ORONO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Saturday marks a milestone for thousands of Mainers. The 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's speech at the University of Maine.
President Kennedy made a quick stop at the Orono campus on Homecoming Day, 1963. A crowd of 15,000 filled the stands at the football field to see and hear the President.
History Prof. Howard Segal says a review of the records of the event in the University's Special Collections shows that Kennedy's visit was the idea of Sen. Edmund Muskie, a good friend of the President's. Muskie wanted Kennedy to fly to Maine so he could see Passamaquoddy Bay, near Eastport - the site of the long-debated Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Project.
Muskie is reportedly the one who suggested the University invite Kennedy to make a speech and receive an honorary degree on the same day. Compared to such events today, the visit was a last-minute event. A copy of a telegram from the White House to the University President confirms the visit just one week before it happened.
The President spoke about the previous year's Cuban Missile Crisis, and the need for the U.S. to learn from that frighteningly close call with nuclear war. Kennedy walked a middle line in the speech, says Prof. Segal, saying how the U.S. needs to work for peace while also arming for war.:" Let us always make clear our willingness to talk, if talk will help, and our readiness to fight, if fight we must."
Kennedy's speech made headlines, and is believed to have been setting the stage for foreign policy in his coming re-election campaign. But just five weeks agter the Orono appearance, the President was assassinated in Dallas.
The University still has the cap and gown Kennedy wore that day, stored in Special Collections along with documents and photos. The cap is currently on display in the library lobby to make the anniversary, but there is no marker or memorial on campus to commemorate Kennedy's visit. However, the University keeps a copy of the film of that visit and speech,a remarkable record of an important moment in campus history.