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Burial

Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.

—JOHN F. KENNEDY

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 1963

Immediately after the ceremony in the rotunda, after Mrs. Kennedy and President Johnson and the rest of the entourage had departed, the Capitol was open to the public and police and security guards were faced with a tidal wave of people who wanted to pay their respects to President Kennedy. Barriers were put in place and within a couple of hours the queue—in many places eight to ten bodies wide—wrapped around the Capitol, had spread beyond the enormous complex, and was overflowing onto streets in all directions. The mourners were young and old, black and white, dressed in mink coats and hand-me-downs. Traffic was jammed around the city as people came from the suburbs and neighboring states. There seemed to be an inexplicable compulsion for people to be there. Nothing else mattered.

The plan had been to keep the doors of the Capitol open until 9:00 P.M., but by then there were people who had been waiting since midnight the night before who still had not gotten in. And still, there had to be two hundred thousand more standing in the cold, dark night, knowing they would wait in line for hours to have no more than a few seconds to walk past the casket.

Meanwhile, representatives from countries all over the globe were flying in to attend the funeral, along with members of the Kennedy family. Jackie’s sister, Lee, and Lee’s husband, Prince Stanislaus Radziwill, arrived late from London. “Stash,” as he was known to family and close friends, wanted desperately to go to the rotunda, so Clint Hill personally escorted him, cutting ahead to the front of the line. None of the mourners who happened to be filing past the casket recognized Prince Radziwill, but when he was allowed to step beyond the velvet rope and kneel by the casket for several minutes, nobody said a word.

By midnight, one hundred thousand people had filed through, and the line of those still waiting was more than three miles long. The guards urged people to move faster.

As the sun rose on Monday, on what had been declared a national day of mourning, throngs of people clamored for space along the streets between the Capitol and the White House and Arlington Cemetery to view the funeral procession.

By now, the fatal shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald had added a new dimension to the country’s grief, and mixed with the universal cries of “How could this happen in America?” was the sudden unsettling feeling that the assassination was part of a larger conspiracy. The front pages of newspapers around the country carried side-by-side photos of the incredible events that had happened within minutes of each other in Dallas and Washington, D.C. There was the heartbreaking image of the kneeling Mrs. Kennedy and Caroline kissing the flag-covered casket in the rotunda, and right next to it, on every newspaper in America, was the shocking picture of the president’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, at the moment he was shot by Jack Ruby. Now there could be no trial for Oswald and perhaps his motive would never be known. What was coming to the surface, however, was that Oswald’s background was filled with connections to the Soviet Union, Cuba, and communism.

The Secret Service, the FBI, and the CIA were deeply concerned about the potential for another assassination attempt at President Kennedy’s state funeral.

8:00 A.M.

Jerry Blaine had written down everything he could remember about the Saturday morning incident with President Johnson at the Elms and had arrived early for the meeting with Secret Service chief James Rowley.

“Good morning, Walter,” Jerry said as he greeted Walter Blaschak, Rowley’s secretary.

“Mr. Rowley’s not quite ready yet,” Blaschak said curtly. “Why don’t you go ahead and take a seat in the conference room. The others will be here shortly, I’m sure.”

At 7:55 A.M. Assistant Special Agent in Charge Floyd Boring arrived, along with ATSAIC Emory Roberts.

What are they doing here? Blaine wondered as he stood up to greet the two senior agents.

Two minutes later, ATSAIC Stewart Stout and SAIC Jerry Behn walked in.

Blaine was getting more and more nervous. He was here with every supervising agent, with the exception of Roy Kellerman. What was going on?

Chief Rowley had arrived at the office at 6:00 A.M. He’d barely slept more than a couple of hours in the last two days, and the lines of fatigue had settled into his face. He was still trying to work the security planning for today’s funeral, and the fact that Mrs. Kennedy insisted on walking from the White House to St. Matthew’s was merely the icing on the cake. There were so many exposures with the scenario today, it was almost beyond comprehension. And while Rowley was normally confident in the abilities of his men, the assassination was so fresh, so raw, that he was overseeing every detail himself.

