Kennedy’s Funeral Timeline
Minute by minute timeline of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral.
The following recollections come from interviews by The Dallas Morning News in 1983 and 1988, and from documents at the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson libraries and other archives. Those quoted are identified by the titles they held at the time of the assassination. This account appeared in a special section on the assassination published by The News in 1988.
All times given are Dallas time.
The line on Capitol Hill is three miles long. 6 a.m.
Dr. Louis A. Saunders, executive secretary with the Fort Worth Area Council of Churches, hears on the radio that Oswald’s body is being brought to Fort Worth for burial.
Saunders: “Before I left home, I called this Mr. Groody, the undertaker, and told him I just wanted to be sure that a minister was available to perform the funeral service. I was assured that arrangements for that were being made.”
Reporters, including Mike Cochran of The Associated Press, begin to gather soon after dawn at Rose Hill Cemetery, which Marguerite Oswald has selected as the burial site.
Cochran: “We really had no idea when it (the burial) was going to take place. I think I got there after sunup. . . . They not only had nobody to carry the coffin, but they had to recruit someone to perform the service.”
The last visitors go by Kennedy’s coffin in the Rotunda. About 250,000 people have filed past the casket.
Confusion develops over who will hold the Oswald services as the Secret Service contacts Gaertner, pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church, and Fry, of First Presbyterian Church.
Gaertner: “I told the Secret Service that I was willing to do it. . . . They said they would call me back.”
Fry: “They asked me if I could bury Lee Harvey Oswald and I swallowed hard and said yes. . . . I’ve never refused to bury anybody. You may not want to do it, but you do it. . . .
“(Later) they called me back and said it (the arrangements) had been done over in Fort Worth.”
Saunders, meanwhile, goes to Farrington Field to make arrangements for a memorial service for Kennedy. On his way back to the office, he listens to preparations for the Kennedy funeral on the radio.
Saunders: “I remembered Oswald. . . . I was afraid that with everything that was going on, this was just going to fall through the cracks and I didn’t want people to think that if no minister was there, that was a reflection on the Christian community in Fort Worth. . . .
“I didn’t want to do the service myself because I was not an active pastor at the time. I just wanted to make sure there was one available. When I got to my office I called the funeral home again and the Secret Service in Dallas and was assured everything was taken care of.”
About 9:40 a.m.
Jacqueline, Robert and Ted Kennedy kneel by the casket in the Rotunda and pray.
The body bearers, wearing white cotton gloves, dampened to improve their grip, carry the casket out of the Rotunda.
Body bearer Felder: “This was the part we were all frightened of. We wet our gloves and prepared, took a good grip and Lieutenant Bird was right behind. We got it down the steps no problem, breathed a sigh of relief, and put it onto the caisson.”
About 9:50 a.m.
The procession leaves Capitol Hill for the White House and then St. Matthew’s. Larry O’Brien is in the White House.
O’Brien: “We were observing the ceremonial aspects of all this in the Capitol and the departure from the Capitol (on television). And the little boy we knew at that time called John-John was in the room looking at the screen. He came into the room where Dave Powers and I were and saluted the screen.
“One of the White House ushers, we said to him, ‘Get us a bottle of champagne,’ which he did, and we poured glasses, the three of us, Powers, O’Donnell and I. While still watching the unfolding on the screen, we raised our glasses and said, “To the president.”
“Then we left the White House and joined the procession as it passed the White House.”
10 to 11 a.m.
Many Dallas-area churches hold memorial services; some set up television sets so that parishioners can also watch the national services.
A large interdenominational service at Fort Worth’s Farrington Field draws about 5,000 people. The speakers include the Rev. Granville Walker, pastor of University Christian Church in Fort Worth.
Walker: “I guess the most spectacular thing about the service was that it was one of the very few times when Catholics, Jews and Protestants got together. That is something we do a lot more often now, but that wasn’t the case back in 1963.”
Chief of protocol Duke arranges the procession on foot from the White House to St. Matthew’s.
