Friday, April 21, 2006
Secret Service Agent Guarded JFK, Eisenhower
Journal Staff Report
Secret Service agent Arthur Blake was rousted from bed about midnight the White House telephone operator who called his Albuquerque home was waiting on the line.
Blake was told a man from Albuquerque's Northeast Heights had telephoned the White House to angrily vent about the Vietnam War and threaten to kill President Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Blake was filled in as the other call was traced. He pulled on some clothes and went to the house where the threat had emerged.
With city police in tow, he knocked and the door opened.
"And the guy said, 'Just a minute, I'm on the phone,' '' son Fritz Blake tells the story. "And my dad said, 'Yeah, I know. That's why I'm here.' ''
During a 25-year career with the Secret Service, Arthur Blake chased counterfeiters and forgers, guarded presidents, was an investigator for the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and headed the federal agency's Albuquerque office.
Blake died April 7. The Albuquerque resident was 85.
"Art, (being) in the Secret Service, you know, always had a gun but hated guns," said S.Y. Jackson Jr., a longtime Albuquerque friend. "The first thing he would do when he came home from work he had a closet with a lock on it he put his gun up, and it didn't come out until he went to work the next day or whenever was the case.
"He was a gentle man. He served our nation quite well with strict discipline."
Fritz Blake said, "He liked being a cop. He thought he was doing something that helped people."
Most of the presidential protection work Blake did came under Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
He was one of the few Secret Service agents who could ski. So when Kennedy was in Aspen, it was Blake tailing him down the slopes, wearing a gun. While the Kennedys summered in Hyannis Port, Mass., Blake stayed there and spent a lot of time guarding the children, who called him "Blakey."
"One time, Kennedy had just gotten back from a trip and Art was with John-John. The president went to talk to John-John and he wouldn't go," said Zola Blake, Arthur's wife. "He hung on Art's leg. So, Art took him off his leg and shoved him at the president."
Arthur W. Blake Jr. was born in Wisconsin and proved to be quite the athlete competing in track, football and hockey during his high school days in Mankato, Minn. He continued playing hockey at the University of Minnesota, before joining the Army Air Corps during World War II.
He was an aerial radar and radio operator on amphibious planes that plucked downed flyers from Pacific waters.
He was awarded the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery after one rescue in the Sea of Japan.
En route to rescue a fighter pilot who was shot down over the sea, the crew was told another pilot had gone down close to the first one.
"They landed and picked up the first pilot," Fritz Blake said. "When they were doing that, the Japanese sent a destroyer out to intercept them, and the destroyer was shooting at them. ... They had to fly a few miles away and land again to pick up the other pilot, and then they took off again and had to fly back over Japan.
"By the time they got over Japan, they ran out of gas and they had to ditch just outside of Tokyo harbor."
A U.S. submarine picked them up off a raft hours later.
"In the war, he was grateful that he could rescue people rather than kill people, if you want to know the truth," his wife said.
Blake graduated from Gustavas Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., with a degree in history after returning from war. He taught history and coached sports in Welcome, Minn., before becoming an investigator with the Minnesota Parole Board.
Liking law enforcement work, he tested with the Secret Service and was hired.
"His day-to-day work was busting people with forged government checks and people who had counterfeited money," Fritz Blake said. "I can remember one night he brought home $700,000 or $800,000 in counterfeit money, and we sat in the den and counted it all out before he turned it in."
He was assigned to cities such as Chicago, Springfield, Ill., Washington, D.C., Denver, Albuquerque and Minneapolis.
After Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby, Blake was shipped to Dallas for weeks.
"He was assigned to protect Marina Oswald and Oswald's mother, because they were afraid people might try to kill them and to take out revenge," Blake's son said.
Blake went on to interview Ruby.
"He used to get all wound up like when Oliver Stone's movie 'JFK' came out oh, boy, that sent him over the roof," Fritz Blake said. "Because he always believed Oswald did it by himself.
"Whenever one of those theories came up or something, he would always go over to the UNM library and he'd look through the unabridged Warren report."
Kids who grew up around Blake called him "the coolest dad in the neighborhood" a man who "packed heat," smoked cigars, hung out with presidents and taught Boy Scouts the Morse code.
"Even though he had a tough guy image, everyone in the neighborhood said he was a good guy," a friend wrote to Fritz Blake after his father's death.
At Corkins Lodge, outside of Chama, Blake loved to spend time fishing the Brazos River, declaring, "I'll put anything on a hook to catch the fish."
"He always said, if he went to heaven, he hoped it looked like Corkins ranch," Jackson said.
A funeral service for Blake was held April 11 in Albuquerque. His survivors include wife, Zola; brother, Bruce, of Sioux Falls, S.D.; son, Fritz and his wife, Melissa, of Albuquerque; daughter, Linda, of Denver; grandson, James Eck and his wife, Juliet, and their children.