Wednesday, December 11, 2013

November 22, 1963 - Pat, 78

In the spring of 1963, my husband received transfer papers from Riverdale, North Dakota, to Patrick Air Force Base in Melbourne, Florida.  Destination:  Cape Canaveral.  He would be there for a brief assignment linked to his future job on Cape.

We left North Dakota in forty-degree-below-zero weather.  I packed winter clothing for Kaycee, 2, and Jim, 14 months.  We drove all day and reached Sioux City at dusk.  The temperature was a little warm, just above zero.  After the weekend at my home, we left early Monday morning for Florida.  Somewhere during the second day, it became very clear as we rolled down all the car windows that we were going to have to make a trip to a store.  We just couldn’t remove any more clothes.  The temperature was now in the seventies, and the kids were in winter underwear and sweaters, Doctor Denton flannel pajamas for the night.  We found a variety store and some light clothes to hold us over until the moving truck arrived.  We found a house to rent just down the causeway from the airbase across from the ocean.

When we arrived in Florida, there were large cannons placed strategically along the coast.  It was just after the Bay of Pigs.  These guns were aimed at Cuba.  It was very disturbing.

My husband, Art, was stationed at Patrick AFB for three months and then was sent to the Cape.  The transfer meant another move.  We bought a newly built ranch and made our final move to Merritt Island.  We were a half mile from the main security gate.

The Corps of Engineers were starting the construction of the Vertical Assembly building.  This would be where the spaceships would be launched into space.  There were already other missiles being launched on different sites.  The Titan, a solid fuel missile was launched right over our house, as were other types of missiles.  The Polaris missiles were launched from submarines.  Once these missiles were airborne, you could see them for miles.  If the Titan slipped or rolled on take-off, it had to be blown up.  I only saw one destroyed.  The Titan missile, being solid fuel, exploded with chunks of fuel going in all directions.  It looked like a hundred fireworks lit at one time.  Every color imaginable radiated out in every direction, trails of burning fuel like large angry spider’s legs, creeping across the sky in all directions.  As the fuel burned out, large plumes of smoke replaced the vivid color with puffy gray limp strands of smoke that floated away.

On November 21st, President Kennedy flew into Tampa, Florida, under heavy security.  His destination was Cape Canaveral.  He was to view an ocean launch of a Polaris missile along the coast of Canaveral.  The Russian “fishing” trollers were all stationed on international borders with big satellite dishes high on the decks of the would-be fishing boats.  President Kennedy on Air Force One flew low over our house coming and going.  His mission had been safely completed.

November 22nd started as a very normal day.  It was soon to change.  The children ate their lunch at noon.  I cleaned them up and settled them down for their naps.  The television was on, and I started cleaning up the kitchen.  Suddenly there was a break in the programing.  A very disturbing picture came on the air.  Walter Cronkite, with a quivering voice and tears in his eyes, came on with a very serious voice, announcing that President Kennedy had been shot while riding in a parade in Dallas, Texas.  Cronkite continued to say that the President was being rushed to the hospital.  I gasped and started to cry.  I must have sounded distressed because Kaycee came running from the bedroom, thinking something had happened to me.  I calmed her down and put her back in her bed for her nap.  Kaycee was only two, but she does remember the whole event.

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