John F Kennedy video Paris orig_00005130.jpg
John F Kennedy video Paris orig_00005130.jpg
Now playing
01:01
Never-before-seen video of JFK (2015)
14th April 1963:  John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 - 1963), the 35th President of the United States, with his wife Jacqueline (1929 - 1994) and their children Caroline and John Jnr (1960 - 1999) on Easter Sunday at Palm Beach, Miami, Florida.  (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
MPI/Archive Photos/Getty Images
14th April 1963: John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 - 1963), the 35th President of the United States, with his wife Jacqueline (1929 - 1994) and their children Caroline and John Jnr (1960 - 1999) on Easter Sunday at Palm Beach, Miami, Florida. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:01
Rare JFK family moments at White House
(Original Caption) John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier cutting their wedding cake after their marriage in Newport, Rhode Island. John Kennedy was then U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Robert Kennedy at left.
Bettmann/Bettmann/Bettmann Archive
(Original Caption) John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier cutting their wedding cake after their marriage in Newport, Rhode Island. John Kennedy was then U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Robert Kennedy at left.
Now playing
01:04
America's royal wedding: JFK & Jackie
kennedys episode 1 clip 1_00002708.jpg
kennedys episode 1 clip 1_00002708.jpg
Now playing
00:37
A Kennedy goes abroad
John F Kennedy (1917 - 1963), Senator for Massachusetts with his wife, Jacqueline (1929 - 1994), about to leave New York for the Los Angeles Democratic Party Convention, at which the party candidates for the forthcoming Presidential election will be nominated.    (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
John F Kennedy (1917 - 1963), Senator for Massachusetts with his wife, Jacqueline (1929 - 1994), about to leave New York for the Los Angeles Democratic Party Convention, at which the party candidates for the forthcoming Presidential election will be nominated. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:09
The night JFK beat Nixon
Prior to the assassination, President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and Texas Governor John Connally ride through the streets of Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Included as an exhibit for the Warren Commission. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Historical/Corbis Historical/Corbis via Getty Images
Prior to the assassination, President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and Texas Governor John Connally ride through the streets of Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Included as an exhibit for the Warren Commission. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:03
JFK's final days in Texas
Patrick Kennedy mental health interview CTN _00003029.jpg
CNN
Patrick Kennedy mental health interview CTN _00003029.jpg
Now playing
03:19
Patrick Kennedy advocates to help fight addiction
Now playing
12:53
Joe Kennedy's entire Democratic response
Shawn P. Eklund/U.S. Navy
Now playing
01:37
Man saved JFK's life with a coconut
CNN
Now playing
13:46
JFK Jr. on being a Kennedy (1995)
ac dnt cooper jfk jr death anniversary_00004921.jpg
Denis Reggie
ac dnt cooper jfk jr death anniversary_00004921.jpg
Now playing
02:51
Remembering JFK Jr., 15 years later
Getty Images
Now playing
03:44
How would JFK handle Ukraine crisis?
lead dnt foreman jackie kennedy letters_00015625.jpg
Getty Images
lead dnt foreman jackie kennedy letters_00015625.jpg
Now playing
02:19
Secrets revealed in Jackie O letters
Senator John F. Kennedy with daughter Caroline in August 1960.
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Senator John F. Kennedy with daughter Caroline in August 1960.
Now playing
01:46
Caroline Kennedy: Princess of the Camelot presidency
John F. Kennedy
AFP/Getty Images
John F. Kennedy
Now playing
02:10
When JFK called on the Pope to help
mxp vo rare jfk footage released_00003306.jpg
JFK Presidential Library and Museum
mxp vo rare jfk footage released_00003306.jpg
Now playing
01:05
See John F. Kennedy's vacation footage
tsr dnt todd jfk secret service man_00013211.jpg
tsr dnt todd jfk secret service man_00013211.jpg
Now playing
02:01
JFK's Secret Service agent shares guilt
exp Clint Hill ND JFK 50 years later_00000210.jpg
exp Clint Hill ND JFK 50 years later_00000210.jpg
Now playing
08:19
Clint Hill on JFK's death, Jackie O
nr new kennedy video pictures releasae_00021515.jpg
nr new kennedy video pictures releasae_00021515.jpg
Now playing
03:11
Kennedy family photos released
lead dnt acosta kennedy death threat_00000228.jpg
lead dnt acosta kennedy death threat_00000228.jpg
Now playing
02:10
Death threats made against Caroline Kennedy
ac pkg kaye jackie kennedy iconic pink suit_00031609.jpg
Getty Images
ac pkg kaye jackie kennedy iconic pink suit_00031609.jpg
Now playing
03:55
Iconic pink suit shrouded in mystery

