Secret Service Agents and presidential staff struggle to carry John Kennedy's casket up stairs into Air Force One at Love Field.
Coffin used to transport Kennedy's body sunk at sea
June 1, 1999
Web posted at: 5:33 p.m. EDT (2133 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 1) -- At the Kennedy family's insistence, the polished bronze casket used to carry President John F. Kennedy's body
from Dallas to Washington was dumped into the ocean in 1966, according to newly released documents from the National Archives.
Its whereabouts had long been a mystery and questions lingered about the casket after Kennedy's burial at Arlington National Cemetery in a mahogany
coffin following his assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
"I think it belongs to the family and we can get rid of it any way we want to," Robert Kennedy, the president's brother and the former attorney
general, told Lawson Knott, the administrator of the General Services Administration, according to a memo recounting their February 1966 telephone
"What I would like to have done is take it to sea," Kennedy told Knott. "I don't think anybody will be upset about the fact that we disposed of
There were concerns that the casket was government property since the government purchased it from Dallas undertaker Vernon Oneal. The casket, lined
with brushed satin, was replaced because it was damaged. It was also unclear whether it was covered by a law that made certain items of evidence
related to the Kennedy assassination government property.
Researchers of President Kennedy's assassination consider the coffin evidence that should not have been destroyed, including author David Lifton.
"We are dealing with evidence," said Lifton, whose 1981 book detailed medical evidence in the Kennedy assassination.
Kennedy family spokeswoman Melody Miller said Tuesday that destroying the casket was appropriate and "in keeping with the tradition of President
Kennedy's naval service and his love of the sea."
The new documents show that the casket was stored in the basement of the National Archives building in downtown Washington in February 1966 when
Robert Kennedy, then a U.S. senator from New York, called the GSA, which oversees government property, and asked for it to be released to the military
Knott told Kennedy that destroying the coffin might "raise loads of questions" in light of an upcoming book about the assassination and said the
Justice Department would have to authorize release of the casket. Kennedy served as attorney general before he entered the Senate in 1965.
Kennedy said he would contact his successor as attorney general, Nicholas Katzenbach. Eight days later, Katzenbach wrote in a February 11, 1966 letter
to Knott that he felt it was necessary to dispose of the coffin.
"I am unable to conceive of any manner in which the casket could have an evidentiary value, nor can I conceive of any reason why the national
interest would require its preservation," Katzenbach wrote. "It is obvious that it could never be used for burial purposes and its public display
would be extremely offensive and contrary to public policy."
"As long as the casket remains ... there is always the possibility that it could be misused or misappropriated," he added.
Documents show that Oneal, the Dallas undertaker, wanted to get the casket back and display it in his funeral home.
On February 18, 1966, an Air Force van picked up the casket at the National Archives building in downtown Washington and took it to Andrews Air Force
The casket was loaded with three 80-pound bags of sand. Numerous holes were drilled in both the casket and the pine box it was encased in "to ensure
that no air pockets would develop," according to a memo written by John Steadman, special assistant in the office of the Secretary of Defense.
Both casket and pine box bound with metal banding tape and the whole apparatus was rigged with parachutes to break the impact of hitting the water.The
Defense Department had sought the advice of a submarine officer with special training in hydraulics to devise a way to airdrop the coffin at sea,
according to the documents.
At 8:38 a.m., a C-130 airplane carrying the casket took off from the Air Force base and flew off the Maryland-Delaware coast. The plane descended to
500 feet and at 10 a.m., the 660-pound load was pushed out of the plane's opened tail hatch.
"The parachutes opened shortly before impact and the entire rigged load remained intact and sank sharply, clearly and immediately after the soft
impact," Steadman wrote in a February 25, 1966 file memo.
"The aircraft circled the drop point for some 20 minutes at 500 feet to ensure that nothing returned to the surface," wrote Steadman, who was on the
The drop point -- in 9,000 feet of water beyond the continental shelf -- was chosen because it was away from regularly traveled air and shipping lines
and would not be disturbed by trawling and other sea-bottom activities, the documents said