State funeral of John F. Kennedy: Wikis


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Robert Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy seen following Jacqueline Kennedy as she leaves the United States Capitol with John Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy, after viewing the lying in state of John F. Kennedy, 1963.

The state funeral of John F. Kennedy took place during the three days that followed his assassination on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.

The body of President Kennedy was brought back to Washington, D.C. and placed in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. On the Sunday after the assassination, his 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 laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.


Preparations for the state funeral

After John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, his body was flown back to Washington, D.C.. At the same time, military authorities started planning his state funeral. Officials at the Military District of Washington (MDW) planned the funeral, working with the president's brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, also director of the peace corps, and an aide to the president. Because Kennedy had no funeral plan in place, much of the planning rested with the commanding general of the MDW (CG MDW), Army Major General Philip C. Wehle.[1]

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.[2]

The day after the assassination, Johnson issued Presidential Proclamation 3561, declaring Monday to be a national day of mourning, and only essential emergency workers to be at their posts.

White House repose

Kennedy lies in repose in the White House East Room

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. Restorative procedures included the application of a curved mesh to replace the missing portion of Kennedy's head, and the application of hair thatches over the scalp.

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 ordered the casket open to inspect the embalmer's work, and after seeing the embalmed image, she declared that the casket would be kept closed for the duration of the viewing and funeral. 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, the only exceptions being during his autopsy and the swearing-in of President Johnson. 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.

Kennedy's casket remained in the East Room for 24 hours, as he lay in repose; (then, the term "lying in repose" meant private, as opposed to a public lying in state).

A private 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 Eisenhower and Truman (The other surviving former U.S. president at the time, Herbert Hoover, was too ill to attend; Hoover died 11 months afterward).

Kennedy lay where, nearly one hundred years earlier, Lincoln had lain. An honor guard stood vigil over his remains. The replica of the catafalque upon which the remains rested was the same one used in 1958 during the funerals of the Unknown Soldiers from the Korean War and World War II at Arlington.[1]

Lying in state

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 mahogany 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.

Brief eulogies were delivered inside the rotunda by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Speaker McCormack.


Public viewing

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, personally paid their respects as Kennedy's body lay in state. Many of them were weeping when they viewed the bier.[3] 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.[3][4]

The doors were supposed to close at 9:00 p.m. and reopen for an hour at 9:00 the next morning, However, because of the long lines, police and military authorities decided to keep the doors open, and Mrs. Kennedy was happy about it, because at 9:00 p.m., she and brother-in-law Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy visited the rotunda again.

NBC broadcast uninterrupted coverage of the people passing through the Capitol rotunda during the overnight hours.[2][3][5]

Arrival of dignitaries

Nations that attended the funeral (blue) or whose dignitaries arrived too late, but attended Lyndon B. Johnson's reception on Nov. 25 (pink)

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 French President Charles de Gaulle, 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 police officials later said that it was the biggest security nightmare they ever faced.[6]


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 09:00 EST.[3][1]

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. They included two foreign military units: pipers from the Scottish Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) and a group of 24 Irish Defence Forces cadets performing silent drill.[1] Military officials agreed that the pipers march in the procession, doing so from the White House to St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Cathedral, and that the cadets perform at the gravesite, and an eternal flame at the grave.[1] The cadets came from the 37th Cadet Class Irish Army and came due to the impression created by a similar display at Arbour Hill Dublin by cadets during the visit of President Kennedy to Ireland in June 1963.[7]

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 across America followed the funeral on television. The television audience was particularly high, as virtually the entire nation was at home viewing the proceedings.

At 10:00 a.m., both houses of Congress met to pass resolutions expressing sorrow. In the Senate, Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine laid a single rose on the desk Kennedy occupied when in the Senate.

Procession to cathedral

The procession began just before 11:00, when the coffin was carried out of the rotunda and placed on the caisson, which then made its way back to the White House, where the procession resumed on foot to St. Matthew's Cathedral, led by Kennedy's widow and his two brothers, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Edward M. Kennedy. They walked the same route the widow took quite often with the president when going to Mass at the cathedral.