Blaschak walked into his office just as the wall clock chimed.

“Everybody’s assembled in the conference room,” he said.

Director Rowley walked in and closed the door behind him.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” Rowley said as he sat down at the head of the conference table. “We’ve got an extraordinary day ahead, so let’s get right down to it.”

He flipped open a file folder and turned to Floyd. “Floyd, do you want to give me a brief recap of President Kennedy requesting the agents drop back to the follow-up car in Tampa?”

“Absolutely,” Floyd replied. “Because we were faced with a long motorcade, limited agents, and expected large crowds, it was recommended that we have coverage on the back of the car.”

“Was that the recommendation of the advance agents?” Behn asked.

“Yes, sir,” Blaine spoke up. “I was the lead advance agent. We had over twenty-eight miles to travel and were expecting demonstrations. We also had two PRS subjects incarcerated.”

“I understand your reasoning and I am not faulting anyone. I believe it was a reasonable request.” Jim Rowley never second-guessed his White House Detail agents, since he thoroughly understood their thought processes. He’d had a lot of input into the Secret Service training programs. The only thing he would not tolerate was an agent being lax in his responsibilities.

Blaine had relaxed a little bit. So this wasn’t regarding the Johnson near incident after all. It was about Tampa. But why was he so concerned about Tampa now?

Rowley nodded. “Go on, Floyd. So what happened?”

Floyd recounted how Agents Chuck Zboril and Don Lawton were posted on the rear steps of the limousine throughout much of the motorcade; the heavy crowds; the small group of protesters.

“Everything was going along fine, but I noticed the president continually glancing back at the agents standing behind him,” Floyd said. “And then he made an unusual request.”

“And what exactly did he say?” Rowley asked.

“He was standing up and he leaned toward me . . . I, of course, was sitting in the front passenger seat, while Bill Greer was driving,” Floyd said. “So, he leaned toward me and said, ‘Floyd, have the Ivy League charlatans drop back to the follow-up car.’”

The statement made Rowley’s mouth turn up in a slight smile, even as he blinked back a tear. He could hear the president saying that. Ivy League charlatans. God, he was going to miss JFK.

Rowley blinked and continued the questioning.

“Now, when he made this unusual request, was he angry? And what did you take it to mean?”

“No, no,” Floyd began. “I didn’t get the impression that he was angry. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by ‘Ivy League charlatans,’ but I sure as hell knew what he meant when he said to have them drop back to the follow-up car. I knew he felt like they were hovering a bit too close. And this being a political trip and all, I think he was very conscious of the appearance.”

“And what about the crowds there in Tampa?” Rowley asked. “Were the crowds unruly, or did they seem threatening at all?”

“No, sir,” Floyd answered. “They were great crowds. We’d been concerned, and perhaps Jerry can fill you in more on those concerns, but you know, with the large Cuban population down there, we just didn’t know what to expect.”

“Okay, so the president asked you to have the agents drop back to the follow-up car, and what did you do then, Floyd?”

“Well, sir, I got on the radio and radioed back to Emory, who was in the front seat of the follow-up car.”

“And what did you tell Emory?”

“I repeated what the president had said to me,” Floyd said with a slight laugh. “I repeated it exactly because I thought Emory would get a kick out of the president’s phrase. I said, ‘Halfback, Lancer requests the Ivy League charlatans drop back to your location.’”

Rowley looked at Emory Roberts. “Is that correct, Emory?”

“Yes, sir. That’s exactly what he relayed over the radio.”

Rowley turned to Jerry Blaine. “And Jerry, since you were in the lead car, did you hear this over your radio as well?”

“Yes, sir. I did. I heard exactly what Floyd just told you.”

“And what did you do next?” Rowley asked Emory.

“Well, I tried motioning to Lawton and Zboril to get their attention, but because I was behind them—they were on the steps of the limousine looking forward, up and to the sides—they didn’t see me motioning, so I let out a whistle.”

Rowley was listening intently.

