Washington remembers Kennedy at final resting place

Martin "Marty" Walsh well remembers the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He especially remembers the weather in Washington, where he worked at the long-since-demolished Navy Building.

"It was overcast and gray in the afternoon," the 75-year-old retiree said Friday, resting on a park bench below Kennedy's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. "Kind of like today."

Under a low-hanging layer of gray clouds that stretched in all directions, hundreds of Americans of all ages, and many visitors from abroad, came to pay their respects and honor his legacy.

Some placed red and white roses at his final resting place. Others, a Peace Corps baseball cap or an army green beret or a JFK silver dollar coin.

On a white easel stood a wreath with a simple ribbon that read: "In Memoriam."

Not a few people snapped photos with their smartphones -- a device unimaginable a half-century ago -- then turned around to take in the panoramic view across the Potomac River to the Lincoln Memorial.

In doing so, they could reflect on quotations from Kennedy inscribed in granite around the elliptical plaza where a gas-fueled eternal flame burns in his memory.

Buried next to Kennedy is his wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and their youngest child Patrick, who died two days after his premature birth. A space marked "daughter" remembers the couple's stillborn baby Arabella.

Nearby are the simple graves of Kennedy's brothers -- Robert Kennedy, assassinated in 1966 while campaigning for the presidency, and Ted Kennedy, who died aged 77 in 2009 after close to 47 years in the Senate.

In the distance, from time to time, the crackle of rifle fire and the trumpet strains of "Taps" echoed from burials elsewhere in the cemetery, the final resting place of some 400,000 deceased US military personnel, veterans and family members.

The crowd, never overwhelming, ebbed and flowed throughout the morning.

Senior citizens and servicemen mingled. Japanese tourists rubbed shoulders with busloads of high school students in jeans and jeggings who looked like they'd rather be somewhere else.

Jacqueline Kennedy, an icon of style, might have been outraged by the teenagers in sweatshirts and jeans -- but charmed by a small girl smartly turned out in a tailored grey coat and a ribbon in her hair.

Jaclyn Fauteux, 21, sported a Kennedy election campaign button on her black coat. She had come down from Toronto with her friend and fellow Kennedy fan Caitlin Coffey, 22, specifically for the anniversary.

"I just loved Kennedy for as long as I can remember. He stood up for so much good in the world," said Fauteux, a theater student who has "every book, every video" about the late president.

"It's just remarkable to think that one person, one family, was able to make a global difference," added Coffey, whose college degree in American studies focused on Kennedy.

Anthony Carroll, 60, was growing up near Liverpool, England when Kennedy was killed.

"He represented something to me, even as a young boy," he said, making his way up the cemetery's rolling green hills to the gravesite with his wife Audrey.

Now living in Wales, Carroll too had come to the US capital for Friday's anniversary, just as he had traveled to Dallas a decade ago to see for himself where Kennedy was shot.

"I had only seen him on TV, in black and white," he said. "Very charismatic. The first superstar politician."

Following a wreath-laying by President Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton two days earlier, there was little official fanfare Friday.

Attorney General Eric Holder visited an hour before the cemetery opened to the public. Then Kennedy's sister Jean Kennedy Smith, a former US ambassador Ireland, came for a wreath-laying.

A trumpeter performed "Taps" and two bagpipers from the storied Black Watch regiment of the British army played a medley, including "Scotland the Brave" -- perhaps a peculiar choice for a president of Irish ancestry.

"Pipers from the Black Watch played at the funeral 50 years ago. We're the new generation," one of the kilted pipers said.

Sitting on the park bench, Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants to Chicago in the 1920s, took in the steady stream of visitors pass before him.

"It's been a while since I've been here. It's special," said Walsh, a history buff who now lives in a Virginia suburb outside Washington.

He drew attention to the uncanny fact that the day of Kennedy's assassination, like its 50th anniversary, was a Friday.

"I voted for him," he said. "I can't be objective. I love the man."