February 21st is celebrated each year as Presidents Day and I realized I have lived through many presidents in my lifetime and experienced several events, thus my story. In 1931 my parents took me to a political rally in our hometown, Elwood, Indiana. The room was full of friends and neighbors who were excited about a man named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Posters were pasted to the walls with his picture as a candidate for President. Today I can reflect back to that time and wonder how people in small towns were notified of such meetings. Newspapers, and maybe a few radios were the source of outside news. I suspect the rally was spread around by word of mouth, which proved worthwhile as Mr. Roosevelt was elected President in 1932. For the next 13 years he was the only President and became known as FDR.
On April 12, 1945, I was a fighter pilot aboard a troop ship headed for England and combat when word was spread that the President had passed away. No one talked, but everyone took on a stunned look. The ship became very quiet for several hours. FDR was our leader in the war, what do we do now? Vice presidents’ names were seldom in the news but after arrival in England we learned that Harry Truman was now President. He ended World War II with the atomic bombing of Japan in August 1945.
Again, I was on a troop ship headed to Boston and then to the Pacific when the ship’s captain made the announcement that Japan had surrendered. The celebration on board was very lively. Many boats greeted our arrival in Boston with fireworks and horns.
In 1953, I was stationed at Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod. Local people suggested we drive by The Kennedy Compound because it was a famous family home. We saw it, but it meant nothing until John Kennedy became President. In April 1963 while stationed at Little Rock Air Force base, base personnel and family members waited for President Kennedy to arrive on Air Force One to dedicate a dam in northern Arkansas. The ramp was crowded to welcome the President. As he stepped out the door and started waving, the sight was unbelievably beautiful. Seeing a President in person for the first time was a proud moment that I have never forgotten.
On November 22, 1963, while eating breakfast after 24 hours underground as commander of a missile crew, I watched a parade in Dallas with the President in an open car. President Kennedy was waving to the crowds that lined the street when he suddenly slumped over, and his auto sped off rapidly. A short time later it was announced that he died from bullet wounds. Later that day on Air Force One, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President.