Sunday, June 24, 2012

President Nixon’s Florida White House at Key Biscayne Fl. (1972-1974)

Flordia White House in Key Biscayne
The Florida White House on Key Biscayne Island  
Coordinates:          25°41′25″N 80°9′54″W / 25.69028°N 80.165°W / 25.69028; -80.165  
 United States
 3 ft. (1 m)

Jun 1972 to Dec 1973 to work at the Florida White House in Key Biscayne FL

Key Biscayne is a village in Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States on the island of Key Biscayne. The population was 10,507 at the 2000 census. As of 2004, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau is 10,324. Key Biscayne is located on the island of Key Biscayne and lies south of Miami Beach and east of Miami. The Village is connected to Miami via the Rickenbacker Causeway, originally built in 1947. Because of its low elevation and direct exposure to the Atlantic Ocean, it is usually among the first Miami areas to be evacuated before an oncoming hurricane.

My families’ final move while I was assigned to WHCA came in 1972 when I was transferred once again this time to the Florida White House in Key Biscayne Fl. We were assigned Quarters and lived on Homestead AFB. 

President Richard Nixon purchased the first of his two waterfront homes, forming a compound known as The Florida White House, in 1969 to be close to his friend and confidant, C.G. (Bebe) Rebozo and industrialist Robert Abplanalp. There was a total of five houses plus the SSCP and helipad that made up the compound at Key Biscayne. President Nixon had two houses, then Bebe Robozo's home the SS/GSA house and finally WHCA/WHMO.

The Presidential compound at Key Biscayne was bounded by Biscayne Bay on the west, West Matheson Drive on the south, Bay Lane on the east, and a fence on the north. 

The Key Biscayne Compound (Helipad, USSS CU, 516 House, 500 House, Rebozo House)
The President's homes at 516 and 500 Bay Lane are the southernmost houses in the compound Bebe Rebozo owns and uses the house next door at 490 Bay Lane. The Federal Government leases the next two houses at 478 and 468 Bay Lane. The house at 478 Bay Lane, which is owned by Robert Abplanalp, was leased by the Government in February 1969 for use as an office for Secret Service and GSA personnel. Abplanalp purchased this residence after the owners expressed a desire to sell because of the heavy traffic of Government personnel. The house at 468 Bay Lane was leased in December 1968 and served as the telecommunications facility for the WHCA and an office for military aides to the President.

500 Bay Lane (1972)
The principal construction work by the Government began about December 15, 1968 and was largely completed by September 1, 1969. Nixon visited Key Biscayne more than 50 times between 1969 and 1973. During the summer of 1973 there was a new pool and Florida room constructed in the rear of the 500 house which was also added to the Federal Government’s expenditures in connection with the Key Biscayne compound. These expenditures totaled approximately $7.9 million. Of this, approximately $4.56 million was expended for Secret Service, GSA, Coast Guard, and WHCA personnel permanently assigned to that location. The DOD and WHCA spent $2. 1 million for communications, helipad and boat dock, shark net, and electric power generator; the Secret Service spent $67, 000 for security equipment and devices; and the Coast Guard spent $192,000 for boats, buoys, electronic equipment and boat house. 

516 Bay Lane prior to demolition (2004)
In the 468 Bay Lane house WHCA installed a three position switchboard with FM radio paging, a Comm. Center with secure voice and secure TTY, and a Radio Console that had phone patch capabilities on Baker, Charlie, and Sierra FM frequencies. This console also had a KWM-2 HF transmitter installed.

Marine One awaits the Presidents arrival
There was always a great deal of activity at Homestead AFB. Most of the detachment lived on base and all of the arrivals/departures took place at the base. Air Force One and Marine One were secured on the base while the President was at Key Biscayne. The crews and all of the support staff also stayed at Homestead. After the President arrived he would climb aboard Marine One and head for the Key Biscayne compounds Helipad.

Patty as Air Force One taxi's up to the ramp
Air Force One arrives at Homestead AFB
President Nixon’s arrival at Homestead AFB
Then came the Watergate break-in, the 1972 Campaign and election and of course Richard Nixon’s eventual resignation as President!

I was in the process of moving my family to Key Biscayne when the break in occurred, little did anybody realize the impact that this incident would have on the Nixon White House and the personnel at Key Biscayne Compound.

During the 1972 re-election campaign and despite his overwhelmingly strong position, Richard Nixon had engaged in a variety of dirty tricks, culminating in the botched burglary in the Watergate Complex on June 17, 1972. The Watergate scandal would ultimately be his undoing, leading to his resignation in 1974, but it had no impact on the 1972 campaign.

The Watergate complex located in Washington D.C.
My Family barely got moved into our quarters on Homestead AFB., when I had to get ready for the Republican Convention.

The convention was not originally supposed to be held in Miami, but rather in more summer-friendly San Diego. When the Republican National Committee had problems with the City of San Diego they started looking elsewhere. And what better place than Miami Beach, who had already set themselves up for two conventions in the previous four years and had the hotel space and phone, lines to accommodate them. Not to mention a drivable distance to Nixon’s summer home on Key Biscayne where there was all the communications that the USSS needed for security during the time of the convention. The convention was carefully organized to take advantage of television coverage. Because the war in Vietnam was still going on, the White House was expecting large demonstrations at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Some antiwar demonstrations did take place but without the violence that had erupted in Chicago four years earlier!

