On this day, 55 years ago, on a chilly morning in the White House Rose Garden, US Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon presented my father with the Exceptional Service Award in the presence of President Johnson, Treasury and Secret Service officials, the press, our family, and others.
The citation read:
This Award is made in recognition of Agent Youngblood’s outstanding courage and voluntary risk of personal safety in protecting the Vice President of the United States at the time of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.
Mr. Youngblood was riding in the front seat of the Vice President’s limousine within close proximity to the President’s limousine when the assassination occurred. Upon hearing the first shot, Mr. Youngblood instantly vaulted across the front seat of the car, pushed the Vice President to the floor, and shielded the Vice President’s body with his own. His prompt response in the face of great danger and his readiness to sacrifice his life to save the Vice President was in the highest traditions of the Secret Service. His valor and example make him a worthy recipient of this Award.
As Secretary Dillon presented this prestigious award to my father, I presented President Johnson with a large wad of chewing gum, fresh from my mouth. I was disappointed when the friendly, big man rejected this generous offering. My mother, who had toiled to present her children properly and had even sewn many of our garments, was foiled by a 2 1/2-year-old. Yet, with her great sense of humor and forward thinking, she recorded my exchange with the president on the back of the above photo. She wrote:
The Bunny (my nickname at the time) liked him.
He said to her here – “Don’t worry, it won’t last must longer.”
She was saying, “Where’s Santa Claus?”
She’s trying to give him her chewed gum. He said, “Keep it, honey.”
Taking this sticky situation in stride, the president then stepped before the microphone and said:
There is no more heroic act than offering your life to save another, and in that awful moment of confusion when all about him were losing their heads, Rufus Youngblood never lost his. Without hesitation, he volunteered his life to save mine. Nothing makes a man feel better than being an American and to be witness to this kind of noble patriotism. Rufus, there is no prouder person here this morning than I. You are a brave soldier in the highest American tradition of love for country and for duty. You are a proud son of Georgia. You are an excellent example of all the honored and brave and dedicated and diligent men and the women who work with them who make up what we proudly call the United States Secret Service. A more dedicated group of men I have never known from the Chief to the most humble employee.
I am glad to know that Chief Rowley has made it possible for you to continue to serve the President as you did the Vice President, and I know in so doing that I will have one of the most noble and most able public servants I have ever known.
The media lauded my father as a hero. But he considered this praise overrated and often said, “I was just doing my job.” Nevertheless, we were very proud of him. Above all else, he was a wonderful father, (and he forgave me for the gum.)