#February 18, 1966: the casket that carried assassinated President John F. Kennedy buried at sea.
Dallas, Texas, USA. The casket used to carry the body of assassinated President John F. Kennedy from Dallas to Washington was, on this day, February 18, 1966, parachuted into oblivion. In every way.
The story of the coffin itself is remarkable: it was ordered from Dallas undertaker Vernon O’Neal by Secret Service agent Clint Hill when futile attempts at Parkland Hospital to save the slain President were finally abandoned. Clint Hill is the man who leapt onto the back of President’s limousine after the fatal shots were fired.
When the John F. Kennedy’s body was placed in the coffin and the Secret Service entourage began to wheel it from the hospital for a flight to Washington they were stopped by Dr Earl Rose, the Dallas County Medical Examiner. Physically barring their way, he insisted that the body could not be removed because, by law, an autopsy had to be performed in Dallas.
The agents and Kennedy aides pleaded and argued with him, but nothing to do. He was adamant. As tempers began to fray, Justice of the Peace Theron Ward was sent for to overrule the doctor. However, he refused and, siding with the Medical Examiner, he said: “It’s just another homicide as far as I’m concerned.”
Still reeling with shock, disbelief, anger and incredulity at what had happened an hour or so earlier, this was the final straw for Kennedy’s men: Kenny O’Donnell, a close aide of the fallen President, lost his temper and was reported to have shouted: “Go f— yourself. We’re leaving. Get the hell out of the way!”
With the Secret Service men threatening fisticuffs and apparently ready to draw their guns, Rose, Ward and some Dallas policemen were shoved aside as the President’s coffin, used almost as a battering ram, was hustled out of the hospital.
Bloodstained because of the magnitude of President’s head wounds and damaged in transit, the solid bronze casket was stored in a secure Washington warehouse after the Kennedy family declined to use it for his internment. Later, there were reports that Vernon O’Neal had received an offer of $100,000 for the coffin so that it could be put on display as a relic of the assassination.
But it no longer belonged to him and on 18th February, 1966, at the Kennedy family’s request, it was disposed of by the Air Force.
Thus, they filled the casket with sandbags, encased it in a solid pine box, then drilled over 40 holes into the structure. It was bound with metal banding tape and finally fitted with parachutes.
This astonishing load was taken aboard a C130 transport plane, which flew about 100 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to a selected point almost 3000 meters deep and away from shipping lanes.
At 10am the casket was pushed out of the C130’s tail hatch and after the parachutes softened its landing on the water it immediately sank. The C130 circled the area for 20 minutes to make sure nothing resurfaced.
It didn’t and, to the relief of the Kennedys, the final physical reminder of that dreadful day in Dallas was gone forever.