The body of President Kennedy was brought back to Washington and placed on the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. On the Sunday after the assassination, his flag-draped coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Throughout the day and night, hundreds of thousands lined up to view the guarded casket. Representatives from over 90 countries attended the state funeral on Monday, November 25. After the Requiem Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral, the late president was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Preparations for the state funeralEdit
After John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, his body was flown back to Washington, and on arrival, it was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital for the autopsy. At the same time, military authorities started planning his state funeral. Army Major General Philip C. Wehle, the commanding general of the Military District of Washington (MDW) (CG MDW), and the chief of ceremonies and special events at the MDW, retired Army Colonel Paul C. Miller, planned the funeral. They headed to the White House and worked with the president's brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, also director of the Peace Corps, and Ralph Dungan, an aide to the president. Because Kennedy had no funeral plan in place, much of the planning rested with the CG MDW.
House Speaker John W. McCormack said that the president's body would be brought back to the White House to lie in the East Room the following day and then taken to the Capitol to lie in state in the rotunda all day Sunday.
The day after the assassination, the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, issued Presidential Proclamation 3561, declaring Monday to be a national day of mourning, and only essential emergency workers to be at their posts. He read the proclamation over a nationwide radio and television broadcast at 4:45 p.m. from the Fish Room at the White House.
Several elements of the state funeral paid tribute to Kennedy's service in the Navy during World War II. They included a member of the Navy bearing the presidential flag, the Navy Hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," and the Naval Academy Glee Club performing at the White House.
White House reposeEdit
After the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Kennedy's body was prepared for burial by embalmers from Gawler's Funeral Home in Washington, who performed the embalming and cosmetic restoration procedures at Bethesda, as opposed to the funeral home. The body was then put in a coffin made of 500-year old African mahogany, as some of the handles and ornaments on the bronze one that carried the body from Dallas had been damaged en route.
The body of President Kennedy was returned to the White House at nearly 4:30 a.m., Saturday, November 23. The motorcade bearing the remains was met at the White House gate by a Marine honor guard, which escorted it to the North Portico, where it was borne to the East Room. After being placed in the East Room, Jacqueline Kennedy declared that the casket would be kept closed for the duration of the viewing and funeral. However, the views were conflicting as to why she declared the casket to be closed. Religious leaders said that it minimized morbid concentration on the corpse. The White House said that Kennedy was shot in the head and neck and that the head wound was a gaping one. Mrs. Kennedy, still wearing the blood-stained raspberry-colored suit she wore in Dallas, had to that point refused to leave the side of her husband's body since his death. Only after the casket was placed in the East Room, now decorated with black crepe, did she retire to her private quarters. She requested that two Catholic priests remain with the body until the official funeral. A call was made to The Catholic University of America and Msgr. Robert Paul Mohan and Fr. Gilbert Hartke, two prominent Washington, D.C. priests were immediately dispatched for the task.
A Mass was said in the East Room at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 23. After that, other family members, friends, and other government officials came at specified times to pay their respects, including former U.S. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower (The other surviving former U.S. president at the time, Herbert Hoover, was too ill to attend and was represented by his sons. Herbert Hoover Jr. attended the funeral, while Allan Hoover went to the services in the rotunda; Hoover died 11 months afterward, and too, lay in state.).
Kennedy lay where, nearly one hundred years earlier, Lincoln had lain. An honor guard and two priests stood vigil over his remains. The honor guard included troops from the 3rd Infantry and from the Army's Special Forces (Green Berets). The Special Forces troops had been brought hurriedly from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at the request of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who was aware of his brother's particular interest in them.
Outside the White House and in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, crowds stood in the rain, keeping a vigil and paying quiet respects. It rained all day in Washington, befitting the mood of the nation.