Duke: “I asked the chiefs of state to step forward, and to my intense, amazed relief they all fit in one line across the north driveway. There were 11 of them. The prime ministers were all behind them, but it didn’t matter about the prime ministers.”
“I wanted each of those chiefs of state not to have to march behind anybody else. I didn’t want to have the president of Germany pushed behind the president of France, for example. I wanted them all to march in equal rank, and, by God, they did.”
Officials are worried about security as so many U.S. and foreign dignitaries walk to the Mass. Undersecretary of State George Ball forgoes the ceremonies and waits in the communications center at the State Department in case an emergency arises.
Ball: “I had a feeling that somebody in some authority had to stay in the department because of the possibilities of another assassination taking place as this procession walked through a crowded section of Washington.”
“It was madness, it seems to me, but it was Jacqueline Kennedy’s idea and we couldn’t talk Jackie out of it. She wanted that. . . . There was no incident, fortunately, but we were scared to death there was going to be.”
Three-year-old John Kennedy Jr., standing near his mother Jacqueline, salutes his father’s casket.
The caisson arrives at the White House; Mrs. Kennedy takes her place behind it, with Robert and Ted Kennedy, to walk to the cathedral. John Connally III is among those walking.
Connally: “You have to remember everyone was nervous, highly nervous after the assassination. This was a couple days later, and no one knew if there were going to be other attempts.
“I walked in the funeral procession with the Kennedy family to the cathedral. . . . That’s a fairly long walk. . . . I was never conscious of the distance. I never even thought about it.
“We were walking right behind the Kennedy family, and I was right off President Johnson’s shoulder.”
Johnson: “I remember marching behind the caisson to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. The muffled rumble of drums set up a heartbreaking echo.”
Just before 11:14 a.m.
Ushers seat the marchers in St. Matthew’s.
Duke: “We planned the St. Matthew’s seating very carefully. We had the heads of state in the first pew, and there was room for five in that first pew. But the emperor of Ethiopia put his sword and his hat on the seat next to him, so that when the president of France came he occupied the next seat, so that it threw the whole seating off all the way through the whole church.
“Somehow or another the prime minister of Jamaica . . . didn’t have a place to sit. I saw Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of the state of New York, sitting in an aisle seat, so I went over to him, and I said, ‘Governor, we have a problem here, could you possibly surrender your seat?’ He got up and order was restored.”
The coffin enters St. Matthew’s and Mass begins.
Duke: “It was just about the best America could produce — meaningful, democratic, sincere, sorrowful, no phony emotion of any kind. It brought out the best in everybody. Everybody was deeply, sincerely moved.”
Among those attending the Mass are John Maguire, Ed Drewitch, George “Barney” Ross and Gerald Zinser, all PT-109 crew members whom Kennedy had helped save in August 1943. Zinser is not aware that the other three are present.
Zinser: “Jackie . . . sent me a pass to get into the church services. . . . There weren’t too many (regular) people that got in there, mostly all the high dignitaries like Charles de Gaulle. . . . So it was quite a thing for somebody like me to go to a function like that.”
Drewitch: “It was so sad. The eulogy, of course, was very touching. . . . There were multitudes of people and it seemed like half were crying. . . . It was a very moving funeral. It was very solemn.”
Keith Clark, a bugler in the Army band, reports to Arlington National Cemetery, nearly three hours before he is to play taps at Kennedy’s funeral.
Clark: “The military goes crazy on dry runs and being there ahead of time. So I was to be there ready to play at 12:15 (EST); I played at 3:08. It was a rainy day, and we weren’t allowed to wear overcoats. So I stood there in the drizzle for three hours. It’s normal in the military.”
In Dallas, preparations are made for Ruby’s transfer to the County Jail.
Capt. Fritz: “We had about the same threats on him that we did with Oswald.”
Fritz arranges for Ruby to be taken down the Police Department elevator without fanfare and to be hustled through photographers and reporters into a waiting car.
Fritz: “They shot him right through those people and they didn’t even get pictures, and we had him lie down on the back seat and two officers lean back over him and we drove him . . . into the jail entrance, didn’t even tell the jailer we were coming and put him in the jail. It worked all right.”
