by Dick Kraus
Staff Photographer (retired)

Bob Luckey and I parted at the airport cab stand in Washington. I went to the Pentagon and got my credentials and boarded a waiting bus taking the press to Arlington National Cemetery. It was another crisp November Day.

Once we arrived we were herded in a group to a roped off area on a rise overlooking the site where Kennedy would be laid to rest. I scrambled to the front of the area which was important because I wasn't blessed with 500mm or even a 300mm lens like many of those around me carried. In fact, the longest lens I owned in those days was a 135mm. The press site was probably 50 yards from the open grave. At the office, the night before, I had discussed these obvious handicaps with my Director of Photography. We didn't have a camera plan in effect back then and we photographers had to spend our own money to buy equipment. And we were sorely lacking in long lenses.

My boss offered me the use of his own 180mm lens. That helped, but it meant that I had to borrow his M-3 Leica and Visoflex housing, since I owned Nikons. The Visoflex was a cumbersome device that attached to the front of the Leica body and contained a mirror and prism arrangement that converted this magnificent range finder camera into an awkward single lens reflex. This particular model had a manual mirror. You had to push a lever to bring the mirror into place for focusing. When you fired the shutter, the spring loaded mirror would clank out of the way of the film plane. But you then had to manually push the lever to cock the mirror for the next shot. And, to make matters worse, the damned Leica lenses focused counter-clockwise to infinity, the opposite of the Nikon. Now didn't that make a handy situation? Every time I dropped one camera and picked up the other I found myself going out of focus instead of getting sharper.

We had to stand in place for a couple of hours and there was no respite from the cold. No going for coffee. No going to the rest room. If you left your place, it was gone.

The grave site was on a rise and you could look across the cemetery to the Potomac River and eventually we could see the funeral procession approaching the bridge over the river. In the quiet air you could hear the muffled drums beating the funeral cadence. A large crowd had gathered along the roads and paths in the cemetery, which was open to the public even on this day.

Jackie Kennedy, flanked by the President's brothers, Bobbie and Ted, walk to the grave.

© 1963 Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus


The crowds fell silent as the procession made its way to the grave site. Still cameras started to click as the casket was unloaded and placed on a stand next to the raw grave. The mourners and dignitaries assembled with the widow and her children in the center. The two surviving Kennedy brothers and their families joined Jackie and her children at the front of the mourners. No one dared dream that Bobbie Kennedy would soon be laid to rest near his brother; the victim of yet another assassin's bullet.

I could see Prince Phillip of England, President Charles DeGaulle of France, Emperor Haille Sellaise of Ethiopia as well as senators and congressmen from our government.

© 1963 Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus

Words of prayer drifted across the landscape in the cold. clear air. Bob and Ted Kennedy spoke of their brother's dreams and tv cameras and radio recorded what they said. Hundreds, if not thousands of feet of 35mm film captured the history of it all by the assembled still photographers from almost every country in the world.

A flight of Air Force jet fighters flew low over the grave in the "missing man" formation. I noticed a strange thing. The ground was covered with dead leaves; the vestiges of Autumn. And suddenly the leaves were floating skyward and there was no wind. Maybe it was the vacuum caused by the low flying jets. Or maybe I was looking for some divine sign that there was some higher power looking after us in spite of the chaos and insanity of the past few days. Strange thoughts. I'm not a religious person, but, maybe that day I was.

The US Navy Band played Kennedy's favorite hymn, "Nearer My God To Thee." And I could see the thousands of steel hard news people surrounding me, wipe their eyes. Suddenly my view through my camera's finder was cloudy and I felt warm tears running down my cold cheeks. It was impossible not to get caught up in the emotions of the moment.

© 1963 Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus

The Honor Guard raised their rifles and volley after volley echoed across the high ground and down into the low places of the cemetery and surrounding area. Nearby a solitary bugler sounded the mournful notes of Taps. And far off, another bugler played a tremulous echo. Now people all across the cemetery were weeping, openly. The flag of the United States was removed from the casket and solemnly folded. An Army officer stepped forward and took it and placed it in Jackie Kennedy's hands saying, "From a grateful nation."

The picture that I took at that moment, through a backwards focusing borrowed 180mm lens, is one that I look upon and cherish even now. The scene was gray and bleak and made even more so by the dark clothes of the mourners. My photo shows Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of the President, holding the flag in her arms, and even through the black veil she wore, you could see the bewilderment in her eyes and she stood alone, surrounded by thousands.



As a brief footnote, let me conclude with the following observations.

The ceremony ended and a very subdued bunch of journalists hobbled back to the bus. I say hobbled, because most of us were almost crippled from standing so long in the biting cold and on a slope so steep that our ankles were stretched abnormally for that length of time.

Luckey and I flew back to NY later that evening for another session of souping film, making selections and doing captions. The next day, the paper belonged to Bob and I. If I remember, there wasn't a single wire photo used. There were pages and pages devoted to the story and they used our pictures exclusively because we had made sure that in addition to our assigned coverage, we also included sidebars and interesting close-ups and wide shots. It was a pretty heady experience for a couple of youngsters.

When I came to work, the next day, the boss gave me an assignment to cover a ribbon cutting for a department store in a nearby town. Years later he told me that he gave me that assignment specifically to bring me back to reality. He said, "You won't cover many presidential funerals during the span of your career as a news photographer. But, you'll damn sure cover a lot of ribbon cuttings."

He was right.

Dick Kraus




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