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


General Walter Bedell Smith
Special Full Honor Funeral
9-14 August 1961

On 9 August 1961 General Walter Bedell Smith suffered a heart attack at his home in Washington and died in the ambulance on the way to Walter Reed General Hospital. He was sixty-five years old and had retired. From the hospital his body was taken to Gawler's funeral establishment where it remained while funeral arrangements were completed.

By virtue of his rank, General Smith was entitled to a Special Full Honor Funeral, in which the Army was the sole military service to participate. But in deference to the wishes of Mary Cline Smith, the general's widow, a distinctly different ceremony was actually held.

Mrs. Smith made her wishes known on the morning of 10 August, when she conferred in the offices of Arlington National Cemetery with the officer appointed from Headquarters, Department of the Army, as the official aide to the next of kin, the ceremonies officer of the Military District of Washington, and the assistant superintendent of the cemetery. At that time she selected a gravesite for her husband in Section 7 of the cemetery, very near the grave of General of the Army George C. Marshall, and requested that his funeral be patterned after the simple joint service funeral given General Marshall in 1959.

In line with existing policy which states that the officer in charge of arranging a military funeral shall be from the same service as the deceased, the Commanding General, Military District of Washington, Maj. Gen. Paul A. Gavan, became responsible for planning the ceremonies for General Smith. An immediate requirement facing General Gavan, raised by Mrs. Smith's request that her husband's funeral be similar to General Marshall's, was to obtain Department of Defense clearance for joint service participation. This clearance was readily granted. General Gavan and his staff then made plans based largely on the records of General Marshall's funeral, but varying in several respects. The essential difference was that General Smith's body would not lie in the Washington National Cathedral as had the body of General Marshall.

General Smith's body was to remain at the funeral establishment until mid­morning on 14 August, when it was to be escorted to the chapel at Fort Myer, Virginia, for a requiem mass. Immediately following the chapel rites, a private


Diagram 48. Route of march, funeral establishment to Fort Myer Chapel.  Click on image to view larger scale of diagram.

Diagram 48. Route of march, funeral establishment to Fort Myer Chapel.


burial service was to be held at the Arlington gravesite.

At 1000 on 14 August a small escort arrived at the funeral establishment to take General Smith's body to the Fort Myer Chapel. The morticians had already placed the casket in the hearse, which one of them would accompany. The escort included Metropolitan motorcycle police, two cars of Armed Forces Police, and the escort commander, who in this instance was a field grade officer from the 3d Infantry. The motorcade left the funeral establishment at 1040, its departure timed so that it would reach the chapel a few minutes before 1100, the scheduled hour of the funeral service. (Diagram 48)

At Fort Myer most of the mourners were seated in the chapel before the arrival of the cortege. Among them were high military officials, members of Congress, and a number of foreign diplomats. President John F. Kennedy was represented by his Army, Navy, and Air Force aides. Outside the chapel fourteen honorary pallbearers formed a cordon at the entrance: Morehead Patterson, Carter L. Burgess, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Louis Marx, David Marx, General George H. Decker, Robert A. Lovett, Samuel C. Waugh, A. F. Wechsler, Robert Murphy, John Snively, Marion Blazek, Paul Stone, and Allen W. Dulles. At 1055 the Smith family walked through the cordon and entered the chapel.

Waiting near the honorary pallbearers was Bishop William R. Arnold, Military Delegate to the Armed Forces of the United States from the Office of the Military Ordinariate of the Catholic Church. Bishop Arnold, who had been the Army Chief of Chaplains from 1937 to 1946, would conduct the mass. Nearby were the body bearers, a joint service group composed of two men from the Army and one man each from the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

Across the street from and facing the chapel stood an armed forces honor guard, a joint service detail of seventy-six men which included an officer, a drum major, and thirty musicians from the U.S. Army Band, a color detail, and a platoon of troops. In command of the guard was an Army major with a staff of three, one officer each from the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The color detail was composed of one color guard each from the Army and Marine Corps, two Army color bearers for the national colors and Army colors, and one color bearer from each of the other services carrying appropriate service colors. The platoon of troops was commanded by a Marine Corps lieutenant and consisted of three ten-man squads, each of which included two men from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. One of the Army men in each squad was the leader, and one other Army man with the formation was the platoon guide. The honor guard elements were on line, the platoon in the center, the color detail at the left, and the band at the right. During the ceremonies for General Marshall the color detail was in the center and the platoon at the left. (Diagram 49)

The cortege came to a stop between the armed forces honor guard and the


Diagram 49. Position of armed forces honor guard at Fort Myer Chapel.  Click on image to view larger scale of diagram.

