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JFK's Day In San Antonio 24 Hours Before His Assassination

On November 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy stopped in to see four airmen inside an oxygen chamber in San Antonio.

The men, who were from Lackland Air Force Base, were involved in experiments on space exploration.

Rudy Purificato, an Air Force historian, said because of Kennedy's deep interest and push for space discovery, NASA was catching up on research the Air Force had already been conducting.

"They were way behind in doing the basic research that the Air Force had been doing for years, including weightlessness studies, development of space suits, space food, research," said Purificato.

Kennedy’s arrival at Brooks Air Force Base surprised the Airmen. They had no idea he’d be coming, not until about five minutes prior. Airman Phillip "Flip" Jameson was one of the men participating in the experiment.

Flip, as he likes to be called, said the charming and personable president walked in and he saw him face to face, albeit through a small window from inside the chamber.

"He was here, standing right in front of us," Flip said. "I can't tell you how big the grins were on all four of our faces, they were just huge."

Flip lives in Florida and came back to San Antonio to be included in a documentary on the last 24 hours of JFK’s life. He hasn’t been back to what was then Brooks Air Force Base, now Brooks City-Base, in 49 years.

Still, the memory of the day he met the president in vivid in his mind.

"He was just right there, Boston accent, the hairstyle," Flip recalled. "He wasn’t the president when he talked to us, he was just a person that was into space."

"Flip" Jameson was one of four Airmen who met President John F. Kennedy when he visited then-Brooks Air Force Base, now Brooks City-Base, on Nov. 21, 1963.
Credit Ryan Loyd / TPR
"Flip" Jameson was one of four Airmen who met President John F. Kennedy when he visited then-Brooks Air Force Base, now Brooks City-Base, on Nov. 21, 1963.

Producer Robert Erickson is making the documentary for the National Geographic Channel, which will air in November to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

The channel will air specials on the actual assassination, but Erickson said editorial members wanted to explore something more. Besides, Erickson has also done many films on the shooting death of Kennedy.

"Our feeling was that the assassination has been done so many times," said Erickson. "There's such conflict in it, there's such contradictory information and everybody has seen that part. Hopefully we're going to be able to share something that they haven't seen, at least as much, that they haven't seen at all in some cases."

Erickson is conducting interviews across Texas, including Houston and Dallas, to include in the film. It will show the personal side of the president.

In Houston, Erickson plans on talking with one woman who was in the audience to hear Kennedy speak to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Erickson said it was the only time a president has acknowledged and attended a Latin American function.

The First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, who also spoke to the crowd, did so in Spanish.

"It’s absolutely transformative to those people," said Erickson.

"Once again, it speaks of the man. Of the hundreds of invitations he had for that hour in Houston, he chose to go see LULAC," he said.

"Jackie chose to speak in Spanish," Erickson said. "Wow, that’s just stunning."

The next day, the world changed with Kennedy's assassination. Flip said he and his crewmates watched the news unfold from a small TV positioned outside of the chamber window.

Emotional, he said everyone stopped dead in their tracks in disbelief that Kennedy had been killed.

"We all just broke down and all cried," he said.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.