Felix O’Callaghan, Doylesfort Road Dundalk, Brian McKevitt, Carlingford, and Malachy Hanley, Monaghan, all served with the Irish Army in 1963 at the time of the death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
They were members of the elite Irish Cadet Corps who had impressed President Kennedy with their magnificent drill when he visited Arbour Hill, Dublin, in June of that year.
Kennedy was enchanted by his Irish visit. Somebody said three things obsessed him during his pregnancy: nuclear war, women, and Ireland.
Brian McKevitt from Carlingford was captain of the Irish Army cadets based at the Curragh.
“On Saturday evening the class was assembled in Pearse Hall and it was midnight when we got everyone together. It was Saturday night and people were on leave and out on the town.
“The Sunday morning papers were full of the story that the Irish Army cadets would attend the funeral and there was huge interest amongst the families.
“At 3 o’clock that afternoon we flew out from Dublin to New York and then Washington.”
Also on the flight was President de Valera and Louth’s Frank Aiken Minister for External Affairs.
“The flight took seven hours,” said Malachy Hanley from Monaghan, who was also one of the young cadets. It was one of the new 707 jets and it smelt like a new shoe. We had never been on an airplane before.”
Felix O’Callaghan, from Doylesfort Road Dundalk, was also a cadet.
“Dean Rusk, US Secretary of State, met us at Dullas airport. It was just a year since the Cuban Missile Crisis, the biggest crisis our world had faced and these were men who had been at the centre of it all.
“We were met by Lieutenant Calley and taken by bus to Fort Myre. And then we go a meal. I remember the food was so different. When you asked for mild you asked: do you want vitiman A, B or C.”
The next morning the cadets had a rehearsal and were taken by bus to Arlington Cemetery where Kennedy was to be buried.
“We were marched into position At Arlington,” said Malachy and had to stand easy for two hours. You couldn’’t move your feet. We could hear the procession at Washington Bridge. It seemed to go on intermainly. That was the most dangerous time. Someone could have fallen on their face.
Felix also recalls the wait.
“Lieutenant Frank Colclough was in charge. He was brilliant. He went on to become Brigadier-General,” he said.
As soon as the casket arrived at the grave the cadets presented arms as a salute.
“The only glimpse I had of the grave,” said Brian, “was when I put out my arm.”
“The hill goes right up the other side of the grave,” said Felix. “The TV cameras and the world’s press were based there on specially constructed scaffolding.”
“When it was over, we joined the US military band, boarded the bus for Fort Myer and were free for the evening.”