On Nov. 21, 1963, a couple of hundred thousand San Antonians lined city streets as President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade made its way from the San Antonio International Airport to Brooks Air Force Base.
Many in the crowd were children, released early from school to celebrate and welcome the President and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Thursday, some of those same San Antonians were at Brooks City-Base to commemorate that special day – the last full day of the Kennedy presidency.
Kennedy was in San Antonio to dedicate buildings within the Brooks Air Force Base School of Aerospace Medicine. He delivered his famous “Cap Over the Wall” speech before 10,000 people. It would be his last official act as president.
Thursday’s hour-long ceremony, “Remembering the Legacy of President John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” was filled with words of hope and promise, much like the president's last speech.
About 300 people attended the event, representing a cross-section of cultures. They were young and old, sporting everything from flip-flops and shorts to business attire and military uniforms.
As the crowd began to gather under the tent, the Brass in Blue ensemble from the U.S. Air Force Band of the West played a selection of patriotic tunes. Leo Gomez, president and CEO of Brooks City-Base, noted that Brass in Blue also had started the program during the president’s visit, albeit with different members.
Gomez noted that while Nov. 22 was an anniversary of pain and suffering because of the loss of a president, Nov. 21 was the “50th anniversary of a glorious day. Today, we celebrate.”
After the posting of the colors by the Brandeis High School Air Force Junior ROTC, Frederike Davis, the John F. Kennedy High School junior valedictorian, led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Pastor Bryan L. Thomas of the Community Bible Church at Brooks City-Base prefaced his invocation with a challenge: focus on the future rather than the past and the three shots that rang out in Dallas 50 years ago.
“Fifty years ago a visionary visited us,” said Mayor Julián Castro.
He quoted from the “Cap Over the Wall” speech, the words ringing true still today.
“It is an era which calls for action, and for the best efforts of all those who would test the unknown and the uncertain in every phase of human endeavor. It is a time for pathfinders and pioneers,” Castro said from Kennedy’s speech.
The mayor said those pioneers are present today in San Antonio, citing the research and development continuing at Brooks, and the discoveries being made at local medical and research laboratories.
“I’m confident President Kennedy would be very proud of us,” Castro said, adding the “President and Mrs. Kennedy reminded us of what could be.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who was a law student at St. Mary’s University in 1963, invoked the image of Camelot when he spoke of Kennedy, “(The president) set a whole new tone for our generation.”
Wolff was visibly moved as he said of the assassination, “It is still hard today to express the emotion of what that did.”
Manuel Peláez-Prada, chairman of Brooks City-Base, also spoke during the ceremony, praising the efforts and support City Manager Sheryl Sculley has directed toward Brooks so its mission in research and development can continue. He said that in the 50 years since Kennedy’s visit, San Antonio had become “a walking, talking celebration of diversity.”
District 8 City Councilman Ron Nirenberg was one of several city officials in attendance.
“It says something that a president most known for his ability to bring people together in times of crisis came to Brooks to make a significant speech,” Nirenberg said before the ceremony. “As a San Antonian, I’m proud to know that we’ve commemorated that occasion and that man, both here on the grounds and in our memory.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, all attendees were invited to tour the laboratories that Kennedy visited in 1963. Those facilities are still being used today, and are operated by Wyle Science, Technology & Engineering Group, San Antonio Operations.
Today’s guests also experienced a special treat.
The lectern that Kennedy used for his speech was on display in the Bedwell Building.
The Bedwell Building is named after Maj. Gen. T.C. Bedwell, commander of the Aerospace Medical Division who hosted the president during his visit.
Annette Crawford is a public affairs officer at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. She is also the house photographer for the Majestic Theatre and Sam’s Burger Joint & Music Hall. You can read her music and travel blog at www.thegroovygringa.com or follow her on Facebook at The Groovy Gringa.