The Pan Am Series – Part XV: President Kennedy

President Kennedy and Pan Am

This November 22 Americans born in the 1950s and before will recall that day in 1963, fifty years ago, when the 35th U.S. President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Like their parents and grandparents who remember where they were on December 7, 1941 and their children and grandchildren who remember where they were on September 11, 2001, these baby-boomers will remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the words of Walter Cronkite announcing that the President had died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.

CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite announces the death of President John F. Kennedy. (CBS/Landov)

CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite announces the death of President John F. Kennedy. (CBS/Landov)

But for everyone, the significance of that event, and the history that followed, will be a memory forever. Pan American World Airways, in service to the White House that day, was there.

Pan Am on November 22, 1963

For most of this month, television networks have been broadcasting specials and documentaries about the assassination of President Kennedy. Often are shown old newsreels of the President and his party leaving Dallas Love Field in his limousine, and in many, one can see in the background a Pan Am 707 and members of its crew. That 707 was a “White house Press Charter”. The aircraft carried the news media and other White House staff and went everywhere the Presidential Aircraft, Air Force One, also a 707, went. Pan Am’s 707 was specially configured with all First Class seating and was stocked with “gourmet” food and drink. The operation involved an interchange during the trip to allow the media to cover both the departure and arrival of the President. At departure, Air Force One would depart first, allowing the media to cover it. En-route, the Pan Am aircraft would overtake Air Force One and land at the destination first to enable the media to cover the President’s arrival. On the morning of November 22, 1963, Air Force One and Pan Am traveled from Fort Worth to Dallas.

Air Force One departing Carswell Air Force Base for Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963 (Cecil Stoughton photo)

Air Force One departing Carswell Air Force Base for Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963 (Rob Hinnant photo from The Kennedy Gallery)

On board the Pan Am Press Charter that day was Kari-Mette Pigmans, a young Flight Attendant (then called “Stewardess”) from Norway who was in her first year of employment with Pan Am. She wrote of her memories from that day in a story featured in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People. Below is an excerpt:

“During my first year of employment, I was chosen to fly the White House Press Charters.  The year was 1963 and John F. Kennedy was the President. I was amongst the select few chosen to fly the press that tailed Air Force One wherever President Kennedy went.  * * *

“I would not say that we were special, but we were the 11 chosen and led by Captain Doug Moody.  There were 4 in the cockpit and 7 in the cabin and that rounded out the crew for that year.    * * *

“I am writing about a particular day, however, and as I sit down to write this, tears fill my eyes and drip down my cheek to my notes that I have scribbled down.  The day was Friday, November 22nd 1963.  We flew . . . to Dallas (Love Field) where the President was fulfilling an invitation from Vice President Lyndon Johnson to visit his home state of Texas.  I remember the day vividly; it was a beautiful fall Texas day probably in the 70s. * * *

“The press had left the plane in the same quick fashion that they normally would so that they could get positioned to cover the Presidential events.  With our plane parked right next to Air Force One, the other 6 girls and I walked down to the tarmac to catch what was to be our last glimpse of the President that we had all become so fond of.   Jackie Kennedy joined him for this day in Dallas.  We saw the motorcade leave the airport with Gov. John Connally and his wife in the front of the open-air limo and JFK and Jackie in the back seats. * * *

“The crew was set to have a short layover in Dallas so we headed to the terminal for a quick meal.  It was not long before we were called back to our plane.  The news we received back on the plane hit us like a rock.  After what seemed like an eternity, a very solemn row of cars appeared.  Jackie Kennedy stepped out of the car.  She was still wearing that iconic, beautiful pink and navy Chanel suit, but now stained with blood.  * * *

“Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird arrived right behind Jackie and they all quickly entered Air Force One.  We had the misfortune of seeing the coffin which was later lifted into Air Force One.  There was not one dry eye around us and we stood there in complete silence as there was nothing really to say – conversation was just out of the question.  * * *

John F. Kennedy's casket being loaded on board Air Force One (The Kennedy Gallery)

John F. Kennedy’s casket being loaded on Air Force One (The Kennedy Gallery)

“As we soon found out later, Lyndon Johnson was quickly sworn in as the 36th President on Air Force One.  A few minutes later the President’s plane took off and we headed behind in tow for Andrews Air Force Base.  Everyone remembers where they were that tragic afternoon.  We had truly witnessed history.  American History….World History….[and]….Pan American was there.”  

