James B. Swindal – Colonel, United States Air Force

Ex-Air Force One commander, 88, dies
Cocoa Beach resident flew for JFK, LBJ

Presidential pilot. Retired Air Force Colonel James B. Swindal displays a photo signed by President John F. Kennedy at his Cocoa Beach home in this 2003 photo. Swindal, former commander of Air Force One during the terms of Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson, died Tuesday at 88

James Swindal timeline:

Here are a few key years in Retired Air Force Colonel James Swindal’s life.
1917: Born Aug. 18 in West Blocton, Alabama
1936: Marries his high school sweetheart, Emily.
1941: Encouraged to join military when Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
1942: Enlists in the military.
1963: Flies with President John F. Kennedy, the same year Kennedy is assassinated.
1971: Retired from the Air Force.
2006: Died Tuesday in Cape Canaveral.



Reserved, patriotic and seeing it as his devout duty, he flew presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson as Air Force One’s aircraft commander.

But he probably wouldn’t have told you that or that he flew missions between China and Burma during World War II.

The Cocoa Beach resident probably would’ve told you that he was happily married to his high school sweetheart, Emily Swindal, for 70 years and that he’s proud of his family.

Retired Air Force Colonel James B. Swindal died Tuesday at Cape Canaveral Hospital. He was 88.

“Jim Swindal will always be a hero to me,” said Cecil Stoughton of Merritt Island, who served as an in-house White House photographer. “He was soft-spoken and self-effacing.”

Swindal was born August 18, 1917, in West Blocton, Alabama, the son of the late Samuel and Miranda Swindal.

He worked as a crane operator at a cast iron pipe shop in Birmingham, Alabama, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, which prompted him to enlist in the Army in 1942, said his 68-year-old son, James Swindal. He was selected as a flying cadet in the Air Corps.

Years later, Swindal served during Kennedy’s administration, including on November 22, 1963, when the president was assassinated. Kennedy had appointed Swindal to colonel a year earlier.

“The day of the assassination was one of the closest I got to Jim, when the president passed away,” said Stoughton, who did not have a designated seat on the plane that day.

“Jim said, ‘If all the seats are taken you could ride up here with us,’ ” Stoughton recalled. “Obviously, he was a take-charge guy. He knew that my job was important, as was his.”

Swindal considered the flight from Dallas to Washington, D.C., after Kennedy was assassinated, his most difficult. Room was cleared in the back of the Boeing 707 to return Kennedy home in a coffin.

Swindal also served during part of the Johnson administration. Swindal had impressed the Texan by landing a Boeing 707 on a grass strip on a ranch, his grandson, Jonathan, recalled.

After Swindal retired, he refused to fly, opting to drive with his wife across the country in a Cadillac, in the sunshine, visiting military bases and golf courses, said one of his grandsons, 33-year-old Jonathan Swindal.

“After he stopped flying Air Force One, he would not fly on an airplane, because if he’s not in charge, he didn’t want anything to do with it,” Jonathan Swindal said.

He is survived by his wife; daughter, Kathryn Swindal of Leesburg, Virginia; son, James L. Swindal of East Hampton, Connecticut; grandsons J. Christian Swindal and Jonathan Swindal, both of Connecticut; and great-grandson, Mason Swindal of Connecticut.

Calling hours for James B. Swindal will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at Beckman-Williamson Funeral Home in Cocoa Beach.

No date has been announced for services and interment, but they will be at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Colonel James Swindal; Piloted Air Force One After Kennedy’s Death
By Adam Bernstein
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Saturday, April 29, 2006

Retired Air Force Colonel James B. Swindal, 88, who commanded Air Force One for John F. Kennedy and flew the body of the slain president to Washington from Dallas in 1963, died April 25, 2006, at Cape Canaveral Hospital in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He had complications from a broken hip.

Colonel Swindal, a soft-spoken Alabamian with matinee-idol looks, was a veteran of World War II and the postwar Berlin Airlift. He had 11,500 flying hours to his credit, including a long stint flying dignitaries from National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base. He became President-elect Kennedy’s personal pilot in 1960.

