President John F. Kennedy
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President John F. Kennedy walks to the podium to deliver the commencement speech at the Air Force Academy on June 5, 1963.

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On Thursday, President Donald Trump delivered the commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation.

It’s not often you get to see a U.S. President up close. Had I been at the stadium, Trump would have been my sixth, joining George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy (sort of).

Fifty-six years ago today, JFK delivered the commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation at Falcon Stadium. I was born that day, about 400 miles away at Sandia Army Base (today known as Kirtland Air Force Base) in Albuquerque. My dad, Jack, was stationed there.

Over the years, I’ve unearthed some interesting facts about JFK’s visit to Colorado Springs on that June day in 1963. Kennedy made a three-state whirlwind trip to Colorado, New Mexico and Texas on my birthday. He arrived at Peterson Field 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.

JFK then 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 5 ½ months later (Nov. 22, 1963) in Dallas – down Nevada Ave on his way to ENT Air Force Base (today it is the location of the United States Olympic Training Center) 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.

One of my dear friends, Carolyn Kruse (she lives in the Broadmoor area) was among those who lined the streets to watch the President go by in his car.

It had been reported that crowds could get a glimpse of the president at the corner of Nevada and Platte. More than one thousand 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, N.M. (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 few hours old at the time, this was the start of my 56-year connection to Kennedy and members of his family. My mother, Ruth, used to tell a 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 Army Base in December 1962. She was three months pregnant with me at the time, so I am claiming that moment as being in JFK’s presence.

“I bent over because I was feeling sick, looked up, and Kennedy had already passed by,” my mother said. “I couldn’t believe I missed seeing his face. I’ll never forget that.”

My dad finished his two-year stint in the Army in August 1963 and within months my family (mom, dad, and later my sister Sherry) were living in Southern California. We had a home in Montclair in 1968 when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel – 30 miles to the west. He was shot shortly before midnight on June 5 and died a few hours later.

When I was seven years old, my parents moved to a quaint little town called Redlands, about 30 miles east of Montclair. 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 – was an eternal flame dedicated to the memory of JFL that burned bright 24/7. Under it were Kennedy’s words “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Whenever I go back home to visit my mom I try to make it over to the flame and spend some time on a bench near a wall where the quote is written.

Like many of you, I have visited Arlington National Cemetery and stood at JFK’s grave near that Eternal Flame. I get chills just thinking about it.

JFK will always have a special place in my heart.

Danny Summers has covered sports at all levels in the Pikes Peak region since 2001. Send your story ideas and feedback to danny.summers@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

Pikes Peak Newspapers Sports Reporter

Pikes Peak Newspapers Sports Reporter

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