Interrupting LBJ

Interrupting LBJ
My ticket to the Gala.

By Ken Rossignol’

An oft-quoted phrase to describe changing views on political concerns is this: “If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no brain.”

While the quote has been attributed to everyone from John Adams to Winston Churchill, the popularity of the sentiment must be due to the way in which it is received by the reader – that is – it reflects the transition that many go through in their lives. I know it did for me, but it didn’t take me until the age of forty to consider myself a conservative.

At the age of seventeen, my views were molded on family traditions of being a southern Democrat and living in Montgomery County, Maryland as a teenager in a large suburban high school in 1964, supporting President Lyndon Johnson, the surviving half of the Democratic ticket from 1960, was a logical step.

The Democrats of 2019 support giving the right to vote to 16-year-olds but not the right to make a decision to vape or buy tobacco and in some places to use plastic straws or buy a big gulp – but they surely are wise enough to help select a President.

Plenty of my friends and their families supported Senator Barry Goldwater but that didn’t keep them from being my friends, unlike the way many people conduct themselves in these politically charged times with the internet as ‘lies get spread around the world before the truth has chance to pull on their pants’.  That quote, by the way, is also often attributed to Churchill, but if he said it, as pointed out by a Wall Street Journal writer, he would have used the word “trousers”.

As part of my misspent youth, I was instrumental in organizing a Democratic Teen Club in my town and was rewarded with the task of being the president as my friends were much smarter than I and really didn’t want to do the work. As part of our campaign work, we embraced an egghead professor and committed liberal who was the candidate for Congress in our congressional district which spread from the DC suburbs to the mountains of Western Maryland.   Setting up campaign booths in shopping centers, dumping literature on doorsteps and under car windshields and just having a great time doing so with stops at the new fast-food joints and Hot Shoppes a part of the chores of political work, it wasn’t a bad life. Fitting in campaign work around part-time jobs and homework was a challenge for all of us.

But we were committed to our candidate, Royce Hanson, to be our next Congressman – which wasn’t to be as it turned out the adults who voted were smarter than us kids.  We were thrilled when a Democratic Central Committee member acknowledged the hard work we were doing and included us with a group on a chartered bus to go to a big campaign rally in Baltimore in October of 1964 which featured LBJ.

This was the first time for many of us to go to Baltimore, though we had been given the chance to be on a bus for a day trip to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City where we were able to meet Sen. Hubert Humphrey, the new ticket mate of President Johnson.

We were excited as we left our bus in front of the Baltimore Civic Center where the Baltimore Bullets played – until they moved to Washington and became ‘wizards’ which was a more politically correct name and not as lethal as the city of Demons they left behind which now rack up 300 murders annually – mostly with bullets.

The convention monitors seated us, complete with our campaign signs for Royce Hanson, about in the middle of the large convention center – perhaps about fifty rows from the podium where the President took the stage as the honored guest.  LBJ put on a good show as he endorsed the Democratic ticket: The U. S. Senate candidate, the Congressman At Large, and six of the seven congressional candidates. But, to my immediate dismay, he left out our egghead professor and continued on with his speech.

I decided that since my friends in our club had picked on me to be the leader, I was going to lead them in a march up to the podium with our Royce Hanson for Congress signs held aloft and that is exactly what we did. We were only about 50 feet away from the President when he stopped his speech and motioned to us and said, “it looks like I forgot someone”.

With a loud laugh and applause, President Johnson went on to deliver a rousing endorsement for our guy and we waved to the beaming candidate sitting about 20 feet from LBJ and returned to our seats.

Johnson won big; Hanson lost big.  


President Lyndon B. Johnson, with a raincoat, reviews troops at Fort Campbell Kentucky with Maj. Gen. Ben Sternberg. White House photo.

Reader response

Around 1966 LBJ decided he needed to popularize the Vietnam War so he summoned the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff to his Oval Office and issued an order to him to pass on to the other members of the JCS.    Each service was to select a member of their service and award them a Medal of Honor which he would present.    NOT do you have anyone deserving but do it.  

 The Marines selected a Sgt Murphy from the New England area who had been badly wounded, promoted to Sgt and medically retired as a result of his wounds in combat over there.    Some of the others selected were really weak in heroics but LBJ had issued an order so each service had to pony up someone to receive their Medal of Honor.  

LBJ was down on the Ranch for an extended stay so instead of him flying back to DC on Air Force One and presenting the medal he ordered all the Marines who would be involved at a full ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House flown to be flown down to Austin, Texas for the ceremony.    

So over 800 Marines, including me, were packed up and flown by whatever Marine Transport aircraft was available, including a number of old C-119 Flying Boxcars from the USMCR from DC down to Austin.   We arrived in the late afternoon the day before the ceremony had supper at the Naval Air Station and then were bussed into downtown Austin and on the street in front of the Capitol Building at around midnight we rehearsed the entire ceremony quietly.    
Orders were all commands would be given as quietly as possible, no slamming of rifle butts (as normally done) on the pavement, and no playing of any musical instruments with the exception of a single star drum quietly tapping out the marching cadence with a single tap per step.    So when it came time for each musical number to be performed we in the US Marine Drum & Bugle Corp marched smartly holding our drums and buses as if playing them, with the drummers doing all their fancy stick movements but without striking a drum head, we all hummed our parts of the music.  

