I am sure many classmates have either “brushed” history or “made” history.  In my case, I had an early “brush” that was quite interesting—I was present at the meeting of President Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev in September 1959, when Khrushchev became the first Soviet leader to visit the United States.

After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, I entered the Air Force in the Technical Intelligence career field. This was during the white heat of the arms race with the Soviets, and just before the Bay of Pigs adventure. The Air Force was, understandably, very interested in Soviet technology, especially their development of fighters, bombers, and missiles. The launch of Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, only sharpened this interest and definitely caught our attention!

So, when Nikita Khrushchev, as the First Secretary of the Communist Party, agreed to make a visit to the United States, we set in motion a broad and detailed intelligence-gathering plan. Several of us went “undercover” as aircraft maintenance technicians working at Idlewild Airport (now J.F. Kennedy).  Khrushchev arrived in a new and giant (first time out of the Soviet Union) Tupolev TU-114 turboprop-driven aircraft. He was accompanied by several TU-104 twin-engine jets. We wanted to get as close to these airplanes as possible to record engine stages for subsequent analysis, assess their communications equipment, examine the construction, and overall assess the level of technology. We did a close-up look at the airplanes, and I even worked my way into the belly of one of the TU-104s.

When Khrushchev landed, I was in a follow-me vehicle at the tail of the airplane. I had a front-row seat to watch him deplane and be embraced by President Eisenhower. Since the plane screened off from this event from the terminal, the press was not present. I have never seen a photo of this greeting, but I suspect a White House photographer must have been present. However, there was no picture in the newspapers. Oh, had I thought to have had a camera!

Concurrent with Khrushchev’s visit, the Soviets sent a Sputnik II satellite to New York to show it off in a trade show. So, during the next few days, we conveniently “borrowed” Sputnik II to make a close-up examination of its construction and technology.

From my standpoint, very early in my career, it was a real and successful, cloak and dagger operation that yielded much valuable information on Soviet military technology.  However, the Khrushchev visit is probably more notably remembered by his visit to an Iowa farm, and his not being permitted to visit Disneyland in Los Angeles. Sorry!