On 19 October 1966, President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, arrived at Ohakea airfield for the start of a whirlwind 24-hour visit to New Zealand.
'LBJ', as he was commonly known, was the first United States President to visit New Zealand. The purpose of his 1966 visit was primarily to shore up support for the war in Vietnam. New Zealand's National government had been cautious in its approach to Vietnam, initially sending a Civilian Surgical Team to Qui Nhon in Binh Dinh province in 1963. Under continuing US pressure, the Holyoake government provided 25 Army engineers in June 1964. The crucial decision to send combat forces came in May 1965, when the Royal New Zealand Artillery's 161 Battery replaced the engineers.
Johnson's visit appeared to confirm public support for New Zealand's involvement in Vietnam. In something resembling a royal visit, LBJ and Lady Bird were surrounded by cheering crowds as their motorcade progressed through Wellington. Up to 200,000 Kiwis crammed the streets to get a glimpse of the President and First Lady. The President was keen to shake hands with as many onlookers as possible, much to the consternation of his security detail. The Otago Daily Times went as far as to state that the President had ‘done much to change the pattern of future Royal visits to New Zealand by the democratic approach he brought to his two-day stay in Wellington'.
When LBJ arrived at Parliament for a state luncheon on 20 October he was greeted by a large number of protestors. But they were outnumbered by supportive, cheering crowds who even tore down some of the protest banners. Newspapers declared the whistle-stop tour to be an overwhelming success, claiming that ‘the anti-Vietnam campaigners have less strength in the country than they imagined'.
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