A chance meeting in Naples, Italy
by Karl Johnson
Jun 30, 2013 | 1487 views | 0 0 comments | 127 127 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Karl Johnson was a 19-year-old sailor when he encountered President John F. Kennedy in Italy in 1963. Photo special to the Eagle.
Karl Johnson was a 19-year-old sailor when he encountered President John F. Kennedy in Italy in 1963. Photo special to the Eagle.
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As I recall, it was a hot muggy morning there in the harbor basin in Naples, Italy on July 2, 1963. The aroma of the city was quite strong as many a sailor who has visited there well knows.

We were tied up to the seawall onboard the USS Arcadia (AD-23) tendering destroyers alongside with Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance.

As we milled about smartly awaiting quarters, one could not help but notice the big fancy white boat at the international shipping terminal flying the Greek flag and the name “Christina O” on its backside.

At quarters, we were told a VIP was coming to town and we were to “turn to” and titivate the ship. Then liberty call would be put down for the occasion. It didn’t take long to figure out who when we saw on the front page of the paper that JFK was up at the Vatican conferring with the Pope.

When the liberty boat arrived at fleet landing, it was quite apparent it was going to be a very busy day in downtown Naples because of the mass of Neopolitians turning out to get a glimpse of the President of the United States.

Later, it was estimated about one million lined the streets including one skinny redneck 19-year-old kid from the hills of western Walker County, Ala.

Later as I stood on my spot on the curb, not daring to move, my 35mm camera at the ready, we could hear the uproar and applause getting louder. A big black limo convertible went by and with my dixie cap cocked on the back of my head, eyeball to eyeball about 10 feet away the President of the United States smiled and waved right at me.

The big black car continued on down to the big white boat and scuttlebutt had it that not long thereafter it got under way setting its course for the isle of Capri.

Just four months later on a crowded street in Dallas, Texas, life as we knew it would change and never be the same again.