November 13, 2013 Edition

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Carter shares Secret Service experience at banquet

Bill Carter (right), keynote speaker at the Chamber of Commerce banquet on Thursday, speaks with Henry Boyce, prosecuting attorney, and Adrienne Freeman after his presentation. Carter worked as an agent in the Secret Service during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and share memories from that time.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl
Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Bill Carter, former U.S. Secret Service agent, attorney, politician, television producer and more, spoke at the annual Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce banquet Thursday evening about his work as an agent during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

L.J. Bryant, who spoke prior to Carter, said, "This is my third Chamber banquet and Mr. Carter is the speaker that I've been the most excited about."

When Carter approached the podium he posed the question: "Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?" Carter, a native of Rector, entered the Secret Service in 1962. He was 26 years old and was in Washington, D.C., the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

He was having lunch at O'Donnell's Seafood Restaurant with Secret Service Chief James Rowley and fellow agents who were celebrating the completion of their advanced training.

He remembered the concern about Kennedy's trip to conservative Texas but said that the president was never one to hide, believing that connecting with people was important in his political standing.

In fact Carter believes that the most pressing concern on Kennedy's mind that day was the weather. It had been raining that morning and that meant the bubble top had been placed on the presidential limousine but this wasn't something Kennedy wanted. The rain cleared much to Kennedy's delight and he instructed the bubble top be removed.

Carter stressed that the bubble was in no way bullet proof but it was very possible that it would have provided enough protection to prevent the shots from killing the president, but the rained ended and Kennedy got his way.

When describing President Kennedy's death, Carter's voice started to crack and the audience began to realize how very real all this was for him even though he hadn't been at the scene of the shooting.

Carter reminded everyone that he was in Washington, D.C., at the time. He and his fellow agents were blissfully unaware until a waiter informed Chief Rowley he had a call.

"Chief Rowley returned to the table wearing a look that is impossible to describe," Carter said. "He quietly said, 'The president has been shot.'"

Carter said that everything turned into complete chaos after that. "At 6 p.m., I was informed that President Johnson was arriving at the White House and that I was to meet and escort him."

For many it had not fully sunk in that Johnson was president now. Carter said that it was the removal of President Kennedy's rocking chair from the Oval Office and replacing it with a saddle with two six-guns attached that was the most visible symbol of the order passing.

Carter was relieved late that night and returned to his room. Since it had been the last day of his training he was expecting to return home to Little Rock the next day. He had even already packed his clothes, all of which were dirty. He was forced to remove clothing from the case, wash them and hang them over the radiator to dry for the next day.

Carter was assigned to the rotunda at the capitol for the public viewing of the president, "Hundreds of thousands of people passed by the casket to mourn the president," he said. "I couldn't believe the outpouring of love."

Thanksgiving that year was only six days after Kennedy's assassination. Carter had the rare opportunity to spend it with his family. He had finished his duties the day before the holiday and discovered he was not posted for the next day. He contacted his boss and asked for advice. His boss told him to take a few days with his family and to not tell anyone where he was going.

Carter made arrangements to meet with his family in Dallas at his sister's home for Thanksgiving. His wife was driving from Little Rock with his parents and their seven-month-old daughter. Carter asked his brother-in-law Stan to meet him at the airport in Dallas and went to the Washington National Airport to await his flight.

"That was when it dawned on me what had happened," Carter said. "People were passing by me probably thinking what's wrong with him." Carter said the wait was six hours and he spent most of that time crying.

Before Carter made it to Dallas he was selected to work on the investigation of Kennedy's assassination. In attempts to reach him, members of his family were contacted. When Stan picked him up in Dallas, he informed Carter that he had been instructed to take him straight to the Secret Service office there.

"I never made it to Thanksgiving dinner," Carter said.

Carter continued to work in Dallas until he accompanied Marina Oswald to Washington for her testimony in early winter of 1964.

Following his speech, Carter was asked many questions about the investigation and different theories that have arisen over the years. He said he had come to one conclusion. "During the investigation I felt that it was fate that President Kennedy died that day," he said.

"Over the years, I've been unable to share the memories of these events without shedding tears," Carter said.

At the end of the presentation, Carter recalled his first encounter with Kennedy. "He came up to me and I loved how he did this as if I didn't know who he was and said, 'Hi, I'm Jack Kennedy. How's Arkansas? How are things going?"

Awards presented

Several awards were presented at the banquet.

Milton Smith of Walnut Ridge and Gretchen Hunt of Paragould were named Man and Woman of the year, respectively.

Lawrence County Seed Company was named Agriculture Business of the Year, Goin' Postal received Business of the Year and Industry of the Year went to Custom-Pak.

Jon and Lesa Walter of Walnut Ridge were presented with the Community Service Award.

Kari Shanks was honored as retiring Chamber of Commence board member, with hunt being elected to fill the vacant position. Government support from Walnut Ridge, Black Rock and Lawrence County officials was also recognized.

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