 

Here is a video of Kari Mette-Pigman’s interview with the Sixth Floor Museum:

Two Days Later

In New York, another young Flight Attendant, Carla Levesque Marshall, was assigned to work Pan Am’s flight 110 to Rome. It was a very emotional trip for her, as recalled in her story, “Indelible Impressions”, also featured in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People. Below are some excerpts from her story:

“I tore myself away on Sunday, November 24th to report to New York’s Idlewild Airport for Pan American Flight #110 to Rome.  I didn’t want to go, feeling as though it was some sort of treasonous act to leave my country during this terrible crisis.

“Our 707 was filled to capacity with anxious passengers.  It turned out that most of them felt just as I did – they were leaving home and preferred instead to stay to support America.  Throughout the long hushed night across the Atlantic, no one slept, whispering to us and to each other, communicating sadness, homesickness and despair, crying and comforting each other until we all arrived exhausted in the morning mist at Fumicino Airport in Rome.

“As soon as we stepped into the terminal, members of our Pan Am ground staff came up to greet us, first to offer their sympathy, [and also tell us about] a proxy memorial service for President Kennedy to be held . . . at the Basilica St. John Lateran, the Pope’s own cathedral.   

“Upon arrival at [our] hotel, everyone from the concierge to the porters to the housekeeping staff expressed their condolences to us. President Kennedy’s photo was on the wall in the lobby draped in black.  We changed clothes as quickly as we could and jumped into a taxi to take us to the cathedral.  We didn’t realize that thousands of Romans [had] the same idea.  When our driver stopped the taxi, he pointed to a huge throng of people all dressed in black, which we suddenly recognized as the end of an impossibly long line of fellow mourners. * * *

“We were talking about how worried we were that we would never even see the church, let alone get inside to participate in the service, because the line was well over a mile long.  Someone near us asked in heavily accented English, ‘Are you Americans?’ We nodded, and then the miracle began to happen.  In Italian, I heard them say to the people in front of them that we were Americans, and with that, a few people stood aside to let us move up in the line. This incredible courtesy repeated itself over and over, until we found ourselves being gently pushed inside the cathedral.  There was San Giovanni in Laterano in all of its palatial glory. 

“The courtesy extended to us did not stop there. Unbelievably, the Italians continued to open a path for us until we were actually standing directly in front of the High Altar encased in its brilliant gold.  Television klieg lights were above us and shown down upon the most stunning scene: On the High Altar was a coffin draped in the flag of the United States. Stationed at each corner of the altar were Honor Guards in full dress uniforms from each of the United States armed services, and also from each of the Italian armed services.  Behind the High Altar was the entire assemblage of the College of Cardinals and the Ecumenical Council dressed in their scarlet robes.  Pope Paul VI, dressed in white robes, began the high mass for President Kennedy, and we joined in the prayers with hearts filled with love for our President and gratitude for the wonderful people who had allowed us to witness this astonishing event. Tears were streaming down my cheeks when a very small elderly lady at my side reached up and began patting my arm, saying, ‘Mi dispicere tanto’ – I’m so very sorry.

“The following day, my crew and I flew on to Tehran.  The sentiment, ‘I’m so very sorry’ was repeated by almost every passenger during our flight, and by every Iranian with whom we came into contact on the ground – the airport staff, our crew bus driver, the hotel staff and even strangers on the street who saw us in our Pan Am uniforms. Again, President Kennedy’s photograph was on the Hilton Hotel lobby wall, and there were other photos of him on the walls of our individual rooms, all draped in black.