The Miami Convention Center
The 1972 Republican National Convention was held in Miami Beach, Florida from August 21-23. President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew were re-nominated on their first ballots.

When I arrived in 1972, the swimming pool, at the 468 house, was fully operational and available to our families on weekends if there were no visits. There was also a beachfront where the family could swim in Biscayne Bay. Unfortunately for us after Watergate it seems like the President was there every weekend to get away from the constant barrage of questions from the Press.

Enjoying the beach at the Key Biscayne Compound 
Whenever the President came to Key Biscayne for a visit we had to set up and check all of the communications in the Compound, but we also had to place equipment in the Villas at the Key Biscayne Hotel for the Sr. Staff. H.R. Halderman and Henry Kissinger would have an IBM Dictaphone with a recorder coupler installed on their WH extension, so when they picked up the phone their conversation would be recorded. When the trip ended the villas were swept by Comm. Center operators to insure that no sensitive information was left behind.

09 Feb 73 to Jacksonville FL to support Julie Nixon

In Feb.1973 I was sent to Jacksonville FL. for a couple of days to install a radio base station for the Secret Service who was supporting Julie Nixon Eisenhower while she visited the city on official business. This visit was very low key, no staff, no press, just Secret Service support. All I had to do was to install a “Charlie” FM Base station and a remote console in the residence where she was staying. She stayed for two days and then returned to Washington DC.

Things really started to change in 1973 the War in Vietnam was finally over and the POW,s came home, the armed forces moved toward the all voluntary Army and WHCA was lowering its standards as candidates dwindled. WHCA, s mission was changing and they were also going through major technology changes. 

The Watergate scandal was front page news after it was disclosed by Alexander Butterfield that WHCA had installed tape recorders so there was a record of the private Presidential conversations and President Nixon refused to release them to Congress. The Bugging of the White House was disclosed during the Watergate Hearings and only then did the country realize that this was a long standing practice within the White House dating back to Franklin Roosevelt.   
Vice President Agnew resigned from office and Gerald Ford was appointed the new Vice President.

The main reason that I left WHCA after nine years was that I grew tired of traveling and wanted to spend more time at home with my Family, and the office of the President had been surrounded with corruption and was disgraced. I was discharged on December 20 1973 to begin life as a civilian.  It would be only eight months later when President Richard Nixon would resign to end the Watergate scandal.

Southern Florida suffered the worst hurricane in their history when Andrew ripped through in 2004. Homestead AFB was reduced to rubble and all of the military quarters were demolished, Homestead was never rebuild and was closed and never re-opened.

Key Biscayne also received severe damage many of the hotels that were used during visits were demolished and rebuilt including the Sonesta Beach and Key Biscayne Hotels. The same was true for the Key Biscayne’s Florida White House the 500 and 516 houses were torn down in 2004.

FM Radio Network Key Biscayne (Key Biscayne)

Base Station Site locations of the Key Biscayne FM Radio Network             
The FM radio Network covered all activity from Key Largo in the south, Homestead AFB, Miami, Key Biscayne, and the Coast Guard station in Opa-Locka to the north.  Baker, Charlie and Sierra base stations were installed in the following locations:
1.      Homestead AFB, this site insured coverage of all arrivals and departures, as well as any trips to The Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo where Bebe Rebozo had a vacation house that the President would visit.

FM Radio Site at Homestead AFB
2.      The Miami site was on top of One Biscayne Tower; this was the tallest building in south Miami  1n 1972 and had line of site to most locations including the Convention Center which was the site of the 1972 Republican Convention.  This site also covered all of Key Biscayne and the Rickenbacker Causeway as well as south Dade County.

One Biscayne Tower overlooking the Rickenbacker Causeway
3.   The Key Biscayne site was on top of the Sonesta Beach Hotel, this site provided coverage of the beach and hotels where the senior staff stayed.

The Sonesta Beach Hotel on Key Biscayne
4.  Opa-Locka FL, the Coast Guard based at Opa-Locka provided all of the coastal security for the Key Biscayne Compound, the Coast Guard had two chase boats equipped with B/C FM radio's would patrol the restricted area off of the compound and would challenge and watercraft that might stray to close. The Coast Guard was also available for any trips to the Bahamas.

The Coast Guard Base at Opa- Locka FL
Coast Guard Patrol Boats
All radio circuits terminated at the Key Biscayne Compound either at the Secret Service Command Post (CP), or the WHCA radio console, switchboard and Comm. Center.

The Republican National Convention in Miami Beach FL (1972)

1972 Republican National Convention
 The President and Vice President accept the 1972 Nomination 

Type of Activity
 Acceptance Speech
 Miami Beach Convention Center
Date of Activity
 23 August 1972
 25° 47′ 42″ N, 80° 8′ 0″ W

Republican Convention: Miami Beach, FL August 21 to 23, 1972

I was transferred from the San Clemente CCT to the Key Biscayne Communications Detachment in July of 1972 and had just got my family settled when we started to prepare for the 1972 Republican Convention at the Miami Beach Convention Center only a few miles away from the Nixon’s Key Biscayne White House compound.

I arrived just in time to start preparations to provide support to the President, First Family, Vice President, Senior Staff and representatives from the Committee for the Re-Election of the President who were setting up their operations at the Doral Hotel also on Miami Beach.

