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JFK's Visit to Tampa 50 Years Ago Celebrated

It was 50 years ago today that President John F. Kennedy became the first sitting president to visit Tampa.

Kennedy’s plane landed at MacDill Air Force Base Nov. 18, 1963 where the president met with military leaders before taking a helicopter into town for several events.

The current commander of MacDill Air Force Base, Col. Scott DeThomas, said JFK came to Tampa to mark the 50th anniversary of the first commercial air flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa.

“It brought together the concept of aviation and politics and the fact that the president wanted to be here to celebrate what we do for a living,” DeThomas told a gathering at the MacDill ceremony. “Tragic that it was his last visit, but we’re very happy we’re able to celebrate.”

Credit Tony Zappone
President Kennedy during his arrival ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base.

Kennedy was celebrated by enthusiastic crowds everywhere he stopped during his five-hour visit, Al Lopez Field, the Armory, the International Inn and along his motorcade route Franklin Street and Grand Central, now Kennedy Boulevard.

The significance of Kennedy’s visit to MacDill and the Tampa looms large for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. His father, a reporter, took Buckhorn, then only 5 years old, to President Kennedy’s funeral in Washington D.C.

“I can remember vividly sitting on his shoulders on that cold November day as that hearse and that horse came by with the boots turned backward. It is something that will be forever seared in my mind,” Buckhorn told the MacDill gathering.

Buckhorn presented Col. DeThomas with a framed proclamation declaring Nov. 18, 2013 as President John F. Kennedy Day in the City of Tampa.

On Friday, Buckhorn will unveil an official historic marker at the corner of Franklin Street and Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa.


Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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