Wednesday, August 8, 2018

7 Questions With Rebecca Youngblood Vaughn, Publisher of 20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life With Five Presidents

Rufus Wayne Youngblood is best known as the U.S. Secret Service agent who shielded Vice President Johnson during the tragic Kennedy assassination. Born in Macon, Georgia, in 1924, he was raised in Atlanta and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. During World War II, he flew in some of the Eighth Air Force’s earliest combat missions. After graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology with an industrial engineering degree, he joined the Secret Service in 1951 and protected Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon during his 20-year tenure. He retired in 1971 as the agency’s deputy director. He penned his memoir, 20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life with Five Presidents, before returning to Georgia, where he resided with Peggy, his wife of 53 years, and his family until his death in 1996.

Rebecca Youngblood Vaughn, MD, is the youngest daughter of Rufus and Peggy Youngblood. She is a physician and published author. While researching her parents' lives to write their story, Vaughn re-discovered the veritable treasure-trove of mementos from her father's 20-year tenure as a high-profile Secret Service Agent, which inspired her to publish a new edition of his memoir, 20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life With Five Presidents. The mother of two young adults, she lives in Acworth, Georgia, with her husband of 31 years. Vaughn is a speaker who brings her father’s legacy to life by sharing his frontline point-of-view of some of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history. Vaughn will be presenting at the Decatur Book Festival 2018, Labor Day weekend.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history? 
Medicine was my first love and main focus for many years. When I decided to leave private practice (after 25 years of practicing Dermatology) to pursue a teaching position, I elected to take some time off to study and write about my parents’ lives. I have always thought their stories of growing up in Georgia, serving our country during WWII, and their experiences, while Dad worked for the US Secret Service, were fascinating. As I researched their stories, I dove into studying history and find it so interesting.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life? 
I was so close to famous historical people and events during my childhood while growing up in our nation’s capital with my father being Deputy Director of the Secret Service that I took it for granted. We went to the White House frequently and to the Inaugurations and other ceremonies. I was very young, and I often complained about it. It was "too cold," or my shoes were uncomfortable. “Do we have to go to the Smithsonians again?” And the people who talked to me! I think back and am amazed that I had conversations with some of them. I wish I would’ve appreciated it more at the time.

3. How is history part of your professional career? 
Currently, studying my parents’ life story and the related history is my career. I have republished my father’s memoir, “20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life with Five Presidents,” adding a gallery of archival photos, and now I am scheduling presentations to give to schools and various libraries to present his story...which is history! (pun intended). I am also still writing my book about my parents' lives before the Secret Service years.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important? 
I now appreciate how understanding history increases one’s comprehension about everything. Life makes more sense when you understand the history and evolution behind it.
And with hindsight, we should learn from our mistakes.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I enjoy studying the history of Georgia since both of my parents' families have lived here for hundreds of years. My parents were raised in West End, Atlanta, and I am fascinated by their lifestyles then. I enjoy studying the 1940s and WWII. That generation was not perfect with the enforcement of the Jim Crow laws in the South, but the way the American people came together and worked during the war, and the sacrifices they made for the love of country is refreshing.

6. What misconceptions do people have about the Secret Service and its agents?
The Secret Service is a non-political organization. The agents do not choose sides. They are assigned a “principal,” and they protect that person dutifully in the name of the Office of the U.S. Presidency. My father wrote in his book:

"In the flood of printed and spoken comment that filled the days, months, and years that followed (the assassination), there were statements to the effect that Secret Service men were “switching allegiance” almost before President Kennedy was rushed into the emergency room at Parkland. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The agents in Dallas did not have allegiance, in this sense, to an individual. Their allegiance was to the mission itself. John Kennedy was dead. He was beyond the protective efforts of the Secret Service.
As of the time we boarded the plane, we had not heard the name of Lee Harvey Oswald. The possibility that the death of John Kennedy was part of a far-ranging conspiracy that had not yet run its course was very real indeed and was in the thoughts of everyone—especially in the thoughts of the Secret Service. We did not know what we might yet encounter, but we knew that Lyndon Johnson was the president, and our mission of presidential protection was no less clearly defined simply because he had not yet taken the oath of office."
7. What's something you learned about your father and his work or life when you worked on the book?
I never truly appreciated how much responsibility my father had and how hard he worked until I started searching the photographic archives for images to add to the book. When I studied the itineraries and diaries, I had a better appreciation of the demands of his job. He traveled all over the world, often with very little notice, at days on end. I was particularly amazed at the paucity of agents assigned to protect Vice President Johnson during the early 1960s. He traveled to Vietnam and many other countries with just a few agents.  Amazingly, my father was one of two agents who accompanied VP Johnson to West Berlin in August 1961 as the Berlin Wall was being erected. The U.S. Army rolled into West Berlin as the vice president arrived and tensions mounted. The threat of war was very real between the U.S. and Russia at this time. My father and Secret Service Agent Stu Knight toured Communist-occupied East Berlin with a group of U.S. Army officers in Vice President Johnson’s stead. How about that for a day's work!