The Miami Beach Convention Center Site of the 1972 Republican National Convention
The 1972 Republican convention was not originally scheduled to be held in Miami Beach, but rather in more summer-friendly (and drivable from Nixon’s Western White House) San Diego. But when the GOP could not effectively negotiate with the owner of the San Diego Sports Arena and with the threat of massive antiwar demonstrations, the Republican National Committee decided that Miami Beach would be better place for their convention, they had already set themselves up for two conventions in the previous four years and Miami Beach had the hotel space and phone lines to accommodate them. Not to mention Nixon’s other summer home on Key Biscayne.

The Key Biscayne compound had a well-established communications network already used to provide support for the entire staff necessary to set up and conduct the National Convention and at the same time support the President Vice President their family’s as well as the Presidents Senior Staff. WHCA provided additional resources to enable us to provide 24hr support in the communications center, switchboard and the radio console in the Key Biscayne Compound. The Convention Center was set up for the numerous networks and broadcast audio including visual feeds necessary to cover the entire Republican Convention. FM Radio coverage for the USSS throughout Miami Beach and surrounding areas was thoroughly tested, and a regular scheduled courier service was established between the Key Biscayne Compound, Republican National Headquarters at the Doral Hotel and the Miami Beach Convention Center.

The antiwar protesters were assembled at Flamingo Park organized by Ron Kovic of “Born of the Fourth of July” fame, and his band of Vietnam Veterans against War if the GOP had held its convention in California; it would have made for a much shorter trip. As it was, Kovic as well as thousands of others, including Jane Fonda made the trek across the south to Miami Beach. Of course these protesters were not as peaceful as they were at the 1972 Democrat Convention held a few weeks earlier in Miami Beach.

Ron Kovic and Jane Fonda lead the antiwar protests in 1972
Ron Kovic and Jane Fonda lead the antiwar protests in 1972
The 1972 Republican National Convention was opened on August 21 1972 by the convention chairman by then-U.S. House Minority Leader and future Nixon successor Gerald Ford of Michigan.

The President arrived at the Miami International Airport on Aug. 22 1972 and The President addressed the assembled crowd on a nationwide radio and television broadcast. The Presidential Party then departed aboard Marine One for the Key Biscayne Compound.

Later that evening the President motored from the Key Biscayne Compound to the Miami Marine Stadium (a four minute drive), where the President addressed the young people attending, a Presidential Nomination Rally, sponsored by Young Voters for the President. Since President Nixon participated in very few public gatherings, because of the increased security concerns. The public rally at the Miami Marine Stadium was the exception to the rule for the President. The President's address was also broadcast live at the Republican National Convention and on nationwide radio and television. 

The Miami Marine Stadium and floating stage where President Nixon and Sammy Davis Jr appeared at a public rally
Sammy Davis Jr gives President Nixon a hug
The defining moment was when Sammy Davis Jr. introduced the President: “The President and Future President of the United States of America!” When Nixon came onto the stage, Sammy Davis Jr. hugged him.

Aug. 23, 1972 would be a very busy day for all of us because the delegates would place their ballots for the Republican Nominee for President and Vice President who would give their acceptance speeches that evening.

First Lady Pat Nixon behind her is Senator Bob Dole of Kansas
and Governor Ronald Reagan of California
First Lady Pat Nixon addressed the delegates at the 1972 Republican National Convention; she was the first, First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt to address a party convention, and the first Republican First Lady to do so.

Inside the Miami Beach Convention Center awaiting President Nixon's acceptance speech
Vice President Spiro T. Agnew introduced the President to the delegates attending the 1972 Republican National Convention.

The President and the First Lady went to the speaker's podium. They were accompanied by: Mr. and Mrs. Edward F. Cox, Lt. (jg.) and Mrs. David Eisenhower. The President announced his acceptance of the 1972 Republican Presidential nomination to the delegates attending the National Convention. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio and television. John Cardinal Kro1, Archbishop of Philadelphia, then joined the President on the speakers’ platform to deliver the benediction.

Richard Nixon wins the Republican Nomination in 1972
When the Convention was adjourned the President and the First Lady participated in a reception line with convention delegates, alternates and guests. Also receiving guests were Mr. and Mrs. Cox and Lt. (jg.) and Mrs. Eisenhower.

 The President and First Family returned to The Key Biscayne compound on Marine One well after midnight.  Although it was a very long day for everyone involved we were all glad that it was over and we could return to our normal activities.

The next day the Presidential party departed aboard “the Spirit of 76” for an extended stay at the Western White House in San Clemente.

The President’s approval was at an all-time high emphasizing a good economy and his successes in foreign affairs, such as coming near to ending American involvement in the Vietnam War which would come to an end in 1973 and establishing relations with China in 1972. President Nixon would decisively defeat Senator George McGovern in upcoming November election receiving 60.7% of the popular vote. He received almost 18 million more popular votes than Senator McGovern, the widest margin of any United States presidential election.

After the 1972 Presidential Election a dark cloud was forming that would shake the Nixon Administration to its core. The Watergate break in occurred in Jan. 1972 and continued to cause controversy surrounding the White House. The Watergate investigation would reveal that the President had WHCA install a voice recording system in the White House and other locations that would produce enough incriminating evidence that would eventually lead to the firing of the Senior Staff, and eventually the President’s resignation on Aug 9, 1974.

