Mourners return to land after farewell at sea
New York's Irish community memorial underway
July 22, 1999
WOODS HOLE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- A day for goodbyes began privately Thursday as the cremated remains of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law were comitted to the sea from the deck of a Navy destroyer.
Bagpipers played Thursday evening as hundreds lined up to join members of New York's Irish community gathering at Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in lower Manhattan on Thursday night for a Requiem Mass.
The final resting place for the three plane crash victims was off Martha's Vineyard, not far from where they died instantly last Friday when the aircraft piloted by Kennedy plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.
Catholic priests conducted a civilian ceremony on the deck of the USS Briscoe, a guided missile destroyer. There was no rifle salute or "military honors."
Afterward, as the Briscoe headed toward the Coast Guard station in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, it stopped and transferred mourners to the Coast Guard cutter Hammerhead, which brought them to shore.
Three sets of remains, three American flags and three wreaths with red, yellow and white flowers were brought aboard the Briscoe for the ceremony honoring Kennedy, 38, his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 33, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, 34.
Defense Department sources tell CNN that five members of the clergy made "brief comments." They included four Navy chaplains and a Jesuit priest associated with the Kennedy family.
Sources also said 17 family members of the victims attended the service. For safety reasons, Navy personnel aided the relatives as the remains of the three departed were remitted to the sea, one at a time, from the accomodation ladder at the rear of the ship.
A brass quartet was included in the ceremony. Music selections included the song "Eternal Father," also known as the Navy Hymn.
While the Roman Catholic Church has not traditionally endorsed cremation, it is now permitted by the church.
At the same time as the burials at sea, a memorial ceremony was held aboard the USS John F. Kennedy to honor the passing of the son of the aircraft carrier's namesake.
The JFK, as the ship is called by sailors, is participating in a fleet exercise off the mid-Atlantic coast.
Before the Briscoe put out to sea, the Sanibel carried passengers to the destroyer, including members of both families.
The mourners included Kennedy's sister, Caroline Kennedy, his uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and cousins Maria Shriver and William Kennedy Smith.
Relatives of the Bessette sisters also attended, including their mother, Ann Freeman, stepfather, Dr. Richard Freeman, and Lauren Bessette's twin sister, Lisa Ann Bessette.
The FAA placed a five-mile restriction on the airspace around the scene, limiting news coverage.
The burials at sea took place about 4.5 miles southwest of the Martha's Vineyard community of Gay Head. The fatal plane crash occurred in the same vicinity, about seven miles off the Massachusetts island.
Following a five-day search for the crash victims, divers brought the bodies to the ocean surface on Wednesday. They were under 116 feet of water, near the point where Kennedy's Piper Saratoga II crashed on Friday night.
The USS Grasp, a Navy salvage vessel, was continuing its efforts Thursday to retrieve the plane's wreckage.
The burials at sea followed autopsies by the Barnstable County medical examiner's office on Cape Cod.
All three victims died instantly of multiple traumatic injuries resulting from the plane crash, according to a statement released by the Cape & Islands district attorney.
The Cape Cod Times reported Thursday the Kennedy family had asked that no photographs be taken during the autopsy of John Jr. because they could end up in tabloids or on the Internet. Such photographs are routine during autopsies.
Authorities would not confirm the report, saying only that the wishes of the family were "appropriately expressed ... where it was possible."
Sen. Kennedy had requested the burial at sea, saying it was his nephew's wish to be cremated and his ashes spread on the waves; the request was approved by Defense Secretary William Cohen.
The family of the Bessette sisters also requested that the two women be buried in the same ceremony, the Pentagon said.
John Jr., like his father, the first Roman Catholic to be a U.S. president, had a love of the sea. He spent many summers sailing and kayaking the waters where his plane crashed.
Pentagon officials tell CNN there are two bases for granting permission for a Naval burial at sea. First, there is a provision allowing for such burials for people providing "notable service or outstanding contributions to the United States."
Also, protocol allows sea burials of the children of decorated Navy veterans. The late President John F. Kennedy was a naval officer wounded and cited for heroism in World War II.
The New York service was organized by the Emerald Isle Immigration Center as a way for the community to grieve and offer sympathy to the Kennedys. Some of the Scripture readings will be in Irish.
JFK Jr. lived and worked in the city. And many Irish Catholics were pround that his father was the first Roman Catholic U.S. president.
The Kennedy family has announced that a memorial Mass "to celebrate the lives of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr." will take place at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in New York City at 11 a.m. Friday.
The 500-seat church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is where John Jr.'s late mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, worshipped. President Bill Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, plan to attend the service.
The family of the Bessette sisters also plans an invitation-only memorial service at 7 p.m. Saturday at Christ Church, an Episcopal congregation in their hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut.
The service will include remembrances of Kennedy and his wife, but is meant especially for Lauren Bessette. "I think people have tended to forget that she is a person in her own right," said Mary Marks, parish secretary.
The women's mother and stepfather will attend, and Lauren's twin sister, Lisa Ann Bessette, is also expected to be there, Marks said.
Correspondents John King, Martin Savidge, Mike Boettcher and Carl Rochelle contributed to this report
NTSB: JFK Jr.'s plane shows no in-flight break-up or fire
Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, MA, Cape Cod's Daily Newspaper
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