My Brush with Greatness
Bart – As we are
approaching the 59th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s
assassination…here’s my brush with greatness.
In 1960 I was a high school freshman,
caught up in the politics of JFK. I was, in fact, what was called a
and even though I was only 14, I embraced the Kennedy movement. I was
part of a cadre of young people who passed out
bumper stickers, arranged meetings with local Democrats and as it
happened, we also arranged for John F. Kennedy to
speak a gathered audience in Upper Darby, Pa. just outside
Philadelphia. We kids were enthralled with his vision for our
country and we did our very best to stage mass rallies. Of course back
in those days it took a great deal of effort to
amass a crowd of 500-600-hundred people.
But on this particular day in 1960 we managed to do just that…getting
together a rally of people at the Upper Darby Library.
Unfortunately the day began with a rainstorm and despite our efforts we
thought the rally would be cancelled. Luckily JFK
showed up on time and so did the crowd. But his handlers…I guess you
could call them that…decided to wait until the rain
passed before he would speak to the crowd. Meanwhile, we sat around
until one of the advance team came to get us and
ushered us into a library room with the promise of speaking with the
Believe it or not, we were called into a room where there sat JFK in
his rocking chair against a rain washed window.
He asked us what we wanted to be when we got out of school…doctors,
lawyers, mechanics…we spoke with him for
about forty minutes…we sat on the floor gazing up, wondering if our
future was in this man’s hands. It was awesome.
I asked him one question…should we be
afraid of the Russians?
His response was – “We should fear no one as long as we have young
people like you.”
Now fast forward to 1963 – I graduated high school and enlisted in the
Air Force. I was in training as an Air Policeman
in 1963 (yes, I ran away from home never believing I would eventually
have to go to war). At Lackland Air Force Base
on November 21 , 1963 I was a flight commander –age 17 – in Air Police
School. On that date we were tasked with
providing more than 400 Air Police students with protection duty at a
new facility called Brooks Aerospace Research
Center outside San Antonio because the President – JFK – was dedicating
the new facility. It was the first of its kind
to begin the American Space Program. How thrilled I was to know that
the man I had campaigned for was now the President.
Because I was a Flight Commander, I was one of the last airmen assigned
to a post.
As it happened my last post was directly in front of the entrance to
To this day I can see myself and my fellow airmen dressed out in our
Blues, white gloves, special ropes…
I stood next to several Texas State troopers but it was clear the Air
Force was in charge. We had taken a great deal
of time to assign our troops but…I and one other airman…named Paul
Harold (also from Philadelphia) …were the
last two assigned. As we stood by the entrance, we were told that the
President’s limo would be arriving soon.
When it did arrive, Paul was placed on
the side with Mrs. Kennedy while I was privileged to open the door for
President Kennedy. We both saluted as the dignitaries exited the limo
and went to the facility entrance. For me it was
an incredible experience. Here was the man I sat with in a closed room
with only three years before as a young teenager
and now he was the President we so had hoped would lead our Nation and
I was a soldier serving for our country.
My Commander in Chief.
But that is not the end of the story. The next day – November 22, 1963
– our flight was on maneuvers outside of
San Antonio at an Army facility know as Camp Buillis. We had forgotten
the previous day’s duty, now it was back
to training. Suddenly we were called out to formation by the DI.
He spoke quickly but not without a shaky voice – “The President of the
United States has been assassinated…
we will move off and gear up…” It was only then that I realized I was
in the Armed Forces…I was probably
going to go to war…and indeed I did go to war…two tours in Nam..23d TAC
Fighter Wing. But we geared up
on November 22, 1963 and our lives were changed forever.
Now I’m 66 years old but it seems like only yesterday. I sat with a man
who changed history when I was
a teenager and then I was no more than one foot away from him before he
But for me having actually spoken with the President when he was a
candidate and then seeing him
on what would be the last day of his life…I’ll never forget….
BTW – since we’re on the subject. I also worked for the Democratic
National Committee – the DNC
– and my phone was bugged during the Watergate break-in…Yes, I worked
for Bob Strauss in the
DNC Treasurer’s Office. Almost like Forrest Gump…
And that’s whole other brush with
greatness I could tell you about.
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