A local man remembers his encounter with JFK

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Jim Ponce recently walked down memory lane with me and into Camelot at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

Ponce, 96, has recollections of President John F. Kennedy on Palm Beach that are undimmed by the passage of 50 years.

Ponce told me, "When he (JFK) announced he was heading for Palm Beach we had no idea we were about to become the winter White House."

The presidential press corps stayed at the Palm Beach Towers when JFK frequently visited the family compound on Palm Beach. Ponce worked as an assistant manager at the Colony Hotel but would head over to lend a hand.

He got an up close view of the young president. Ponce fondly recalled the back and forth between President Kennedy and reporters. "Usually ended up with (him) saying enjoy Palm Beach fellows, " Ponce recounted, "and I will see you whenever."

Ponce and JFK were both born in 1917. Both were Navy men in World War II. Both fought for survival in the Pacific when the Japanese sunk their ships, in Ponce's case a landing craft on which he served as a hospital corpsman.

Against that backdrop of shared experiences Ponce met President Kennedy at the Palm Beach Towers. He said, "I was standing at the front desk handing out keys and someone said this is Jim Ponce. So casual, it was hard to believe. You didn't know if you were going to wash that hand again."

The inspirational times lasted far too briefly for Ponce. President Kennedy was on Palm Beach the weekend before his assassination.

He drove his own convertible Ponce said, to the delight of onlookers.  Ponce told me, "And to think that just a few days before we had run down to the oceanfront to see him go by in his open convertible waving to people. And when you think back that was the last time a president could ride in an open convertible."

Only the memories now but  they never fade for Jim Ponce. He treasures them for a lifetime.

 

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