Lying in stateEdit
On Sunday afternoon about 300,000 people watched a horse-drawn caisson, which had borne the body of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Unknown Soldier, carry Kennedy's flag-covered casket down the White House drive, past parallel rows of soldiers bearing the flags of the 50 states of the Union, then along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Rotunda to lie in state. The only sounds on Pennsylvania Avenue as the cortège made its way to the Capitol were the sounds of the muffled drums and the clacking of horses' hooves, including the riderless horse Black Jack.
The widow, holding her two children, one in each hand, led the public mourning for the country. In the rotunda, Mrs. Kennedy and her daughter Caroline knelt beside the casket, which rested on the Lincoln catafalque. Three-year-old John Jr. was briefly taken out of the rotunda so as not to disrupt the service. Mrs. Kennedy maintained her composure as her husband was taken to the Capitol to lie in state, as well as during the memorial service.
Kennedy was the first president in more than 30 years to lie in state in the rotunda, the previous one being the only president to ever serve as chief justice, William Howard Taft, in 1930. He was also the first Democrat to lie in state at the Capitol.
In the only public viewing, hundreds of thousands lined up in near-freezing temperatures to view the casket. Over the span of 18 hours, 250,000 people, some waiting for as long as 10 hours in a line that stretched 40 blocks up to 10 persons wide over nearly 10 miles, personally paid their respects as Kennedy's body lay in state. Capitol police officers politely reminded mourners to keep moving along in two lines that passed on either side of the casket and exited the building on the west side facing the National Mall.
The original plan was for the rotunda to close at 9:00 p.m. and reopen for an hour at 9:00 the next morning. Because of long lines however, police and military authorities decided to keep the doors open. At 9:00 p.m., when the rotunda was supposed to close, both Jacqueline Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy returned to the rotunda again. More than half the mourners came to the rotunda after 2:45 a.m., by which time 115,000 had already visited. Military officials doubled the lines, first to two abreast, then to four abreast.
NBC broadcast uninterrupted coverage of the people passing through the Capitol rotunda during the overnight hours. While anchoring the Today show from an NBC Washington studio the next day, Hugh Downs said that the mass numbers made it "the greatest and most solemn wake in history." CBS Washington correspondent Roger Mudd said of the mass numbers: "This outpouring of affection and sympathy for the late president is probably the most majestic and stately ceremony the American people can perform." Jersey Joe Walcott, a former heavyweight boxing champion, passed by the bier at 2:30 a.m., and agreed with Mudd, saying of Kennedy, "He was a great man."
Arrival of dignitariesEdit
As Kennedy lay in state, foreign dignitaries—including heads of state and government and members of royal families—started to converge on Washington to attend the state funeral on Monday. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and other State Department personnel went out to both of Washington's commercial airports, to personally greet foreign dignitaries.
Some of the dignitaries that arrived on Sunday to attend the funeral included Soviet First Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan, French President Charles de Gaulle, Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, The Duke of Edinburgh representing Queen Elizabeth II, British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Irish President Éamon de Valera, and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Queen Frederika of Greece, and King Baudouin I of the Belgians were just some of the other members of royalty attending. Some law enforcement officials, including MPDC Chief Robert V. Murray, later said that it was the biggest security nightmare they ever faced. De Valera visited the rotunda.
As people were viewing the casket, military authorities held meetings at the White House, at MDW headquarters, and at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday's events. First, they decided that the public viewing should end at 9:00 a.m. EST and that the ceremonies would begin at 10:30 a.m. EST.
Unlike Sunday's procession, which was led by only the muffled drum corps, Monday's was expanded to include other military units. Military officials also agreed on what the widowed Mrs. Kennedy requested. First, they agreed that the Marine Band should lead the funeral procession. The other requests included two foreign military units—pipers from the Scottish Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) marching in the procession from the White House to St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Cathedral and a group of 24 Irish Defence Forces cadets performing silent drill at the grave site—and an eternal flame at the grave. The cadets came from the Military College of Ireland in Curragh, County Kildare, which is Ireland's equivalent to West Point, due to the impression created by a similar display at Arbour Hill Cemetery in Dublin by cadets during the visit of President Kennedy to Ireland just five months before. The cadets traveled on the plane to the funeral with Irish President Éamon de Valera, and together, they paid tribute to Kennedy's Irish roots.
