LBJ People Want Historic Air Force One, and Ohio Says No

Categories: Texas

lbj_oathe.jpg
Photo by Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office
LBJ takes the oath on the plane in question.

Even in the historic popularity contest, LBJ can't seem to win.

Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy got to the White House on the same ticket, but the two weren't exactly best buddies. It was a marriage of convenience, because they needed each other to deliver their respective sections of the country. However, Johnson was pretty well shut out of the actual political happenings once the election was over. Johnson -- a man who craved power the way some people crave chocolate, an intense biting need -- was out in the cold, and Kennedy was even considering booting Johnson off the ticket when he ran in 1964.

Anyways, fast-forward to November 22, 1963: JFK is assassinated and Johnson is sworn in as president, with his wife standing on one side of him and First Lady Jackie Kennedy, still in her blood-spattered raspberry-colored suit, on the other. It was a moment of great historical import, the violent end of one president's administration and the beginning of another. It all happened on Air Force One, the Boeing 707 that served as the primary presidential plane from Kennedy in 1962 to Nixon in 1972.

Despite being not exactly the nicest guy in the world, as historian Robert Caro has concluded in his epic (still unfinished) tome on the man, LBJ did some impressive things when he actually got to the White House -- the War on Poverty was a great idea, and he oversaw tremendous strides forward in Civil Rights for example -- but his presidential identity was first wrapped up in the assassination of JFK and then in Vietnam.

If you thought time and Caro's in-depth chronicle of Johnson's life and times might re-stack the deck to give LBJ a little more cache among presidents, you were mistaken. (And you probably haven't read the book, because Caro isn't much of a fan.) Johnson wasn't what you'd call popular when he left the White House, and his name still doesn't have the kind of pull that the names of other presidents (say Kennedy) have. This has burbled up with the Air Force One problem.

The Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation, the organization that runs the LBJ museum at the University of Texas - Austin, was shot down in no uncertain terms when officials tried to get the Air Force to send them Air Force One.

The group wants to have the Boeing 707 flown to Austin and put on display outside the LBJ Presidential Library. Millions of dollars have been secured to restore the interior of the plane to the way it looked in November 1963, according to Reuters, but officials with the National Museum of United States Air Force at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, have already said the plane isn't leaving Ohio.

The plane was used by presidents until 1992, and the museum officials don't seem to see the fact that it was the scene of Johnson's big moment as any reason to hand it over. If Johnson were around, you know he'd be shaking his head and saying, with extra profanity, "You know they'd have done it if a Kennedy had asked."

And he's probably right. Johnson is not exactly Nixon, but he's not a Kennedy and we'll bet the Buckeye State won't be handing over that plane any time soon.



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