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


Former Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal
Official Funeral
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 years old.

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 expected could


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
    United States
Artemus L. Gates, former Assistant Secretary of the
     Navy for Air
Fred M. Vinson, Chief Justice of the United States Cornelius V. Whitney, Under Secretary of Commerce      and former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force
General of the Army George C. Marshall,
    former 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
    of War
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 Clarence Dillon
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
  Ferdinand Eberstadt
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


Photo: Casket Is Carried Into Memorial Amphitheater

Service in Memorial Amphitheater, below.

Photo: Service in Memorial Amphitheater


Photo: 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.


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