Last Salute: Civil and Military Funeral, 1921-1969
Former Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal
22-25 May 1949
On 22 May 1949 former Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal, the first
man to hold that cabinet post, took his own life while undergoing psychiatric
treatment at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He was fifty-seven
At the time of his death, Mrs. Forrestal and one of her two sons were
in France to find a place where the former Secretary could recuperate
from the depression that had overtaken him. Secretary of State Dean Acheson
was also in France, having flown to Paris in President Truman's plane,
the Independence, for a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers. The
President's plane was put at the disposal of Mrs. Forrestal who, with
her son, flew back to the United States, arriving at National Airport
in Washington, D.C., early on 23 May. She was accompanied on the plane
by Brig. Gen. Robert B. Landry, Air Force Aide to the President, and Col.
Louis Renfrow, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense. Among those on hand
to meet her were the incumbent Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, Secretary
of the Navy John L. Sullivan, former Secretary of the Army and Mrs. Kenneth
C. Royall, former Under Secretary of the Army William R. Draper, her other
son, and several personal friends.
Mr. Forrestal was to be given an Official Funeral, although the term was
not formally used until later in 1949. Secretary of Defense Johnson designated
Maj. Gen. Hobart R. Gay, commander of the Military District of Washington,
as his representative, responsible for planning the funeral ceremonies.
This planning, accomplished on 23 and 24 May, was as simple as possible,
in keeping with the wishes of the Forrestal family and those of Mr. Forrestal.
Services and burial were to take place in Arlington National Cemetery;
Mr. Forrestal had served in the Navy during World War I and as Secretary
of the Navy from March 1944 until he became Secretary of Defense in September
1947. The gravesite selected was in Section 30, not far from the grave
of William Howard Taft.
Originally, only a simple graveside service was planned, but it quickly
became apparent that even though attendance was to be limited to relatives,
personal friends, and the official government family, the number of persons
not be accommodated at the gravesite. The final plan, therefore, called
for a modest funeral service in the Memorial Amphitheater and a private
burial service. The Right Reverend Wallace R. Conkling, bishop of the
Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and an intimate friend of the Forrestal family,
was to officiate both in the amphitheater and at the grave.
In accordance with Mrs. Forrestal's wishes, there was to be no procession
through the streets of Washington, only a cortege from the Memorial Gate
of the cemetery to the amphitheater. Mr. Forrestal's body was to be borne
by hearse from the hospital in Bethesda to the gate, where the casket
was to be transferred to a caisson, and accompanied to the amphitheater
by a military escort.
The US Navy Band, a battalion of midshipmen from the US Naval Academy,
and a composite battalion made up of a company each from the Army, Marine
Corps, Navy, and Air Force were to constitute the escort. Because of Mr.
Forrestal's service and close association with the Navy, a naval escort
commander, Rear Adm. John W. Roper of the Naval Bureau of Personnel, was
appointed. Body bearers, who were to flank the caisson as the procession
moved from Memorial Gate to the amphitheater, included two men each from
the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force.
Other military formations scheduled to participate in the ceremonies included
the 3d Infantry battery, which was to fire a 19-gun salute during the
procession through the cemetery and a second nineteen guns during the
graveside service. The US Army Band was to play during the funeral service
in the amphitheater, and the US Marine Band, at the request of the Forrestal
family, was to play during the graveside service and to furnish two buglers.