“They both glanced back and I motioned with my hands for them to come on back to the follow-up car. But just around that time, the crowds had really started thinning, and Bill Greer automatically sped up. So, just at the time when I wanted them to drop back, the car sped up, and really, it would have been dangerous for them to jump off at that speed.”

“So then what happened?” Rowley asked.

Emory continued: “I radioed to Floyd that we were going too fast, that it wasn’t safe for them to drop back. And I motioned to Lawton and Zboril to just stay low, to not stand up straight, but to stay low. Then, within another minute or two, the pace slowed down and they were able to jump off and drop back to the running boards of the follow-up car.”

Rowley was nodding. “Okay. Now that I have a clear picture of what happened during the motorcade, what effect, if any, did the president’s comments in Tampa have on the trip to Texas?”

“Let me jump in here, sir, if I may,” said Floyd Boring. “When we arrived at our destination after this incident, the president pulled me aside and told me that this was a political trip and that he felt like the agents were being excessive in their coverage. He told me that the same goes for the upcoming trips to Texas and would I please relay his request to the other supervisors, which I did upon returning to Washington.”

Chief Rowley turned to SAIC Jerry Behn. Rowley knew that Jerry Behn could not stop beating himself up over not being in Texas. Nobody blamed Jerry for taking his first vacation in four years, but the fact that the assassination had occurred when he wasn’t there was already taking its toll. Added to the professional sense of failure was the fact that Behn and Kennedy had become close friends. Rowley knew Jerry was going through emotional hell.

“Jerry,” Rowley said, “were the advance people in Texas notified about the request by President Kennedy?”

Jerry Behn looked directly at Rowley. “Jim, after Floyd told me about the incident, I told him to relay the information to the shift leaders—to Emory Roberts, Art Godfrey, and Stu Stout—and I know he did that. They in turn told the men on their shift, which included the agents out on advances.”

Behn suddenly remembered his conversation with Ron Pontius, the advance agent in Houston. “I did mention it personally to Pontius in Houston when he called me about another matter. But other than that, the information was transferred by the normal chain of command.”

“Okay. I understand,” Chief Rowley said. He turned to Jerry Blaine.

“Jerry, I think your request was reasonable, but”—Rowley paused as he looked down and took a deep breath—“in light of the assassination, I am confronted with another issue.”

What was he getting at? Blaine wondered.

Jim Rowley hesitated. This was going to be tough to say. “We are still trying to sort out Dallas. This is a terrible tragedy. I know we will be run through the gauntlet in the coming months, but we are going to have to take the hit and continue our mission to the best of our abilities.”

The agents in the room nodded in understanding. There was no excuse the Secret Service could give. It was going to be a dark winter.

Director Rowley continued: “The problem is that the word about the request of the president in Tampa has spread to the whole detail and beyond and I want the issue closed right now. Since the president is dead it is inconsequential. We cannot say that the president’s assassination was caused by his own actions—that he was somehow at fault. We all know from past experiences that presidents do not want it to appear that anyone or anything be allowed to come between them and the public, the voter. And from everything I’ve heard about what happened in Dallas, it sounds to me like the timing of the incident was such that no agents would have been positioned on the back of the president’s car due to the sparse crowds and the anticipated increased speed of the vehicles due to the approaching freeway. This motorcade was no different from many previous motorcades we ran in various cities in the United States and throughout the world—except for the end result. I want you to pass the word to the agents to forget about Tampa and I don’t want to hear any more discussion on the issue. Let’s bite the bullet and move on. Is everyone in agreement?”

Rowley looked around from one man to the next and each one nodded, silently. Message understood.

“Okay, it’s going to be a busy day,” he said, and he turned and walked out of the conference room.

As they were moving out of the room Jerry Blaine pulled SAIC Jerry Behn aside.

“Jerry,” Blaine said, “I would like to ask one favor.”

“Sure, Jer. What is it?”

“Well, I’ve documented the advance at the State Department and will finish up the final arrangements later on. So, I was wondering, would it be possible for me to work the movement from the White House to the church? I hate to miss out on the whole funeral.”