The Presidents visit to the Ocean Reef Club (1972)

President Nixon’s visit to the Ocean Reef Club
Entrance to the Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo FL

Type Of Activity
 Boat Cruise
 Key Largo FL
Date of Activity
 11 November 1972
 25°19'13.0"N 80°16'42.0"W

Multiple visits 1972/1973 to Key Largo FL to support President Nixon

Whenever the Nixon’s came to the Florida White House for the weekend they would always relax with the Presidents friends, Bebe Rebozo and Robert Abplanalp. They would go usually go to the Bahamas, play Golf locally, or take a boat ride on Mr. Robozo’s house boat the Coco Lobo III!  This weekend would be no exception the Presidential party would go by boat to the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, which was approximately thirty miles south of the Key Biscayne Compound.

We were very familiar with the Ocean Reef Club because Mr. Rebozo owned a villa at the club and we did quite a bit of work installing the stereo equipment and ceiling speakers in the house and the outdoor speakers’ poolside.  We were always sent down to the villa in advance of the President arrival to make sure that the TV and Stereo equipment was fully functional. We would check the pool heater and other mechanical equipment in the house.
"Wolf Hound" Volga 70 Hydrofoil (2008)
The President and Mr. Rebozo first went boating on the Volga 70 Hydrofoil (which was given to the President by Russian Premier Brezhnev after his trip to Russia).  We had un-officially assigned the hydrofoil the code name of Wolf Hound.  After about an Hour cruising in Biscayne Bay the President and Mr. Rebozo returned to the dock and then boarded the Coco Lobo III.
The President and Mr. Rebozo on the Coco Lobo III
Departing the dock at Key Biscayne on a cruise to North Key Largo, FL
The President would then cruise to North Key Largo Docking at the Ocean Reef Club where they motored to Mr. Robozo’s villa. The Coco Lobo III then returned to Key Biscayne. The President and Mr. Rebozo were greeted by Robert H. Abplanalp when they arrived at the villa. They then watched a college football game and ate dinner.  After dinner the President, Mr. Rebozo and Mr. Abplanalp motored from the Ocean Reef Club to the North Key Largo helipad and returned to the Key Biscayne Compound on Marine One.  
Cruising and fishing on the Coco Lobo III was a common occurrence every time the President visited the Florida White House.  
The President 's trips to Walkers Cay and Grand Cay in the Bahamas (1972-1973)

Walkers Cay Bahamas

Walkers Cay Club, Bahamas (note radio antenna), WHCA maintained UHF system 
4 May 1973 to Walkers Cay to support the President’s visit on Grand Cay

Robert Abplanalp the owner and President of PVC Corporation was a close friend of President Nixon. Mr. Abplanalp owned two islands in the Bahamas’, Walkers Cay and Grand Cay.

The Walkers Cay Club and Marina was a very popular fishing resort.  It was a very exclusive resort as the only way to reach the island was by boat or by air.  The resort had regularly scheduled flights from Ft Lauderdale, Fl. by seaplane. Travel by WHCA to the island was generally by helicopter.  A relatively small hotel was on the island as well as the resorts bar and restaurant and two swimming pools. There were several villas available besides the Hotel for guests to stay while visiting the island.  The marina was fully equipped with bait, tackle, and snack shops. 

The island had its own power plant and desalinization station for all drinking water.  There were several buildings where the staff lived while on the island. The radios were in a building adjacent to the 125 ft. tower, and a separate building near to the radio room housed a small switchboard and communications center.

Walkers Cay Club air strip and Marina
Walkers Cay Island in the Bahamas
Walkers Cay Club after 2004 hurricane Andrew
Walkers Cay Club after 2004 hurricane season 
Note:  Walkers Cay Club was severely damaged in 2004, was closed and is now for sale.               

Big Grand Cay Bahamas

President Nixon stayed on Grand Cay, Mr. Abplanalp's private 125-acre island in the Bahamas, complete with a house that Mr. Abplanalp had refurbished for presidential use, and for relaxation a 55-foot yacht was always available. There were also two villas located on the island for other guests.  Grand Cay was about a 15 min. boat ride south east of Walkers Cay.  The island did have a usable helicopter pad for Marine One and Army One.

Main House Where President Nixon Always stayed
Main Residence Boat Dock and USSS Command Post
There was a small house by the boat dock for the caretaker and a small bunk house for necessary support personnel during the trip.  The Secret Service CP and WHCA radio room was in the same building near the front entrance of the main residence.  The bunk house was two small to house everyone, so the Secret Service would stay on Grand Bahama Island (GBI) near Freeport and they would  be choppered in to change shifts. Golf carts were the normal mode of transportation.

Grand Cay Island (Guest Villa behind Main Residence on other side of the island)
4 May 1973 to Walkers Cay to support the President’s visit on Grand Cay

The President was visiting his close friend Bob Abplanalp on Grand Cay.  I remember the night from hell on Grand Cay very well, I was there when the Mayday call came in. When the midnight shift came in for a landing the blades hooked the water and 16 agents plus the chopper crew hit the water.  I was asleep when the Mayday call came in.    I grabbed a radio and headed for the chopper pad without a flashlight God was it dark, but I could hear the agents yelling. The 15 survivors, agents and crew, were all on the underside of the chopper which had flipped over when it crashed.  About the time that I got to the pad Bob Abplanalp arrived on a golf cart which had headlights so we could see the chopper.  I called the CP to let them know where the chopper was located and that everyone was still on the chopper and that it was partially submerged. . Maybe five min. after that the boat arrived with the divers and started evacuating the agents.  Luckily there were divers on the trip and they finally got to the chopper to start evacuating everyone.

