Apr 21

Surprise in the Archive: A Distinctive 'do in '62

Thursday, April 21, 2016 12:01 AM

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Sometimes in the routine work of the photo archives, you come across something surprising. In this case, in the process of sleuthing out information enough to adequately describe a group of uncaptioned and undated photographs from the U. S. Coast Guard Academy revealed a surprise amidst a crowd gathered aboard USCGC Eagle (WIX-327). Though one man’s face was hidden, his very distinctive hairdo unveiled the context of the otherwise an uncaptioned scene.

President John F. Kennedy speaking aboard the training barque USCGC Eagle (WIX-327) at the Washington Navy Yard Annex, 15 August 1962. The Naval Historical Display Center is in the background.

President John F. Kennedy speaking aboard the training barque USCGC Eagle (WIX-327) at the Washington Navy Yard Annex, 15 August 1962. The Naval Historical Display Center is in the background. Naval Institute Photo Archive.

That hair was recognized as belonging to President John F. Kennedy.

A distinctive 'do. Naval Institute Photo Archive.

A distinctive ‘do. Naval Institute Photo Archive.

Armed with that knowledge, the story of the photo quickly unrolled itself. It was warm and cloudless but hazy summer’s morning on 15 August 1962. Suspicions of a Soviet ballistic missile base under construction in Cuba were becoming something more than quiet murmurs in the hallways of the Pentagon. Their subsequent confirmation and those 13 terrible days in October that would mark the Cuban Missile Crisis were not yet on the minds of most people, however, and that day at the Washing Navy Yard Annex was one of pride and dedication.

Cadets of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy stand at rest in preparation for President John F. Kennedy's visit to the Washington Navy Yard on 15 August 1962. The USCGC Eagle (WIX-327) and the USS Robert F. Keller (DE-419) are moored in the background. Naval Institute Photo Archive.

Cadets of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy stand at attention in preparation for President John F. Kennedy’s visit to the Washington Navy Yard Annex on 15 August 1962. The USCGC Eagle (WIX-327) and the USS Robert F. Keller (DE-419) are moored in the background. Naval Institute Photo Archive.

President Kennedy arrived that day to see the recognize the cadets of the Coast Guard Academy aboard the famous barque, which had called at the Navy Yard as part of a training cruise down the East Coast. The cadets manned the yards of the tall ship, a feat which Kennedy later wrote was “a most remarkable sight in this age of nuclear propulsion.”

Coast Guard Academy cadets man the yards of Eagle. President Kennedy watches with cupped hands from the helm. Naval Institute Photo Archive.

Coast Guard Academy cadets man the yards of Eagle. President Kennedy watches with cupped hands from the helm. Naval Institute Photo Archive.

To the cadets and gathered dignitaries, he remarked,

“This is the oldest continuous seagoing service in the United States, stretching back to the beginning of our country, so I want all of you who are cadets to know how proud we are of you.

I hope that you and your fellow Americans realize how vital this service is. You serve our country, as I’ve said, in peacetime, on ice patrols and weather patrols, in protecting the standards of the merchant marine, in protecting safety at sea. And in time of war you, with the American Navy, as you did in World War II and at the time of Korea, defend our coasts by defending the outermost reaches of the approaches to our country. So we are very delighted to see you.”

A film of the day’s events was also made.

President John F. Kennedy speaking aboard the training barque USCGC Eagle (WIX-327) at the Washington Navy Yard Annex, 15 August 1962. Vice President Johnson stands behind him to the left. U. S. Coast Guard Photo.

President John F. Kennedy speaking aboard the training barque USCGC Eagle (WIX-327) at the Washington Navy Yard Annex, 15 August 1962. Vice President Johnson stands behind him to the left. U. S. Coast Guard Photo.

President Kennedy spoke only a few minutes, but his remarks came into clear perspective during the Cuban Missile Crisis two months later, when Coastguardsmen would serve at the forefront of the blockade and quarantine of Cuba.