Monday, November 25, 2013


November 25, 2013


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) 50 years ago today, November 25, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

At 10 a.m., JFK's remains were removed from the Capitol Rotunda by a military honor guard, placed on a horse drawn caisson, and borne to the White House.

The caisson was followed by a sailor bearing the flag of the President of the United States and by a riderless horse* with boots turned backward in the stirrups symbolizing the loss of the Nation's leader.

  "Black Jack" at the Capitol
    November 25, 1963
  Photo by David S. Schwartz
    JFK Library Photo

*The parade horse, named 'Black Jack,' was a 16 year old Army horse who was kept at Ft. Myer, Virginia.  His handler was Pfc. Arthur Carlson of Robertsdale, Alabama.  The horse was named in honor of General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing of WWI fame.

The tradition of the riderless horse dates back to the days of Genghis Khan.

Black Jack was not the only horse in the procession.  The other horses were white and pulled the caisson on which JFK's flag-draped casket was placed.

The procession marched slowly to the beat of muffled drums.

From the White House, the procession made its way to Saint Matthew's Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue.

Historian Robert Dallek writes...

"A procession from the White House to...St. Matthew's...eight blocks away, consisted of Jackie, Bobby, Ted, President and Mrs. Johnson, principal Kennedy associates, and representatives from ninety-two nations including (Charles) de Gaulle (France) and Anastas Mikoyan (USSR)."

At Noon, a Low Mass was celebrated for the 1st Roman Catholic president of the United States, by the Archbishop of Boston and close Kennedy family friend, Richard Cardinal Cushing.

St. Matthews Cathedral
Washington, D.C.
Photo by John White (2011)

St. Matthews Cathedral
Washington, D.C.
Photo by John White (2011)
As the President's flag-draped casket was carried by the honor guard out of the cathedral and put back on the caisson, John F. Kennedy, Jr., dressed in blue, raised his right hand in a soldier's salute in honor of his dad.

"John John," as he was called, was not only witnessing his father's funeral, he was celebrating his own 3rd birthday.

St. Matthews Cathedral
Washington, D.C.
Photo by John White (2011)

The procession continued past the Lincoln Memorial and then crossed the bridge to Arlington.

There, on the hill just below the Custis-Lee Mansion, the body of the 35th President of the United States reached it's final resting place.

Robert Dallek writes...

"Although some members of the (Kennedy) family wished to bury the president in Brookline, Massachusetts, JFK's birthplace, Jackie insisted on Arlington."

Ten thousand mourners had gathered on the hillsides of Arlington awaiting the beginning of the graveside ceremony.

Thomas Maier writes...

"The Irish Guards and...U.S. Marines...performed a military salute, and...Air Force One flew overhead.  Bagpipes wailed...'The Mist Covered the Mountain,' and...a bugler played taps.

The stars and stripes draped over Kennedy's coffin was lifted, tightly folded into a triangle and presented to his widow."

Graveside Service
  November 25, 1963
   Photo by Abbie Rowe
   US Army, NPS Photo

At the conclusion of the solemn graveside service, Jacqueline Kennedy, Bobby and Teddy each took turns in lighting the Eternal Flame which would forever mark the grave.

                The Eternal Flame
        John F. Kennedy Gravesite
      Arlington National Cemetery
             Photo by WKnight94

Scripps-Howard staff writer, Dickson Preston, wrote...

"People lingered in the vicinity of John F. Kennedy's though they were reluctant to admit the finality of what had happened.  As though, somehow, he would not quite be alone as long as they stayed."

And as millions of people watched the coverage on television, a commentator repeated what was said upon the passing of Abraham Lincoln almost a century before...

"And now he belongs to the ages."

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, poet laureate Archibald McLeish wrote...

"Whatever the assessment of Kennedy in the ultimate historical record, we know now what we have lost.  We have lost not only a young and gallant President, but the new, young voice of our oldest and most dearly won belief:  the belief in the American Proposition, the American Cause, the cause to which all our greatest men have been committed.

In the aching silence Kennedy has left behind him, it is for the hearts and convictions of the young to speak the meaning he made clear at so great a cost."


"An Unfinished Life, John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963," by Robert Dallek, Little Brown and Company, New York, 2003.

"Parade Horse Was 'Black Jack," UPI, Knoxville News-Sentinel, November 26, 1963.

"Some Linger Awhile...Sadly at Graveside," by Dickson Preston, Knoxville News-Sentinel, November 26, 1963.

"The Kennedys:  America's Emerald Kings," by Thomas Maier, Basic Books, New York, 2003.

"The Man's Measure...," by Archibald McLeish, The Daily Pennsylvanian, "Good Night, Brave Spirit, John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963," The Boston Globe, 1964.