Opinion: Carolina Critic

Though Not a ‘Tell-All,’ Arm’s Length a Delightful Autobiography

• Dan Emmett, Within Arm’s Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service, Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse, 2012, 209 pages, $18.95.

For the reader looking for a tell-all book by a Secret Service agent assigned to the White House, Within Arm’s Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service, will be disappointment. However, the reader who wants to read a great autobiography will be delighted.

Dan Emmett’s story begins when President Kennedy was assassinated. He was 8 years old when he first saw the images of President Kennedy’s Presidential Protective Division agent climbing on the back of the limo to protect the president and first lady. At that point, one of his goals in life was to become a Secret Service agent and protect the president. The assassination attempt on President Reagan further solidified this goal.

Born in 1957, Dan Emmett credits his family for his determination and work ethic. “My mother was the quintessential mom of the 1950s and 1960s, “always perfectly attired and resembling a TV mom. She vacuumed and cleaned their immaculate home in dresses and pearls and had dinner on the table at six o’clock when my father arrived home from work,” says Emmett. His father was the son of a Baptist minister. “Dad loved God first, his family second, and baseball third,” says Emmett.

Emmett’s elementary education in Georgia consisted of reading, writing, arithmetic, and learning American history as it actually occurred. “They said the Lord’s Prayer during morning devotional, along with Bible verses and the pledge of allegiance. No one refused to join in any of these activities, and there were no complaints,” states Emmett.

Many of his relatives were military veterans and served in World War II, including his father, and he always felt that it was “my duty, my destiny, in fact, to serve my country,” and after college, he became a Marine Corps Officer. He credits his Marine training for instilling the attitude of “leading by example” and “doing one’s job was simply expected.” Emmett’s training and the discipline learned in the Marines was the “granite foundation” he says his Secret Service career would be built upon. Throughout the book, Emmett exhibits the old adage, “once a Marine, always a Marine!”

As noted, this is not a tell-all book; it is the account of Emmett’s becoming a Secret Service agent, his training, and life as an agent. PPD agents are hand-selected after years of proving themselves.

He is quick to point out that all agents are apolitical. Any negative comments Emmett offers are made within the context of protecting the president. Emmett did not care for the media, he did not care for Clinton’s immature, spoiled rich-kid staff, nor did he like the political correctness that infiltrated the Washington establishment in the 1990s — all elements that he feels have made protecting the president more difficult.

Nor did the Hollywood elite impress Emmett. Because of the assassination of his two brothers and as the last surviving Kennedy son, President Reagan provided Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., protection during the 1984 campaign. As part of that detail, Emmett attended many Hollywood parties. “It occurred to me, after attending these parties night after night and seeing the same faces at each event, that when actors are not working on a film, their main pastime is attending parties,” says Emmett.

At one stop, an unnamed woman orders him to carry her suitcase into the house. Emmett says, “Sen. Kennedy quickly intervened and Kennedy in his best dialect, states, Err ah, the agents don’t carry bags. ”

Emmett’s goal of becoming an agent was not easy to achieve. Just getting an application took perseverance and determination. The training is exhaustive and continues throughout the agent’s career. PPD agents live in a state of sleep deprivation from their exhaustive schedules and their life is not glamorous. Protecting the president is so stressful that most agents serve for only four years.

Now retired, Dan Emmett served as an agent for 21 years — five of them protecting three presidents. Emmett says he wrote his book because many recent books portray the Secret Service inaccurately. To correct those misconceptions, his first appendix lists the most common myths about the Secret Service. One is that agents protect only the president. This is untrue and he offers numerous examples of other investigative duties within the agency.

Appendix 2 provides a brief history of the Secret Service. Ironically, the day President Lincoln was assassinated he signed the bill that brought the service into existence, but the service would not start protecting the president until 30 years later. In the government world of acronyms, Appendix 3 is invaluable because it lists every acronym and its meaning used throughout the book.

At times Emmett’s assignments were frighteningly dangerous as he traveled to foreign countries as a member of PPD’s Counter Assault Team. Other times they were hilarious. One of the most compelling moments occurred while he was protecting Kennedy in Hyannis Port. The senator asked if the agents would like to visit President Kennedy’s home. The senator took them to the door of the home, but then turned around without taking them inside.

As an avid reader, there are books that I can’t put down and hate to see end; Within Arms Length is one of those books. It is an informative, well-written book by a man who dedicated his life to protecting presidents and would have given his life willfully to protect every one of them. CJ