Over 50 years ago, on Monday, November 25, 1963, the entire nation -- Democrats, Republicans, and citizens of every other political stripe -- mourned the tragic loss of our young 35th president and watched his funeral on their televisions. At the time I was a lowly 19-year-old plebe (aka, freshman) at the United States Naval Academy and was also a member of the academy's Catholic Choir.
As it turned out, Jacquiline Kennedy, the president's widow, requested that our Catholic Choir take part in the funeral by singing several hymns at the White House North Portico shortly before the funeral procession began its long march to the cathedral and then to Arlington National Cemetery. The three requested hymns were: Above the Hills of Time the Cross Is Gleaming (Londonderry Air); Eternal Father, Strong to Save; and Dona Nobis Pacem.
|JFK's funeral procession leaves the White House|
Despite the sadness of the event, it was a remarkable experience. As we stood solemnly on the lawn late that morning waiting for our cue to begin singing, we couldn't help but notice the notables who had gathered there with Mrs. Kennedy and the entire Kennedy clan. I remember seeing Haile Selassi, the Emperor of Ethiopia, who at 5 feet 4 inches looked very small indeed standing not far from President Charles de Gaulle of France who at 6 feet 5 inches towered over everyone. Some others I spotted included Golda Meier of Israel, Willy Brandt, then the mayor of West Berlin, and Prince Philip and Harold Wilson of the UK. It was quite a crowd, and included dozens of other dignitaries from around the globe, none of whom I recognized. But they certainly looked very impressive.
It was an honor to be a member of that choir and pay a tribute to a fallen president. JFK had actually paid a visit to the Naval Academy just a few months earlier. Indeed, the visit took place during our Plebe Summer, which is the innocuous name given to the grueling first few months to which new midshipmen are subjected. During the course of his remarks to our Class of 1967, he used his power as Commander in Chief to grant us a form of immunity from the punishment-generating demerits we had accumulated. It was very well received.
Here's a 10-minte YouTube video that includes our singing during the last two minutes and even a brief glimpse of our choir just before the video ends. I'm in there somewhere. It's the only video of the funeral I could find in which our choir can be heard and seen.