SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Mike Pflaum spent only six hours with John F. Kennedy Jr. during a May 12 photo shoot at Mount Rushmore National Monument.
But in that short time, Kennedy made a lasting impression on Pflaum, Mount Rushmore's chief ranger.
Kennedy's plane was reported missing early Saturday morning. He took off from New Jersey on Friday night en route to Massachusetts. He wife and sister-in-law also were aboard. All three are presumed dead.
”He was a very nice guy, pleasant, unassuming. He arrived that morning, got out of his car, and said, 'Hi, I'm John.' And we conversed like I would with any other person.”
Kennedy went to Mount Rushmore to pose for a 4:30 a.m. photo shoot for a USA Weekend magazine cover story on ”Making America Better.”
”I spent five or six hours with him that day,” said Pflaum. ”You don't get to know anyone extremely well in that time, but you do have a snapshot in time.”
One poignant moment came inside the monument restaurant, where several granite columns along the walls bear the photos and biographies of the nation's presidents.
”He walked up to the column with his father's picture and spent several minutes looking at the photo and reading a brief biography,” Pflaum said.
Bruce VanVort, general manager of concessions and restaurant at Mount Rushmore, also witnessed the moment.
”He just stared at it,” says VanVort. ”I had a camera and I debated whether to take a picture, and I said, 'no.' This was a private moment, an unbelievable moment that I will never forget it.”
Originally, photo editors wanted Kennedy to repel off the top of the monument and hover in front of the faces, said Pflaum.
”We, being the National Park Service, did not allow that, but we did get some up close to the monument,” he said.
However, the son of the late President Kennedy did get to the top of the four heads.
”I think he was impressed. He admired the view and on a clear day you can see a long distance,” Pflaum said.
During the tour, they covered a broad range of topics but they didn't talk about anything person, he said.
”He had questions about Mount Rushmore,” Pflaum said. ”He talked a little geography in the west and he wanted to know about Native Americans, what was their population and where did they live.”
”I asked questions about his living in New York, nothing personal, nor did he speak of anything personal,” Pflaum said.
VanVort said he and Kennedy discussed their mutual affection for New York City.
”I am from New York and I didn't know that he had grown up there, so we talked about life there. I told him how much I missed the culture, the ethnic foods,” he said.