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Thoughts & Views: Remembering the eulogy to JFK

Our Nov. 20 issue of The Observer noted the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the rest of that week was filled with television documentaries, panel discussions and replays of actual news coverage from 1963.

I found myself as transfixed as I had been all those years ago — even though things learned in those ensuing decades have diminished my opinion of JFK as a person, if not as a President.

But back then, Jack and Jackie were still the romanticized golden couple, and who am I to judge?

On Nov. 25, as I was watching a replay of the funeral, words I had heard spoken 50 years ago — and never since — suddenly came drifting up, unbidden, from the deepest caverns of memory:

“And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.”

I realized immediately it referred to Jacqueline, but who had said it? And in what context?

I found the answers. It was from the eulogy delivered by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) while JFK’s coffin lay in state under the Capitol Dome, where an estimated 250,000 people came to pay their respects.

I do not know if Mansfield actually witnessed the incident of which he speaks. I have heard different versions of the story. I have also heard that it is apocryphal. But that really doesn’t matter. I like to think it’s true.

Here is the Mansfield eulogy, in its entirety:

“There was a sound of laughter; in a moment, it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a wit in a man neither young nor old, but a wit full of an old man’s wisdom and of a child’s wisdom, and then, in a moment it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a man marked with the scars of his love of country, a body active with the surge of a life far, far from spent and, in a moment, it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a father with a little boy, a little girl and a joy of each in the other. In a moment it was no more, and so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a husband who asked much and gave much, and out of the giving and the asking wove with a woman what could not be broken in life, and in a moment it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands, and kissed him and closed the lid of a coffin. “

A piece of each of us died at that moment. Yet, in death he gave of himself to us. He gave us of a good heart from which the laughter came. He gave us of a profound wit, from which a great leadership emerged. He gave us of a kindness and a strength fused into a human courage to seek peace without fear.

“He gave us of his love that we, too, in turn, might give. He gave that we might give of ourselves, that we might give to one another until there would be no room, no room at all, for the bigotry, the hatred, prejudice, and the arrogance which converged in that moment of horror to strike him down.

“In leaving us — these gifts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States, leaves with us. Will we take them, Mr. President? Will we have, now, the sense and the responsibility and the courage to take them?

“I pray to God that we shall and under God we will.”

That is more than a eulogy. It is poetry.

– Karen Zautyk

Addendum: One more quote to remember in relation to Nov. 22, 1963. “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” Now that would be a perfect final eulogy.

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