In the wee hours of the morning on Nov. 25, 1963, the 91st Engineer Battalion was called to duty.
Local resident and retired Army Corps of Engineers Col. Lynn C. Webster was a first lieutenant at that time and commander of that unit’s C Company. He said it seemed routine at first, like any other alert drill the military runs regularly.
“We were home in bed, it was 4 o’clock in the morning.” Webster said. “We got the alert to report for duty, and this wasn’t a practice. It turned out to be a real mission.”
That mission was assisting the Secret Service in protecting the burial site of John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Secret Service was charged with protecting the dignitaries at the event, including many foreign heads of state, Webster said. His unit was told that Mrs. Kennedy was worried that also guarding the gravesite from massive crowds and possible vandalism would be too much, Webster said, so his unit had been called in.
While the troops monitored the crowds, Webster monitored his troops. It was a delicate mission, he said, felt deeply by those in attendance. But he said he didn’t see any of his soldiers lose their composure.
“It was very touching. It’s almost overwhelming, but you can’t be overwhelmed; you’re a soldier,” Webster said. “They were doing their duty, as they saw it.”
Webster recalled the countenances of French President Charles de Gaulle and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, exiting their limousines among the entourage.
“Charles de Gaulle is a majorly imposing person,” Webster said. “He was looking very somber. I had chills.”
When the sun had neared the horizon and the crowds cleared, the vigil of the engineer battalion drew to a close. It was then, Webster said, that the battalion commander assembled the company and ordered a formal military retreat, the ceremony to lower and remove the American flag.
“It was just a personal ceremony for our battalion, in honor of our president and our commander in chief,” Webster said. “It was just very touching; it was something I’ll never forget.”