When the Battalion Passed in Review at that rehearsal with the Lt. Col. who had been designated as the Officer in Charge of this detail as the reviewing officer we quietly hummed THE MARINE’S HYMN to which LtCol Marc Moore, grinning from ear to ear, said, “MY STARS!”    A “Battle Cry” became a greeting between members of the D&B & the good LtCol thereafter.
The next day LBJ arrived for the ceremony just before starting time and departed immediately afterward to get back out to his ranch!    
He never cared the least bit about the troops performing at the White House.   On one arrival of a newly appointed Ambassador to DC from a European nation, the normal ceremony required the north driveway to be lined by rifleman of the Army, Marines, Navy, and USAF along both curbs.  

When the Ambassador’s car entered the driveway Orders brought all those troops to Present Arms and when the car stopped at the front steps of the north entrance into the White House we, The Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, sounded the Bugle Call ATTENTION!    

Then with the Ambassador and his wife standing arm in arm in front of the steps and the President and his First Lady standing on the landing at the top of the steps for Ruffles and Flourishes, and the National Anthem of the Ambassador’s Country was sounded and played followed by our own National Anthem.   Then the Ambassador and his wife climbed the steps shook hands all around and were led into the White House by the President and First Lady.   Inside in one of the rooms used for such ceremonies, the Ambassador presented his official documents appointing him as his nation’s chief diplomatic representative to our government in DC and Tea/Coffe/ and pastries were served.   This normally took 15 minutes to 30 minutes maximum.

On one particular Arrival Ceremony of an Ambassador, it was around 18 degrees with freezing light rain falling.    Instead of the normal raincoats the Social Secretary of the President (LBJ) who gave orders for these events as what they wanted the military to do, decreed NO RAINCOATS, OVERCOATS only as we want lots of color on such a dreary day.    
So there we were an hour early standing at Parade Rest in the freezing rain but at least we had our overcoats on.    Then the Social Secretary came out and looked around and with his finger beckoned the Chief White House Military Aide, that day an Army Brigadier General over to him and while gesturing towards where we, the D&B were standing at Parade Rest.    The BGen marched over halting in front of our Drum Major and after exchanging salutes leaned close and quietly gave the Drum Major orders.  They exchanged salutes again and the BGen marched away.   The Drum Major executed an about-face and called the D&B to ATTENTION.  
He then walked close to the front rank and as quietly as possible and still able for all of us to hear him he explained that “More Color” was needed so rank by rank we would remove our (in those days still Green) overcoats while behind the front shrubs of the White House and return to our position in the formation.   We were to stack our overcoats neatly out of sight on the ground.  
Needless to say, the rear rank who first executed this movement in our finest ceremonial manner had their overcoats lying directly on the wet ground, pine bark and dirt of the beds beneath the shrubs that were around 7 feet high screening us from sight.    
Once we were all back information and again at Parade Rest now only in our normal dress blouses (coats) without the warmth all the other troops were enjoying from their own soaked overcoats we slowly absorbed the freezing rain and if was cold, miserable, and totally unnecessary but the Social Secretary wanted more color so we did it.   Besides once the Ambassador and his wife arrived they would only be at the White House for 15 to 30 minutes.  
We just knew, like other presidents who thought about the troops’ comfort when possible LBJ would take care of us and rush the ceremony along.


Instead, LBJ entertained them for over an hour and 15 minutes while we all stood out in the rain freezing.   After the Ambassador departed and we all formed up to march off, the D&B had to quickly retrieve our now soaked and dirty overcoats and put them on over our clear but soaked dress blouses and march off.
When we returned to the Barracks all our overcoats and dress blouses had to be dried out and those of us with medal displays had to rush them across the street for a quick remounting of them with new ribbons as they had been ruined by the rain when we removed our overcoats.    I didn’t have a lot of medals but I recall it cost me in the neighborhood of $15 to do that when I made less than $200 a month.    We also had to pay to have our Overcoats cleaned and pressed, with an extra charge for how dirty they were.   Thankfully the Barracks paid to clean our Dress Red Blouses but our T-Shirts, the only thing we wore under those dress blouses when wearing an overcoat, was ruined but he red color or our dress blouses leeching out from the freezing rain we stood in.
On another occasion, LBJ flew out to Camp Pendleton to be the Reviewing Officer of a Marine Battalion of the 1st Marine Division that had just returned from a particularly arduous year-long tour in combat over in Vietnam.    The entire Battalion was in formation on the parade ground in their battle dress with helmets and weapons and when it came time for the Trooping of the Line (when the reviewing official marches down on foot normally before the Pass in Review of the Formation)  LBJ mounted a special prepared, highly waxed and spit-shined marine Jeep with a bar for him to hold while standing with the Commanding General of the Division and the Battalion alongside him.    

