Tending to President Kennedy and his family aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

by | Nov 6, 2015 | Other News

In September of 1962, while serving as the senior Supply Officer aboard USS Blandy (DD 943) out of Newport Rhode Island, I was detailed to the destroyer USS Joseph P Kennedy Jr. for the duration of the America Cup Races being held that year off Narragansett Bay. The Kennedy, named for the President’s eldest brother killed in World Was II , had only a very junior Supply Officer aboard and CRUDESLANT (Cruiser Destroyer Force Atlantic) wanted to give him an assist because President John F. Kennedy, his family and many of his White House staff, would be observing the races each day from the destroyer Kennedy.

As a Lieutenant, it was my job to oversee the Field Food Service Team’s efforts to keep the press corps well-fed during the daily sail and attend to any other of their needs. The Team was composed of four very accomplished chief commissary men, so my job was far from demanding.

Each morning the press came aboard between 0800 and 0900 and shortly thereafter, the President and his party were piped aboard. They pretty much confined themselves to the forward part of the ship, the C.O.’s quarters and Wardroom, which had been reconfigured for their use. That is, all except for the President’s children, Caroline almost five years old, and John- John almost two years old, who seemed to have the run of the ship; particularly Caroline who kept the Secret Service folks challenged as she scampered around the 01 deck at will.

Lunch was served on the 01 level each noon and was well attended. I suspected that Press Secretary Pierre Salinger dined with the Presidential Party up forward and then came aft for a second luncheon. He was a hearty eater. Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy came back to speak with everyone on several occasions and I had the good fortune to speak with her more than once. Initially she told me, in her very breathless and beguiling voice, just how much she and the President enjoyed the Navy Mess at the White House. She could not have been nicer.

Robert Pierpoint, who recently passed away and was one of the several correspondents on board, would ask me each day what I thought the sea state was and how many knots of wind speed we were experiencing. I made an educated guess and that’s what went into the evening papers that day. It didn’t matter that I was a Supply Officer and never ventured onto the bridge that week.

You must remember this was prior to cellphones and email. So each day as the race was concluding about 3 pm, the reporters tapped out their stories on their typewriters, placed them in watertight bags with floatation devices attached and then dropped them from the fantail into the ocean. Each of the major news services had a speedboat tailing us and they would retrieve the bags with boathooks and immediately head for shore at breakneck speed so the stories could be entered into that night’s newscasts and the daily newspapers.

Well, one evening that week, as my wife and I were just finishing our dinner, I received a call from the Supply Corps Lieutenant who was an assistant to the Navy Attache who held the rank of a Line Captain. It seemed that Caroline was having a group of her friends on board the following day for the sail and she had been very impressed with the Boatswain’s piping aboard of her dad each day. She thought it would be a marvelous idea if she could give each of her friends a boatswain’s pipe as a keepsake of their visit.

Obviously, the Attache needed them immediately. Where does one get eight boatswains’ pipes at 8 in the evening? Thankfully, I knew one of the congregants at the Touro Synagogue in Newport who owned a local Army/Navy store. Fortunately, he was at home that night and also fortunately he had at least a dozen pipes in stock. He was flattered to be asked to furnish eight for the President’s daughter. He agreed to meet me downtown at his store within the hour. He didn’t even give me an invoice and I never knew the price. Just before 10 pm, I rolled up to the gates at Hammersmith Farm where the Kennedys were staying. I turned over the valuables to the Supply Corps Lieutenant, and he never asked where I had located them or how much they cost. Sometime later I wrote a very appreciative letter to the shop owner for his kindness. I never did find out if anyone reimbursed him.

The ship’s boatswains spent much of the following day giving instruction to Caroline and her friends. And at the conclusion of the races, each of us who had assisted with the Presidential visit was given a PT109 tie clasp as a memento. I still have mine.

by Jim EIlberg