There are certain moments in history that are going to be remembered for many years to come. Even though they may have happened decades earlier and may even have taken place before we were around, they are images that stick in our mind and we remember. One of those images took place in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. As his casket was leaving the Cathedral during his funeral, his three-year-old son, John F. Kennedy Jr., saluted his father. It was a moment that captivated the nation and two photographers were able to capture the moment permanently.
On the day that the little boy’s dad was buried, he turned three years old. He was able to celebrate his birthday in the morning but by the afternoon, he was standing out front to attend his father’s funeral. It was reported that after he was given the news that his father had passed away, he continued to ask that people would take him out so that he could see his dad. Jackie Kennedy had the children put notes in the coffin, and Caroline, his sister, wrote her feelings down. The young boy put an X on the paper.
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The young boy began to cry at the Cathedral during the funeral and they took him into another room to gain his composure. A Secret Service agent tried to keep him busy during that time by helping him to get his salute just right. John had a difficulty with the gesture but a Marine colonel helped him to perfect it.
The cars were making their way to the Arlington National Cemetery after the funeral. The children were not to be able to see that part of the ceremony, but before they left the scene, they were able to watch the coffin go by. That is when photographer Stan Stearns captured the salute that still sticks in our mind.
There were also other photographers who captured the image that day, but Stearns’ picture had something special to it. It is a memory that all of us retain, even though we may not have been there in person.