News: Irish cadets revisit Fort Myer, JFK burial site
By Jim Dresbach
Pentagram Staff Writer
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. - Fifty years ago, the 37th Irish Defence Forces Cadet Class was requested to be a part of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral by his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy. A half century later, 11 of the 26 original Irish cadets returned to the sod and soil of Arlington National Cemetery, where they performed a silent drill in honor of the 35th President of the United States.
The Nov. 25 wreath-laying ceremony by the cadet class fell on the 50th anniversary of the JFK funeral and burial. The 10-minute remembrance at the Kennedy gravesite cumulated a day that found the Irish cadets revisiting sites on then-Fort Myer.
Leading the delegation was Irish Cadet Lt. Col. John Dunne, who represented the class by laying the wreath at the gravesite.
"I suppose it is more emotional now because we’re older," Dunne said following the wreath-laying. "When we were cadets, we were so excited and so concentrating on our drill and getting it right."
In 1963, the Irish cadets rehearsed the silent drill and quartered in Conmy Hall bunk beds. Five decades later, the group returned and toured the caisson barn and Conmy Hall, where they watched the end of The Old Guard’s regimental proficiency training. Following the drill training, the former Irish soldiers, now in their 70s, presented a copy of the 37th Irish Defence Forces guidon to thank The Old Guard for its hospitality during the Kennedy funeral.
"We started on Myer, and we were well looked after by The Old Guard, not once but twice now," Dunne said with a smile. "They were so kind to us to get us on our way to the cemetery in good order. We were very well looked after. We have great friends at Fort Myer and The Old Guard."
The ceremony included a poetry reading of one of Kennedy’s literary favorites, Irish poet W.B. Yeats. A crowd of 200 listened as Cadet Col. Bill Nott read "Cloths of Heaven" while the Irish Defence Forces 89th Cadet Class Colour Party stood at attention at the head of the grave.
Bagpiper Sgt. Joe Meade remembered Kennedy by playing "Mist-Covered Mountains," which was played at the ANC burial and closed the 2013 ceremony with "Amazing Grace."
On a sunny day very similar to the Monday national day of mourning in 1963, albeit a few degrees cooler, Dunne stood on the JFK grave plaza and recalled the group’s main mission while heads of state and a nation paid its final respects to an assassinated president.
"The mood was, since we were young and of an impressionable age, we were all excited," he said of that November 1963 day. "Our main concentration was getting [the drill] correct. It was quite a complex arms drill, which was slow-moving and silent. There was quite a bit of timing involved in it. Our total concept was to get the arms drill right and do it correctly for our country and do our military cadet school proud.
"What we wanted to achieve was to do the drill properly, honor President Kennedy and do our country proud."