Jack Ready, a special agent in the US Secret Service, thought he heard firecrackers as the presidential motorcade made its way past Dealey Plaza in Dallas on 22 November 1963. He realised his mistake when someone said that the president had been shot.
Ready was a key member of the White House detail that guarded President John F Kennedy on the day he was assassinated. During a two-decade career with the Secret Service he helped protect two presidents, a former president, a vice president, visiting foreign dignitaries and the Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
The job demanded gruelling hours and long stretches away from home during presidential trips, the most famous of which was to Dallas in 1963. Ready (pronounced “Reedy”) was assigned to the Secret Service car that followed the vehicle carrying Kennedy, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie.
The motorcade was scheduled to travel from Love Field to the Dallas Trade Mart, passing through Dealey Plaza. To the Secret Service agents, potential danger was always present. At Love Field, Ready and the others struggled to guard Kennedy as he engaged with the crowds that had come to see him.
“The crowd was going wild — people were moving closer and closer together, vying for the prime spots next to the fence,” former agent Gerald Blaine recalled in his memoir The Kennedy Detail, written with Lisa McCubbin. “In the agents’ minds, any one of those people could have a gun or a knife.”
When the motorcade departed, Ready was stationed on the follow-up car’s right-front running board. His position placed him opposite another agent, Clint Hill. When the shots rang out, Hill rushed forward and leapt on to the president’s car in an effort to shield him and the First Lady from the bullets. Ready, too, prepared to jump. But just as the third shot was fired, and as his driver veered to avoid hitting Hill, Ready was ordered to stay in place.
“Because of where he was positioned, he didn’t have a chance really to react or respond to the president,” Hill recalled. “I know that it was devastating to Jack that he was unable to do anything. But he went on... You could always rely on Jack.”
At Parkland Memorial Hospital, Ready manned the hallway where the First Lady waited for news from the doctors. His eyes, Blaine wrote, were “so filled with pain it was almost unbearable to look at his face.” In time, a presidential aide called on Ready for help. “Jack,” he said, “I need you to find a priest.”
John David Ready was born in 1927 in Springfield, Massachusetts. He joined the Navy at the end of the Second World War and served again at the beginning of the Korean War. In 1954 he graduated in political science from American International College in Springfield.
He joined the Secret Service in 1960 and was assigned to the White House the following year. After serving Kennedy he worked on President Lyndon Johnson’s detail and later, during Richard Nixon’s administration, for Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Ready then was assigned to protect Kissinger, who served as Nixon’s national security adviser and Secretary of State. Ready accompanied Kissinger on his secret trip to China in 1971 in preparation for Nixon’s historic visit the following year.
“I had never met any Chinese Communists; neither, I must add, had the members of my Secret Service detail, who had not been told of my destination and who nearly had heart attacks at what they were witnessing,” Kissinger wrote in his memoir White House Years.
Ready and the other agent, Kissinger added, “did their duty by sticking grimly by my side wherever we were taken.” They followed him on meetings with the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and “comported themselves,” Kissinger wrote, “as if they were a match for whatever 800 million Chinese might throw at them.”
Ready also handled security for Kissinger during meetings with the North Vietnamese preceding the 1973 Paris Peace Accords that helped end American involvement in the Vietnam War. He later served former president Nixon and his family at their home in San Clemente, California, as well as presidential nominees in the 1980 election, before his retirement in 1981. His daughter Jane Ready recalled that her father rarely spoke about his experiences in Dallas and that he revealed little about the leaders whom he protected and who counted on his discretion.
It was said that Ready had a close relationship with Kissinger and that the two men shared good humour in tense circumstances. Kent Jefferies, a younger Secret Service agent and friend of Ready’s, related one episode in a eulogy at his memorial service.
“I know you are brave and are good with a weapon,” Kissinger once told Ready. “What would you do if we were attacked by terrorists trying to kidnap me?”
“I have my instructions, sir,” Ready replied, knowing that the Secretary of State would not mind his ribbing. “You are not to be taken alive.”
John David Ready, US Secret Service agent: born Springfield, Massachusetts 12 August 1927; married Paula Waterhouse (died 2013; one daughter); died Fort Washington, Maryland 24 February 2014.
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