Behn looked at Blaine and sensed the isolation Blaine was feeling. He knew that Blaine had been with JFK from day one. “Jer, I don’t see a problem with that. You know what you have to do and only you can determine if everything is ready to go at State.”

“State will be ready to go.”

“Okay. No problem.”

At 8:30 A.M. the doors to the rotunda were closed. A quarter of a million people had filed past President Kennedy’s casket in less than twenty-two hours, and the line still stretched as far as the eye could see. Now they were positioning themselves for a viewing of the funeral procession, and each hour more and more people arrived by the busload.

By 10:00 A.M. the various ballrooms of the White House—the East, Green, Blue, Red, and State Dining rooms—were filled with White House staff, cabinet members, Kennedy family members, and close friends, along with the largest number of foreign leaders ever assembled at one time. The State Department was officially responsible for the security of visiting dignitaries, but they were overwhelmingly understaffed for such a sudden influx. Many of the foreign leaders had brought their own security people—the controversial Charles de Gaulle had twenty-two of his own men—who were supplemented by the field Secret Service agents who had flown in from around the country, along with more than one hundred FBI and CIA agents and four thousand Pentagon and District of Columbia police officers.

The security logistics were complicated, and out of necessity had been thrown together quickly. Everybody was on edge. For God’s sake, the President of the United States had just been assassinated and the man who’d killed him had been gunned down—all within a matter of forty-eight hours. And now, this unprecedented gathering would be walking for over a mile, through the streets of Washington, D.C. It was a security nightmare.

Indeed, the FBI and the CIA had received numerous threats—several against de Gaulle alone—but nothing they could confirm as credible or imminent. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon were desperately trying to convince President Johnson and the other dignitaries to ride in limousines, but none of the men were willing to give the appearance that they were the least bit afraid. As long as Jacqueline Kennedy was walking, they were walking with her.

In a last-ditch effort, Rusk and Dillon went to Special Agent in Charge Jerry Behn and urged him to step in. The only person who might stand a chance of convincing Jackie not to walk was Clint Hill.

SAIC Jerry Behn pulled Agent Hill aside.

“Clint,” Behn said, “you know everybody is scared to death something is going to happen, but nobody—not Johnson, not de Gaulle, not even de Valera, the eighty-one-year-old President of Ireland—nobody will ride in a car as long as Mrs. Kennedy is walking. Do you think there’s any chance of convincing Mrs. Kennedy to share a limousine with Johnson?”

Clint shook his head. “Everybody has told her this is a bad idea. Trust me. Everybody.” Clint raised his eyebrows to make the point even stronger. “She wanted to walk the whole way—from the White House to St. Matthew’s to Arlington. It’s only because of the older men like de Valera that she agreed to go by motorcade from the church to the cemetery. But she’s made up her mind. She’s walking.”

The sky was gray, and a light rain drizzled on and off, as if the heavens were grieving along with the rest of the world. At 10:30 A.M., Mrs. Kennedy, flanked by her two brothers-in-law, Robert and Ted, departed the White House in a motorcade for the Capitol. And less than twenty-four hours after it had been brought up the Capitol steps, the flag-draped coffin was carried back down, as the pallbearers again struggled to keep the casket steady.

A company of Marines led the horse-drawn caisson and the following motorcade back down Pennsylvania Avenue and into the Northeast Gate of the White House. Jerry Blaine, having just finished up the last-minute details of the State Department advance, arrived just in time to hear the Naval Academy choir singing “Eternal Father Strong to Save.”

Secret Service agents were strategically placed around the forming procession of dignitaries who would be following Mrs. Kennedy on the one and a quarter-mile walk from the White House to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. To Roy Kellerman and Emory Roberts and Stewart Stout, and all the agents who had just three days earlier witnessed how quickly a parade could turn to chaos, the walking procession was sheer madness. Gathered together in one small space were many of the world’s most influential leaders and the entire structure of America’s government, including the Supreme Court justices, Joint Chiefs, national security advisors, and the new President of the United States. For anyone who wanted to evoke change and was inclined to violence, this would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

The plan called for Mrs. Kennedy, Robert, and Ted to lead the procession, with President and Mrs. Johnson and the huge diplomatic entourage behind them. John and Caroline would be in a limousine with Agents Tom Wells and Bob Foster immediately following the walking diplomats.