Guest Villa for VIP's traveling with the President
Looking toward the Main Residence from the chopper pad
Others arrived and I then went back to the radio room to make sure all the radios were working. I called Walkers Cay to let someone know over there what had happened, I then went to the bunk house where they were bringing everyone any necessary medical treatment, this is when I found out that an agent was trapped inside the chopper and drowned. Agent J. Clifford Dietrich - May 26, 1973: was killed in this helicopter crash near Grand Cay Island in the Bahamas while on assignment with the Presidential Protective Division. I was asked to help place Agent Dietrich’s body on a Chinook to transport everyone back to GBI and then back to Homestead. They placed him under the jump seats of the chopper and none of the agents that flew back ever knew they were sitting over him. This was one night that I will never forget. That was the last time I ever saw the Army One crew and I think that they were deactivated in 1976, in part because of this crash. In LTC Boyer’s book “Inside the Presidential Helicopter” he disclosed that the altimeter was not properly calibrated and was off by 300 ft. this along with inadequate lighting contributed to the crash.

UHF Radio System to the Bahamas

UHF Radio shot from GBI to Walkers Cay to Grand Cay
The GRC-104 UHF Radio system used from GBI to Walkers Cay and Grand Cay Islands
Prior to 1969 there was little or no communications on Walkers Cay or Grand Cay. There was a low power radio at the Walkers Cay Club that they used to communicate to their office in Ft. Lauderdale, and for emergencies. There was nothing on Grand Cay!

The UHF System was designed to provide 8 channels of voice grade circuits from the Key Biscayne White House switchboard to a mini-switchboard at Walkers Cay.  The Walkers Cay switchboard would also terminate 24 voice grade circuits from Grand Cay.
AT&T provided the voice circuits from Key Biscayne to a NASA submarine cable that terminated at a down range missile tracking station on Grand Bahama Island (GBI).  Using an existing radio tower WHCA installed a Farinon UHF radio system on the Air Force facility.  GBI shot directly to Walkers Cay where the circuits terminated.  On Walkers Cay there were telephones installed in the Walkers Cay Club’s office and several of the hotel rooms where supporting staff would stay during all Presidential trips to Grand Cay.  Voice circuits were also installed in the communication center for any Dex-1 and TTY traffic.  FM base stations were also installed for any necessary communications for WHCA, Secret Service, or the White House Stall staying on the island.  The final leg was a GRC 103 UHF radio system, with a TD 660 multiplexer providing 24 voice circuits between Walkers Cay and terminating on Grand Cay.  Telephones were installed in the Main residence and both villas, as well as the bunkhouse on the island.  The Secret Service CP also had phones installed and FM Radio Consoles on Baker and Charlie frequencies.  All equipment, tools, and personnel had to be sent in on helicopters from Homestead AFB.

The monthly maintenance trips to Walkers Cay were like paid vacations, we would be choppered over from Homestead, spent two or three days doing PM's on Walkers and traveling over to Grand Cay by boat.  During this time we ate, drank and slept all complementary.  Plus we would of course have to man all locations during any official trips.  We also had a UHF system between Freeport on GBI to Walkers Cay which meant side trips to the Casino in Freeport.  We honestly did do some work during some of these trips.  I never had any problem finding volunteers to help me on maintenance trips.

Unfortunately the Walkers Cay Club was heavily damaged by hurricane Andrew and was closed down, the island and all of the facilities are presently for sale.

Nixon visited Key Biscayne more than 50 times this also included several visits to Grand Cay between 1969 and 1974 when he resigned from office.

The Return of the Vietnam POW's

Operation Homecoming

Type of Activity
Return of our POW’s from Vietnam
Clark AFB PI
Date of Activity
12 February 1973
15°11'31.16"N 120°33'33.95"E  
The End of the Vietnam War

It was early 1973, many years since the War in Vietnam started but two more years before the conflict fully ended, President Richard Nixon announced that ‘peace with honor’ had been achieved.

The Paris Peace talks with North Vietnam had been going on for a long time when the talks concluded on January 13, 1973 with the final agreement. The peace agreement was formally signed on January 27, 1973.  America's longest war was finally over!

This was great news for all of us in the Military as this unpopular conflict was coming to an end!  Ever since my first trip with President Johnson to Dallastown PA in 1966 there were always anti-war protesters present at every event that WHCA would support! Bomb threats at speech sites became so frequent that the US Secret Service would have Explosive Ordnance (EOD) teams sweep all locations where the President, Vice President or other VIP’s were scheduled to speak. I personally sat through many threats and demonstrations while working in the USSS command post.

This was not a pleasant time for anyone remaining in the Military and the POW’s that first returned were not welcomed home by all Americans, it would take many months before our nation forgot this controversial conflict.

America’s POW’s are finally on there way home!
 Inside the C-141A, later known as the "Hanoi Taxi"
 Operation Homecoming was a series of diplomatic negotiations that in January 1973 made possible the return of 591 American prisoners of war held by North Vietnam. On Feb. 12, 1973, three C-141 transports flew to Hanoi, North Vietnam, and one C-9 A aircraft was sent to Saigon, South Vietnam to pick up released prisoners of war. The first flight of 40 U.S. prisoners of war left Hanoi in a C-141A, later known as the "Hanoi Taxiand now in a museum.

