THE WAY I REMEMBER IT
It was the era of Lyndon Johnson's Presidency. He was in the process of transforming the United States, and of impressing world leaders. One of his favorite tools was using the LBJ Ranch to host important foreign leaders. One of these was Chancellor Adenauer of Germany.
Adenauer was coming to the ranch, and LBJ decided that it would be nice to stage a parade up Congress Avenue ending at the Capitol where each could deliver a speech. He decided this five days before the date of the proposed parade. So, he calls the Mayor of Austin and tells him of his plan. The Mayor says, "Sure, we'll put on a parade for you." Then the Mayor calls me and says, "The President wants a parade up Congress Avenue for Adenauer Tuesday. Can you do it?"
Since I had probably staged more parades in Austin than anyone else around, I told him I would do my best. My first call was to my friend H. C. Pittman, the head of the Texas Automobile Association. I knew we would need cars, and he would know where to find them. He came down, and we made a quick plan. It went something like this. Pitt called Bob Armstrong, the Ford dealer, to contact the other dealers to get as many convertibles as possible, and also to call the Thunderbird Club, because they had lots of them.
We called our friend at the University Interscholastic League to contact school districts for bands. We got a bunch. We called Fort Hood and the National Guard at Camp Mabry for bleachers, bands and security. Immediate response! And of course, we contacted Bergstrom Air Force Base to arrange some flyovers.
Everything fell into place, along with an army of volunteers. The Governor arranged for things at the Capitol, and made the House of Representatives available. The Representatives and Senators sent letters to those that would be admitted to the House Chambers. That letter was the key to getting in to the ceremonies-and LBJ wanted a full house to impress the Chancellor.
LBJ and the Chancellor arrived at my office almost on time, and we took them into the Conference Room to "brief" them on the plans. We came out almost on time, and LBJ stopped on our front porch to show the Chancellor Town Lake and a view of the city. At that moment, a flight of fighters from Bergstrom came over. LBJ thought it was great. (This was supposed to happen when they reached the Congress Avenue Bridge.) When they did get on the bridge, another flight from some other base in Texas flew over. LBJ thought it was great (This was supposed to happen when they reached 11th and Congress.)
When they reached the South Entrance to the Capitol and left their car, they followed a corridor of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, all the way to the doors of the House Chamber. Close security was needed because of Viet Nam protestors. We had no problem.
When all the parade units were gone from our parking lot, Pittman and I got into an Air Force sedan that was left for us. When we approach the Capitol, I asked Pitt if he had his letter. "No," he said, "It's in my briefcase in your office." I told him that I had forgotten mine too. We decided to "fake it," and asked the driver to pull up to the corridor of soldiers where the other dignitaries had left their vehicles. We got out, walked up the "corridor" into the Capitol, up the steps, into the House Chamber, and took our seats on the dais just behind LBJ and Adenauer. No one stopped us to ask to see "our letter". What had happened to all the military security we had arranged and the President's Secret Service?
It doesn't matter. LBJ thought it was a great day. Pittman and I were amazed at how it all fell together.
Vic Mathias - June 13, 2009