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The Kennedys And The Sea

Even this week, as they waited for the sea to give up the bodies of their son, the Kennedys sailed, using the sea to escape the pain of waiting for bad news. For a family that has always been drawn to the water, this was not a surprise. 48 Hours Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports on the bond between the Kennedys and the sea.

"The tranquility of the sea the loneliness of it, the privacy of it," says William vanden Heuvel, who has been close to two generations of Kennedys. "I think all those things endeared themselves to the Kennedys."

Vanden Heuvel remembers President Kennedy's love of the ocean in particular. At the 1962 America's Cup celebration, JFK spoke of that bond. "We are tied to the ocean," he said. "When we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came."

"I think John was obviously very attached to the ocean," treasure hunter Barry Clifford told CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell.

The two first met when Kennedy was a teen-ager, and dived together. "The fact that his father had so much to do with preserving this whole area here of Cape Cod, the National Seashore, the slave ship that we were looking for."

The water has helped shape the lives of Kennedys since John F. Kennedy Sr. was a young man.

The Kennedys have been tied to the sea, in triumph and tragedy. As commander of a PT-boat that was destroyed in World War II, John F. Kennedy was decorated for his heroism in saving fellow crewmembers by helping them swim to safety.

Paul Fay served with Kennedy on PT boats, and became one of his closest friends. He served as an usher at JFK's wedding. "When I came back from over seas I never went down to the PT Boats," Fay remembers. "I'd had enough of it. When Jack came back he went down to the boats, and he was involved in anything that had to do with the sea."

Seeing Kennedys go out in sailboats during their time of grief doesn't surprise John Sheehy. As assistant harbormaster in Hyannis for more than 30 years, he's run into the family often on the water.

"I think it's a major portion of their life. I think it's a little bit behind politics," he says.

Vanden Heuvel thinks that the Kennedys used boating as a way of escaping stress they'd accumulated in their more earthly pursuits. "I don't want to leave the picture that these were serious explorers," he says. "They were people who loved to jump in the water and go water skiing . . ."

Some of the happiest pictures of the Kennedy years -- of a father and his family -- were taken on or near the water. Looking at those old black and white photos, Vanden Heuvel is moved: "I weep like America weeps because it represents such a loss of treasure in both their lives."

"I think young John... John Junior had a love of the sea and a love of the air," says Richard Reeves, a Kennedy Biographer and a Consultant. "But I think in the end he saw the air the way his father saw the sea, as a place where your real significance is put into perspective. Kind of: 'The sea is so great my boat is so little; the sky is so great, my plane is so little.'"

Kennedy family members found themsevles on the sea again Thursday when they buried John Jr., his wife, and her sister. Perhaps the waves provided some solace.