50 years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy came to the University of Maine to give what would be his last major foreign policy speech.
TV5 cameras were rolling in October of 1963 to capture what was one of the first big live events for this television station.
Two men who have known each other all their lives were among the 15,000 people in attendance. One a rookie Old Town Police Officer at the time, another a teenager still in high school.
Jon Small met up with them.
The stands were full at Alumni Field as the President came to the podium.
Alan Stormann, a long time UMaine employee, was a high school freshman in 1963.
“I was aware the President was coming and kind of undecided whether I was going to try to come down and see him. The day of the event, I was on my bicycle in Stillwater where I grew up. The helicopters were flying over me headed for the field and I decided then I’m going to come down,” said Stormann.
Alan Reynolds was a rookie patrolman for Old Town. He was assigned to work the event.
“They had us around. I had a parking lot detail, but I was positioned so I could see the grandstand, so that made it kind of interesting. At least I could see and hear a little bit,” said Reynolds.
But what Reynolds remembers the most is what happened the night before. A call to a location in Old Town. With the President arriving the next day, any type of threat was not taken lightly.
“By the time we got there, I think every cop in the are was there, Secret Service, I think FBI, of course Old Town, the chief was there. They’d had a party in this complex and they were starting to bring them out. They’d throw them on mattresses and bring them down the stairs.”
Security was also tight at the field.
“I remember I got up by the grandstands there, the bleachers. There was a big opening towards the fence and I started down towards that opening and somebody stepped out and said you can’t come in here.”
As for the speech itself, it came about a year after the Cuban Missle Crisis.
“For a pause in the cold war is not a lasting peace and a détente does not equal disarmament. The U.S. must continue to seek a relaxation of tensions, but we have no cause to relax our vigilance,” said President John F. Kennedy.
“And I was probably just starting to get to the point where I really tried paying a little attention to politics and I remember him talking about as I recall about how close the world’s two super powers nearly came to a nuclear war a year or so before that,” said Stormann.
“It was an impressive speech. I don’t remember all the details of it, and what I could hear, because there were times I was helping people across the street and those types of things, so you really didn’t hear what was being said. I’m glad I was there and witnessed it,” said Reynolds
UMaine President Lloyd Elliot awarded a Doctor of Laws degree to President Kennedy. After a serious speech, the day ended on a lighthearted note.
“In accepting this honorary degree, we must caution you Mr. President that henceforth, wherever you travel around the world and whatever circles you may find yourself, in stately halls with titled diplomats or in the playroom with Caroline and John, it will be your solemn obligation to stand and sing whenever you hear the Maine Stein Song,” said Elliot. (applause)
This would be the last foreign policy address JFK would give. He would be assassinated in Dallas just a month later.