“This global outpouring of grief and sympathy took place early in my career, and it was the first time that I comprehended how completely the rest of the world identified Pan American Airways and those of us who worked for the Pan Am family, as extensions of America, and extensions of what America stood for: freedom and hope of freedom. The rest of the world had recognized that the death of young President Kennedy was a blow to those hopes of freedom. The expressions of sympathy were not really directed at me, but to the symbol I had the privilege to represent.”

While preparing this installment of The Pan Am Series, it was discovered that Father John Schultz, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, then a seminary student in Rome, was also present at the Mass on 25 November at the Basilica  St. John Lateran.

*****

The above stories are two of seventy-one stories in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

The book is also available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon.

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation

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The Pan Am Series – Part VII: Aviation History

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Pan American World Airways’ Role in Aviation History

During the next three months, anniversaries of many “firsts” and significant events in the history of Pan American World Airways will be observed.  There are quite a few particularly noteworthy events.  Suffice to say, below is a list:

October: Launch of the Pan Am Shuttle on 1 October 1986; first to order American-built jet transports from Boeing on 13 October 1955; ditching of flight 943, a Boeing 377, in the Pacific on 15 October 1956; first airliner trip to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica on 15 October 1957; first flight on 19 October 1927 (chartered from West Indian Aerial Express); first trans-Pacific passenger service on 21 October 1936; first flight to Hong Kong on 23 October 1936; first Amazon route service on 25 October 1933, first trans-Atlantic service with the Boeing 707 on 26 October 1958; first scheduled Pan Am flight on 28 October 1927 and first to make a round-the-world flight via the North and South Poles on the same date in 1977, marking the 50th anniversary of the airline.

November:  First delivery of the Douglas DC-4 on 3 November 1945; first service to Fiji on 5 November 1941; first service to Barcelona on 8 November 1948; first Great Circle route to Tokyo on 17 November 1959; first “Clipper” flight on 19 November 1931 and the first trans-Pacific flight (mail) by the China Clipper a Martin M-130 on 22 November 1935.

December: First service to Bolama (West Africa) on 1 December 1940; runway overrun by flight 812, a Boeing 707, after an aborted takeoff caused by bird strikes and a related engine failure in Sydney on 1 December 1969; first to open the largest single air terminal in the world at New York Kennedy Airport on 5 December 1973; first service to Leopoldville on 6 December 1941; first delivery of the wide-body Boeing 747 on 12 December 1969; first jet service to Sydney on 15 December 1959; first delivery of the Ford Tri-Motor on 28 December 1928 and first delivery of the Fokker F-10-A on 31 December 1928.

On a sadder note, during this same period will be the anniversaries of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, the last trans-Atlantic flight from Frankfurt on 1 November 1991 and finally, the cessation of all operations on 4 December 1991.

It has been suggested that the history of Pan Am could be considered the history of international commercial air transportation.  The above events, plus the geographic location of the US and the events of World War II, lend a lot of validity to this assertion. At the time of Pan Am’s founding, the notion of using air carriers for shipping the mail was gaining in viability, and getting mail to the countries of Latin America by air became an attractive idea.  A special inter-departmental committee called by then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover reported its recommendations just about one month after Pan Am successfully delivered its first load of mail to Cuba. This committee was headed by Undersecretary of State Francis White, a Yale alumnus known to Pan Am’s founder Juan Trippe, and a supporter of the new airline. The committee included representatives from the Commerce, War, and Navy Departments, as well as the Post Office – several being Yale grads and known to Trippe. Their conclusions, among other things, included the suggestion that foreign airmail contracts be let to the bidder that in the judgment of the Postmaster General, would best serve the interests of the United States, which was a critical distinction, freeing the Post Office from selections based solely on low bids. They also suggested development of two routes south from Florida, both of which had been suggested by Trippe. It was this meeting that for all practical purposes crowned Pan American Airways as America’s chosen instrument for developing international air routes.