Then the jeep drove slowly down the long line of company’s of Marines.    Everything was going fine when suddenly LBJ Smacked the driver on the back of his helmet ordering him to “STOP THE JEEP!”   Out of the Jeep bounded LBJ with the Division Commanding General a Major General and the Bn Commander a LtCol trying to get out and catch up to the rapidly moving President as he walked right through the formation ranks until he reached a slightly overweight Gunnery Sergeant.  

 By the time the Maj. Gen. and Lt. Col. arrived LBJ had his arm around the shoulders of the GySgt. and was walking with him back towards the Parade Jeep chatting away with him.    Once everyone was in the, now overloaded jeep, LBJ told the MajGen and LtCol that the Gunny was named Salazar and he had been born and raised on the Johnson Ranch in Texas and he knew the Gunny’s parents, brothers and sisters very well.  

 In fact, they should have someone go to where ever the Gunny was billeted at and pack all his stuff up and get it ASAP to the White House as Gunny Salazar is flying back to the White House with me today!
The Gunny stood along side LBJ while his entire Battalion Passed by In Review and left in the Presidential Limo traveling to the Airport and boarded Air Force 1 for the flight back to the White House.    He was put in one of the famous bedrooms and the LBJ decided the Gunny needed to be assigned to a Marine facility in DC so he could be close by to stop in for drinks and dinner.    

The next morning the Chief White House Military Aide, a Major General with a Marine Aide who was a Colonel was driven to the Marine Barracks in DC with Gunny Salazar where they marched into the office of the Barracks Commander, Colonel Paul Graham.  
Col Graham was informed that by Verbal Orders of the President Gunny Salazar was to be assigned to duties at the Barracks and available for any summons from the President post-haste – end of the conversation.    Now Col. Graham was not a “beloved commander” and was a bit of a martinet so he was a very unhappy camper as the Gunny didn’t appear to be a “ceremonial Marine” and certainly didn’t meet the published physical standards for assignment to the Barracks ceremonially.    But Veral Orders from the President superseded those regulations and the wishes of Colonel Graham.    Poor Gunny Salazar, actually a damn good Marine, quickly got nicknamed “The President’s Personal Wet Back!”     It was not unusual for a White House Limo with a Military Aide in it to arrive, go to Col Graham’s Office and direct the Col to get Gunny Salazar here right now for a weekend at Camp David, or a trip of undetermined length to the Ranch in Texas and stand there tapping his fingers on the Col’s desk watching the clock.
When Captain Chuck Robb the Barracks Adjutant was dating his future wife, one of LBJ’s daughters with the other one tagging along usually so a bachelor officer had to be assigned to be her escort, a dreaded duty.     Capt Robb was an non commutative officer and declined to participate in the famous Friday Night Parades and other ceremonies.    Then LBJ, at the urging of his daughters decided to come down and review a Friday Night Parade with “Chuck” in command of it.    So Capt Robb was quickly schooled up on the movements needed to be done and the commands needed to be given by him and he was assigned as the Parade Adjutant for that evening.    The Commandant was the senior Marine Officer in the Reviewing Party of LBJ, The Commandant, and of course Col Graham.    
After the parade, the Commandant hosted a small party in Commandant’s Home at the north end of the Barracks and its parade deck.  
 LBJ, as usual, took on a considerable load of liquor and as he was leaving in the wee hours of the morning tripped and fell down the front steps fo the Commandant’s Home while going to his Limo.    
The next morning on the front page of the Washington Post was a photo captured by their reporter of LBJ caught sprawled across the steps, grinning from ear to ear while several Generals, the Commandant, and Col Graham are standing at attention saluting the President, with their eyes looking down instead of the regulation straight ahead, and a look of surprise and horror on their faces.    
LBJ was a trip!

President Lyndon Johnson campaigning in 1964 against Sen. Barry Goldwater. White House Photo Office

The “Daisy” campaign ad – In the 1964 presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee commissioned a TV ad that is commonly called the “Daisy” ad. This video may be downloaded and used free of charge. However, the Democratic National Committee allows the LBJ Library to provide the ad to the public. Please credit the video: Courtesy Democratic National Committee.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Address to Congress, November 27, 1963. MP505. Description: President Lyndon B. Johnson speaks to Congress following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy Index terms: Speeches; Congress; JFK. Credit: LBJ Library video by CBS News No usage fees. Footage shown here was a gift from CBS for the LBJ Library. They are pool coverage of live presidential addresses and are not copyrighted. The Library has made them available (excluding any network commentary) for decades without incident.

Inauguration of the President and Vice President of the United States, 1/20/1965. MP 802. Public domain. This film is from the LBJ Library moving picture collection created by the White House Naval Photographic Unit, aka the Navy Films. The films consist of monthly reports on the activities of President and Mrs. Johnson from 1963-1969.

Campaign Poster: “Kennedy for President/Johnson for Vice President”, 21 1/4 x 13 1/4″, published by Citizens for Kennedy and Johnson, 261 Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC. Donated by Lyndon B. Johnson

Justice Marshall and President Johnson in the Oval Office. – White House photo.

Meeting regarding the announcement of Thurgood Marshall’s nomination as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Veterans’ Day tour of military installations on U.S.S. Enterprise. White House Photo Office

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