Following his assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy's body was flown back to Washington aboard Air Force One (the President's plane). On arrival, it was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital for the autopsy, while military authorities started planning his state funeral. Army Major General Philip C. Wehle, the commanding general of the Military District of Washington and retired Army Colonel Paul C. Miller, chief of ceremonies and special events, planned the funeral. The president's brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, also director of the Peace Corps, and Ralph Dungan, an aide to the president, assisted in the planning. President Kennedy did not have a funeral plan in place. House Speaker John W. McCormack directed that the president's body would be brought back to the White House to lie in the East Room the following day and then taken to the Capitol to lie in state in the rotunda all day Sunday.
On Saturday, November 23, 1963, the day after the assassination, the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, issued Presidential Proclamation 3561, declaring Monday to be a national day of mourning. Only essential emergency workers were required to be at their posts. Johnson read the proclamation over a nationwide radio and television broadcast at 4:45 p.m.
After the autopsy, Kennedy's body was prepared for burial by embalmers from Gawler's Funeral Home in Washington. His body was put in a coffin made of 500-year old African mahogany. The body of President Kennedy was returned to the White House at 4:30 a.m., Saturday, November 23rd. The motorcade bearing the remains was met at the White House gate by a Marine honor guard, which escorted it to the North Portico. Kennedy's pallbearers carried the casket to the East Room where, nearly one hundred years earlier, the body of Abraham Lincoln had lain. Jacqueline Kennedy declared that the casket would be kept closed for the duration of the viewing and funeral.
Mrs. Kennedy was still wearing the blood-stained pink suit that she wore in Dallas. She did not leave the side of her husband's body since his death until after the casket was placed in the East Room, draped with black crepe (though I presume that she was not present for the autopsy.)
Kennedy's body lay in repose in the East Room for 24 hours, attended by a honor guard that included troops from the 3rd Infantry and from the Army's Special Forces (Green Berets). The Special Forces troops had been brought hurriedly from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at the request of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who was aware of his brother's particular interest in them.
Mrs. Kennedy requested that two Catholic priests remain with the body until the official funeral. A call was made to The Catholic University of America, and Msgr. Robert Paul Mohan and Fr. Gilbert Hartke, two prominent Washington, D.C. priests, were immediately assigned to the task. A Mass was said in the East Room at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 23. After the Mass, other family members, friends, and other government officials came at specified times to pay their respects, including former U.S. Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. The other surviving former U.S. president at the time, Herbert Hoover, was too ill to attend, and was represented by his sons, Herbert Hoover Jr. who also attended the funeral.
Outside the White House and in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, crowds stood in the rain, keeping a vigil. It rained all day in Washington.
On Sunday afternoon about 300,000 people watched a horse-drawn caisson carry Kennedy's flag-covered casket down the White House drive, along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Rotunda to lie in state. Kennedy's horse "Black Jack" followed the casket, riderless. Jacqueline Kennedy, holding her two children by the hand, led the public mourning. In the rotunda, Mrs. Kennedy and her daughter Caroline knelt beside the casket. Three-year-old John Jr. was briefly taken out of the rotunda so as not to disrupt the service. Mrs. Kennedy maintained her composure during the memorial service.
Brief eulogies were delivered inside the rotunda by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Speaker McCormack.
During the public viewing, hundreds of thousands lined up in near-freezing temperatures to view the casket. Over the span of 18 hours, 250,000 people paid their respects, some waiting for as long as 10 hours in a line up to 10 persons wide that stretched 40 blocks, over nearly 10 miles. The original plan was for the rotunda to close at 9:00 p.m. and reopen for an hour at 9:00 the next morning. Because of long lines, police and military authorities decided to keep the doors open. At 9:00 p.m., when the rotunda was supposed to close, both Jacqueline Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy returned to the rotunda again. More than half the mourners came to the rotunda after 2:45 a.m. NBC broadcast uninterrupted coverage of the people passing through the Capitol rotunda during the overnight hours.
