We love hearing the incredible stories of Airstreamers from the past. We recently talked to John Armstrong, who shared about a moment from his childhood where he had the amazing opportunity to meet an American political icon. Read his story below for more!
My family lived in El Paso, TX which is about as far west as one can go in Texas. It’s a town written about in country western songs like Marty Robbin’s “El Paso” and is known for its Wild West gun fighters like John Wesley Hardin. There really wasn’t much going on there since it was a relatively small community of little importance other than playing host to Fort Bliss, a U.S. Army facility taking up 1.2 million acres of land in West Texas and Southern New Mexico. Fort Bliss was home to the U.S. Army Air Artillery Defense School.
In the early morning of June 5, 1963 my family got up at the crack of dawn in preparation for a quick trip to White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico, and we were to take our new 30’ Airstream trailer. White Sands Missile Range is about 60 or so miles north of El Paso and is situated to the north of Ft. Bliss. As I recall, my dad hitched up the trailer about 6:00 a.m. that morning and we were on the road about 30 minutes later. We needed to be at the entrance of WSMR by mid-morning.
Nothing was packed in the trailer and I thought that was a bit odd taking a trailer on a trip without packing our clothes and food. Plus, I did not know why and where we were really going. I just knew we were taking a day trip about 60 or so miles away in Southern New Mexico and I was looking forward to a good time. I was 10 years old at the time.
We headed up to the northeast side of El Paso via Dyer Street to War Road 11 and headed north to WSMR on a narrow two-lane highway. About an hour or so later we arrived at the southern gate to the facility were we were met by other owners of Airstreams. Once all the Airstreams were there, all were escorted by military police down a series of dirt roads to a location with grandstands, rocket installations in the distance, port-a-potties and all sorts of military vehicles and even some helicopters.
My dad was instructed to park his Airstream trailer not too far from the grandstands along with several other Airstreams. It didn’t take military folks too long to begin work on my folk’s trailer. There was tons of activity going on inside and out, and none of us fully understood what was really going on, and no one was telling us what was going on. All we knew was there as a ton of wires coming out one of the windows opposite the door to the trailer. Armed guards were posted around all the trailers. We later learned our trailer was the temporary White House.
Then after all the commotion had calmed down we were served some lunch at the site, which consisted of hamburgers, hot dogs, Cokes and chips. Then a little past lunch time, the excitement ratcheted up big time. The stand grandstands began to fill, military brass was all over the place and then a Lincoln limo drove up with an entourage of many other vehicles. It was the President John F. Kennedy!
As the president was doing all his hand shaking with the military brass, congressmen, state representatives and other dignitaries, we were escorted back to our trailer and asked to sit inside. In the trailer were two Secret Service agents who stood guard over a red telephone and other electronic equipment I didn’t understand.
We hadn’t been in the trailer five minutes when President Kennedy stepped inside and introduced himself to my parents and shook my hand. He thanked my parents for use of their trailer and chatted with them for about two or three minutes as he sat on the sofa next to the door. I can still recall President Kennedy’s big smile, tan complexion and firm handshake. He was a very personable and genuine man.
Then he departed as quickly as he came and went to sit in the grandstands to watch a missile firing of the latest air defense system. After that, he departed White Sands and headed south for El Paso for meetings with the Mexican and local politicians the next day.
After all the dust had settled down and the president’s departure, Army technicians removed all the wires going out of the trailer window just as fast as they had installed them. It was around 3:00 p.m. when my dad hitched up the trailer and we were on our way back home from an exciting day.
Those memories are bittersweet since just a few months later President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Even though I know my folks didn’t vote for him during the presidential election, they were truly sad to see this tragic event unfold since we all made a connection with the most powerful man in the world at that time. Those are things you don’t forget!
What an amazing story from John and memorable moment in his life. We love to see how Airstreams open the door to adventure! What’s the greatest adventure you’ve ever been on? We’d love to hear.