At first, he flew a DC-6 for Kennedy, but Boeing unveiled a tailor-made jetliner for the jet-setting president in late 1962. On that special-order Boeing 707 — the first jet-powered craft used for presidential transport — Col. Swindal took Kennedy to Love Field in Dallas from Fort Worth on Nov. 22, 1963.

From a portable radio inside the cockpit, he first heard the account of the president’s assassination.

“We were sort of in a bind, because there was no place on Air Force One for a casket, and we sure didn’t want to put it in the cargo hold,” Col. Swindal told the newspaper Florida Today in 2003.

“But back there in the rear were seats for stewardesses, Secret Service and other passengers. So we unbolted those seats — about four rows, I’m guessing, at least eight seats — and made a space about the size of a couch. And there was enough room for people to walk around,” he said.

After rushing to ready the plane for its trip to Washington, he said he left the cockpit to salute the coffin upon its arrival from Dallas’s Parkland Memorial Hospital.

By early afternoon, the plane was off the ground, loaded to the limit with fuel to stay aloft as long as possible in case the killing was part of a Soviet attack. As an additional precaution, Col. Swindal took the plane to a cruising altitude of 41,000 feet, much higher than usual.

Moments before the two-hour, 18-minute flight, U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes had administered the presidential oath to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. His wife, Lady Bird, and the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy were at Johnson’s side.

Colonel Swindal flew briefly for Johnson and retired from active duty in 1971 from a managerial position at Patrick Air Force Base, the controlling center for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

James Barney Swindal, a carpenter’s son, was born August 18, 1917, in West Blocton, Alabama. He was a crane operator at a cast iron pipe shop in Birmingham before enlisting in the Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Assigned to the Army Air Forces, he ferried men and supplies over the Himalayas in the China-Burma-India theater. In the late 1940s, while stationed at Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt, Germany, he participated in the Berlin Airlift that brought supplies to Berliners during a communist blockade of that city.

On Air Force One, he flew Kennedy to West Berlin in June 1963 to give the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in support of democracy.

In interviews, Col. Swindal said he shared “small talk” with Kennedy, who rarely stayed long in the small cockpit because he wore a back brace.

“The Kennedys invited me to join them for lunch a couple of times, but I couldn’t ever do it,” Colonel Swindal told the Chicago Tribune in 2001. “You fellows in the media would’ve had a field day if I were back there eating steak in the president’s dining room and a near-miss occurred.”

In retirement, Colonel Swindal settled in Cocoa Beach and only went on an aircraft once more — when his brother died in California. Otherwise, he had an aversion to flying that his family attributed to a distaste for not being in charge.

Survivors include his wife of 70 years, Emily Glover Swindal, who is at a nursing home in Merritt Island, Fla.; two children, Kathryn Swindal of Leesburg and James L. Swindal of East Hampton, Connecticut; two grandsons; and a great-grandson.

Emily Mae Glover Swindal passed away Saturday, May 17, 2008 in Leesburg, Virginia. She was predeceased by her husband of seventy years, Colonel James B. Swindal, United States Air Force, retired.

She was born in Jefferson County, Alabama, on August 10, 1919, the youngest of 13 children of the late James and Sarah Glover. She began her career as a military wife and mother in 1942 when her husband enlisted after Pearl Harbor. She cared for her family during tours of duty from San Antonio Texas, to Germany, Spain and stateside until retiring in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in 1972.

She always took great pride in the fact that her husband flew AIR FORCE ONE for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Her family would like everyone to know that during her wonderful life, she made every house a home and filled our lives with love and endless joy. She is terribly missed, but I know she is glad to finally be with J.B.

She is survived by a son James of East Hampton Connecticut, a daughter Kathryn of Leesburg, Virginia, two grandsons, J. Christian Swindal of Ridgefield, Connecticut, and Jonathan Swindal of East Hampton, Connecticut, and a great grandson, Mason Swindal of East Hampton, Connecticut.

Interment Arlington National Cemetery on 9 July 2008 at 3:00 pm.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 08/19/1917
  • DATE OF DEATH: 04/25/2006


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 08/10/1919
  • DATE OF DEATH: 05/17/2008

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment