Then-deputy recalls Kennedy’s visit to Tampa
Daryl May, a rookie deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, stood with his back to a swelling and anxious crowd, locking arms with other law enforcement officers to keep the throng at bay.
As people pushed forward against the officers, May had a troubling thought.
“I can’t reach my gun,” he recalled Saturday afternoon, seated at a table on the first floor of the Tampa Bay History Center. “Someone could have grabbed it from me and used it.”
The day was Nov. 18, 1963.
May, 27 years old at the time, was on the most historic detail of his life as part of the team providing security for President Kennedy, the first sitting president ever to visit Tampa. Kennedy spent five hours in the city, one of the longest stops of his presidency.
It was a day of triumph for the city, a glow that would last another four days, until Kennedy was gunned down while his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
Now 70, May was one of many area residents who came to the history center Saturday to share their memories, and memorabilia, of the Kennedy visit, with a crew shooting a documentary for WUSF-TV. JFK In Tampa: the 50th Anniversary, will be a multimedia “celebration,” said Lynn Marvin Dingfelder, the former Tampa television reporter who is producing the documentary.
Scheduled to debut with a showing at the Tampa Theater on Nov. 14, and on WUSF-TV three days later, the project “is not about the grassy knoll or assassination theories,” said Dingfelder, in between interviews. “This is about our place in the sun. JFK in Tampa is about joy. It is not a downer.”
As Kennedy took the bandstand at Al Lopez Field, May had no idea that three weeks earlier, the 35th president of the United States had received death threats while in Chicago.
All he knew was the Secret Service and Tampa police were extremely attentive to his security.
“They told us not to take our eyes off the crowd,” said May. “During the prayer, we were not to take our hats off or salute during the National Anthem.”
The speech, said May, was moving.
“He had a lot of charisma,” said May. “The crowd fed off the energy. You could feel his aura.”
After the speech Kennedy got back into his Lincoln convertible, which slowly rolled toward the crowd.
“People were trying to touch him, shake hands,” said May. “The Secret Service was very uncomfortable.”
That’s when May and the others locked arms, facing Kennedy.
“I was close enough to be able to smell the cigar smoke off his jacket,” May said.
May, who left the force in 1970 and went on to become an entertainer, said he was relieved when the president left town safely.
“It was a big deal,” he said. “I found it very pleasant and exciting. Something I could tell the grandkids.”
Four days later, Kennedy was dead.
May said he was taking out the trash before heading to work when a neighbor asked him if he’d heard the terrible news about the assassination.
“All of us felt like we lost a family member,” he said.
For Dingfelder, the hardest part about making the documentary will be winnowing all the stories down to an hour.
She said there will be about 45 interviews from which to choose.
In addition to the documentary, there will be DVDs with all the outtakes, as well as a book containing stories people submitted by mail and email.
“People’s eyes light up when they talk about their memories,” she said.
To learn more, go to jfkintampa.org