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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
On June 8, 1963, President John F. Kennedy landed at Honolulu International Airport. Governor John A. Burns, his wife and son, Jim, met him. Kennedy was the first dignitary to visit under Burns, who was in his first term in office.
"It was something special for us, something unique, and something the Burns family had not experienced," Jim Burns said.
It was after nine at night but Kennedy spoke to the crowd
"This island represents all that we are and all that we hope to be," he said.
George Ariyoshi was a state Senator. He said the president was an inspiration.
"People were excited because of the kind of person he was. He talked about the future. He talked about we should be going to the moon at some point," Ariyoshi said.
Kennedy started the next day at the USS Arizona Memorial where he paid his respects to the fallen.
"I'm going to say that Kennedy was most likely the first president to visit the Arizona Memorial or the USS Arizona after it sank," Bishop Museum historian De Soto Brown said.
The president came to Hawaii to tell mayors from many U.S. cities black Americans deserved equal rights.
"I say they should be equal in their chance to develop their character, their motivation and their ability," he said in his speech.
When Kennedy left Waikiki he encountered a huge crowd. More than 100,000 people lined the streets.
"He was out there just smiling, but had a figure about him, or face about him that somehow made you feel good," former DLNR director Bill Paty said.
"Was there anybody that stayed home? I think everybody on Oahu was there," Paty said.
Kennedy was a Harvard graduate. On his way back to the airport his motorcade stopped at the Academy of Arts so he could autograph a bowl that was signed by fellow Harvard man and former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The bowl is now kept by the Harvard Club of Hawaii.
Ariyoshi said the president's stop remains a standout moment for the 50th state.
"For me I thought about what his visit meant and what his presidency meant," he said.
In retrospect the visit was sweet and bitter. The 1961 Lincoln convertible that carried him through Honolulu carried him to his death in Dallas five months later.
"You can tell in the photographs if you look carefully. It has the same license number which is GG 300," Brown said.
President Kennedy spent only 20 hours in Honolulu in June 1963. It was his first trip to Hawaii as president, and his last.