Meanwhile, Oswald’s body is transported to Rose Hill Cemetery.
Funeral director Groody: “When we arrived at the cemetery, there was a policeman behind every tombstone just about. Security was very, very tight. . . .
“We tried to handle it as we would any other burial. It was a matter of respect for fellow man.
“There was one cemetery that had told me they would have space, but later called me and told me that he couldn’t be buried there because people would object.
“Even the owner of the (Rose Hill) cemetery called me the next morning, saying people were threatening to move out (loved ones) from the cemetery because we buried him there.
“I don’t think anyone ever actually did that, but that’s what we were faced with.”
At St. Matthew’s, Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston, saying prayers in Latin, suddenly breaks into English.
Cushing: “May the angels, dear Jack, lead you into paradise. May the martyrs receive you at your coming.”
The coffin has been taken out of the cathedral and put on the gun carriage. The band plays Hail to the Chief, and Mrs. Kennedy whispers to her small son, who raises his right hand in a salute.
Powers: “We used to salute around the White House a lot. . . . Heads of state used to come into the White House and John would be in the balcony, even as a little boy, and he’d see them all saluting. He was always great at saluting, except sometimes he’d salute with his left hand. But that day he was perfect.”
The funeral motorcade leaves St. Matthew’s. Frederick Case, a clarinet player in the Marine Band, has been waiting outside.
Case: “We stood outside right in our places and froze. . . . We were allowed to relax but not to go anywhere. . . . After Mass there . . . we led the funeral cortege to Arlington cemetery. . . .
“To see Americans standing eight to 10 feet deep along a seven-mile funeral route to get a look at a flag-draped caisson go by is one of the most moving sights in my time with the band. . . .
“He (Kennedy) was such a personable man. . . . We (the band) just liked him and loved him. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, you almost felt like you lost a member of your family. . . .
“It was quite emotional. . . . It still strikes me today that the bandsmen seemed to . . . be as personally affected by it.
“There was a feeling that what had happened was an assault on the American system, not just one man or a leader but to our whole system. We’re sort of a living symbol of what our country is about.”
As the funeral procession leaves the cathedral, PT-109 crew members Maguire, Drewitch and Ross get in Ross’ car and fall in at the end of the procession.
Maguire: “Ross had a 10-year-old junk car. We rode at the end of the funeral procession to Arlington. . . . We kinda got in on the tail end. Nobody bothered us. The line must have been a mile long.”
Dave Powers stares out from the window of his car in the motorcade, looking at the people lining the streets.
Powers: “You could see it in their faces, all along the way. Some of them had a frightened look, like, what are we going to do now? . . .
“It was the saddest thing you ever saw. Some of them were sadder, they told me later in letters, than if a relative had died.”
University of Texas student Clark is standing on a street as the cortege passes.
Clark: “I remember seeing Robert Kennedy ride by in a car. . . . staring blankly out the window. . . . It was just a bare, cold solemn atmosphere. . . . bleak and wintry.”
Secret Service agent Youngblood, too, is struck by the mood.
Youngblood: “It was sort of a silence that was so different. I could actually hear people sobbing. It (the funeral procession) was a slow-moving thing. There was nobody trying to run out into the street or alongside. People had tears streaming down their faces.”
About 1:30 p.m.
Air Force One is circling between Andrews Air Force Base and Washington, awaiting a signal to begin its run for the Arlington National Cemetery flyby.
Pilot James B. Swindal: “We wanted to get as close as we could, safely, without interfering with Washington National (Airport) traffic so it wouldn’t take us too long to get there once we were cleared to do it.”
Black Jack, the riderless horse, prances nervously behind the caisson, and Carlson is worried that the horse might bolt from his grip.
Carlson: “There was quite a bit of doubt in my mind whether I would make it. . . . Just the constant strain of handling the horse so many hours and in his state.”
Shortly before 1:54 p.m.
The procession arrives at Arlington cemetery. As U.S. and foreign officials and Kennedy family members gather around the grave site, the Marine Band plays The Star-Spangled Banner, followed by the Air Force bagpipes with Mist-Covered Mountain. The coffin is raised from the caisson and carried to the grave.
