John F. Kennedy made his first formal visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1961, to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the conclusion of the ceremony President Kennedy spoke to more than 5,000 people gathered in the Memorial Amphitheater.
Eleven days prior to Kennedy's assassination he returned to Arlington for the 1963 Armistice Day services. This time he did not address the crowd in the amphitheater.
On Nov. 22, 1963, while on a campaign trip to Dallas, President Kennedy was shot and killed.
There are only two U.S. presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The other is William Howard Taft, who died in 1930.
Though Kennedy is buried at Arlington, at the time of his death, many believed that he would be buried in Brookline, Mass. Woodrow Wilson was the only other president besides Taft who had been buried outside of his native state and in the National Capital Region. President Wilson is buried at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, in consultation with Robert F. Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, approved burial of the president at Arlington National Cemetery with the gravesite below Arlington House.
On Nov. 25, 1963, at 3 p.m., the state funeral of President Kennedy began.
Among the mourners at Kennedy's grave site were President Charles de Gaulle of France, Chancellor Ludwig Erhard of the Federal Republic of Germany, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Prince Philip of the United Kingdom. Overhead, 50 Navy and Air Force jets flew past the gravesite followed by the president's plane, Air Force One, which dipped its wing in final tribute.
The initial plot was 20 feet by 30 feet and was surrounded by a white picket fence. During the first year often more than 3,000 people an hour visited the Kennedy gravesite, and on weekends an estimated 50,000 people visited. Three years after Kennedy's death, more than 16 million people had come to visit the Kennedy plot.
Because of the large crowds, cemetery officials and members of the Kennedy family decided that a more suitable site should be constructed. Construction began in 1965 and was completed July 20, 1967. Lighted by Mrs. Kennedy during the funeral, the Eternal Flame burns from the center of a five-foot circular flat-granite stone at the head of the grave.
The Kennedy family paid actual costs in the immediate grave area. The government was responsible for the improvements in the surrounding area that provided for the accommodation of the visiting public. Funds in the amount of $1,770,000 were included for this purpose in Fiscal Year 1965's Public Works Appropriation.
On May 23, 1994, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was buried next to President Kennedy. The gravesite was completed with addition of her grave marker Oct. 6, 1994.
View Biography of John F. Kennedy.