As the procession was about to get under way, Mrs. Kennedy suddenly realized that the children’s limousine would be far behind her and the rest of the family, separated by the huge contingent of world leaders.

“That’s not right,” she said. She wouldn’t leave until the children’s limousine was moved in the lineup so it was immediately behind her and the rest of the Kennedy family. To move the car at this point would require it to plow through the crowd of kings and queens and presidents and ambassadors who were already in their assigned places in the driveway. And that was exactly what Kiddie Detail agent Tom Wells decided he would do.

Tom Wells directed the White House sergeant who was driving the limousine with nanny Maud Shaw, John, and Caroline in the back to stay right behind him.

“Move aside! Move aside!” Wells repeatedly called out, waving his arms broadly, motioning the prime ministers and presidents out of the way. And amazingly, the people did as they were told. While some of the dignitaries even started helping the agents, Charles de Gaulle hesitated when he thought he was being moved from his position of prominence but when he saw the children, he moved aside, allowing the car to move into place behind the family.

The Scottish Black Watch bagpipes that had performed at the White House the week before the assassination began to wail, and so the procession began.

For the hundreds of thousands lining the streets, and the millions more watching it live on television, the funeral procession was an unforgettable sight. A company of Marines marched in front, followed by the Scottish Black Watch, in their red tartan kilts, their bagpipes filling the air with a surprising but poignant sound that seemed to be in perfect synchronization with the clop-clop of the horses that followed. The gray-and-white horses pulled the focal point of this parade—the artillery caisson rolling along on its four oversize wheels, carrying the mahogany casket containing the body of the dead president.

Behind the casket came the riderless horse Black Jack, led by his military trainer, who struggled to keep the skittish horse in line.

And then, the sight that brought the world to tears: Mrs. Kennedy, in her black suit, her expressionless beautiful face covered with a black veil, walking between her husband’s brothers, Robert and Ted.

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Mrs. Kennedy insisted on walking from the White House to St. Matthew’s for her husband’s funeral procession, creating a security nightmare for the Secret Service. Agent Paul Landis is on the far right. Agent Clint Hill, unseen in this photo, is behind Mrs. Kennedy. (PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT KNUDSEN, WHITE HOUSE, JOHN F. KENNEDY LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, BOSTON)

Just behind her, an arm’s length away, Clint Hill, invisible to those who were focused only on the grace and dignity of the grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy, scanned the eyes and hands of the tearful crowd. President Johnson was also nearly invisible, surrounded by a swarm of White House Detail agents—Stout, Kellerman, Pontius, Roberts—and led by SAIC Jerry Behn.

The long walk to St. Matthew’s Cathedral on the day of President Kennedy’s funeral on November 25, 1963, in Washington, D.C. (1:36)
Source: CBS News

The agents had not slept in four days, and right now they were facing the most nerve-racking security challenge imaginable: multiple protectees, bunched together, outside, in an announced, well-known route, walking slowly. From a security standpoint, this was about as bad a situation as there could be. Who among this throng of people has a problem or a grievance so serious that they are willing to commit a violent act? What about the copycat? Who among this sea of humanity is so mentally disturbed or deranged that they are willing to act on those sick thoughts?

As he walked just behind Mrs. Kennedy, Clint Hill searched the crowd, his adrenaline the only thing keeping him going. He could not think about why he was here, could not think about who was in the casket, and why Mrs. Kennedy—who rarely wore black—had lost her infectious smile and had her visage covered by a mourning veil. There was no room for emotion.

Be alert. Be aware. Stay on task. One explosive device thrown from the crowd will obliterate the whole group of walkers. There is no room for error.

Be alert. See everything. But don’t overreact.