The long walk is taking its toll on the marchers, including sousaphone player Ed Simmons.
Simmons: “I thought as we were going up to the grave site, because it was quite a steep hill, that my God, there are muscles I haven’t used in months. We were very tired, but you never heard one person complain. . . .
“Probably what sticks in my mind most was the type of casket, the humongous weight of it and seeing these . . . body bearers struggling to carry it up the hill to the grave site. It was really a struggle.”
Body bearer Felder: “We were tired when we got over there . . . (and) we still had an eighth of a mile to go up the hill to the site. . . .
“When we took it (the casket) off the caisson and started marching up the hill to the grave site, the pace was so slow and the priest was walking so slow that we caught up to them and were almost nudging them.
“The guy behind me was saying, ‘I’m losing my grip, I’m losing my grip.’ I said, ‘Let go and grab it again, and I’ll hold it up here.’ The slow pace, it just felt like we were being pulled into the ground.
“We got to the grave site, and Lieutenant Bird saw the grimace on our faces and stepped up and gave us some relief. At one point I thought we were going to have to set it down on the ground before we got there.”
Fifty jet fighters, flying in a V formation with the last plane missing to symbolize the fallen leader, roar over the cemetery, and then Air Force One dips its wings over the grave.
Metzler: “The most difficult thing, I think, of the whole bit — they wanted that flyby to come as the body was approaching the grave. . . .
“Now when you give the signal to go, they’re going to be there in 10 minutes. And as it turned out, they flew over just as the body got to the grave.”
Swindal: “We were in radio contact with the radar controller at Washington National Airport. . . . We could see the fighter planes also. We knew we’d follow them. They were so much faster, they got a little ahead of us, but we did OK. . . .
“Once the fighters went we were right behind them. We dipped our wings and made a big circle right back to Andrews and landed.”
Assistant press secretary Kilduff: “Suddenly, seeing this flight of fighters come across, just screaming jets, with one plane missing from the formation — that was heart-wrenching. Then Air Force One coming across the same way.
“I never saw a plane that size fly so low in my life. And it came over, and dipped its wings, before it took off and gained altitude.”
Powers: “I can remember Air Force One, flying over. He loved that plane.”
1:55 to 2:06 p.m.
The Irish cadets execute a silent drill. Cardinal Cushing conducts the commitment. A 21-gun salute and three volleys of rifle fire echo across the cemetery.
Felder: “We are trained not to get emotional about burial details. That was the one time I had to really restrain myself from viewing the family. There were so many, it was difficult not to glance over there out of the corner of your eye.
“I think that’s the first time it really hit me as to who I was burying. After (participating in) 1,100 funerals you become very cold, unemotional, but this situation was a little different.”
In Dallas, Gov. Connally is watching the funeral on the television set in his Parkland hospital room.
Connally: “It was strange, almost as if I was in a dream. I think I was still probably fairly highly sedated, but I remember it extremely well.
“It had an unrealistic quality about it to me because the last time I had been conscious, we were riding together in a car and then, as I regained consciousness briefly on Sunday, Nellie told me, confirmed, that the president had been fatally wounded.”
In Dallas, the funeral service for officer Tippit starts at Beckley Hills Baptist Church, with the Rev. Tipps presiding.
Tipps: “He was doing his duty when he was taken by the lethal bullet of a poor, confused, misguided, ungodly assassin — as was our president.”
Thousands have gathered for the service. Afterward, Tippit will become the first person to be buried in a special section at Laurel Land Memorial Park for those who gave their lives in community service.
Tipps: “It was on television and reporters were there. Sometimes they were kind of rude. Like when the casket was being transported, conduct wasn’t like it ought to be.
“I was just trying to help the family. She (Mrs. Tippit) was a very quiet lady and she really had a struggle because she was alone. She said she didn’t think she could have made it if it hadn’t been for her faith in the Lord.
