May 10, 2014

Secret service agent in iconic LBJ photos dies

Cecil Stoughton photo

FILE - In this Nov. 22, 1963, file photo, provided by the White House, Thomas “Lem” Johns, background right, stands behind President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, wearing a necklace, as they console Jacqueline Kennedy, right, moments after Johnson was administered the oath of office in the cabin of the presidential plane at Love Field in Dallas. Johns, a former secret service agent present during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and swearing in of Johnson, has died. He was 88. Grandson Mike Johns said the former secret service agent died Saturday, May 10, 2014, in Alabama.
(Full-size photo)

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Thomas “Lem” Johns, a Secret Service agent at the side of President Lyndon Johnson in the chaotic aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, has died. He was 88.

Grandson Mike Johns said the former agent died Saturday at his home in Hoover, Alabama, of natural causes.

Lem Johns served more than two decades in the Secret Service, including time as the special agent in charge of the president’s detail during the Johnson administration.

Johns is pictured in iconic photos from Nov. 22, 1963 aboard the presidential plane where Johnson was sworn in during a hastily-arranged ceremony. One photo shows Johns standing behind former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy as Johnson consoles her following the oath of office.

Johns was assigned to Johnson’s security detail at the time of the shooting and was riding in the motorcade when the shots were fired.

In a 2013 interview with WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Johns recalled hearing the shots from several cars back and seeing people duck during the chaos that ensued. He described to the station what it was like to arrive at the hospital where Kennedy had been taken.

“When I walked in, I walked right past the presidential limousine….Saw the blood on the back seat. Flowers everywhere. I know I can’t block it out.” Johns said.

Johns’ family says a big part of his legacy was inspiring his son, Jeff, and grandson Mike to join the Secret Service.

“He had an honored career in the service,” Mike Johns said. “He loved the Secret Service and loved his family and friends.”

A Birmingham native, Lem Johns served in World War II with the U.S. Naval Air Corps. He attended the University of Alabama and later graduated from Howard College, which is now Samford University.

After graduating, he joined the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 1952, and he became a Secret Service agent two years later. He retired from the Secret Service in 1976 after spending several years in charge of its Birmingham field office.

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