ARLINGTON, Va. — From all over the nation they came to Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects to President John F. Kennedy. On the 50th anniversary of his assassination, they visited his grave, where they left flowers, wreaths, pins with the Peace Corps logo and letters.
For Herman Whalen Jr., 55, coming to Kennedy's grave site meant carrying on a family tradition.
His father, a prisoner of war for two years during the Korean War, campaigned for Kennedy in 1960. Whalen was 5 years old when Kennedy was assassinated, and the family watched the funeral procession move slowly down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. They then laid a wreath on Kennedy's grave.
On Friday, Whalen stopped and knelt in front of each Kennedy grave marker. Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was buried beside her husband in 1994.
He left a letter addressed to “Jackie O.” With his parents and two of his five brothers gone, Whalen said he made the trip from Syracuse, N.Y., to “pay respects to a great man and great family.”
“I had to keep the tradition going,” he said. “Hopefully, the grandkids keep it going, too.”
Just before dawn Friday, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. visited, leaving a Justice Department coin at Kennedy's grave. He also placed one at the grave of Robert F. Kennedy, who served as attorney general for his brother's administration.
Also among Friday’s visitors was Leslie Alikhan,66, from St. Louis, who was making her fourth trip to Arlington. Seeing Kennedy's grave still “brings back so many memories. It's so moving,” she said.
Alikhan said Kennedy got her interested in politics when he was competing in the presidential primaries. She was 12.
“He actually had a profound effect on my life,” she said. “He changed the course of my life.”
She went on to study history and political science, then went into nursing and had wanted to join the Peace Corps, which Kennedy started. Her husband, Hamid Alikhan, joked that be because of Kennedy, “she became a Democrat — a liberal one.”
Others visitors to Arlington admired the quotes from Kennedy that are engraved around the site, including ones recognizable by those who were born long after Kennedy's death: “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Mary Brady, in town from Connecticut, said his words were “so beautiful.”
“We were thinking what the world would have been like had he not died,” she said.