Previous                                                             Next

The Personal Histories

of

Darvil Burns McBride & Josephine Phillips McBride

 

THE PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES AND ME

 

In December of 1964 I received a large, beautifully embossed invitation (which I still have tucked away among my souvenirs) to the Johnson Inaugural, as did each democrat legislator. Of course we all wanted to go, and much talk ensued among us about chartering a plane or finding an affordable way to get there and back. Our enthusiasm for the venture soon reached the ears of the public, who immediately set up a hue and cry, soundly condemning the idea, for our intentions had been grossly misunderstood. How such rumor got started we never knew, (we did suspect a few republican members) but the word was out that a bill was being prepared for introduction that if passed would appropriate funds to finance the trip at the taxpayer’s expense.

 

Of course this was ridiculous. There were too many wise heads in the Senate to ever let such a thing happen; and besides, funds from more appropriate sources were actually available for legislative travel; but to use them to send just democrats to an inaugural was out of the question. Such would have been not only a glaring misuse of public funds, but also a very unfair move.

 

Though I did not get to use the invitation I have always treasured it as a special memento of my Senate years.  But I do feel almost repaid because of a lucky incident that occurred that same year during the Johnson campaign. One Sunday afternoon Jo and I were driving from Thatcher to Phoenix where I would prepare for Monday morning meetings. As we neared the city where I knew the car radio would now pickup Phoenix broadcasts I clicked on the radio.Immediately the startling news blared out that President Johnson would make an unscheduled stop at the airport in the next thirty minutes. That he had time to briefly appear and say hello to whomever was able to get there on such short notice.

 

Excited, I said to Jo, “I think we can make it.” and stepped on the peddle. We arrived just in time to see a pick-up coming through a huge wire gate. A large crowd was waiting on our side of the fence. The President, with body guards seated along the sides of the pick-up bed, stood in the center of the boot, holding on to a steel roll bar.  As the vehicle drove slowly through the crowd, people began to swarm toward it. Recognizing that hesitation could mean lost opportunity, I pushed forward leaving Jo to fend for herself. I knew she wouldn’t dare to struggle with the frenzied crowd. By the time I had shouldered and bumped my way to the pick-up, the President was shaking hands with anyone who could reach him. Although I got a quick grip (very quick) of his hand, it wasn’t much more than a “give me a high-five” gesture. I went back to find Jo while Johnson was carried on through the still gathering crowd. A hundred yards farther and the vehicle disappeared around a slight curve in the wide avenue.

 

We never knew whether or not he had stopped long enough to speak to the excited crowd. As we nudged and fought our way to the car, we could see that the whole airport area was filled with people, many of whom I am sure, never got close enough to even see the President. I could hardly believe the frenzied response to that short radio announcement that had taken place in that “Goldwater” stronghold.

 

Like the Inaugural invitation and the airport affair, I still treasure the memory of a few special occasions while in the Legislature. Another of these afforded me the opportunity to meet and shake hands with another President of the United States. This time you could call it a real handshake. In 19?? Governor Goddard asked me to represent the State of Arizona at a specially called Governor’s National Conference on Education, being held in Kansas City, Missouri. Jo went with me on this trip which she often refers to as her “shoe trip” where she bought her highly touted Kansas City shoes. As badly as she wanted to, she didn’t get to make the trip with me to the Presidential Library. Many of the nation’s governors were there. Goddard not being able to attend, allowed me a few privileges that I would not otherwise have been able to enjoy. One of these was to be bused, along with the governors and a few others, a few miles distant, to Independence, to visit the Truman Library and meet the retired President. I was thrilled for this privilege, for in many respects Truman was my favorite President. At the death of Roosevelt, I admired the way he took the reins of Government, and with hands on he saw us through a terrible war. I have often wondered how many others would have had the intestinal fortitude to drop the atomic bomb with all its terrible consequences.

 

A few minutes after our arrival at the Library, Truman, on the arm of a hardy assistant, probably a body guard, was escorted onto the stage of the small lecture room and there seated in a large chair. We were then privileged to file by and shake hands with him. Nobody rushed us. We had time to nod, experience the feel of his hand and sturdy presence; and I told him who I was and proffered a word of greeting.

 

Though the President had demonstrated a bit of feebleness when he entered the room, his hand was steady and his, “Thank you Senator,” was strong. Impressed, I moved on with a feeling of awe. I remember recalling his words about a “hot kitchen” and the “buck” not passing here.

 

Besides the great satisfaction of meeting President Truman, the thing I enjoyed most about our tour of his library, was the big cartoon-like drawings on one wall depicting the announcement of Truman’s defeat at the hands of Tom Dewey, his Republican opponent. Huge black newspaper headlines screamed out the news.  Beside it Truman is holding up a large sign that says, DEWEY WINS. WITH A BIG GRIN ON HIS FACE Truman is saying, “But why am I smiling?” Under his picture the caption reads, “The real winner.” The assumption of a Dewey victory and an editor’s desire to be the first to print the news, has been called one of the greatest foux pas ever pulled in the history of the newspaper business. I am still smiling! 

 

During the war while working as armaments inspector on the famous B17 (4-motor bomber—The Flying Fortress—of great renown) at the Douglas Aircraft, Long Beach plant, I had another brush with royalty. In 1942, during a secret tour of defense plants and military bases, President Roosevelt suddenly appeared at the Douglas plant where I worked. About 10 A.M. that particular morning, five or six men began hurriedly clearing the wide aisle that divided the huge building in half, where the B17 was being assembled. As they passed my position I heard one of them respond to a question of “what was happening”: “The President is coming,” one man said. By then the five or six hundred workers in that main building knew what was pending and all work stopped as workers left their posts and crowded to the center aisle. Quickly—for I could see that all vantage points for viewing the parade would soon be gone—climbed to the top of one of the huge jigs nearby that lined the aisle. Soon the place was full, for word had spread to the other buildings of the plant. From my perch I looked out across the building and all it’s work accouterments to see the hundreds converging on the center aisle. No way would even half of them get close enough to see the President. On an occasion such as this, no one was going to give up their precious foot of space.

 

Then far up the aisle, (the building was a quarter mile long) a blue, completely open-air limousine appeared.  As it slowly drifted down the aisle, I was finally able to pick out the President in the back seat, sort of leaning back and waving to the crowd. In his fingers, with a cigarette protruding from the end of it, that famous and familiar, long cigarette holder poised at a forty-five degree angle toward the ceiling. As I remember he wore his usual blue coat with the large decorative buttons and the jaunty captain’s cap. Two liveried chauffeurs maneuvered the open vehicle. I don’t remember any loud shouts or whistles, but the appearance along the way was tremendous.

 

Later we learned that he had arrived by train in his special car. He probably never touched foot to California soil, because he boarded his limousine while it was still in the rail-car, exited by way of a special ramp, and then was driven straight to the aircraft plant.

 

Guess what the topic of conversation turned out to be for the next several weeks around that war effort neck-of-the-woods. What an impression a few fleeting seconds of life can sometimes make on the human mind.  I can still see, after fifty-four years, every detail of that impressive occasion. (Written in 1994)

 
  Previous                                                                          Contents Next