Approximately one million people lined the route of the funeral procession, from the Capitol back to the White House, then to St. Matthew's Cathedral, and finally to Arlington National Cemetery. Millions more—almost the entire population of America—followed the funeral on television. Those who watched the funeral on television were the only ones who saw the ceremonies in its entirety. The three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, needed at least 50 cameras for the joint coverage in order to allow viewers to follow the proceedings from the Capitol to Arlington without missing a moment. In addition, their respective Washington bureau chiefs (Bob Fleming at ABC, Bill Monroe at NBC, and Bill Small at CBS) also moved correspondents and cameras to keep them ahead of the cortège.
The day's events began at 8:25 a.m., when the MPDC cut off the line of mourners waiting to get into the rotunda because a large group of people tried to crash the line and the MPDC weren't able to sort the people in line out; many had waited for five hours. Thirty-five minutes, later, the doors closed, ending the lying in state, though the last visitors passed through at 9:05 a.m.
At 10:00 a.m., both houses of Congress met to pass resolutions expressing sorrow. In the Senate, Maine Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith laid a single rose on the desk Kennedy occupied when in the Senate.
Procession to cathedralEdit
After Mrs. Kennedy and her brothers-in-law, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy visited the rotunda, the coffin was carried out onto the caisson. At 10:50, the caisson left the Capitol. Ten minutes later, the procession began, making its way back to the White House. As the procession reached the White House, all the military units, except for the Marine company, marched past it, turned right off Pennsylvania Avenue and onto 17th Street. A platoon of the Marine company turned in the northeast gate and led the cortege into the North Portico.
At the White House, the procession resumed on foot to St. Matthew's Cathedral, led by Kennedy's widow and the Kennedy brothers. They walked the same route the widow took quite often with the president when going to Mass at the cathedral. This also marked the first time that a first lady walked in her husband's funeral procession. The two Kennedy children rode in a limousine behind them. The rest of the Kennedy family, apart from the president's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who was ill, waited at the cathedral.
The new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, his wife, Lady Bird and their two daughters, Luci and Lynda, also marched in the procession, though he was told not to do so because of the assassination. However, LBJ recounted his experiences in his memoirs saying, "I remember marching behind the caisson to St. Matthew's Cathedral. The muffled rumble of drums set up a heartbreaking echo." Merle Miller quoted him as having said, "Walking in the procession was especially one of the most difficult decisions I had to make," but it was something he could do, should do, would do, and did so." When he moved into the Oval Office the next day, there was a letter from Mrs. Kennedy on his desk. The first thing she wrote was thanking him for marching in the procession.
Not since the funeral of Britain's King Edward VII in 1910, had there been such a large gathering of presidents, prime ministers, and royalty at a state funeral. In all, 220 foreign dignitaries, including 19 heads of state and government, and members of royal families, from 92 countries, five international agencies, and the papacy attended the funeral. Most of the dignitaries passed unnoticed, strolling respectfully behind the former first lady and the Kennedy family during the relatively short walk to the cathedral along Connecticut Avenue. As the dignitaries marched, there was a heavy security presence because of concerns for the potential assassination of so many world leaders, with the heaviest being for French President Charles de Gaulle. Under Secretary of State George Ball manned the operations center at the State Department so that no incident happened.
NBC transmitted coverage of the procession from the White House to the cathedral by satellite to twenty-three countries, including Japan and the Soviet Union, allowing hundreds of millions on both sides of the Iron Curtain in Europe to watch the funeral. However, satellite coverage ended when the coffin went into the cathedral. In the Soviet Union, their commentators said that "the grief of the Soviet people mingles with the grief of the American people." However, there was no coverage in East Germany, where television audiences had only a soccer match to watch.