Why is that man raising his hand up to his head? What does he have in his hand? He’s staring at her. Can’t take his eyes off her. What does he have in his hand, Goddamn it?!

Okay. Relax. It’s just a handkerchief. A handkerchief. He’s wiping away his tears.

The limousine carrying the children came crawling behind with the Kiddie Detail agents walking solemnly next to it. Tom Wells was at the front left near the driver and Bob Foster walked alongside the left rear door. As soon as the bagpipes started playing, the back window rolled down and Caroline stuck out her hand, reaching for Agent Foster. He looked down at the precious girl, her hair pulled back from her face with a black headband, and as tears welled in his eyes, he grabbed her hand and quickly looked away. This is not the time for emotion. Stay on task. Scan the crowd. Good God, you can’t let anything happen to this little girl. Still, he was grateful for the comfort of her hand. They proceeded like that for the entire way to the church, the steadfast agent and the fatherless daughter, hand in hand.

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Agents Tom Wells and Bob Foster escort Caroline and John, Jr., in the funeral cortege to St. Matthew’s Cathedral for the funeral of their father. (PHOTOGRAPH BY CECIL STOUGHTON, WHITE HOUSE, JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, BOSTON)

At St. Matthew’s, the walking procession filed into the church to their preassigned pews. Cardinal Cushing had flown in from Boston to provide the Catholic Mass. It had been just three and a half months earlier that he’d tried to comfort the inconsolable President Kennedy after the loss of his newborn son. This was far more than one family should have to bear.

Mrs. Kennedy and the children sat in the front pew, just a few feet from the casket, which had once again been removed from the caisson and wheeled inside. Clint Hill was directly behind Mrs. Kennedy. She was a wreck. She was trying so hard to hold it together, to put on a brave face. The world was watching and she knew it.

The cardinal circled the casket three times, sprinkling it with incense and holy water, as the people recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison. The cardinal followed with a prayer in Latin, and then suddenly broke into English.

“May the angels, dear Jack, lead you into paradise. May the martyrs receive you at your coming. May the spirit of God embrace you, and mayest thou, with all those who made the supreme sacrifice of dying for others, receive eternal rest and peace. Amen.”

Jackie had been so stoic, so strong until, it seemed, the cardinal’s mention of her husband’s name. Everybody referred to him as “the president.” It was respectful of course, but so distant to his wife. For to her, he was Jack, had always been Jack. And when Cardinal Cushing prayed not for “the president” but for “Jack,” it struck a chord, and Mrs. Kennedy began to weep.

Sitting behind her, Clint Hill instinctively grabbed the handkerchief from his suit coat pocket and placed it in her hand.

Partway through the Mass, John, Jr., became bored and fidgety. Why was everybody crying? And where was his daddy?

Bob Foster picked him up out of his seat and carried him back to an anteroom. It was his birthday, after all. No little boy should have to attend his daddy’s funeral on his birthday.

Foster was trying to distract John when a Marine colonel came in. John was infatuated with his medals for a short while, but quickly became bored.

“Let’s practice your salute, John,” Agent Foster said. “Why don’t you give the colonel a salute?”

That perked up the little boy, but it had been two weeks since he was at Arlington Cemetery with his daddy and he suddenly went back to his old ways of using his left hand. The colonel gently corrected him, straightened his hand, and showed him how to stand at attention. After a few more tries, he had it down.

Finally the service was over. John stood with his mother and sister outside the church as she received the important people who had come to pay their respects. John was holding a pamphlet Bob had found for him to draw on and was waving it around, just as the casket was being brought out of the church.

Bob Foster was watching him, about to intervene when Mrs. Kennedy leaned over, whispered something into her son’s ear, and took the paper from his hand. In one swift move—completely unexpected—three-year-old John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr., took one step forward, thrust his shoulders back, and just as his father’s casket was passing in front of him, he raised his right hand to his forehead in a perfect salute.

Bob Foster heaved with emotion as tears streamed down his face. He was not alone. The salute had been captured by the television cameras, which were broadcasting live, and in an instant the impetuous three-year-old son of the slain president brought America to its knees.

