Man recalls leading Kennedy’s funeral procession
The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy hits home for WISC-TV anchor Susan Siman and her family.
Susan’s father, Dan, is was a member of the elite underwater demolition team that President Kennedy commissioned and the world would later come to know as the Navy SEALS.
On the day President Kennedy was killed — Nov. 22, 1963 — Dan was a 25-year-old naval officer stationed at Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, D.C.
“It was a Friday afternoon and I remember it being just after 2 o’clock. I was out on the grinder with my troops and we were practicing marching. The reason we were practicing was the fact that we had been given advance notice to be prepared for a possible state funeral for former President Herbert Hoover, who was sick at that point,” Dan said.
Hoover would die the following year.
“So we were practicing for [Hoover’s possible state funeral] and one of my troopers came down and said, ‘Lieutenant, Lieutenant, the president’s been shot. Get back to the office.’ I said, ‘What the heck kind of message is that? What do you mean, the president’s been shot?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, but the boss wants you back at the office right away.’ So I went back and that started three days of very intense activity getting ready for the Navy’s participation in President Kennedy’s funeral,” Dan said.
He had little time to personally reflect on the situation at the time.
“Of course, like everyone else, I felt shock and awe about how could this happen? How could it have taken place? And, of course, we didn’t get an opportunity to watch much television because of all the organization — we needed to get the troops organized to participate in this,” he said.
On Sunday morning, President Kennedy’s body was taken from the White House to the Capitol, escorted by an all-Navy ceremonial guard.
“We were marching to the beat of a drum. It was very solemn. There was no noise aside from the drumbeat and the clip-clop of horses from the caisson where President Kennedy’s casket was, so all I was saying was, ‘I hope when we make the turns, that everybody’s in line and everybody’s in step,'” he said.
On Saturday, when the casket got to the East Room of the White House, Dan said he had an opportunity to see Mrs. Kennedy.
“This is Saturday morning and getting my troops organized for the death watch and standing in the East Room of the White House. Mrs. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy walked into the room and went to the casket. They opened the casket and stood there for 10 seconds. Bobby Kennedy shook his head and he looked at Mrs. Kennedy and she shook her head, too. So they closed the casket. They knelt down, said a prayer and left, and I turned to the Secret Service agent next to me and said, ‘What was that all about?’ and he said they were making a decision about whether or not to have an open casket for the VIP and head of state visits during Saturday at the White House,” Dan said.
Days later, with members of the Navy, Susan’s father led Kennedy’s funeral procession from the White House to Arlington National Cemetery. It would become one of the greatest honors of his life.
“It was a long day on Monday, taking the president from the Capitol to the Cathedral to Arlington. Exhausting. My feet hurt through the whole march. When I got home, it must have been 8 p.m. It just happened to be my first wedding anniversary, so I stopped at the Officers Club and bought a bottle of Champagne, and as my wife fixed my bloody feet, we had a glass of Champagne and went to bed. It was exhausting to say the least,” he said.
On that fateful day, Dan was just doing his job. It’s taken 50 years for him to fully grasp that he was part of history.
“It was a wonderful time. It was truly a time of Camelot and it’s just a shame that this wonderful man had to be taken from us,” he said.