“There were about 5,000 to 6,000 people at the funeral service. Since the church sat on about 20 acres of land, it was easy to accommodate that many people. . . . A lot didn’t even know the family, but they just came out because they’d heard about it.
“I remember that I tried not to be lengthy (in the sermon). . . . It was only about 15 or 20 minutes. The message that God had promised us eternal life. When a person is a Christian his body may die, but spiritually live with the Lord forever.
“I really feel like we were able to help her.”
Marie Tippit’s brother, Dwight Gasway, is moved by the 700 police officers who attend the funeral.
Gasway: “I remember thinking . . . that it was great. I kept thinking that it was the most law enforcement officers I had seen at one time in my life.”
As the Tippit service is held, preparations for the Oswald funeral still have not been finalized. The Secret Service finally tells Gaertner that arrangements have been made with another minister.
Gaertner: “But the other minister (a Lutheran, Paul Frank) — when he called the funeral home, he was told that he didn’t have to go, that I was going.”
Because of the confusion, neither minister will show up at Rose Hill Cemetery later that afternoon.
2:07 to 2:08 p.m.
Taps is played at Arlington, and the bugler, Clark, misses a note.
Post engineer Carroll: “You hate to see something like that for a great man to go wrong. You don’t want anything to go wrong. . . .
“And the only thing that happened was that the bugler who played taps missed one note, and it was kind of obvious. But shoot, I would have too if I had been him. I would have been pretty nervous.”
Clark: “In the normal course of standing there for three hours and not being able to touch the instrument — normally you need a little time to warm up, but you can’t do that at the cemetery — there was a little fluke on the third note. . . . It just happened. . . .
“I believe it was Newsweek that picked it up. They called it a tear within the music of playing the taps. But I didn’t make any comment on that. If they want to say that, it was fine.”
2:08 to 2:12 p.m.
The casket team folds the flag that had been draped over the coffin and hands it to Metzler. The Marines play Eternal Father. Cushing blesses the torch for the eternal flame, and Metzler gives the flag to Mrs. Kennedy.
Lyndon Johnson: “We stood in chill and silence for the final firing of salute and the folding of the flag.”
Mrs. Kennedy lights the eternal flame. The flame is fueled by bottled gas that engineer Carroll has hidden behind a nearby rock.
Carroll: “I was standing behind the major of the 3rd Infantry. I had a little glass of kerosene into which I dipped the taper, and I handed it to him and he took his cigarette lighter and lit it and put it in the hand of Mrs. Kennedy, and guided her hand to the flame. And I signaled the man over under the trees to turn the valve on (the bottled gas) and the taper lit the flame.
“It worked like clockwork.”
About 2:15 p.m.
The service ends. John Connally III, standing with the Johnsons, has a letter for Mrs. Kennedy from his mother.
Connally: “We walked down from grave site to limousine, and Jackie Kennedy and Robert Kennedy jumped out when President Johnson walked up. He expressed his condolences and then introduced me. . . .
“I shook hands with Robert Kennedy. He was very shaken, as we all were. He just nodded and said hello. Of course I didn’t know what to say either.
“And then the president introduced me to Mrs. Kennedy. I expressed my sympathy. She just hung on to my hand, just kept kinda clutching my hand. And she said ‘I hope you’ll tell your mother I’m so glad your father will be OK. That’s the only good thing to come out of this.’
“She still had on the black veil and there were tears still on it.
“She kept clutching my hand, and I couldn’t reach into my pocket. I wanted to give her the note from my mother. It was in the right pocket of my overcoat and she had my right hand. I had to do it left-handed.”
The crowd begins to disperse.
Kilduff: “Everyone just quietly drifted away.”
Yarborough: “As the crowd fell away, I walked up to the grave. . . . I was thinking of Kennedy and the loss to the world. It’s an unspeakable tragedy for any president to be assassinated. Aside from that family, it was a loss to the whole world. He was a hero to the whole world. People cried in every nation when he died.”
Electric power to the cemetery is cut off as the lowering device begins to let down the coffin.
