Arranging a Funeral for a President

by MSO
Jacqueline, Caroline and John Kennedy walk down the stairs after leaving the funeral of KFK

Jacqueline Kennedy holding the hands of her children Caroline and John leave the funeral of John F. Kennedy.

Fifty years ago at 12:30 in the afternoon President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. He was 46.

In shock but with the need to take control of the situation Jacqueline Kennedy was a veritable rock of composure. She sacrificed her immediate needs for the good of her country to show the world that the United States was not weakened by the assassination of her husband. Throughout the whole ordeal she remained close to her husband’s side – in the hospital in Dallas, on the plane back to Washington, where she stood beside Lyndon Johnson as he took the Oath of Office and again at the Bethseda Naval Hospital where Kennedy’s body was to be prepared for burial. She only left the hospital when JFK’s body was brought to the White House. She was still wearing that beautiful pink Chanel suit she had donned that morning in Texas, that was covered in her husband’s blood. Although people tried to get her to change she refused, “I want them to see what they’ve done”.

It was on the flight back to Washington, she began making plans for a funeral that would honor her husband. She drew inspiration from the historical accounts in the White House library that she had read about President Lincoln’s lying in state and funeral. She wanted her husband’s funeral to follow the same direction as Lincoln’s. She wanted the same bier that Lincoln’s coffin rested on and she wanted him to lie in state in the East Room as Lincoln’s did with mourning drapes and a military honor guard. She wanted the honor guard to have a member of the Special Forces that her husband admired so much. She chose the music, a mixture of hymns and military selections and had instructions for the funeral program.

More than 250,000thousand mourners stood patiently waiting to pay their last respects to the President in the Rotunda in the Capitol on Sunday. Jacqueline and her children Caroline and John had followed the flag-draped casket from the East Room to the Rotunda in the Capitol  Building where a ceremony was held.

The caisson carrying the body of JFK to the church with a riderless horse following.

The caissons bearing the casket of President John F. Kennedy on the way to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. A color guard follows holding the presidential colors, the flag of the President of the United States, and the riderless horse “Black Jack”, follow behind.

On Monday, the funeral was held, it was her son’s birthday. Jacqueline Kennedy had already decided who to include in the funeral cortege and, in an unprecedented move, she decided that she would follow the cortege on foot to St. Matthew’s Cathedral where the service would take place. She was met by her children at the entry to the church.

From the church, the cortege following the six grey horses pulling the caisson made its way to Arlington National Cemetery where the President was to be buried. As they arrived at the cemetery, 50 fighter jets made a low pass with Airforce One dipping its wing in salute. Jacqueline had requested that too as she knew how much her husband had loved the jet. Following prayers, Taps was played, a rifle salute was sounded and Jacqueline was presented with the US flag after the solemn folding ceremony.

Then she lit the eternal flame that was to burn forever on JFK’s grave. She had asked for the flame so that something living would always be present at the site.

Determined to fulfill her public duties, she met with all the heads of state and dignitaries that had travelled to the funeral to pay their respects. She supervised the cleaning out of her husband’s personal effects from the Oval Office making sure that certain people received items her husband had wanted distributed. Only 80 hours had passed since the assassination of her husband and it was nearing midnight when she finally had time for herself. She left the White House with JFK’s brother Robert Kennedy and drove to Arlington where she left a bouquet of lilies of the valley on his grave which, fittingly enough, are also known as Our Lady’s Tears.

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