Just My Point of View

Reflections & Musings

A Veterans’ Day Story: JFK’s Visit to Cheyenne Mountain

with 2 comments

 My mom and dad, circa 1954In the middle of the 20th Century’s Cold War, our nation built a command center deep in the heart of Cheyenne Mountain, a facility that would be so secure that it could serve as the U.S. military’s nerve center in the event of a nuclear attack. It was here that my dad, then an officer in the U.S. Air Force, was assigned to the Electronic Systems Division in early 1963.

“We were testing electronic equipment for North American Air Defense Command (NORAD),” my dad recalled years later. “We got word that President Kennedy was coming to visit.”

 “It so happens that when JFK was coming to visit that the colonel [his boss] had a leave scheduled at that time. I said to him, ‘You’re not going to go on leave?” He said that sure he was going. “But what if the President comes over here? You know, the equipment isn’t operating correctly, not yet anyway.” The salty-tongued colonel replied, “You tell him, ‘No speake de English. I’m going on vacation.’ “

Cheyenne Mountain: 25 ton steel doors designed to withstand a nuclear attack.

Sure enough, the colonel went on his leave. “The [NORAD] generals sent their people over and said, ‘Hey, can’t you install and operate a program for the President?’ And, I said to them, ‘Well, the colonel is…on leave and I’m not going to fake anything. If he comes over here, we’ll tell him the truth about the project and show him anything he wants to see.’

Based on that information, the NORAD generals decided not to bring the President over to see the new equipment. 

“When JFK arrived, we were on the second floor, and we could see him through a big picture window below talking to the NORAD generals. You could tell he was arguing about it because he was pointing to our building. He wanted to see the new equipment. The generals offered to give him a tour of the old equipment and he finally agreed.”

A few months later, JFK was assassinated on that fateful day in Dallas on November 22, 1963. My brother remembered my mom crying after hearing the news on television as she was rolling up her hair that morning.  

NORAD Command Center, Cheyenne Mtn

Fast forward nearly 30 years, decades after my dad retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Air Force. It’s Christmas 1991, and my dad is telling my family this incredible story about almost meeting the President of the United States.

“That’s the story of JFK,” he concludes. “I’ve seen JFK. I’ve seen Roosevelt, and shook President Carter’s hand [later, he would see President Clinton, too.]”

But it wasn’t his near-meeting with a President that had me rapt. In our own spin-dominated era, things like the facts and truth too often seem to be beside the point. Too many people are willing to bend the rules or warp the facts to suit their motives. 
But when I clear away the cynicism, though, what remains is deep pride. Pride to have such a father who would not only honorably serve his country for 25 years, but who would also courageously stand up for the truth and refuse to “fake it,” even for the President, his ultimate commanding officer.

Happy Veterans’ Day, Dad. I love you and I’m proud of you!


Written by Sheryl A. Roehl

November 11, 2010 at 11:10 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Sheryl – a sweet tribute to your dad and a reminder that kids learn the ethics we live our lives by. The one instance that he wouldn’t “pretend” so his commanding officers would look good for the president is probably just a single example of the tone he set through his life, and that’s why this story exemplified it for you. Congrats on having such a dad!

    LeeAnn Fleming

    November 12, 2010 at 11:07 am

  2. Thanks, LeeAnn. Very proud of my parents. I’m very lucky.

    Sheryl Roehl

    November 12, 2010 at 11:16 am

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