From February 12 to April 4, there were 54 C-141 missions flying out of Hanoi, bringing the former POW's home. Each plane brought back 40 POW's. During the early part of Operation Homecoming, groups of POW's released were selected on the basis of longest length of time in prison. The first group had spent 6-8 years as prisoners of war.

The first of the POW’s arrive at Clark AFB, PI. 
POW's return home
After Operation Homecoming, the U.S. still listed about 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and sought the return of roughly 1,200 Americans reported killed in action and body not recovered.  These missing personnel would become the subject of the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue.

Dr Henry Kissinger chief negotiator in the Paris Peace talks 
President Nixon welcomes John McCain upon his return from Vietnam
The American commitment to defend South Vietnam, described as unequivocal by President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger, had been weakened by the Watergate scandal and Nixon's subsequent resignation. By that time, the Paris Accords seemed memorable only as the vehicle on which the United States rode out of Southeast Asia.

On April 30, 1975, a little over two years after the final agreement was signed by the United States of America, the North Vietnamese Army took over Saigon with little resistance, and Peace in Vietnam was restored!

The Vice President Resigns (1973)

Vice President Agnew Resigns
Vice President Agnew at one of his many fundraisers

Type of Activity
 Political Resignation
 Washington DC
Date of Activity
 11 Oct 1973
 38°53'51.2"N 77°02'20.9"W

Vice President Agnew Resigns from Office 11 Oct 1973

The announcement that the Vice President resigned from office came as a shock to me and I was saddened because I had worked with his staff and protection detail on many support trips and got to know everyone quite well! I first worked with them right after his nomination at the 1968 Republication Convention spending many days covering various, fund raisers, special events and even several vacation trips to Palm Springs.  My last involvement was at the 1972 National Republican Convention in Miami when I was with the Key Biscayne Communications Detachment. The NIXON/Agnew ticket achieved a resounding victory in the November 1972 election with a land slide defeat of Senator George McGovern.

Re-election victory for the President and Vice President in 1972
Vice President Agnew is sworn in at 1973 Inaugural Ceremony
The Vice President had very little time to enjoy his landslide victory, as a scandal was brewing in the summer of 1973, involving the Vice President. The United States Attorney's Office in Baltimore, Maryland, was investigating allegations that Vice President Agnew, while Baltimore County executive in 1966, had solicited payoffs from contractors doing county business and that as governor of Maryland and later as Vice President he had accepted kickbacks from engineers whose firms had received state contracts, even accepting several $2,000 payments in the Executive Office Building next to the White House.

On July 31, 1973 Agnew's lawyers were handed a letter written by George Beall, United States attorney for Baltimore, informing them that the Vice President was under investigation for conspiracy, extortion, and bribery. At a meeting with Attorney General Elliot Richardson, Agnew denied all the charges, and on August 6, 1973 as the story broke in the newspapers, the Vice President released a statement saying, "I am innocent of any wrongdoing."

Vice President Agnew meets with reporters in front of the federal Courthouse in Baltimore MD
Although President Nixon called Vice President Agnew into the Oval Office and assured him of his support, the White House chief of staff, Alexander Haig, immediately dropped over to Vice President Agnew's office after that conference and suggested to the Vice President that if he were indicted he should consider how it would affect his performance as Vice President—a not so subtle hint to consider resignation.

The Vice President exits the federal Courthouse in Baltimore MD after pleading "No Contest"
In September of 1973, Vice President Agnew began to plea-bargain with the prosecutors, but negotiations dragged on for more than a month as he sought a deal that would not involve any admission on his part of wrongdoing. He tried desperately to get out of the corner: he made an issue of leaks to the press by the prosecutors; he had a meeting with President Nixon, desperately trying to get the President to put pressure on Richardson to agree to a compromise; he asked the House of Representatives to impeach him so that Congress could conduct an investigation. White House aides refused to pressure Richardson, and the Democratic majority in the House refused to impeach Agnew until judicial proceedings had run their course.

The delay was not to Agnew's advantage. He antagonized Nixon by attacking the Justice Department. His standing in the polls was dropping, a sure sign that he was a political liability. An exhaustive investigation of his finances was completed by the Internal Revenue Service, and the prosecutors now had details about his personal life that conceivably could prove embarrassing if they were revealed.

Vice President Agnew’s letter of resignation to the President
Between October 5 and October 9, 1973 Vice President Agnew's lawyers and justice department lawyers cut a deal, which on October 8, 1973 was agreed to by a federal judge. On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew officially resigned from office.

Vice President Agnew’s letter of resignation 
New York Times Headlines on Oct 11, 1973  
With Vice President Agnew out of the way, President Nixon named Congressman Gerald R. Ford (R-MI) as his nominee for vice president. Two days before the Presidents announcement, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned his office after being convicted of tax evasion charges unrelated to Watergate. Congressman’s Fords nomination was received by Congress with great enthusiasm and strong bipartisan support.

Gerald Ford is sworn in as the new Vice President
 With the resignation and succession crises resolved, attention once again turned to the long-simmering Watergate crisis. It would only take another eight months of intense scrutiny for Watergate to bring down the entire Nixon administration leading to President Nixon’s Resignation in 1974.
After he resigned, Vice President Agnew and Judy moved to a winter home at the Springs Country Club in Rancho Mirage. By then, the Agnew’s had visited the Coachella Valley numerous times and had become friends with Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. They avoided publicity and lived a quiet, reserved country-club style life. He played tennis and golf. Neighbors recall seeing him bicycle around Rancho Mirage, dine at local restaurants and party, often at the Sinatra compound.

