Two PHS grads serve top office of the land

By Susan Marshall

News editor

There are significant events of historic impact in everyone's life — moments in time about which most of the world can say, "I remember where I was when. . ." Two such crises for those of us whose lives have spanned the last half century are the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

They changed the course of our lives and the world. Most watched as they unfolded before us on a television screen, seeing a grainy clip of movie film or an amateur video running in a seemingly continuous loop.

But two Peabody High School graduates were personally involved in those two historic events by virtue of their careers — each a member of the United States Secret Service.

Lubert DeFreese, class of 1943, was part of the protective team assigned to President Kennedy. Rebecca Ediger, class of 1970, was in the White House on Sept. 11 — deputy special agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division for White House Security for President George W. Bush.

Decades apart in age and service to the government, each lived historic events the rest of us only witnessed, served the highest office in the land, and could trace their lives back to a small Kansas town in which they both grew up.

DeFreese, whose father was the minister at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Peabody, enlisted in the Navy after graduation from PHS and served in the Pacific until the end of World War II.

After his discharge, he attended Colorado State University at Ft. Collins, Colo., earning degrees in 1949 in both science and forestry. He worked for the National Park Service until 1955 when he joined the Secret Service.

DeFreese first served in Chicago, working on counterfeit cases and check forgeries. In 1958, during Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency, he was transferred to the White House detail.

He served on White House details protecting presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. DeFreese also served in the Protective Research Branch, Public Affairs, the Liaison Division, and the Office of Investigations.

DeFreese, who died in 1991 from complications of tuberculosis and leukemia, was with Kennedy in Texas, but had left Dallas the morning of the assassination.

In a letter to DeFreese's PHS classmates for a reunion book, his wife Marian wrote that Bert "had been in the field for three weeks arranging the Florida and Dallas trips. He returned home to help carry the president's casket off of Air Force One."

"JFK was wonderful to work with," she continued. "He was funny, interesting, outgoing, and modest. Bert took many trips with President Kennedy, including at least four out of the country."

DeFreese spent 23 years in the Secret Service.

Ediger's tenure with the Secret Service began in 1983, following college at Hutchinson Community College and Wichita State University, and a stint as a physician's assistant.

She, too, started out tracking counterfeit money and forged checks at the Oklahoma City office. In 1987, she was transferred to Washington, D.C.

She began her job as deputy special agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division the Monday after President George W. Bush was inaugurated.

On Sept. 11, Ediger was in a security staff meeting in the Joint Operations Center. A plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center and the early reports were flashing across a muted television screen in the conference room. The conferees were keeping one eye on the mute television while their morning briefing moved along.

"When we saw the plane crash into the second tower we knew it was no accident," said Ediger.

The security detail heard from the FFA that two planes were still in the sky, both thought to be hijacked. They appeared to be headed for Washington, D.C.

"(Vice President) Cheney was taken to a secure location and we evacuated the White House staff," said Ediger. "I told the agents and other security officers that if they wanted to leave, they were free to go. They all stayed — every one of them."

"The Pentagon was hit next," she said. "And then those brave people on Flight 93 took out the terrorists over Pennsylvania."

"I haven't yet made a trip to Shanksville, Pa., but I am going to go," she added. "It's a place I need to see."

Ediger was presented the Distinguished Service Award by President Bush in December 2001 and was promoted to deputy assistant director for the Office of Protective Research. Her office evaluates threats to the president, vice president, their families, and visiting dignitaries. Ediger serves in that position today.

"I appreciate having had the chance to serve. I know I am blessed to have known so many dedicated people. I am blessed to have had this career," she said.

Both DeFreese and Ediger left Peabody with plans for "regular careers."

Both ended up serving their country with a dedication to duty not felt by many people, in a service few ever know.

For each a national crisis was a personal experience.

The accident of fate.

The motto of the Secret Service is "Worthy of Trust and Confidence." An apt phrase describing its dedicated personnel. And an apt phrase for a special son and daughter of the Peabody community.