A number of world leaders arrived on Sunday to attend the funeral, including Soviet First Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan, French President Charles de Gaulle, Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, The Duke of Edinburgh representing Queen Elizabeth II, British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Irish President Éamon de Valera, and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
On Monday, November 25, 1963, Kennedy was laid to rest. At the request of Jacqueline Kennedy, it was agreed that the Marine Band should lead the funeral procession, which would include two foreign military units—pipers from the Scottish Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) marching from the White House to St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Cathedral, a group of 26 Irish Defence Forces cadets—at the request of Mrs. Kennedy—performing silent drill at the grave site, and placement of an eternal flame at the grave. The cadets came from the Curragh Camp, County Kildare. They traveled with Irish President Éamon de Valera.
Approximately one million people lined the route of the funeral procession, from the Capitol back to the White House, then to St. Matthew's Cathedral, and finally to Arlington National Cemetery. Millions more followed the funeral on television. The three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, used at least 50 cameras for the joint coverage. The day's events began at 8:25 a.m., when the the line of mourners waiting to get into the rotunda was cut off. The last visitors passed through at 9:05 a.m. At 10:00 a.m., both houses of Congress met to pass resolutions expressing sorrow. In the Senate, Maine Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith laid a single rose on the desk Kennedy had occupied when in the Senate.
After Jacqueline Kennedy and her brothers-in-law, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, visited the rotunda, the coffin was carried out onto the caisson. At 10:50, the caisson left the Capitol. Ten minutes later, the procession began, making its way back to the White House. As the procession reached the White House, all the military units except for the Marine company turned right off Pennsylvania Avenue and onto 17th Street. At the White House, the procession resumed on foot to St. Matthew's Cathedral, led by Jacqueline Kennedy and the late president's brothers, Robert and Edward (Ted) Kennedy. This marked the first time that a first lady walked in her husband's funeral procession. The two Kennedy children rode in a limousine behind their mother and uncles. The rest of the Kennedy family, apart from the president's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who was ill, waited at the cathedral.
The new president Lyndon B. Johnson, his wife Lady Bird, and their two daughters Luci and Lynda also marched in the procession. When he moved into the Oval Office the next day, there was a letter from Mrs. Kennedy on his desk in which she thanked him for marching in the procession. NBC transmitted coverage of the procession from the White House to the cathedral by satellite to twenty-three countries, including Japan and the Soviet Union.
About 1,200 invited guests attended the funeral Mass in the cathedral. The Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, celebrated the mass at the cathedral where Kennedy, a practicing Catholic, often worshipped. Cardinal Cushing was a close friend of the family who had performed the marriage of Senator Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953. He had also baptized their children, given the invocation at President Kennedy's inauguration, and officiated at the recent funeral of their infant son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy. There was no formal eulogy at the mass. Bishop Philip M. Hannan decided to read selections from Kennedy's writings and speeches. The readings included a passage from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes: "There is an appointed time for everything...a time to be born and a time to die...a time to love and a time to hate...a time of war and a time of peace." He then concluded his remarks by reading Kennedy's entire Inaugural Address.
After the mass, the casket was borne again by caisson on the final leg to Arlington National Cemetery for burial. Moments after the casket was carried down the front steps of the cathedral, Jacqueline Kennedy whispered to her son, after which he saluted his father's coffin. The children were deemed to be too young to attend the final burial service, so this was the point where the children said goodbye to their father.
The caisson, followed by a long line of black limousines, passed by the Lincoln Memorial and crossed the Potomac River. The burial services had already begun when the last car arrived. At the end of the burial services, Jacqueline Kennedy lit an eternal flame to burn continuously over her husband's grave. At 3:34 p.m. EST, the casket containing his remains was lowered into the earth. Kennedy was the second president to be buried at Arlington, after William Howard Taft. Kennedy was buried at Arlington exactly two weeks to the day he last visited there, when he came for Veterans Day observances.