“It was 4 days before JFK would be assassinated at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, the date was Nov. 18th. 1963 when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s plane would touch down at Mac Dill Air Force Base. He and General Paul D. Adams would sit in the very same Lincoln that he and his wife Jackie would be in on that fateful day in Dallas.The motorcades in Texas needed Jackie. For you see they made an amazingly photogenic couple and the campaign needed the Texas voter. The Tampa motorcade route would begin after a speech at Al Lopez Field. It went south on Dale Mabry then turned east and ran 5 miles up Grand Central Avenue to Franklin Street. Winded it’s way around to Howard Avenue and stopped at the Fort Homer Hesterley Armory where he would deliver another speech. Then back to Grand Central Avenue and west to the International Inn (now the InterContinental). After another 20 minute speech back to Grand Central Avenue and then return to MacDill. In JFK’s entire presidency this would be his second longest motorcade route, eclipsed only by his famous Berlin, Germany trip. On this entire route JFK was guarded front, back and all sides by the Tampa Police Department Motor Officers, 34 motor units in all on that sunny day in November. I recently talked with retired TPD motor officer Russell Groover (who with officer Ronald Barber) were chosen to be the two motor units closest to JFK. The FBI and Tampa Police started recieving threats against the President two weeks before his landing. Two days before the President’s arrival when asked by the Secret Service “If anyone breaks through this perimeter you are to take them out. How would you do this?” Without thinking, officer Groover said “I’d hit them with my motorcycle”. With hands needed to operate the motor unit and the possibility of a stray bullet into the crowd, it was the correct answer. Officer Barber agreed and they had their two “lead” men to the left and right of our 35th President. Officer Groover drew a detailed diagram of the TPD motor unit deployment. It was a very closely spaced diamond of 7 units around JFK’s car and the remaining 23 boxing in that formation. He also commented that in every multi story building along the motorcade there were police or military stationed on every floor and the roof. At Mac Dill, president Kennedy thanked every officer personally and with a handshake, for Tampa did its job well and JFK boarded Air Force One without incident.
The motor units are of immense value in a motorcade due to narrow road lanes and crowded conditions. They can pass, drop back and are a great tool to “push” back an overzealous crowd from the Presidential cars in such limited space.
Motorcycle Policeman Russell Groover