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JFK's NYPD guard unit included Smithtown's Patrick Vecchio

Before he was Town of Smithtown supervisor, Patrick

Before he was Town of Smithtown supervisor, Patrick Vecchio was a detective in the New York City Police Department, assigned to a special squad that provided security for visiting dignitaries. Here, Vecchio, seen in the lower left of the photograph, is part of the security detail protecting then Sen. John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline as they campaigned in New York in late October of 1960. (Nov. 21, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Sitting atop a Chevrolet convertible, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, waved at the adoring Manhattan crowd mere feet away.

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio -- then a young New York City detective -- walked alongside the car, face forward and steely eyed, surveying spectators as a member of the presidential detail.

The black-and-white photo taken in October 1960 -- about a week before Kennedy's election as president -- hangs on a wall above Vecchio's desk as a relic of the close encounters he shared with Kennedy before his assassination 50 years ago.

"Broadway was under construction at the time, so the road was very narrow, and the crowd was much closer than it would have been normally," said Vecchio, 83. "People were throwing ticker tape out the windows . . . They were so thrilled."

Vecchio, a detective with the Bureau of Special Services from 1959 to 1966, had joined the police force in 1955 at age 24. His duties later included escorting and guarding dignitaries and conducting confidential investigations.

Vecchio rubbed shoulders with the who's who of the day, evidenced by other framed photos lining his office walls, including Sammy Davis Jr., President Dwight Eisenhower, Queen Sirikit of Thailand, and even the first person to journey into space, Yuri Gagarin.

"Your role is to protect the subject," Vecchio said of his job, which he took so seriously that he tussled with a photographer in the 1960 procession to City Hall for getting too close to the Kennedys.

"I pushed him out of the way, and he came back at me," said Vecchio of the photographer. "I do recall Mrs. Kennedy saying, 'Don't fight, don't fight,' and the Senator saying, 'Take it easy, take it easy.' "

Vecchio said he saw the photographer incident as a threat, adding, "Did he get the photograph? The answer is no."

Kennedy left an indelible impression on Vecchio, who guarded him at least 10 times in the '60s.

"He was very pleasant," Vecchio said. "He'd walk in, and he'd give an imperceptible nod to everyone, and I always recalled that he had his right hand in his right suit jacket pocket."

Though the pair never spoke, Vecchio said he shook hands with Kennedy -- an "awe-inspiring" occurrence for a kid from Brooklyn who would become the longest-serving town supervisor in Long Island history.

"His eyelashes were so light and so blond and it appeared to me he had no eyelashes," said Vecchio. "My mother described President Kennedy to me as Ken of the Barbie Doll fame, and she wasn't far off."

When Vecchio's mother broke the assassination news, "I was shocked that this young, inspiring president -- that his life would be taken in such a horrible, dramatic fashion," he said.

In the days following, Vecchio met dignitaries who flew into what is now Kennedy Airport to attend services in the late president's honor.

"There was just like a silence in the terminal and not very many people. That's vivid in my memory," said Vecchio, adding that Kennedy's death marked the "end of Camelot."

Vecchio said he felt "privileged" to serve as security detail for Kennedy. "It is an experience that not many people will ever have."

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