A nation says goodbye to President Kennedy

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 25, 1963 file photo, 3-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes his father's casket in Washington, three days after the president was assassinated in Dallas. AP

On Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963, President John F. Kennedy's casket emerged from the White House, along with Jacqueline Kennedy and her two children, Caroline and John.

Watch CBS News' coverage of JFK's assassination from 1963

Hundreds of thousands of people watched Kennedy's horse-drawn caisson - the same wagon which had once carried the body of Franklin D. Roosevelt - transport the president's body down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Accompanied by the family, the caisson and casket were flanked by 20 service members representing each of the five military services as a muffled drum corps marched ahead.  The cortege included Cabinet members, chiefs of state, kings and princes from all over the world.

As "Hail to the Chief" played, Kennedy's flag-draped casket was placed into the Capitol rotunda, where it would to lie in state.  President Johnson placed a wreath at the foot of the bier. With Caroline kneeling beside her, Mrs. Kennedy kissed the coffin of her husband.

About a quarter million people lined up in the cold for a chance to view the president's casket in the rotunda. "So great is the crush outside the Capitol ... waiting to get in," reported CBS News' Charles Collingwood, "that people who have not been in line at 10 o'clock can't possibly go by the coffin before it is born away at 10 o'clock tomorrow."

Kennedy's funeral, on Nov. 25, 1963, drew leaders and heads of state from some 53 countries, including 18 presidents.  Mrs. Kennedy made a special request for another group to take part in the ceremonies – 27 young Irish Army cadets, whose silent honor guard drill for the dead had captivated Kennedy when he visited Dublin several months before. The cadets were whisked from their barracks and flown to Washington.

Kennedy’s funeral procession, led on foot by Jacqueline Kennedy and family, left the Capitol rotunda and went back to the White House before heading to St. Matthews Cathedral.  As CBS News noted on air, Mrs. Kennedy had taken this "same route many times before on her way to church for Sunday Mass."

Like the day before, Kennedy's caisson was pulled by four horses, including a riderless horse to symbolize the fallen commander in chief. The casket was followed by the president's personal American flag and a procession that included his brothers, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, and dignitaries from around the world. CBS News reported that the only woman other than Jacqueline Kennedy walking in the massive procession was Queen Frederika of Greece.

Just before noon, the procession arrived at St. Matthews Cathedral.  Pallbearers carried the casket into the church, where Cardinal Richard Cushing, Archbishop of Boston and a Kennedy family friend, led the Mass. Reported CBS News: "The cardinal met the body of the ex-president at the door. He blesses the remains with holy water."

Outside the cathedral after the service, three-year-old John F. Kennedy, Jr. saluted the coffin of his father – a moment captured in an iconic image by photographer Stan Stearns.

After the service, Kennedy's casket was taken to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery. A long line of limousines carrying family members, U.S. officials and world leaders followed over the Potomac River.  The burial service included prayers, a 21-gun salute and a silent ceremonial drill performed by the young Army cadets who had been summoned from Ireland by Jacqueline Kennedy.

Before the casket of the 35th President of the United States was lowered into the earth, his widow, with Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy by her side, lit the eternal flame, which would burn continuously at her husband's gravesite.

Robert Poole, author of "On Hallowed Ground," told CBS News that the eternal flame was a last-minute idea of Jacqueline Kennedy's. She had chosen Arlington Cemetery's Section 45 as a final resting spot because it had been one of her husband's favorite spots. In fact, Poole said, while the president visited that location of the cemetery in March 1963 and looked across the Potomac River, Kennedy remarked to a friend: "I could stay here forever."

CBS News' Charles Collingwood ended the network's four days of reporting and broadcasting of the Kennedy's assassination and funeral.

“These four days began in consternation and grief," Collingwood said. "They ended tonight with the focus on the new president. That is the way nations survive. The president may die, the presidency must not.”



  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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