The Vice President’s resignation and Gerald Fords swearing in as the new Vice President would be the last major event that I would be a member of WHCA. I was discharged at Andrews AFB on December 10, 1973.

I had experienced so much history of the 1960’s and 1970’s, from the escalation of the war in Vietnam, and the antiwar protests, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the ensuing civil unrest at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the San Clemente Western White House, the historic trip To China, the Florida White House in Key Biscayne, the end of the Vietnam war including the return of the POW/MIA’s, the Watergate break in, the cover up and the resignation of the Vice President!  There are so many details that I have forgotten, but so much that I can remember to say that I was very proud to have served as a member of the White House Communications Agency for over nine years.           

Watergate and President Nixon's Resignation

President Nixon Resigns
President Nixon resigns for his involvement in the Watergate scandals

Type of Activity
Political Resignations
Washington DC
Date of Activity
9 August 1974
38°53'51.2"N 77°02'20.9"W

It was shortly after the 1972 Presidential Election that things started to unravel for the Nixon White House.

The Watergate break-in was the beginning of the end of the Nixon Presidency and over the next two years the country listened to the relentless pursuit of proving the guilt that the White House was involved with the a cover-up of this and other illegal activities known as Watergate..

The Watergate Break-in

Early in the morning of June 17, 1972, several burglars were arrested inside the office of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), located in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C.

The Watergate Complex in Washington DC
The Democrat National Headquarters in the Watergate Complex
The Watergate break-in occurred about a month prior to the Republican Convention: Miami Beach, FL August 21 to 23, 1972 and I never paid much attention to the incident because the Key Biscayne Detachment was concentrating on setting up communications required for the Convention. We were also working with the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP) at the Doral Hotel with communications which we found out that the burglars were also working for CREEP. When the Convention ended we removed all of the temporary equipment at the hotels and villa’s where the staff stayed. We then got ready for a busy fall as the election campaign of 1972 began!

The 1972 Presidential Election

On November 7, 1972 the Nixon/Agnew ticket was reelected in one of the largest landslides in American political history, taking more than 60 percent of the vote and crushing the Democratic nominee, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota. The President and his family visited Key Biscayne the day after the election to relax and celebrate the overwhelming victory! The Family along with Mr.’s Rebozo and Abplanalp spent the weekend aboard the Coco Lobo III and visiting the Ocean Reef Club at Key Largo FL. The President then returned to Washington to start his second term. The Nixon’s would return and spend Christmas at Key Biscayne and just prior to the inauguration.

President Nixon’s second Inauguration January 20, 1973
The second inauguration of Richard Nixon as the 37th President of the United States was held on January 20, 1973. The inauguration marked the commencement of the second term (which lasted approximately one and a half years) for Richard Nixon as President and the second term (which lasted approximately nine months) for Spiro Agnew as Vice President.

The Watergate Scandal 1973

1973 for us in Key Biscayne could pretty much as observers although the Watergate break-in and cover-up was daily news. We never knew what happened that day; but it was common knowledge to us that recording devices were being used in the White House as well as other locations, This was nothing new, LBJ had all of them removed from the White House in 1968, so the new Nixon administration would not know that LBJ recorded many of his conversations. As a routine set up for all visits to Key Biscayne we would place a recorder coupler and IBM dictating machine on telephones used by senior staff that always stayed in villas at the Key Biscayne Hotel. These machines were connected to start up as soon as the phone was in use and since one party knew about the call was being recorded no BEEP tone was present.

In Feb.1973 I was sent to Jacksonville FL. for a couple of days to install a radio base station for the Secret Service who was supporting Julie Nixon Eisenhower while she visited the city on official business. This visit was very low key, no staff, no press, just Secret Service support. All I had to do was to install a “Charlie” FM Base station and a remote console in the residence where she was staying.

Also in February of 1973 The Senate voted (77-0) to create the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. The Committee is chaired by Senator Sam Ervin (Democrat, North Carolina). Ervin cultivated a folksy image as a country lawyer, but his supervision of this committee is crucial to the outcome. His deputy is Senator Howard Baker (Republican, Tennessee).

The Senate Watergate Sub-committee Sam Ervin Chairman and his Deputy Howard Baker
In Late March of 1973 James W. McCord who was the head of the Watergate burglars wrote a letter to Judge John Sirica in which he claims that the defendants had pleaded guilty under duress. He says they committed perjury and that others are involved in the Watergate break-in. He claims that the burglars lied at the urging of John Dean, Counsel to the President, and John Mitchell, the Attorney-General. These allegations of a cover-up and obstruction of justice by the highest law officers in the land blew Watergate wide open.

I had met John Dean and his wife in October of 1972 when they came to Key Biscayne on their honeymoon. I was at home, trying to enjoy a weekend that no visitors were scheduled to come to town when I received a phone call from our CO. I was sent to the Key Biscayne compound to pick up a stereo system and take it over to one of the Senior Staff villas at the Key Biscayne Hotel and install it for Mr. and Mrs. Dean. When I arrived I was greeted by Mr. Dean and escorted to the living room where I installed and tested the system. We would always provide stereo equipment as part of the set up on all trips when the villas were occupied. When I left that day I would never see the Dean’s again until they appeared on national TV during Watergate.

