I’d flounder trying to put an explanation into words. The fact is that in life and death, that’s the influence and impact he had---to create a foreign influence and respect that our nation has never experienced since, to strengthen the United Nations and League of Nations, to lead us into the Age of Space, to create the Peace Corps, to take the greatest steps since Lincoln to eliminate racial segregation and discrimination, to steer the nation through a nuclear stand-off with the Soviet Union, to promote the arts as an essential and uplifting ingredient in life, and numerous things more. Perhaps equally important was the fact that Kennedy was not just the nation’s president. Throughout his short time in office, he was the people’s president.
Jean and I were both drawn by the need to somehow respond to what had happened. I also was working part-time for the state’s largest newspaper, the News-Journal. I was excused from my normal work schedule there to go to Washington to witness the funeral and write a local-perspective article. For many years I kept the aluminum engraving plate used for Kennedy’s portrait that accompanied the article. The portrait was a file photo from President Kennedy’s dedication of the Delaware Turnpike shortly before his trip to Dallas.
When the president was being flown back to Washington, we drove to D.C. On Saturday following the assassination, the president’s flag-draped casket lay in state in the East Room of the White House. On Sunday, a horse-drawn caisson carried him to the Capitol Building where the public could pay their respects. The line of people waiting to pay their respects stretched 40 blocks, or roughly ten miles. We stood in line for hours to file by his casket and military guard of Green Berets in the rotunda. It must have been the early morning hours when we left the Capitol. Wanting to remain near, we slept the best we could on the cold sidewalk in front of the White House the rest of the night. To move about, we had to step between the legs and bodies of the thousands of other people keeping us company. The next morning, as the funeral procession was assembling, we were asked to move to the sidewalk across the street in Lafayette Square. It was from there that we watched the procession being led back from the Capital to the White House led by the Marine Band and the Scottish Black Watch pipe band. While the rest of the precession continued on, a Marine guard accompanied the cortege to the North Portico. From there, they walked to St. Matthew’s Cathedral for the funeral, and went later across the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery.
With the huge number of foreign dignitaries present and the crowd that had now assembled, we knew we stood no chance of actually being able to witness the burial, so we headed home. We returned to Washington weeks later to visit the grave and eternal flame.