My brush with Nixon – and his visit to China 50 years ago today

I was pretty young back then, my draft number was so low it was prudent to as quick as I could, join the USAF. Which I did.

It was about a year and a half later I found myself stationed at a base I won’t mention here as I don’t know if Presidents still use it. And don’t want a knock on my door.

You have to understand the times then. Nixon had been working on opening up China with his Ping Pong diplomacy and this week was quite a development.

At the time, we knew as little about what was going on in China as we do today about North Korea. It was that closed. It was a global earth shaking time.

I was a lowly little AIC two striper, not much good for anything other than standing where I was told and following the most simple of directions. Which I was very good at.

They gave you a side arm and an M-16 and like a junk yard dog, only with less freedom, we watched. Boring mostly.

I was assigned to perimeter duty watching over a pair of Marine 1 helicopters in a hanger at the edge of the base.

Come lunch time, we were relieved for mess and went into the hanger. A table was set up and white box lunches were waiting. Good lunches too. Or, we were just growing teenagers and all food was good, its debatable.

It was a different time. I honestly don’t remember any Secret Service around. I’m sure they were there, but certainly not visible. It was a very different time and probably something you younger people just wouldn’t understand

Seated at a folding table, complete with tablecloth, we began to take out the contents. Sandwich, carton of milk, cookies, and an orange. I don’t know why I remember that lunch, but I do.

We were about half way through lunch when we heard voices behind us. I recognized our Security Police Lt. Col among them. About 5, maybe 7 people. Some in uniform, some not. Laughing, having a really good day.

What made me turn around was one of them saying “I think I got something on my shoe”.

It was unmistakingly Richard Nixon.

Being a trained disciplined soldier in the United States Air Force, and in the line of sight of my Lt. Col, I immediately stood up and offered a clean neatly folded white pair of napkins that had arrived with United States Air Force military discipline along with my lunch.

“Thank you Airman”, the Lt. Col. nodded and took my offering handing the napkins to the Presidential Aid, who deftly wiped whatever it was from those brown shoes. Yes, they were brown.

Im not finished.

Despite what you might have read about Richard Nixon, I found him to be just a regular guy, when he was around regular guys. He liked the military. Perhaps it was because of the little interaction with the shoe. I don’t know, but he then walked over to our lunch table and started making small talk.

All of us at attention of course.

“At ease”, bellowed my Commander, and we all had a chance to shake hands with the president. Some small talk.

I’m not done.

As it was breaking up, Nixon half turned and commented on the lunch. He seemed particularly interested in the orange. At which I offered it. Quickly taken by his aid, with Nixon remarking about he loved the orange trees at his home as a child and one sounded good.

So there you have it. I would like to think that due to my quick action, both the President’s feet and his stomach were taken care of that day.

And this ended my interaction and contribution to his visit to China on this day Feb 21st 1972

I was a good looking guy in 1972