On this day in 1963, President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated three days earlier, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It was his son’s third birthday.
Kennedy’s coffin had lain in state in the rotunda of the Capitol building the previous day. Approximately 250,000 people streamed by the closed flag-draped coffin in a massive outpouring of respect. The next day, television and movie cameras rolled while Kennedy’s wife Jackie, his brothers Robert and Ted, political leaders and foreign dignitaries formed a solemn funeral procession behind Kennedy’s coffin as it was transferred atop a horse-drawn caisson to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Observers noted the only sounds that could be heard were the cadence of drum beats and horses’ hooves and muffled sobs from the approximately 1 million people who lined the route between the Capitol and the cathedral. At one point, Kennedy’s son, John Jr., who turned three that day, was filmed saluting his father’s coffin.
After the state funeral at St. Matthew’s–the family had held a private mass at the White House on November 23–the mourners proceeded to Arlington National Cemetery by car where Kennedy, a decorated World War II hero, was buried with military honors. Kennedy was the second president to be buried at Arlington; President William Howard Taft had been interred there in 1930.
Although Kennedy had not specified where he wanted to be buried, most assumed his gravesite would be in his home state of Massachusetts. In March 1963, though, President Kennedy had made an unscheduled tour of Arlington and had reportedly remarked to a friend on the view of the Potomac River from the cemetery’s Custis-Lee Mansion, saying it was “so magnificent I could stay forever.” After the assassination, Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, suggested Arlington be Kennedy’s final resting place. Jackie toured the site on November 24 and made the final decision, saying “he belongs to the people.”