Operating authority to these countries, however, needed to be secured and at the time there was no framework within the US government to accomplish that. Trippe, was able to do it. He carried out then, what the US Departments of State and Transportation do today with respect to foreign routes. But to realize his vision, Trippe needed the U.S. government’s cooperation and as a result, Pan Am worked closely with a small group of influential and informed government officials to create and exploit the opportunity that would permit Pan Am to flourish and grow.

Another factor was that the US had virtually no colonial empire as compared to its European counterparts. The “foreign routes” of European airlines, for the most part government-owned (unlike the privately owned US carriers), were largely made up of routes to their colonies in Africa and Asia. There was no need to obtain operating rights. Pan Am, however, was required to obtain rights to operate not only to the European countries, but to their colonies as well. This was basically the situation at the beginning of World War II.

During World War II, because of the nature of the war in the Pacific, the US faced a need to develop large, long-range aircraft, in transports (the C-54) and bombers. These aircraft featured large fuselages, a wide wingspan and big capacity. Translated to a peace environment, these would convert to large passenger aircraft that would give the US a decided advantage in long-haul, intercontinental commercial airline operations. Because of this and other factors, the Chicago Conference was called in 1944 to deal with such issues that many anticipated would arise at the end of the war. What emerged from that conference was the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Freedoms of the Air and the framework for traffic rights between countries through Bilateral Agreements.

At the end of the war, with the benefit of conversion of wartime aircraft to large passenger aircraft, Pan Am emerged as a truly global airline, culminating in the operation of the first commercial round-the world-flight in 1947.  The war also caused the development of a mighty U.S. based aircraft industry, capable and ready to beat the proverbial sword into plows to supply newly-developed aircraft to both U.S. and foreign airlines.

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 John T. McCoy’s watercolor of Pan Am’s first round-the-world flight (left) and the “converted bomber” (right) .

The people of Pan Am have been in the forefront of the airline’s glorious history. And probably no other airline chief ever received the loyalty that Juan Trippe earned, carrying on through decades long after he stepped down as Pan Am’s Chairman, his passing and finally the passing of the airline he founded. Many of the Pan Am family played major roles in Pan Am’s history and have had the selflessness to share their recollections with us.

In Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of Its People, published by BlueWaterPress, seventy-one such Pan Amers did just that, giving us 71 stories about their part in some of Pan Am’s history-making events.

Here are some of the writers:

2-KathleenClair  W.Crew-1BW   8-Jump Rope   10-Arriving JFK

Left to right:  Kathleen Clair, writes about her experiences as Juan Trippe’s personal assistant; Jay Koren (2nd from right in picture) writes about the first 707 flight; Kari Mette Pigman remembers November 22, 1963 in Dallas; and Gillian Kellogg L’Eplattenier tells about the excitement of flying the Beatles to New York.

13-Skygodincockpit   15-HelenDaveytodayBW   Chief Pilot, Berlin. 1982   26-McGhee

Left to right:  Bob Gandt tells of his experiences flying with the “Skygods”; Helen Davey recalls the R&R flights during Viet Nam; John Bigelow brings back memories helping Ariana Afghan Airlines; and John McGhee recounts the evacuation of Vietnamese orphans.

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Left to Right:  Allan Topping recollects his role in Pan Am’s last flight out of Saigon; Dorothy Kelly recalls the horrors of Tenerife; Ron Marasco tells us about Pan Am’s special relationship with Mother Teresa; and George Doubleday brings back memories of resuming service to China.

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Left to right:  Harvey Benefield recalls evacuating Pan Am employees from Tehran; Mike Clark remembers his role in the merger with National Airlines; Merle Richman tells about Pan Am’s last round-the-world flight; and Diane Vander-Zanden recollects the sale of Pan Am’s venerable Pacific routes.

