Once I've taken visitors to the various Kennedy grave sites, an inevitable question arises: Where's John John buried? Why is he not with his father?
Those of you who read my discussion of President Kennedy's grave, may remember that although the site work was paid for by the Kennedy family and the 3.2 acres is dedicated to his remembrance, the plot remains the property of the U.S. Government and part of Arlington National Cemetery. As such, JFK, Jr. would have had to meet the eligibility requirements on his own to be buried with his parents, and as he was not a minor child nor a permanently dependent one, he would not have, much less his wife and her sister, who both died with him in a plane crash off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts on July 16th, 1999. While certainly the Kennedy family could have asked for an exemption, it doesn't appear that this was ever considered.
So, now that Arlington was out, the Kennedy and Bessette families were faced with a new problem. Part of the attraction that Arlington Cemetery has for high profile burials is the idea that as it is directly controlled by the military, a sense of decorum will be preserved. As it is today. Millions of visitors have come by the Kennedy graves, thousands with me alone, and everyone from cemetery officials, security guards, tour guides, teachers, parents, and (sometimes) school kids keeps this in mind when they visit. Jackie was very wise to give her husband to the people; it relieved the family from what would have been an incredible logistical challenge: keeping her husbands grave secure and respected.
And in many ways, that's what the Kennedy family faced again. Without the U.S. Army guarding it, how would John F. Kennedy, Jr's grave remain untrammeled by thousand of well wishing but overwhelming visitors? Sometimes it's good to be the king, and if the family faced a unique problem, they were capable of unique solutions. Sen. Edward Kennedy reached out to the Defense Department and asked for a favor; a burial at sea. In of itself, unremarkable, the Navy handles thousands of these a year, the circumstances certainly were in this case. Even though JFK Jr had no military experience, a provision exists for for non-veterans who have made notable or outstanding contributions to the United States, as was ruled the case here.
And so the USS Briscoe was dispatched from Norfolk, Virginia to host members of the Kennedy and Bessette families to say good by to their loved ones. Although the Navy handled much of the details, the service was not a military one and did not include the traditional trappings such a the three round volley or the playing of taps that accompanies military and navel funerals. The family committed to the deep, to use the appropriate terminology, the remains of Kennedy and his wife and sister in law.
I myself reported aboard the good ship Briscoe a few months after the funeral, where stories abounded of the event. Someday, I might share some of them with you, but for now let me note on bit of the aftermath that followed the burial.
While, the burial was in keeping with regulations, the speed in which it was carried out bothered the families of many veterans whose remains had yet to be buried. As they had a good point, the Navy sought to clear the backlog as rapidly as possible, so we spent a good portion of 2000 bringing the ship to bare steerage way, donning our whites, and sending many old salts to the briny deep. It was a fun time to be the roommate of the burial officer, and we shared our stateroom had many new residents taking their last sea cruise until we could work through the backlog.
So, back to Arlington Cemetery, how do I answer the question? I normally hold off until walking back from the Tomb of the Unknowns along Roosevelt Drive. Just after you pass McClellan Drive on the left is the grave of Admiral Briscoe, pictured below. He is the namesake of the ship that buried John John, buried himself here at Arlington.