WASHINGTON – Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was laid to rest Saturday night alongside slain brothers John and Robert on hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery, celebrated for “the dream he kept alive” across the decades since their deaths.
Crowds lined the streets of two cities on a day that marked the end of an American political era – outside Kennedy’s funeral in rainy Boston where he was eulogized by President Barack Obama, and later in the day in humid, late-summer Washington. With flags over the Capitol flying at half-staff, his hearse stopped outside the Senate where he served for 47 years. His widow, Vicki, embraced former staff members in the crowd.
Later, at a graveside enveloped in deepening darkness, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick offered sympathies to Kennedy relatives and “an extended family that must probably include most of America.”
A squad of seven riflemen fired three volleys in a traditional military funeral ritual, and a bugler sounded taps. Lightning flickered across the sky.
Hours earlier, Obama delivered the eulogy in the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, packed with row upon row of mourners – including former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
“He was given a gift of time that his brothers were not. And he used that time to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow,” Obama said in remarks that also gently made mention of Kennedy’s “personal failings and setbacks.”
As a member of the Senate, Kennedy was a “veritable force of nature,” the president said. But more than that, he was the “baby of the family who became its patriarch, the restless dreamer who became its rock.”
Those left behind to mourn “grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good he did, the dream he kept alive,” Obama said.
One of Kennedy’s sons, Patrick, wept quietly as another, Teddy Jr., spoke from the pulpit. Teddy Jr. recalled the day years ago, shortly after losing a leg to cancer, that he slipped walking up an icy driveway as he headed out to go sledding. “I started to cry and I said, ‘I’ll never be able to climb up that hill.’ ”
“And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget. He said, ‘I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do.’ ”
Kennedy’s freshly excavated gravesite was on a gently sloping Virginia hillside, flanked by a pair of maple trees. His brother Robert, killed in 1968 while running for president, lies 100 feet away. It is another 100 feet to the eternal flame that has burned since 1963 for John F. Kennedy, president when he was assassinated.
The youngest brother died Tuesday at 77, more than a year after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. An oak cross, painted white, marked the head of his grave, and a flat marble footstone bore the simple inscription, “Edward Moore Kennedy 1932-2009.”
McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, read from a letter from Kennedy to Pope Benedict XVI, hand-delivered earlier this year by Obama.
“I know that I have been an imperfect human being but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my path,” the dying senator wrote. He wrote the pontiff “with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines.”
The Vatican responded with a letter that said “his Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope.”
Morning rain beat down steadily as Kennedy’s coffin was borne by a military honor guard into the Catholic church, and again when it was brought back out for the flight to Washington and the military cemetery just across the Potomac River from Washington.
In life, the senator had visited the burial ground often to mourn his brothers, killed more than a generation ago by assassins’ bullets.
Saturday’s events marked the end of four days of public and private mourning meant to emphasize Kennedy’s 47 years in the Senate from Massachusetts, his standing as the foremost liberal Democrat of the late 20th century yet a legislator who courted compromise with Republicans, a family man and last heir to a political dynasty.