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Left to right:  Kelly Cusack writes about starting the Pan Am Shuttle; Arnie Reiner recalls the initial investigation of the Lockerbie tragedy; Don Cooper tells about the Internal German Service out of Berlin; Nancy Scully recollects her experiences working Pan Am’s White House Press Charters; and Mark Pyle remembers piloting the Last Clipper to Miami.

 

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From the preface:

“On December 11, 1934, Pan Am’s founder, Juan T. Trippe in a New York City speech stated:

‘By each successive step, aviation is advancing to that potential ideal of a universal service for humanity.  By overcoming artificial barriers, aviation can weave together, in closer understanding, the nations of the world, and lift for the peoples of the world those horizons which have too long limited the prospective of those who live upon this earth.’

“These words are fulfilled in this book, an anthology of stories written by the people of Pan Am.  They were there at the important and news-making events that shaped the airline’s life.  Many of these events made headlines around the world, such as the carnage at Tenerife or the Lockerbie bombing.   And, with the recent fall of Muammar Ghaddafi, the name Pan American is still commanding space in news publications today.  Other events, among so many, might have just been a small item in the local newspaper or were never reported at all. 

“There were those employees who went beyond the call of duty; others were simply doing their job and in some cases there was loss of life of their dear friends.   The bottom line, big or small, heroic or otherwise, is that the events were important to the airline and its people.  This is the story we have to tell: The historic achievements of Pan Am as experienced and lived by its greatest resource – its people.”

Below are some comments:

From Michael Manning, Broadcast Journalist and Media Consultant,

“[The book takes the] reader ‘inside Pan Am’ relative to its achievements and tragedies from a first-person perspective. * * * [O]ver 70 first-hand accounts . . . that lend authenticity to the human experience shared by employees at all levels of the company.  By the conclusion of the book, what becomes evident is that this unique US institution—long admired as ‘the American Flag’ by many foreign countries—has also come to represent a piece of the USA that has been sadly lost. This wonderful presentation of Pan Am revealed without barriers allows the reader to ponder a company that was only as great as the people who made it ‘The World’s Most Experienced Airline’”.

From Bobby Booth, long time airline consultant and aficionado,

“The stories in this book make up what is essentially one important story – a story of dedication, heroism, and sacrifice – by an airline and its people during an important period of aviation history.  It is a story that needs to be preserved in history for future generations.  This book is an important step in that direction.”  

From Edward S. Trippe, Chairman, Pan Am Historical Foundation,

” . . . is a tribute to the legacy of one of the world’s great airlines and the men and women who for six decades were the soul of the company. * * * [This is] a compelling book, which through the words of its contributors captures much of the joy, adventure and spirit which was Pan Am.”

From Readers,

“This is a superb collection of very short tales by a wide range of former employees ranging from flight crew to “ground pounders.” Taken together they provide an accurate, intimate view of what made this airline great.”

“Pan Am – nostalgia – memories – incredible stories. A must read if you enjoy air travel and get to wondering just what kind of lives did – and do – airline personnel live.”

“A nice compiling of stories by former Pan Am employees.  Well worth the read for any fan of Pan Am or airlines in general. Pan Am was the pioneer and the stories in the book prove it!”

From Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group,

“Fathered by the legendary Juan Trippe, Pan American was the leader in international aviation exploration and development. A relentless risk-taker, Trippe was an innovator and ultimate entrepreneur……………and this book captures many of Pan Am’s most memorable events from personal accounts of the employees who were there.”

This book is available for purchase directly from the publisher:

http://bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am2.html

This book is also available from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/American-Airways-Aviation-History-Through/dp/1604520728/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381238392&sr=1-1&keywords=Pan+American+World+Airways+-+Aviation+History

For more information about Pan American World Airways history visit the website of the Pan Am Historical Foundation at  http://panam.org/