Elkton, July 24, 2014 — Today a veteran firefighter, Leroy Hampton Scott, III (Scotty) sat down to help fill in Singerly Fire Company’s past at the department’s listening station. With over a half-a-century under his belt, Scotty shared stories that are part of a structured initiative called the Singerly Listening Station, an oral history project that is documenting the public safety agency’s heritage and honoring the memories of those who served.
The teenager joined the ranks as a rookie in 1958. After that, he contributed countless hours to the service, fighting blazes, hanging onto the back of rushing fire engines, doing fundraising, and helping keep the organization running. He reached the rank of deputy chief before retiring from active duty.
Scotty had many recollections, but some stood out more than others for him. When the senior volunteer was asked about an extraordinary thing etched in his memory, he quickly mentioned an event that took place 51 years ago this autumn, something he still vividly recalls.
“The things you got to do, but you’ll never get a chance to do again,” he explained. “As near as I am to you [about 5-feet away),” he motioned with a sweeping hand gesture, “I was that close to the president.” The Singerly junior officer was part of a November 14, 1963, detail, helping protect President Kennedy during his 62-minute visit to dedicate the new interstate highway.
Long before the chief executive touched down on Cecil County soil, security, crowd control, and safety arrangements had carefully been pinned down. Elite secret service men guarded JFK, Maryland and Delaware State Police established secure perimeters, and the fire department stood by at the landing site.
When Marine 1 came into view, newspapers estimated that there were 5,000 people on the Mason Dixon Line. That helicopter eased down to the ground, bringing the nation’s leader to the famous old Line where a speaker’s stand was set up for the ceremony. The Delaware National Guard “played Hail to the Chief,” while the president walked to the stand to offer remarks.
The large, enthusiastic crowd greeted the energetic leader warmly on that memorable day in mid-autumn. As JFK, the governors and other dignitaries delivered speeches, an engine and rescue truck stood by, in case they were needed. “I recall that Aetna Hose Hook and Ladder of Newark, Delaware was there too since it was on the state line and I believe we had an ambulance,” he noted.
“We were right up front. They wanted us nearby in case something happened, as it did eight days later.” Chief Edgar (Spec) Slaughter commanded the operation that day and “I was on 27, the old rescue. The rescue got placed closer in,” Scotty recalled.
After snipping the ribbon and unveiling a marker on the state line, the president shook hands while returning to the helicopter. At the door of the craft he waved to the crowd before disappearing inside. “While the bird faded into the eastern horizon, the area was bathed in a dramatic sunset as people headed back to their cars on this chilly Thursday afternoon,” the Morning News reported.
Scotty was also a rural mail carrier in 1963, and when he came back to the post office on November 22, 1963, he learned about the death of the president. Practically everyone in Cecil County recalled that it was only eight days earlier that the president had visited Cecil to open the Northeastern Express, which was soon renamed the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway.
While many here had seen John F. Kennedy on that historic day, Scotty’s work as a volunteer firefighter had allowed him to see the energetic, youthful man up close and that made the entire sequence of events "mean that much more to me,” he concluded.
While most people settled down to listen to news flashes out of Dallas and to deal with the shock, Scotty wasn't done. “I also worked with my dad in construction, after finishing the mail. We had just poured concrete at the First National Bank of North East. I had to stay and finish the concrete and everybody in the world was coming by to tell us what had happened.
This was just one of Scotty’s many stories, a moment when a volunteer fire department assignment brought him to the dedication of the new expressway, where he stood feet away from the President of the United States. His encounter with Kennedy was thrilling and was something he shared 51 years later. Since it is a unique Singerly story we decided to share it now. A video summary of Scotty’s full interview will be posted in the next few weeks.