Diagram 49. Position of armed forces honor guard at Fort Myer Chapel.

chapel, the hearse at the chapel entrance. (Diagram 50) Bishop Arnold, the mortician, the body bearers, and Col. Richard M. Lee, the commanding officer of the 3d Infantry who was responsible for the ceremonies at the chapel site, then moved to the rear of the hearse. At Colonel Lee's signal the honor guard presented arms; the band sounded ruffles and flourishes, played the "General's March," and then began a hymn. While the hymn was played, the body bearers removed the casket from the hearse and, preceded by Bishop Arnold, carried it through the cordon of honorary pallbearers to the chapel entrance. There the casket was placed on a movable bier; with the bishop still leading, two of the bearers wheeled it to the front of the chapel. The honorary pallbearers followed the casket into the chapel and were taken to their seats.

Bishop Arnold then said the requiem mass. At its completion, the honorary pallbearers were first to be ushered from the chapel to allow them to reform the cordon outside. Two body bearers moved to the front of the chapel to handle the


Diagram 50. Formation for ceremony at Fort Myer Chapel.  Click on image to view larger scale of diagram.

Diagram 50. Formation for ceremony at Fort Myer Chapel.

casket. Bishop Arnold then led the procession out of the chapel, the Smith family and other mourners following the casket.

The armed forces honor guard, which had remained in formation during the funeral service, presented arms when Bishop Arnold appeared at the chapel entrance, while the band sounded ruffles and flourishes and began a hymn. As the hymn was played, the casket was returned to the hearse. Those attending the private graveside rites then moved to their cars. Members of the Smith family, who had waited at the chapel entrance while the casket was carried to the hearse, were the last to enter their cars. The honor guard again presented arms as the cortege began to move through the gate into the cemetery. After the cortege had gone, the guard units, none of which were scheduled for further participation in ceremonies, were dismissed.

Since midmorning a detail of one officer and forty-four men from the 3d Infantry had been on station as a security cordon around the gravesite to ensure privacy for the burial service. Inside this ring of troops was another group of one officer and five men to control the press.

Also in position in the cemetery before the cortege reached the gravesite were a saluting battery, a firing squad, a bugler, a national color detail, and a personal


Diagram 51. Route of march, Fort Myer Chapel to gravesite.  Click on image to view larger scale of diagram.

Diagram 51. Route of march, Fort Myer Chapel to gravesite.

flag bearer, all from the 3d Infantry, and a second armed forces body bearer team of the same composition as that which had served during the chapel rites.

Leading the cortege was the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, Mr. John C. Metzler. Behind him came Colonel Lee, the honorary pallbearers, Bishop Arnold, the hearse (accompanied by the mortician), and the Smith family. To reach the gravesite the cortege moved via Meigs Drive, Wilson Drive, and Roosevelt Drive. When it halted, the hearse was at the end of a mat that ran from Roosevelt Drive to the grave. (Diagram 51)

The honorary pallbearers, who were the first to leave their cars, formed a cordon along the mat. Bishop Arnold, the body bearers, the national color detail, and the personal flag bearers took positions at the rear of the hearse. The body bearers then removed General Smith's casket from the hearse, and the procession, with the national color detail leading and the mortician, the bishop, the casket, and the personal flag bearers following in that order, marched through the cordon of pallbearers to the grave. The honorary pallbearers fell in behind and moved to their graveside position. The Smith family was then escorted to the graveside by Mr. Metzler. (Diagram 52)

Bishop Arnold conducted the burial service. After the benediction, the saluting battery fired seventeen guns, the firing squad discharged three volleys, and the bugler sounded taps. As the last note faded, the body bearers performed the ritual of folding the flag that had draped General Smith's casket. One of them handed


it to Mr. Metzler, who in turn passed it to Bishop Arnold. The bishop then presented it to Mrs. Smith. The rites for General Smith, as Mrs. Smith wished, had been conducted with the simplicity and dignity that had marked the ceremony for General Marshall.

Diagram 52. Formation at the graveside.

Diagram 52. Formation at the graveside.


Previous Chapter        Next Chapter