Las Cruces – When you mention 1963 and President John F. Kennedy to most Americans they'll think of his tragic assassination on November 1963 in Dallas. However, on June 5, 1963, the 35th president became the first sitting president to visit Holloman.
While doing historical research in the vault at the History Office, Mr. Ralph Jackson, 49th Wing historian, discovered a VHS tape labeled "Kennedy/Johnson visit to Holloman - June 1963." With no VHS player to be found he contacted the 49th Wing Public Affairs Office for assistance.
Although the VHS tape was in fairly good condition, Tech. Sgt. Lisa Carlson, 49th Wing Public Affairs, held the tape like an archeologist with an ancient artifact. She put it in the deck, took a long breathe and hit play.
As the screen went black for almost five minutes, we felt that quite possibly this had been a hoax or the images were lost. Then a negative image came up on the screen of Johnson walking and shaking hands with ladies in 1960's era hats and dresses. However, the image quickly disappeared and our hearts sank. For the next 10 minutes, we watched as the screen continued to display only a black image, but we believed there had to be something on this tape so we continued watching with anticipation.
Finally, a color image came of a sign that read "Welcome to USAF Missile Development Center, Holloman Air Force Base, Elevation 4034." From there the images of Air Force personnel dressed in khaki uniforms standing on the ramp, with barricades holding back civilians, began rolling past. Little boys with their crew cuts, people smoking cigarettes, men with cameras of all shapes, styles and sizes and women with umbrellas could be seen awaiting the arrival of someone.
About a minute into the footage, a Lockheed JetStar that Vice President Lyndon Johnson flew in taxis onto the ramp and stops in front of a hangar. Johnson is seen exiting the 13-passenger plane, which was sometimes referred to as Air Force One Half, and begins meeting with N.M. Lt. Governor Mack Easley, Holloman commander, Col. R.S. Garman, and other Air Force officials. He then proceeds to shake hands and sign autographs with the crowd while people continue to glance skyward.
At the 3:45 mark, Air Force One taxis and stops on the ramp at Holloman. The young president shakes hands with the crowd and gives a brief speech, however, there is no audio, before boarding Marine One for his trip to White Sands Missile Range, which was his destination.
President Kennedy never returned to the base - he flew out of El Paso International Airport after departing from WSMR. According to information from the WSMR Museum Archives web site, JFK was only on the ground at Holloman for five minutes, but his visit would mark the first time in recorded history the President of the United States visited the base - President George W. Bush was the second when he visited in 2004.
The serendipitous discovery by Mr. Jackson of this forgotten piece of history accentuates a statement former Wing historian, (Ret.) Master Sgt. Greg Henneman, said when he found the first Alamogordo Army Air Base insignia on a piece of microfilm hidden in the depth of the vault back in 2006, "Sometimes you happen across a gem and recover something that had been completely forgotten."
To watch the video story visit the Holloman web site at www.holloman.af.mil, the Official Holloman YouTube page at www.youtube.com/user/HollomanAFBNews or the Official Holloman Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HollomanonFB.