Sunday, March 15, 2015

President Johnson's Trip to Dallastown Pa. (1966)

Dallastown, Pennsylvania
 Entering Dallastown

 876 ft. (267 m)
 York County, Pa, USA
 39°54′0″N 76°38′27″W

I was working at Camp David for about ten months before I was assigned to President Lyndon Johnson’s  trip team when he visited Dallastown Pa. as part of  the town's centennial celebration. The president and his wife, Lady Bird, keynoted the Dallastown Centennial Celebration on Sept. 4, 1966.

Since this was my first trip I was teamed up with two other radio guys from the Shop in Washington DC.  CWO Pierre Fontaine was assigned as the Trip Officer he was my CO at Camp David.  Mr. Fontaine and I drove to York Pa. on Aug 28th to meet the radio guys who had driven from the shop in DC with all of the communications equipment. We met with a marketing representative from GTE at the Travelodge in York and advised him of the pending visit and the telephone circuits required for all of the Communication equipment necessary to Support the President, Secret Service and White House Staff during this trip.

The Travelodge in York Pa. 
The GTE Central Office in York Pa.
Our first order of business was to meet with the Secret Service and Staff Advance people to get the Trip Itinerary and to determine the locations that we would use to install the Switchboard, Comm. Center and also identify sites for the FM radio base stations.

The President and Mrs. Johnson would arrive on Air Force One at Harrisburg International Airport and motorcade the 39 miles to Dallastown. After his speech they would then return to Harrisburg International Airport for their departure back to Washington DC.

The Motorcade route from Harrisburg Dallastown Pa.
With only six days to install everything we went to work. We met with the GTE operations people at their central office in York Pa. and obtained spaces for the WHCA Switchboard and Comm. Center in The GTE CO. Once that was taken care of we started our Radio Survey by driving the motorcade route in search of possible radio sites that would insure coverage of the entire route. We would discover two locations with radio towers already in place. These towers were located at the WXQXA-FM Radio station in York and the FAA radio site overlooking Harrisburg International Airport. These sites were ideal because they had direct line of site of Interstate 83, the main route of the motorcade would travel. Once permission and access was obtained to the radio sites, we would drive the entire motorcade route checking radio coverage. GTE was then contacted and the orders were placed for our remote keying lines to be run from the WHCA switchboard in York to each of the FM Radio base stations.

Baker/Charlie (Secret Service) and Sierra (White House Staff) base stations were installed at WXQXA-FM and at the FAA radio tower in Harrisburg; the remote keying lines were installed and tested to the remote consoles at the WHCA Switchboard in York which was now operational.

The 125’ FAA radio site near Harrisburg Pa.
WXQXA-FM Radio Site in York Pa.
By Friday we were finished with installing the radio network and all that remained was to set up the Presidential motorcade just before the arrival of Air Force One the next day.

Early on Saturday morning we headed to the Harrisburg Airport with several Motorola (P-33) radios to be placed inside the vehicles that would make up the motorcade. The Presidents Limo had already arrived from DC and motorcade was complete and ready for the President and Mrs. Johnson.

One final install needed to be completed, the Chopper Pack! Since LBJ took office the Secret Service required a surveillance chopper to be deployed to cover all motorcades that took place. This was to insure that no snipers were on billboards, radio towers, rooftops or any other vantage point. Local law enforcement officers would be positioned on freeway overpasses and at the on /off ramps. The chopper Pack consisted of two Motorola P-33 (B/C) radios to communicate with the USSS agents in the motorcade. Two headphones with push to talk microphones and a connection to the helicopter’s intercom system so the USSS agent on board could talk to the Pilots.

The surveillance Chopper a Huey UH-1
This would be my first flight in a helicopter and I was a little apprehensive about the trip ahead. The chopper that was used was a US Army Huey UH-1, the type used in Vietnam; the pilots were both vets of Vietnam. The Huey has a large door on either side that could be opened during flight with jump seats facing outward. Once I secured the radios, I took my place in one of the jump seats with the Chopper Pack between my legs and tested the radios and intercom.  I then fastened my lap belt and was ready for the flight. The USSS agent strapped himself next to me in a contraption called a monkey belt. This devise allowed him to move around and even stand while we were in the air. He then removed an M-16 from its carrying case, loaded it and sat down next to me. We were ready to go just as soon as Air Force One was on its final approach.
LBJ and Lady Bird arrive at Harrisburg International Airport
LBJ arrives aboard Air Force One
LBJ is greeted by the crowd at Harrisburg International Airport
Shortly after the President and first lady arrived at the airport and was greeted by Congressman N. Neiman Craley Jr. the entourage departed by motorcade.

We were already in the air following the 29 mile route looking out for anything that might present a risk to the motorcade. Now I always thought that Helicopters went up and down, little did I know about their actual maneuverability until the USSS agent aboard spotted someone running across a field toward the highway and with the approaching motorcade told the pilot to turn around to check out the situation? The Pilot made a very sharp turn putting the Huey on its side, here I am looking straight ahead looking at the highway and the USSSS Agent standing in up in the monkey belt. To this day I can’t believe he didn't fall out, I suppose the force from that tight turn was enough! It turned out that the person below never made it to the highway, and we continued on.

The motorcade arrived in Dallastown and president and Mrs. Johnson were greeted by a friendly audience. Congressman N. Neiman Craley Jr. served as grand marshal of a parade to celebrate Dallastown’s 100th anniversary, where President Johnson spoke.
The President addresses residents of Pa. in Dallastown
Read the President’s Speech Here.
The First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson is greeted in Dallastown 
The speech had concluded and it was time to depart Dallastown and return to Harrisburg Airport where we would prepare for the departure of Air Force One, and then collect all of the radio equipment from the motorcade and any staff member that was issued one for the short stay in Pa. 

The President had departed Harrisburg and headed back to Washington DC and we headed back to York to start packing up all of the equipment we had installed over the past week. On Sunday morning it was time to visit the two radio sites and retrieve the base stations Antennas and Coax from these locations and get them ready to return to Washington DC. Once all Of The equipment was inventoried and loaded on a truck. I left York and returned to Camp David. This would be the first of many trips world wide that I would participate during my assignment with the White House.


  1. I own an 8mm film of the First Lady and President Johnson's visit to Dallastown on Sept. 4, 1966.

  2. This post caused me to go back and look at my 8mm film of XDallastown Centennial parade (and the President's visit)the 19

  3. I wasn't able to watch the parade or events on the ground because I was assigned to the surveillance chopper and we kept out of sight monitoring the motorcade route. I hope that my aging memory remembered things correctly!