Miller: “They were getting ready to lower the casket into the grave, but the TV networks wouldn’t shut down their cameras and leave. At the time, the cameras ran off electricity rather than batteries like they do now.
“We didn’t want it filmed. That’s not necessary. . . . (But) they wouldn’t turn them off so Metzler finally told the post engineer to turn off the electricity.
“Then they packed up and left and he lowered the casket into the vault.”
Metzler: “We were going to lower the casket into the ground, and I saw no reason why the ghouls should be making a picture of that, and I cut the juice off in the stands.”
After 2:30 p.m.
At the White House, Mrs. Kennedy is receiving heads of state and other dignitaries who attended the funeral.
Duke: “We went straight from Arlington to the White House. Mrs. Kennedy had gone ahead. We came in the diplomatic entrance and we went upstairs, and I formed a receiving line in the Red Room. I stood at her side and I introduced the first guest, and the others quickly came along. . . .
“It was quite a group and she was absolutely superb. To each one of them she had something to say. It was extraordinary. . . .
“Mrs. Kennedy had been concerned in the early days about this business of curtsying . . . and I told her no, there is no curtsying when you are of equal rank. She understood the logic of it.
“And when the Duke of Edinburgh came through the line she curtsied to him, and then she turned to me, and she said, “You see, I’m not the wife of a chief of state anymore.
“And there were tears streaming down my cheeks. It was quite a statement.”
Powers: “President (Eamon) De Valera (of Ireland) had gone up to see Jackie, and then he came back down. This man who represented so much of Ireland’s history, and he sat there, sobbing, in the Cabinet room of the White House. . . .
“He said in Ireland, historians would compare the tragic death of John Kennedy to one of Ireland’s own great liberators, Owen Roe O’Neill, and he quoted a poem Thomas Davis wrote, something about sheep without a shepherd, why did you leave us, why did you die? And he sobbed.”
About 3 p.m.
In Dallas, Marguerite and Marina Oswald are getting ready for Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral.
Marguerite Oswald: “Marina was very unhappy with the dress — they bought her two dresses. ‘Mama, too long. Mama, no fit.’ And it looked lovely on her.
“I said, “Oh, honey, put your coat on, we are going to Lee’s funeral. It will be all right.”
About 3:30 p.m.
Metzler escorts the last of the prominent guests from the burial site and then sees Sgt. Maj. Frank Ruddy walk up to the grave.
Metzler: “A man came back and put his green beret down on the shrubbery around the eternal flame and everybody did the same . . . the other branches of service.”
Between 3:30 and 4 p.m.
Louis Saunders, still uncomfortable with the arrangements for Oswald’s funeral, drives to Fort Worth’s Rose Hill Cemetery, where the burial is scheduled for 4 p.m. He realizes that no other ministers have shown up. Funeral home director Groody asks him to perform the service.
Saunders: “I don’t believe I’ve ever had a more difficult moment. . . . I hadn’t had a funeral in quite some time. I had become an administrator. . . .
“With reluctance and yet a sense of responsibility, I walked over to Mrs. (Marguerite) Oswald and asked her, “What are your wishes?”
“She said she’d like for me to have the burial service for her son. . . .
“I asked her to tell me something about him. She said he was a good son, a good husband and a good father. . . .
“I had an awareness that anything I said (because of the extensive media coverage) could be evaluated, misinterpreted or misunderstood. . . . I recognized this could be an international incident.
“I felt that whatever happened could be seen as a reflection of the church’s feeling and understanding of what this family was going through. I felt I had to express a deep-seated concern of Christian faith for a family in trouble.”
About 4 p.m.
At Rose Hill, a group of reporters, including The Associated Press’ Cochran, is asked to carry Oswald’s casket from the chapel to the grave site because no arrangements had been made for pallbearers.
Cochran: “I think I was offended at the prospect of carrying the casket. But when Preston McGraw of UPI was recruited and he said he’d do it, I think I felt it was my duty to carry it for AP. . . .
“There was also in the back of my mind, I guess I was thinking that if we didn’t do it, that if we didn’t get this guy buried . . . we wouldn’t be able to file our stories. That the sooner he was buried, the sooner we’d file the story and I could get to watch some of what was going on in Washington.
