Saturday, February 23, 1963
February 23, 1963
In one of the more bizarre events of JFK’s presidency, he presided over (intermittently in person and while not participating) in a 50 mile hike that he had challenged his staff to make.
The event was a result of JFK happening across a 1908 executive order by President Theodore Roosevelt requiring Marine officers to complete a 50 mile hike. Taken by the idea, JFK suggested to Marine Corps commandant General David Shoup that present-day officers be held to that standard.
Lest anyone think that he was being unduly harsh to Marine officers, Kennedy declared that he would put his own staff to the test as well. Famously dough-bodied Pierre Salinger declined but brother Robert Kennedy completed the test in 17 hours.
A few minutes after midnight on February 23, Kennedy brother-in-law Stas Radziwill and Kennedy friend Chuck Spalding started the 50 mile hike on the just completed Sunshine highway running from Miami to Fort Pierce.
They were accompanied by Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who was along because “the president wants to make sure that nothing happens to them.” Also along was Dr. Max Jacobson, photographer Mark Shaw, and a Navy corpsman.
In the morning, the trekkers were visted by JFK and Jackie as they rested by the side of the road. The First Couple returned at about mile 45.
After the walk was completed, JFK asked Clint Hill to come into the Paul residence. He and Jackie were entertaining friends, but JFK immediately turned to Hill and gave him a glass of champagne, with a hearty “Congratulations, Clint.”
Then the President put a homemade “medal” made out of purple construction paper and a yellow crepe ribbon around Hill’s neck. He read out loud the inscription he had placed on the paper.
“For Dazzle. February 23, 1963. The Order of the Pace Maker, He whom the Secret Service will follow into the Battle of the Sunshine Highway. John F. Kennedy.”
Then he added, “I even drew the presidential seal on there to make it official.”
Hill later claimed that the homemade gift was one of his most precious mementos.