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.

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.[6][8]

In all, 220 foreign dignitaries, including 19 heads of state and government, and members of royal families, from 92 countries 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. Under Secretary of State George Ball manned the operations center at the State Department so that no incident happened.[9]

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.[2][10] However, satellite coverage ended when the coffin went into the cathedral.[2][10]

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.

Funeral mass at cathedral

About 1,200 invited guests attended the funeral Mass in the cathedral. The Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, celebrated the Pontifical Requiem 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, it was the traditional Latin Mass without a sung Ordinary and Propers. 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.

Rather than a formal eulogy at the Low Requiem Mass, not permitted by the Catholic Church, 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 several of his addresses that had quoted the Bible, such as this text from Proverbs: "Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions, and where there is no vision the people perish".

Bishop Hannan concluded his remarks by reading the entire Inaugural Address (the first presidential funeral in which there was a eulogy was that of Lyndon B. Johnson ten years later, in 1973).

As he did during their wedding ten years earlier, Luigi Vena sang Franz Schubert's Ave Maria after the offertory. Jacqueline Kennedy had requested it and for a few moments she lost her composure and sobbed as this music filled the cathedral.


John F. Kennedy, Jr. salutes his father's casket while standing next to Jacqueline Kennedy, who is holding Caroline Kennedy's hand; Senator Ted Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy are seen behind them

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 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.[1] They left just after crossing the Potomac.[1]

At the end of the burial service, the widow lit an eternal flame to burn continuously over his grave. At 3:34 p.m. EST, the mahogany casket containing his remains was lowered into the earth. Kennedy thus became only the second president to be buried at Arlington, after William Howard Taft. His and Jacqueline's infant son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who had died only two days after his birth just several months earlier in August 1963, as well as their stillborn daughter, born in August 1956, were disinterred from their gravesites in Brookline, Massachusetts and Newport, Rhode Island, respectively, and reinterred on either side of their father's grave on December 4, 1963.[11]

On 14 March 1967, the body of President Kennedy was disinterred and moved approx 20 feet to his current resting place; this was done in order to construct a safer, more stable eternal flame and to accommodate the extensive foot traffic caused by tourists. He was reinterred along with the bodies of his two infant children. The reburial took place in a private ceremony attended by Jacqueline Kennedy, his brothers Edward and Robert, and President Lyndon Johnson.[12] Jacqueline Kennedy was buried at the same location, alongside her husband, some 31 years later.[11]

External links


  1. ^ a b c d e f g United States Army (1971). The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funerals, 1921-1969. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.  
  2. ^ a b c d NBC News (1966). There Was a President. New York: Random House.  
  3. ^ a b c d Franklin, Ben A. (November 26, 1963). "250,000 Mourners File Silently Past Coffin in Capitol's Rotunda During 18 Hours". The New York Times: p. 10.  
  4. ^ Wicker, Tom (November 25, 1963). "Grieving Throngs View Kennedy Bier". The New York Times: p. 1.  
  5. ^ Adams, Val (November 26, 1963). "BACK TO NORMAL FOR RADIO AND TV". The New York Times: p. 75.  
  6. ^ a b Duscha, Julius (November 25, 1963). "Kings, Presidents and Premiers Here". The Washington Post: p. A1.  
  7. ^ Faoi Lan Cheoil. [television]. TG4. 2008-11-19.  
  8. ^ Duscha, Julius (November 26, 1963). "Mighty World Rulers Pay Humble Tribute". The Washington Post: p. A1.  
  9. ^ Ball, George W. (1982). The past has another pattern: memoirs (1st ed.). New York: Norton.  
  10. ^ a b Shepard, Richard F. (November 26, 1963). "TELEVISION POOLS CAMERA COVERAGE". The New York Times: p. 11.  
  11. ^ a b Pottker, Jan. Janet and Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter.  
  12. ^ "March 14, 1967, JFK’s body moved to permanent gravesite".  


  • White, Theodore H. (1965). The Making of the President, 1964. New York: Atheneum.  


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