Story highlights

Unseen footage of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 surfaces

Virginia man shot 8 mm film of JFK during President's trip to Paris

(CNN) —  

When his father gave him a box of old home movies, Steven Smirco popped a tape in his VCR and sat down to relive his childhood.

There, amid the birthday parties, communions and family Christmases, he was surprised to find something else: footage of President John F. Kennedy, youthful in a “Mad Men”-era suit, shaking hands with well-wishers on a damp, overcast day.

“I was not aware of it,” said Smirco of the grainy clip, filmed by his dad, Edwin Lee Smirco, on an 8 mm camera.

Few people were. In fact, outside a handful of friends and relatives nobody had seen the footage, filmed during Kennedy’s June 2, 1961, visit to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE, the base of NATO’s Allied Command Operations outside Paris.

At the time, the elder Smirco was serving in the U.S. Army and stationed at SHAPE. He was off duty on the morning Kennedy visited, so he grabbed his movie camera and joined the throngs waiting to catch a glimpse of the President.

Edwin Lee Smirco in 1961 with his wife, Marcella, and their son Steven, then 4.
Family Photo
Edwin Lee Smirco in 1961 with his wife, Marcella, and their son Steven, then 4.

Kennedy, barely four months into his presidency, arrived in a black sedan with flags mounted on its hood. He gave a brief speech about how the United States was “joined with you in the common defense of freedom of this historic section of the world,” then retreated to a cafeteria for breakfast.

Opinion: What JFK learned – and taught– about leadership

A short time later, Kennedy emerged and began working the crowd as he moved toward his car. Smirco, who had filmed Kennedy’s arrival, picked up his camera again as the President drew near.

“He came up and was shaking people’s hands,” Edwin Smirco said. “I had to release one of my hands from the camera to shake his hand.”

Moments later, Kennedy departed. But he left Smirco with an indelible memory – and one minute and 43 seconds of film to prove it.

“Me and the President? It was unbelievable,” he said. “That was quite a day. Yes it was.”

Despite his excitement, Smirco didn’t tell many people about his brush with JFK. To this day, the retired Defense Department employee, 79, remains secretive about his reasons for being at SHAPE – it was at the height of the Cold War, after all – and wary of publicity.

JFK assassination changed Secret Service

About a decade ago, Smirco transferred his home movies to VHS tapes and gave them to his four children. Oldest child Steven Smirco discovered the JFK footage shortly afterward but didn’t try to make it public until recently, when his girlfriend suggested people might want to see it.

“It’s a home movie. It’s been sitting in a closet. It didn’t really cross my mind that it would be of interest,” said the younger Smirco, 57, of Fredericksburg, Virginia. “I don’t know why we held onto it for so long without trying to make it available.”

In recent months he had the tapes digitized and reached out to several media outlets, including CNN, about airing the footage. CNN shared Smirco’s film with archivists at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, who verified its authenticity.

Granted, the footage doesn’t capture a particularly momentous or intimate moment in JFK’s life. The brief SHAPE visit was part of weeklong trip to Europe – Kennedy’s first as president – that included meetings with world leaders in Paris, Vienna and London. It wasn’t as noteworthy as his return trip in 1963, with its “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.

Still, Steven Smirco is proud of his father’s small contribution to the JFK legacy.

“People still have a lot of interest in Kennedy,” he said. “It’s great that something like this can be shown to the world.”

5 things you might not know about JFK’s assassination