You know that old six degrees of separation theory? It applies to me and former President John F. Kennedy.
I intend to prove that JFK and I are joined at the hip in ways that can only be defined as coincidence or happenstance.
Nov. 22 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Kennedy. He was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald while riding in an open motorcade.
Kennedy and the rest of his family have always fascinated me. There was a time when the Kennedy clan was like American royalty. Many folks from all over the world are still fascinated by the family.
I was born the year Kennedy died. In a strange way I always felt a connection to him for that very reason. Redlands, where I grew up in southern California, has maintained an eternal flame in honor of JFK these many years.
Every time I passed by that monument along Redlands Boulevard I thought about the meaning of Kennedy’s words that are etched on a sign near the flame; “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It Seems things have changed a bit in that regard in recent years.
I became even more intrigued with JFK when I moved to Colorado in 2001 and discovered something new about our 35th president. The day I was born, June 5, 1963, at then Sandia Base in Albuquerque, Kennedy was 275 miles away in Colorado Springs.
June 5, 1963 was a busy day for JFK. He made one of his patented whirlwind trips, going from Colorado Springs to New Mexico and then onto Texas for he evening. He arrived at Peterson Field the morning of June 5 at 9:15 a.m. in a silver Boeing 707. He was wearing a blue suit, light blue silk tie, and carrying a grey hat. Also with him was his custom built 1961 Lincoln Continental four door convertible limousine.
JFK was flown by marine helicopter (with his limousine) to the Air Force Academy, where he landed at 9:45 a.m. and was driven around Falcon Stadium twice as the crowd hollered and waved. He gave a 15-minute speech to the 493 graduates and a crowd of more than 30,000. He handed out diplomas to the top 25 graduates. He was also presented with an honorary Academy diploma.
“You are graduating into the most demanding career of any officer corp. in the history of this country,” Kennedy told the Cadets.
After finishing his speech, he rode in his limousine - the same car he was assassinated in five-and-a-half months later — down Nevada Ave on his way to ENT Air Force Base to get a briefing at NORAD (its home at the time). He was accompanied by a 12-car motorcade and two press buses. An honor guard of 800 soldiers from Fort Carson lined the route.
It had been reported that crowds could get a glimpse of the president at the corner of Nevada and Platte. More than 1,000 onlookers gathered near the statue of General Palmer to get a look at the President as JFK rode by and waved. He was scheduled to pass by at 11:35 a.m., but arrived shortly before noon.
JFK was driven back to Peterson at 1:10 p.m. and then flew by fighter jet to White Sands Missile Base in White Sands, New Mexico (about 200 miles from Albuquerque). He watched missiles being launched, and then flew to El Paso Texas, for an engagement that evening.
While I was only a mere few hours old at the time, this was the start of my 50-year connection to Kennedy.
As mentioned earlier, I was born at Sandia Base. My dad, Jack, was stationed there. I lived there for only a few months while he was finishing his stint in the army.
My mother, Ruth, still tells the story of the time she “saw the back of Kennedy’s head” while waiting for him to pass by in his limousine when he was on a visit to Sandia Base in December 1962. She was three months pregnant with me at the time.
“I bent over because I was feeling sick, looked up, and Kennedy had already passed by,” my mother says. “I couldn’t believe I missed seeing his face. I’ll never forget that.”
We moved to Las Vegas (Nevada) in September 1963 (for only a month). Kennedy was in Las Vegas that September, speaking to a group on the conservation of natural resources.
From there, we moved to Southern California, where I spent most of my life until moving to Colorado Springs. We were living in Montclair in 1968 when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel - 30 miles to the west. It happened shortly after midnight on - you guessed it - June 5.
When I was 7 years old, I moved with my parents and sister, Sherry, to the quaint little town of Redlands. Along Redlands Blvd. — a pretty stretch of highway with a view of the San Bernardino Mountains on one side and lush orange groves and rolling hills on the other — is the eternal flame that still burns bright 24/7.
I graduated from Long Beach State in 1985 and made my first trip to the east coast with three friends. We saw baseball games in New York, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia. We also visited Arlington National Cemetery.
I remember that long walk to JFK’s grave and the eternal flame that burns next to it. If you have ever been in the cemetery, you know that it is a scared place. People honor our fallen heroes by keeping their talk to a low whisper. By the time I got to Kennedy’s resting place I was overcome with emotion.
Over the last 28 years, I have taken several trips to Washington D.C., and each time visited Arlington National Cemetery. I’ve taken my now 19-year-old son, Garrison, to Kennedy’s grave on several occasions.
Maybe my connection with JFK is just a series of coincidences, or maybe it all means something much more than I will ever know. Regardless, I think it’s kind of cool.
You can watch footage of JFK’s trip to Colorado Springs by going to www.youtube.com and typing in Kennedy, Colorado Springs, June 5.