President Kennedy was the first president we really remember. Kennedy was assassinated when we were just thirteen, and like many of our generation we can remember what we were doing and where we were at the time.
Greg actually had a Kennedy experience about five months prior to the assassination, when he was living in Germany at Fliegerhorst Kaserne near the town of Hanau. On June 25, 1963 President John F. Kennedy visited Fliegerhorst Kaserne, where he was greeted by 15,000 soldiers and nearly as many German locals. Kennedy had decided to visit a military facility in Germany to make a statement about America’s readiness to defend its interests in the context of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall and, most recently, the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Anemone Rueger has published an interesting article about Kennedy’s visit to Fliegerhorst (see “Remembering JFK at Fliegerhorst Kaserne: Presidential visit at height of Cold War resonates 40 years later” at http://www.3ad.com/history/cold.war/feature.pages/kennedy.photos.htm/article.1.htm.) She explores the motivations for his visit and why Fliegerhorst was selected for a Presidential review of the troops.
Greg was just shy of thirteen years old when Kennedy visited. His father, a senior non-commissioned officer on the base, was in charge of missile security. Security for a presidential visit, obviously, was going to be a nightmare, and Greg remembers his father’s long, late nights in the weeks running up to the visit.
There was a missile base at Fliegerhorst, an airfield, and also armored vehicles like tanks. All of the armament was put on display on the tarmac of the airfield. The spectators, like Greg and his family, watched Kennedy review the troops from bleachers arranged next to the airfield. Greg remembers huge crowds, rank after rank of soldiers standing at attention, and row upon row of aircraft, tanks, and missiles. It was a classic cold war tableau. Greg remembers seeing Kennedy from a distance as he drove slowly along the ranks. Later Kennedy would also make some remarks and speak to the troops at the Fliegerhorst Mess Hall.
Kennedy reviewed the troops from the rear seat of a classic early 1960’s American convertible. Who that convertible belonged to he doesn’t know, but such cars were not that common in Germany at the time (although some NCOs and officers did drive them; Greg’s father at one time drove a large Pontiac sedan in Germany). Kennedy left the Kaserne in a Mercedes convertible, so the viewing automobile must have belonged to someone on the base. Perhaps the commanding officer?
This little visit didn’t make much news and was overshadowed in history by Kennedy’s speech the next day in Berlin on June 26th, when he made the famous declaration “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
A few months later, President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated. Even now, whenever Greg sees footage from Dallas, of Kennedy in another convertible on another sun-drenched asphalt surface, his mind flashes back to his own brief contact with greatness. He remembers another convertible, rolling slowly but perpetually away, into history and memory.