Twenty-two men, all friends of Mr. Forrestal, were invited to serve as
honorary pallbearers; they were not scheduled to march in the procession
or to participate in the graveside service, but they were to be present
at the service in the amphitheater:
|Herbert C. Hoover, former President of the
|Artemus L. Gates, former Assistant Secretary of the
Navy for Air
|Fred M. Vinson, Chief Justice of the United
||Cornelius V. Whitney, Under Secretary of
Commerce and former Assistant Secretary of
the Air Force
|General of the Army George C. Marshall,
Secretary of State and former
Chief of Staff, US Army General
|James A. Farley, former Postmaster General
|James F. Byrnes, former Secretary of State
||General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower
|John J. McCloy, former Assistant Secretary
|Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, former Chief of Staff
to the Commander in Chief
|Kenneth C. Royall, former Secretary of the Army
||Bernard M. Baruch
|Robert P. Patterson, former Secretary of War
|John L. Sullivan, Secretary of the Navy
||Nicholas S. Ludington
|Robert A. Lovett, former Under Secretary of State
and former Assistant Secretary of War
|Thomas G. Corcoran
||Edward L. Shea
| Dean Mathey
|Paul V. Shields
At midmorning on 25 May, Rear Adm. John E. Gingrich, a long-time
friend and aide to Mr. Forrestal, accompanied the former Secretary's casket
in the hearse from the Naval Hospital to the Memorial Gate of the cemetery.
The military escort already was in position at the gate when the hearse
arrived about 1050. In one change of plans, made when it was discovered
that the US Navy Band was on tour, the US Naval Academy Band was substituted
to lead the procession. After the body bearers transferred the casket
to the caisson, the procession moved into the cemetery in the following
order of march: US Naval Academy Band; two companies of midshipmen; national
and US Naval Academy colors; two companies of midshipmen; US Army company;
US Marine Corps company; service colors; US Navy company; US Air Force
company; caisson and body bearers. The Forrestal family, clergy, and honorary
pallbearers did not accompany the cortege, but awaited the procession
at the amphitheater. As the column proceeded at the slow cadence of funeral
marches played by the band, the 3d Infantry saluting battery fired nineteen
guns, spacing the rounds so that the last one was fired as the caisson
reached the west entrance of the amphitheater at 1115.
All persons attending the service in the amphitheater had been seated
before the procession arrived. The 2,500 guests, among whom were President
and Mrs. Harry S. Truman and their daughter, Margaret, Vice President
Alben W. Barkley, members of the cabinet, Congress, and Supreme Court,
the highest military officials of all the armed forces, and representatives
of the diplomatic corps, were seated by 1100. At that time members of
the public were permitted to fill unoccupied seats. Outside the amphitheater
some 4,000 additional onlookers stood behind ropes to watch the arrival
of the procession.
After the body bearers lifted Mr. Forrestal's casket from the caisson,
Bishop Conkling and Rear Adm. William N. Thomas, the Navy Chief of Chaplains,
led the way into the amphitheater. As the Army Band played the hymn "Lead
Kindly Light," the clergy and body bearers escorted Mr. Forrestal's
casket around the colonnade to the apse. In the apse, which was shielded
from the sun by a green canopy, waited the Forrestal family, President
Truman, Vice President Barkley, and the honorary pallbearers.
Bishop Conkling conducted a twenty-minute service, reading from two psalms,
the New Testament, and the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. After the
benediction the Army Band played a hymn, "God of Our Fathers,"
while the body bearers took the casket out the west entrance and secured
it to the caisson. As the
CASKET IS CARRIED INTO MEMORIAL AMPHITHEATER, above.
Service in Memorial Amphitheater, below.
CASKET IS SECURED TO CAISSON FOR PROCESSION TO THE GRAVESITE
procession formed and moved toward the gravesite for the private service,
the Army Band played "Onward Christian Soldiers." The amphitheater
audience remained inside until the cortege had departed and President
Truman had left.
Besides the Forrestal family at the graveside were the former Secretary's
aide, Admiral Gingrich, and Capt. George N. Raines, the naval hospital
physician who had attended Mr. Forrestal. At the request of the family,
the Marine Band played two of Mr. Forrestal's favorite selections during
the rites: Handel's "Largo" and Rimsky-Korsakoff's "Hymn
to the Sun." Bishop Conkling then read the Episcopal service, the
3d Infantry battery fired a 19-gun salute, and the Marine firing squad
delivered three volleys. The ceremony was concluded by having one bugler
blow taps and a second bugler sound the notes as an echo.