“You can imagine it (the service) was somber. I think the only ones there were the brother, Robert, and Marina, with the two little girls and Marguerite. It was a grim affair . . . just a handful of family and a whole slew of reporters.
“I can assure you I had no sense of history that day. It was a story and an unpleasant story at the scene of a very unpleasant news event.”
Saunders: “I made a brief statement to the effect that we were here to lay away Lee Harvey Oswald, not judge him. I quoted from memory, the 23rd Psalm and the 14th Chapter of John. I prayed that the love of God, who we know through Jesus Christ, might comfort the mother and family in that dark and tragic moment.
“There was a dim awareness in me of the tremendous contrast between the beautiful and carefully worked-out service for President Kennedy and the very humble and stark service we were having (for Oswald). . . .
“The service itself probably took about 10 minutes. The family left very quickly after it was over.”
After 4 p.m.
In Washington, Johnson is hosting a reception for foreign dignitaries at the State Department.
Duke: “At one point all the kings of Scandinavia, and the presidents of Finland and Iceland, had a little caucus and were sitting in a circle of sofas at the end of the room, and Johnson came over and joined them.
“At that time, President de Gaulle came in downstairs . . . and he asked where President Johnson was, and as he came over they all stood up and he stretched out his arms, it looked like he was about to knock them all down, to embrace President Johnson, which was quite a dramatic thing.”
At Arlington National Cemetery, the body bearers are relieved of duty.
Cheek: “After the funeral, that was probably when everything started to hit us. We got in the bus and went back to Army barracks and dispersed from there. That was the first time we didn’t have anything to face us the next day.
“Initially we were all pretty quiet, we were in a state of disbelief as to what had happened. Then we started talking about it.”
Felder: “We stayed there until all the crowds had gone, and we initially provided a cordon, security, until they could provide some relief for us. Then I went back to the barracks, changed my clothes and went home.
“I sat down in my living room and all of a sudden I couldn’t hold it, I just cried, boo-hooed. All of a sudden it hit me what I had done that day as I was watching the TV reruns.”
After the receptions, close friends and family members gather at the White House to comfort Mrs. Kennedy — and to observe her son’s birthday.
Powers: “John was well aware it was his birthday. His father had told him he would bring him something, and a 3-year-old boy just knows it’s his birthday. Jackie and Lee (Radziwill, Jacqueline’s sister) and Bobby Kennedy and I were there, and we sang Happy Birthday and John had a cake.
“It must have been the saddest Happy Birthday ever sung. . . . But we smiled at John, being that happy. We all put on an act.”
Johnson, meeting with the governors of 30 states, says he will press for enactment of a tax cut and civil rights legislation proposed by Kennedy, and that he’ll begin that push in a speech to Congress on Wednesday night.
Johnson: “(I told them,) ‘We are going to have plenty of time after the conventions to get out and campaign and talk about ourselves and our merits. Let’s talk about our country until then and let’s not just talk about it, but let’s get some action on it and do something. . . . We have hate abroad in the world, hate internationally, hate domestically where a president is assassinated and then they (the haters) take the law into their own hands and kill the assassin. That is not our system.’”
Johnson aide Valenti: “Everything he was doing in those first days was part of his grand design to allay fears. . . . He had to demonstrate the government was in strong hands, unhesitant hands.
“That was his main goal that first week, to ease the anxieties around the country and the world . . . and to show the linkage between the 35th and 36th president.”
About 11 p.m.
Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy decide to make another visit to Arlington cemetery.
Metzler: “That night I got a call at 11 o’clock and Robert and Jackie came over, and they knelt down, said their prayers.”
As the clocks strike midnight, Mrs. Kennedy lays a bouquet of lilies of the valley on the grave, and she and her brother-in-law walk quietly away.
In the next few days, Mrs. Kennedy will return several times to the grave site. And in the months and years to follow, hundreds of thousands of others will also come to pay their respects to the slain president — to gaze at the flicker of the eternal flame, and to wonder what might have been.