many years to make something like this possible.

[At this point the President read the text of the award.]



To honor James J. Rowley is to honor the United States Secret Service, which he directs with unsurpassed skill and devotion.

In more than 30 years of distinguished duty, he has come to personify the Service's noble tradition of courage and loyalty.

The Secret Service protected America's electoral process itself in the recent political campaign, when violence and controversy were stronger than in any Presidential election of our time. Despite the tides of turbulence and tension, the Service enabled all the major candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency to meet safely with the American people, in every part of our land.

But Director Rowley has left his mark on more than the Secret Service.

He symbolizes the strength of the American government.

I am proud to commend him, in the name of all our people, as the guardian of our democracy.


The White House

November 23, 1968

Now, if that citation could be made better, someone else will have to do it because it is the best I could do. I worked hard on it myself.

[At this point, the President presented the medal, reading from its inscription, as follows.]

"Award of the President of the United States [to James J. Rowley] for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service."

[Director Rowley responded briefly (4 Weekly Comp. Pres. Docs., p. 1641). The President then resumed speaking.]

Now, if I didn't mention some of the agents' names this morning, just remember, it is because you never did get your foot run over.

I did say, though, to President Nixon the other day: "You will have many problems. Of course, you will have a lot of friends when you come in. But the best friend you will have when you come in and when you go out will be an organization--that will be the Secret Service of the United States."

Note: The President spoke at 12:22 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Henry H. Fowler, Secretary of the Treasury, and James J. Rowley, Director of the United States Secret Service.

During his remarks he referred to his daughters, Mrs. Patrick J. (Luci) Nugent and Mrs. Charles S. (Lynda) Robb; the following Secret Servicemen: Jerry D. Kivett, Richard E. Johnsen, Jerry E. McKinney, Thomas L. Johns, Robert N. Heyn, Deputy Director Rufus W. Youngblood, Robert H. Taylor, Clinton J. Hill, and Emory P. Roberts; Wyatt Thomas Johnson, Jr., Assistant Press Secretary to the President; James R. Jones, Special Assistant to the President; George E. Christian, Special Assistant to the President; John W. Macy, Jr., Chairman of the Civil Service Commission; and Paul H. Nitze, Deputy Secretary of Defense.

The President also referred to the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas (see "Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1963," Editor's Note, page 890). At that time the Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson, was protected by Secret Serviceman Rufus W. Youngblood.

The President also mentioned his 1967 visit to Sydney, Australia, when antiwar demonstrators threw paint at his limousine striking several Secret Servicemen.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to the Secret Service and Presentation of an Award to James J. Rowley Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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