• • •

John-John salutes the casket of his father on November 25, 1963, in Washington, D.C. (0:29)
Source: CBS News

The walk had gone remarkably smoothly and Mrs. Kennedy’s bold decision had paid off in terms of helping a nation come together in its grieving. Still looming was the procession from St. Matthew’s to the burial at Arlington Cemetery, and the reception for the visiting dignitaries.

Upon arriving at St. Matthew’s, Mrs. Kennedy had decided that John and Caroline should be taken back to the White House rather than be subjected to the burial ceremony at Arlington. John clearly had no concept of what was happening, while Caroline was at such an impressionable age that her sad eyes were soaking up everything. But the sudden change of plans meant that the children needed a separate car. Every vehicle was already in use by VIPs, staff, and security personnel. Out of desperation, Agent Tom Wells ended up taking over a vehicle that had been used by the Joint Chiefs, leaving them to crowd into other cars for the ride to Arlington.

Special Agent Sam Sulliman had been assigned the advance for the burial at Arlington. Sulliman had been on the 4:00 to midnight shift in Dallas—first stationed at the Trade Mart, then to the chaos at Parkland Hospital. Like all the other White House Detail agents, he’d had little to no sleep since then. With all the world leaders attending the burial ceremony at Arlington, it was one of the more challenging advances of the day. The cemetery was covered with trees, monuments, headstones, and quite a number of areas where a person could conceal himself, but Sulliman had been told not to make it look like an armed camp. He called in some troops from Fort Myer and set them up in a perimeter around the area, out of view of the attendees.

Meanwhile, Jerry Blaine was busy completing the arrangements for the diplomatic reception at the State Department. He excused himself during a meeting with the protocol staff and walked out to the balcony, where he could get a view of the funeral procession as it passed over Memorial Bridge on the way to Arlington. The hundreds who had walked from the White House to St. Matthew’s were now stuffed into an endless motorcade of black limousines that snaked its way for three miles, through Washington, over the Bridge, and finally to the cemetery on the hill. Blaine watched the slow, tragic procession for a few minutes, quietly said a prayer, wiped his eyes, and walked back to the meeting.

The funeral procession to Arlington National Cemetery on November 25, 1963. (4:20)
Source: CBS News

For the agents who had been on duty since the early morning hours, the day seemed endless. The multiple eulogies and hymns went by largely unnoticed as they continually searched the crowd, desperately hoping they wouldn’t see a rifle or a handgun, but primed to cover whomever they were assigned to protect.

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Foreign dignitaries, including President Charles de Gaulle of France and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, offer their final salute to slain President John F. Kennedy. (PHOTOGRAPH BY CECIL STOUGHTON, WHITE HOUSE, JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, BOSTON)

On the hill, at the grave site, the underground piping for the eternal flame had somehow been miraculously constructed overnight. There were more drums and prayers, a twenty-one-gun salute and a stunning, earthshaking flyover at six hundred feet by Colonel Swindal at the helm of Air Force One. Finally, the trumpeter faced the black-veiled widow and played taps.

With that, the eight-man military team began folding the American flag that had lain on the coffin since it was closed at Bethesda into a thick, perfect triangle. There wasn’t a dry eye among the generals and presidents and queens and kings. Clint Hill choked back the tears yet again, suppressed the emotions deeper inside as he tried to focus on everything but the fact that President Kennedy’s body was being buried.

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The military honor guard prepares to fold the flag that covered the casket of President John F. Kennedy as Mrs. Kennedy, other members of the Kennedy family, and foreign dignitaries watch in silence. (PHOTOGRAPH BY CECIL STOUGHTON, WHITE HOUSE, JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, BOSTON)

And then somebody handed Jackie Kennedy a lit taper, and she leaned over and ignited the flame that would burn forever on the hillside, the eternal reminder of a tragedy that changed a nation.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is buried and an eternal flame is lit in Arlington, Virginia, on November 25, 1963. (1:22)
Source: CBS News