Retired Secret Service Agent Reflects On Time Protecting George H.W. Bush
HENDERSON HARBOR — On Wednesday afternoon, Michael J. Carbone joined people around the world in watching the funeral of former President George H. W. Bush.
“The definition of a true American patriot, is what I was thinking,” Mr. Carbone said. “Just a great guy.”
Mr. Carbone would know — during his 27 years in the Secret Service he worked with the Bush family on multiple occasions, as well as most of the other First Families since the Kennedys.
Born in Watertown, Mr. Carbone said he became interested in the Secret Service after the John F. Kennedy assassination.
“It was always a passion of mine,” he said.
In 1975, he graduated from Immaculate Heart Central High School, and he started his higher education with an associate degree from Jefferson Community College.
“I took an entry level position in the Secret Service in 1984 and worked my way up the chain,” Mr. Carbone said.
In the early 1990s, he worked out of the Miami Field Office and spent a year and a half protecting Jeb Bush while his father was in office.
“At the time, the Gulf War was going on,” he said. “That was my introduction to being with the Bushes.”
Mr. Carbone traveled with Jeb Bush as part of his detail, including to the family vacation spot at Kennebunkport, Maine.
“I first met President (George H. W.) Bush up at Kennebunkport,” Mr. Carbone said.
A year later, Mr. Carbone was working in the White House on President Bush’s detail, serving on the Counter Assault Team — a SWAT team that traveled with the president.
Mr. Carbone liked the whole Bush family, and remembered fondly Barbara Bush making cookies for the Secret Service agent — at Kennebunkport. She would walk them down herself to the command center.
Mr. Carbone served in that position through the remainder of President Bush’s time in office and for several years with Bill Clinton.
His favorite memory was taking his father Nate Carbone — who was Watertown born and raised — as his guest to the 1992 White House Christmas Party.
“That was a really special moment,” he said. “Born and raised in Watertown, and spent all his life there, to bring him, you know, to the White House and have his picture with the Bushes was probably one of my great moments.”
In 1996, Mr. Carbone was able to bring his father back to the White House to visit the Oval Office and meet President Clinton.
Being responsible for the safety of these political figures came with stressful obligation.
“One of the intense moments was with President Clinton on the Bridge of No Return at the 38th parallel,” Mr. Carbone said.
The bridge spans the border between North and South Korea, and President Clinton walked out almost to the line dividing the two.
“They had their arms and weapons, and we had ours,” Mr. Carbone remembered.
Then there were the regular stresses.
“The intense moment the president is shaking hands with the crowd,” Mr. Carbone said. “President Clinton did a lot of jogging out in the (National) Mall.”
But traveling with the presidents and their families came with perks, as well.
“With Jeb Bush I got to go to the Super Bowl,” Mr. Carbone said. “You get the front and center seat when you’re with these protectees, whether it’s Cirque Du Soleil or sporting events.”
Protecting President Bush and President Clinton was just a small part of Mr. Carbone’s career — he also served on Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson’s protection detail, worked with the Reagans and, temporarily, with former President Ford.
After he left the White House, he was assigned to Bangkok, Thailand, as an attache, where he was in charge of organizing security for President Jimmy Carter and President Clinton during their visits to Southeast Asia.
“The wonderful thing about the job with the Secret Service was the different assignments,” he said. “Flying Air Force One was always a big treat, best way to fly.”
Mr. Carbone finished out his career with a year in charge of the Orlando Secret Service office before retiring in 2011. He’s returned to the north country, and now works as a contractor on issues of security and logistics. His home shows the wide range of his travels, a mix of East Asian and Old West decor — an avid horseback rider, Mr. Carbone once led a mounted security detail for President Clinton during a vacation in Wyoming.
Mr. Carbone has warm memories of all the presidents he protected, but reflecting on the funeral of George H.W. Bush, Mr. Carbone was struck by the former president’s character.
“Always a gentleman,” Mr. Carbone said. “Just a true patriot — class, dignity, a great man.” ___
This article is written by Abraham Kenmore from Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.