In early April 1973 John Dean, the White House Counsel, began to co-operate with the Watergate prosecutors, and President Nixon announces that senior White House staff will appear before the Senate Committee. He promises “major new developments” in the investigation, saying there will be real progress towards finding the truth. An official statement was released from the White House claiming President Nixon had no prior knowledge of the Watergate affair.

A month later President Nixon would appear on national television to announce the dismissal of John Dean, and also announced the resignations of Robert Haldeman and John Erlichman, describing them as two of his “closest advisers”. The Attorney-General, Richard Kleindienst, also resigns and is replaced by Elliot Richardson. The President would then appoint Gen. Alexander Haig as his Chief of Staff replacing Robert Haldeman.

The Senate Watergate Committee began public hearings on May 17, 1973, and began its nationally televised coverage the next day. Our lives began to change as we watched the daily broadcasts. 

The President made frequent visits to Key Biscayne and Bahamas until the day I was discharged from the military. No one could anticipate how bad things would get! John Dean would become the prosecutor’s chief witness. The Washington Post reported that John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times.

In June of 1973 while testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee, John Dean claims that Nixon was involved in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary within days in June 1972. In a seven-hour opening statement, he details a program of political espionage activities conducted by the White House in recent years.

John Dean with his wife Moreen
John Dean is sworn in at the Watergate hearings
The most damaging testimony however: came from a most unsuspected source and would expose WHCA to very close scrutiny! Alexander P. Butterfield, a former presidential appointments secretary, informed the Senate Committee of the White House taping system. He said that since 1971 President Nixon had recorded all conversations and telephone calls in his office and other locations where these recording systems were presumably set up by the White House Communications Agency and serviced by the Secret Service. Butterfield also revealed that President Nixon was recording all conversations in the oval office with his staff and others. The recordings were secret and very few people knew about them.

President Nixon struggled to protect the tapes during the summer and fall of 1973. His lawyers argued that the president’s executive privilege allowed him to keep the tapes to himself, but Judge Sirica, the Senate committee and an independent special prosecutor named Archibald Cox were all determined to obtain them. When Cox refused to stop demanding the tapes, Nixon ordered that he be fired, leading several Justice Department officials to resign in protest, (These events, which took place on October 20, 1973, and are known as the Saturday Night Massacre.) Eventually, Nixon agreed to surrender some—but not all—of the tapes.

During this period of time the President frequently visited Key Biscayne and made several trips to the Bahamas and Grand Cay. Nothing had changed in our preparation for his visits except they were generally only over a weekend and then they would return to Washington.

During late summer dark clouds were forming around the Vice President about illegal activities performed while he was the Governor of Maryland. Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew resigned after pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion. He was sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation and a $10,000 fine.

On October, 12 1973 President Nixon nominated Gerald Ford, Republican Minority leader in the House of Representatives, as the new vice-president.

I was nearing the end of my career with WHCA and would leave on December 20, 1973 so my knowledge the events that occurred in 1974 are only obtained from the various news outlets.

Early in 1974, the cover-up began to fall apart. On March 1, 1974 a grand jury appointed by a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski indicted seven of President Nixon’s former aides on various charges related to the Watergate affair. The jury, unsure if they could indict a sitting president, called Nixon an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

In July, 1974 the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes. While the president dragged his feet, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up and several violations of the Constitution. Finally, on August 5, 1974 Nixon released the tapes, which provided undeniable evidence of his complicity in the Watergate crimes. The tapes revealed President Nixon's knowledge and cover up of Watergate and brought down his Presidency.

The Nixon’s say goodbye to the White House Staff
President Nixon’s Letter of Resignation
In the face of certain impeachment by the Senate, the president resigned on August 8, 1974. As he flies out of Washington on August 9 1974 in route to his San Clemente estate, Richard Milhous Nixon resigns as the 37th President of the United States, the first President ever to do so. His resignation letter is submitted to the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, at 11:35 am and Gerald Ford is sworn in as President shortly afterwards. Gerald Ford becomes the 38th president. Later, he nominates the former Republican Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, as vice-president. They became the nation’s first unelected presidential duo.

Gerald Ford is sworn in as the new President 
On November 11 1974 only about six weeks after the new president Gerald Ford was sworn in, he made a surprise Sunday morning announcement, President Ford granted a “full free and absolute” pardon to Richard Nixon for “all offenses against the United States” committed between January 20, 1969 and August 9, 1974.
President Ford pardons ex-President Nixon
Richard Nixon’s Pardon
Some of Nixon’s aides were not so lucky: They were convicted of very serious offenses and sent to federal prison.  Ex-President Nixon himself never admitted to any criminal wrongdoing, though he did acknowledge using poor judgment. His abuse of presidential power had a negative effect on American political life, creating an atmosphere of cynicism and distrust. While many Americans had been deeply dismayed by the outcomes of the Vietnam War, Watergate added further disappointment in a national climate already soured by the difficulties and losses of the past decade.


  1. I’ve been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this website. Thank you, I’ll try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your web site?
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  2. John, I really enjoyed this blog. It sure brought back a lot of memories.

    1. Thanks Mike Its good to see that you found my blog, I have been trying to stay busy trying to remember all the things that happened so many years ago.

    2. Unfortunately though, when Nixon was finally forced out, he chose the Western White House at San Clemente, CA as his "Elba" for the next 5 years following his resignation.

      Facing massive legal bills (which at one point was running at $750,000+) and back tax demands, he sold his two beach houses at Key Biscayne to a trust owned by Bob Aplanalp and Bebe Rebozo.