by James Rada, Jr.
Hitchhiking Marines Get a Special Ride
Marine Pfc. Harold Payne and Pfc. William Weaver were stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, but when they got a weekend pass near Christmas of 1956, they decided to head home to the Midwest. Payne was from Akron, Ohio, and Weaver was from DeWitt, Michigan.
The snag in their plan was that neither Marine had a car, so the young servicemen set out on foot, thumbing for rides as they went. Since they were wearing their uniforms, it was relatively easy for them to get rides at first.
They were about halfway along their 700-mile journey on the Friday afternoon of December 10, 1954, and the pair found themselves at Grafton Street and Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. Despite being in uniform, no one seemed to be willing to give the Marines a ride.
They watched as a procession of dark vehicles approached along the road.
“At first when I saw these cars coming along, I thought it was a funeral procession,” Payne later told the Akron Beacon Journal.
Lucky for them, a decorated World War II Veteran was in one of the vehicles. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was a former five-star general and had been the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the war, was on his way to Camp David with his wife, Mamie.
“The president’s car was stopped at a red light, preparing to turn onto the main highway, when Eisenhower saw the two men and ordered the motorcade to a halt,” Ohio.com reported. “He dispatched James J. Rowley, leader of the U.S. Secret Service, to ask if the Marines would like a lift.”
They quickly accepted the offer. “Eisenhower didn’t exactly scooch over on his seat or have Mamie sit on the servicemen’s laps, but he did direct them to a waiting vehicle in the motorcade,” according to Ohio.com.
The Marines rode in a car, two vehicles behind the president and one behind the first lady. “Got a good view once in a while of the back of the president’s head. Mrs. Eisenhower turned around every so often, and I could see her pretty well,” Payne told the Beacon Journal.
The president’s valet and a Navy doctor rode in the same vehicle as the Marines. They talked on the drive to Hagerstown, where the president dropped the Marines off before heading over Catoctin Mountain to Camp David.
Meanwhile, in Hagerstown, Payne and Weaver decided that if they were going to have time to spend with their families, they had better pay for some transportation.
“It got cold, and I hopped a bus to Pittsburgh and then another one home,” Payne said.
Their hitchhiking journey turned the men into folk heroes, as newspapers across the country carried the story that the president had picked up the hitchhikers. The president did something similar three years later, when he saw Airman Second-Class Jerry Beswick hitchhiking through Frederick. The president was passing through the city on his way to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and he gave the airman a lift to the town, where he then caught a bus to continue his journey. He had his car stop next to the airmen. Then he rolled down the window and said, “I thought we’d give you a lift.”
This wasn’t the first time that the president gave a lift to a hitchhiking serviceman. “He rarely passes them on the highway,” the Gettysburg Times reported.
Photo shows President Eisenhower in a motorcade.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons