WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 1963 (UPI) - A little boy at his grieving mother's side saluted the passing casket.
And in that moment, he suddenly became the brave soldier his father would have wanted him to be on this day, of all days.
For today, John F. Kennedy, Jr. turned three.
His world was strangely different, in little ways a child notices but does not understand.
Where was his daddy? The tall man with the laughing blue eyes who had a big desk and saw lots of important people and stopped to spank him good-naturedly and took him on helicopter rides and called him "John-John."
This was supposed to be the day of The Party. The cake with three candles to blow out, the friends singing boisterous "Happy Birthdays," the gifts.
But home, the White House, was quiet. Some of the furniture was gone. And the soldiers outside, whose salutes he delighted in trying to return with one of his own, looked different. They didn't glance down at him and sneak a wink or a smile today. Their commands barked, their rifles clattered.
Secret Service agents came and led John-John and his sister out to the north portico. Mrs. Kennedy, dressed all in black, met them at the door and took them to a limousine. Then she walked back up in line with their uncles, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy, and the slow, sad march to church began.
President and Mrs. Johnson and a host of aides and security agents followed Mrs. Kennedy on foot. John-John and Caroline rode in the car behind them.
A half-mile later, in front of St. Matthew's Cathedral, the parade stopped. John-John and Caroline were brought around to join their mother.
The little boy looked around bewildered and started crying. His mother spoke to him softly, and he stopped.
They walked up the steps of the cathedral, and there waiting was Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston. John-John seemed awed by the tall, craggy-faced man towering above him, wearing a white, two-pointed miter and black vestments.
Mrs. Kennedy, holding each of her children by the hand, walked in and down the aisle to their seats.
John-John grew restless during the mass. Someone picked a small book - The Church Today-Growth or Decline - from the literature rack at the rear of the cathedral and gave it to the boy to occupy him. He still clasped it in his hand when he left the church with his mother and sister.
They stood waiting at the bottom of the steps. Pallbearers appeared at the door with flag-draped casket, and as it came slowly down toward them, Mrs. Kennedy leaned down and whispered to her son.
He stood apart, straightened stiffly, and raised his hand in salute as the casket passed.