The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funeral, 1921-1969


Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd
Full Honor (Company) Funeral
11-14 March 1957

Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd, American explorer of the polar regions, died of a heart ailment at his home in Boston, Massachusetts, 11 March 1957, at the age of sixty-eight. He was accorded a Full Honor (Company) Funeral, to take place on 14 March. By executive order of President Dwight D. Eisenhower the flags on all government buildings, except the Capitol, and on all ships and at all naval stations were to be flown at half-staff until the final rites were concluded.

The Bureau of Naval Personnel, Department of the Navy, made the arrangements for the funeral, incorporating the requests of the Byrd family. On 14 March Rear Adm. Michael F. D. Flaherty was to escort the body of Admiral Byrd by train from Boston to Washington, D.C., where a Navy honor guard was to be present in Union Station. The body was then to be escorted to the chapel at Fort Myer, Virginia, for the funeral service and to Arlington National Cemetery for burial. The Army was to provide the caisson to carry the casket, and the saluting battery from the 3d Infantry; all other troops participating in the ceremonies were to come from the Navy and the Marine Corps.

At 0830 on 14 March, the body of Admiral Byrd arrived in Washington and was taken to the Fort Myer Chapel, with Rear Adm. Charles B. Martell of the Navy acting as escort commander. Admiral Byrd's widow, son, and three daughters meanwhile had arrived from Boston and had been escorted to the chapel.

Fourteen distinguished officials, former associates, and friends served as honorary pallbearers during the ceremonies: Sherman Adams, Assistant to the President; Charles S. Thomas, Secretary of the Navy; Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; Admiral Harold R. Stark, U.S. Navy (retired); Admiral Louis E. Denfeld, US Navy (retired) ; Admiral Donald B. Duncan, US Navy (retired); Vice Adm. Thomas S. Combs, US Navy; Congressman Carl Vinson, Chairman, House Armed Services Committee; Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Thomas D. White, Vice Chief of Staff, US Air Force; Admiral Dewitt C. Ramsey, US Navy (retired); Admiral William M. Fechteler, US Navy (retired) ; Vice Adm. James L. Holloway, Jr., Chief of Naval Personnel; and Dr. Melville B. Grosvenor, President, National Geographic Society. At the chapel the pallbearers formed a cordon before the en-


Photo: Caisson arrives at Fort Myer Chapel.


trance. In position across the street and facing the chapel stood a military escort composed of the US Navy Band, a national color detail, and a company of sailors and marines. The funeral cortege reached the chapel shortly before 1000. When the caisson halted at the entrance, Capt. John D. Zimmerman, the Navy chaplain who was to conduct the funeral service, and eight Navy enlisted men who were the body bearers moved to the rear of the caisson. As the Navy Band sounded ruffles and flourishes and the company of troops saluted, the sailors removed the casket from the caisson and, with the chaplain leading, bore it through the cordon of honorary pallbearers and into the chapel.

After the casket had been taken to the front of the chapel, the honorary pall­bearers entered and were ushered to their seats. One of the pallbearers, Mr. Sherman Adams, was the representative of President Eisenhower. Other persons invited to attend the service had been seated before the cortege arrived at the chapel. Members of the family attending included the admiral's brothers, Thomas Byrd and Senator Harry F. Byrd, of Virginia.

At the conclusion of the funeral service the honorary pallbearers were the first to be ushered from the chapel so that they could reform the honor cordon at the


Photo: Procession moves through the cemetery.

Last rites at the graveside, below.

Photo: Last rites at the graveside.


entrance. With Chaplain Zimmerman leading, Admiral Byrd's casket was then borne from the chapel. The escort units had remained in formation. As the casket was placed on the caisson, the band played a hymn and the units saluted.

After the Byrd family and others in the cortege entered their automobiles, Admiral Martell, the escort commander, led the procession into Arlington National Cemetery. As the military escort and cortege proceeded slowly toward the grave site in Section 2, northeast of the Memorial Amphitheater and not far below the Custis-Lee Mansion, the 3d Infantry battery fired a slow-paced 13-gun salute.

At the grave the honorary pallbearers formed a cordon through which Admiral Byrd's casket was carried, the chaplain leading, a seaman bearing the two-star flag of a rear admiral following it. As the casket passed, the honorary pallbearers fell in behind and proceeded to their graveside position. The Byrd family was then escorted to the grave.

Chaplain Zimmerman read the brief graveside service. At its close, the 3d Infantry battery fired a second 13-gun salute. A Navy firing squad then delivered three volleys and a Navy bugler sounded taps. The body bearers folded the flag that had draped the casket, and in traditional fashion the flag was presented to the next of kin, thus concluding the final rites for Admiral Byrd.


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