60th anniversary of President Kennedy's trip to San Diego
June 6 of 1963 was a day very much like today in San Diego: overcast skies with a high of 68 degrees. But, the day was different in one major way; the President of the United States was in town.
“President Kennedy’s plane has just arrived after a two-hour 40 minute ride from El Paso, Texas where the president spent last night on his western tour," an announcer from KFMB TV said as Air Force One taxied at Lindbergh Field.
President Kennedy was initially coming to inspect the troops at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD).
But at the urging of then San Diego State College President Dr. Malcolm Love, then California Governor Pat Brown invited the president to give the commencement speech to the class of 1963. He received the first honorary degree given by the school in the old Aztec Bowl — where Viejas Arena sits now.
“I want to express my very strong sense of appreciation for the honor that you have given to me today to be an instant graduate of this distinguished college … is greatly appreciated," President Kennedy said to the crowd of more than 2,000.
Kennedy would go on to extol the education system in California, from kindergarten all the way through the collegiate level.
“No free society can possibly be sustained unless it has an educated citizenry whose qualities of mind and heart permit it to take part in the complicated and increasingly sophisticated decisions that pour not only upon the president and upon the Congress, but upon all the citizens who exercise the ultimate power," said President Kennedy.
After his brief remarks at San Diego State, the president boarded Marine One and flew to MCRD. After inspecting the troops, the president, a veteran of World War II, delivered a short speech. He praised the professionalism and valor of the United States military over the years.
“Now and in the years to come, those that oppose us, those who wish us ill must contend with the strong determination of Americans to not only endure and survive, but also to prevail," the president said.
Apart from the president’s visit to San Diego State and MCRD, there is one other place where his trip is memorialized.
It’s on the side of Rudford’s Restaurant along El Cajon Boulevard. A local teen snapped a picture of the president in his motorcade as they made their way to San Diego State. Nearly six months later, the president would be killed by an assassin’s bullet in a similar motorcade. But for those who are still around, the memories of that day are no doubt happy — of a truly historic day in San Diego.