The widow, wearing a black veil, and holding the hands of her two children, John Jr., who celebrated his third birthday on the day of his father's funeral, on her left, and Caroline, on her right, led the way up the steps of the cathedral. Because of the funeral and the day of mourning, the widow postponed John Jr.'s birthday party until December 5, the last day the family was in the White House.
Funeral Mass at cathedralEdit
About 1,200 invited guests attended the funeral Mass in the cathedral. The Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, celebrated the Pontifical Requiem Low Mass at the cathedral where Kennedy, a practicing Catholic, often worshipped. Cardinal Cushing was a close friend of the family who had witnessed and blessed the marriage of Senator Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953. He had also baptized two of their children, given the invocation at President Kennedy's inauguration, and officiated at the recent funeral of their infant son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy.
At the request of the First Lady, the Requiem Mass was a Low Mass. That is, when Mass is recited or spoken and not sung, with it being a simplified version of the Mass. Two months later, Cardinal Cushing offered a pontifical Solemn High Requiem Mass at Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston with the city's orchestra and choir singing Mozart's Requiem setting.
There was no formal eulogy at the Low Requiem Mass (the first presidential funeral to feature a formal eulogy was that of LBJ in 1973). However, the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, the Most Reverend Philip M. Hannan, decided to read selections from Kennedy's writings and speeches. The readings included a passage from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes: "There is an appointed time for everything...a time to be born and a time to die...a time to love and a time to hate...a time of war and a time of peace." He then concluded his remarks by reading the entire Inaugural Address.
Jacqueline Kennedy requested Luigi Vena to sing Georges Bizet's "Agnus Dei", as he had at her wedding to John F. Kennedy ten years prior. Instead, he was told to sing Pie Jesu and Franz Schubert's Ave Maria after the offertory. For a few moments, she lost her composure and sobbed as this music filled the cathedral.
The casket was borne again by caisson on the final leg to Arlington National Cemetery for burial. Moments after the casket was carried down the front steps of the cathedral, Jacqueline Kennedy whispered to her son, after which he saluted his father's coffin; the image, taken by photographer Stan Stearns, became an iconic representation of the 1960s. The children were deemed to be too young to attend the final burial service, so this was the point where the children said goodbye to their father.
Virtually everyone else followed the caisson in a long line of black limousines passing by the Lincoln Memorial and crossing the Potomac River. However, many of the military units did not participate in the burial service and left just after crossing the Potomac. Because the line of cars taking the foreign dignitaries was long, the last cars carrying the dignitaries left St. Matthew's as the procession entered the cemetery. The burial services had already begun when the last car arrived. Security guards walked beside the cars carrying the dignitaries, with the one carrying the French president having the most—10.
At the end of the burial services, the widow lit an eternal flame to burn continuously over his grave. At 3:34 p.m. EST, the casket containing his remains was lowered into the earth as "Kennedy slipped out of mortal sight—out of sight but not out of heart and mind." Kennedy thus became only the second president to be buried at Arlington, after William Howard Taft, which meant, at that time, the two most recent presidents to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda were buried at Arlington. Kennedy was buried at Arlington exactly two weeks to the day he last visited there, when he came for Veteran's Day observances.
- Inline citations
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- ↑ "Government Offices Closed by President". The Washington Post: p. A15. November 24, 1963.
- ↑ NBC News 1966, pp. 72–73
- ↑ Lowens, Irving (December 1, 1963). "Accurate Listing of Funeral music". The Washington Star. http://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Ready-Reference/JFK-Miscellaneous-Information/Funeral-Music.aspx. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
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- Mudd, Roger (2008). The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News. New York: PublicAffairs.
- NBC News (1966). There Was a President. New York: Random House.
- United Press International; American Heritage Magazine (1964). Four Days. New York: American Heritage Pub. Co..
- White, Theodore Harold (1965). The Making of the President, 1964. New York: Atheneum.
- BBC coverage of the funeral. Commentary by Richard Dimbleby
- Chief Justice Earl Warren's Eulogy for John F. Kennedy