The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funeral, 1921-1969


Former Chief of Naval Operations
Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy
Special Military Funeral
20-23 July 1959

Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, former Chief of Naval Operations and personal Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman from 1942 to 1949, died at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, on 20 July 1959 at the age of eighty-four. He was given a Special Military Funeral on 23 July.

Under policies published the year before Admiral Leahy died, the service of which he was a member was responsible for coordinating arrangements for the Special Military Funeral. In this instance the responsibility rested with the Commandant of the Potomac River Naval Command, Rear Adm. Elonzo B. Grantham, Jr. Dignitaries asked to participate in or attend the ceremonies received invitations from the Secretary of the Navy; the Office of the Chief of Naval Personnel dispatched these invitations and recorded the responses.

The ceremonies planned by Admiral Grantham and his staff, with due regard for the wishes of Rear Adm. William H. Leahy, son of the fleet admiral, followed, with one exception, the general prescriptions for a Special Military Funeral. The body of Admiral Leahy was to lie in Bethlehem Chapel at the Washington National Cathedral from noon on 22 July until the same hour on the 23d; the funeral service was to be held in the nave of the cathedral at 1400 on 23 July; and burial was to take place in Arlington National Cemetery. The gravesite was in Section 2, about midway between Memorial Gate and the Memorial Amphitheater.

The exception to the prescribed ceremonies had to do with the formation of the main funeral procession, an exception for which there was precedent in the recent funeral for Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald A. Quarles. In the 1958 plan, the main procession for a funeral in which burial was to take place in Arlington National Cemetery was to form at Constitution Avenue and 15th Street, N.W., in Washington. The body was to be brought to this point by hearse from the place where the funeral service had been held, transferred to a caisson, and taken to Arlington National Cemetery in full procession. But in the ceremonies for


Admiral Leahy, as in the funeral for Secretary Quarles, a motorized cortege was to take the body of the admiral from the Washington National Cathedral to the Memorial Gate of the cemetery. The casket was to be transferred from hearse to caisson at that point in the presence of a military escort standing in formation on the lawn nearby. The full procession was then to enter the cemetery and proceed to the gravesite for the burial service.

On 22 July the body of Admiral Leahy was placed in Bethlehem Chapel of Washington National Cathedral. A Navy ceremonial guard from the US Naval Air Station in Anacostia, D.C., formed the honor cordon and provided the personal flag bearer. The body bearers were a joint group of ten enlisted men, two each from the Military District of Washington, Headquarters Command of the Air Force at Bolling Air Force Base, Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, Marine Barracks in Washington, and the Naval Station. One of the two men from the Naval Station was the petty officer in charge of the group. Each of these agencies also provided one officer and nine men for the guard of honor to stand watch for the twenty-four hours that the body was to lie in Bethlehem Chapel.

Composing a special honor guard were General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, Army Chief of Staff; Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; General Curtis E. LeMay, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, who represented the Chief of Staff; General Thomas D. White; General Randolph M. Pate, Commandant of the Marine Corps; Rear Adm. James A. Hirshfield, Assistant Commandant of the Coast Guard; and General Nathan F. Twining, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Eleven friends of Admiral Leahy, one of whom was an academy classmate, served as honorary pallbearers. Officer escorts for the honorary pallbearers were furnished by the Naval Intelligence School at the US Naval Air Station in Anacostia.

According to protocol, announcements of the funeral service for Admiral Leahy, which in effect were invitations to attend, were sent to all branches and principal agencies of the federal government and to the diplomatic corps. Invitations also were extended to all active and retired admirals of the Navy and Coast Guard, all active and retired generals of the Marine Corps, and all active generals of the Army and Air Force living in the Washington area. Among friends and associates of Admiral Leahy invited to attend, including those asked to serve as honorary pallbearers, those residing outside Washington received invitations by telegram. The honorary pallbearers were Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz; Admiral Thomas C. Hart (retired) ; Admiral Charles P. Snyder (retired) ; Admiral Louis E. Denfeld (retired) ; Admiral Arthur W. Radford (retired) ; Admiral Jerauld Wright; Admiral Robert L. Dennison; Vice Adm. Edward L. Cochrane (retired) ; Rear Adm. Henry Williams (retired) ; Rear Adm. Joseph H. Wellings; and William D. Hassett.

Two Navy agencies located in the Washington area, the Navy Communication Station and the Naval Security Station, furnished officers and men to usher


Diagram 35. Route of march, Washington National Cathedral to Arlington National Cemetery.

Diagram 35. Route of march, Washington National Cathedral to Arlington National Cemetery.


guests to their seats for the funeral service. The service itself was conducted by a Navy chaplain, Capt. John B. Zimmerman.

Following the short service at 1400 on 23 July, a motorized cortege formed outside the cathedral to escort the body of Admiral Leahy to Arlington National Cemetery. As the body bearers carried the casket out of the cathedral and through the Navy honor cordon to the hearse, the US Marine Band, in formation near the honor cordon, sounded ruffles and flourishes and played a hymn.

The cortege moved to the Memorial Gate of Arlington National Cemetery by way of Woodley Road, 34th Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Rock Creek Parkway, Memorial Bridge, and Memorial Drive. (Diagram 35) The military escort of some 550 officers and men, commanded by Admiral Grantham, stood on line on the green at the gate, facing the cortege as the motor column approached on Memorial Drive. In addition to the commander and a staff of four, one field grade officer or the equivalent from the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, the escort consisted of the US Navy Band and a company each from the Army (3d Infantry), Marine Corps (Marine Barracks), Navy (Navy Air Station), Air Force (Headquarters Command), and Coast Guard (Coast Guard headquarters). Each company had four officers and eighty-five men and was organized with a company commander, guidon bearer, and three platoons, each consisting of a platoon commander, right guide, and three nine-man squads. Also present at the gate were the national color detail of three men, an Army color bearer and one color guard each from the Marine Corps and Air Force, and a personal color bearer from the Navy.

On the street in front of the escort and facing south toward Roosevelt Drive in the cemetery were the caisson and caisson detail, furnished by the 3d Infantry, and the body bearers, who along with the color detail had come from the cathedral by a separate route in order to reach Memorial Gate ahead of the cortege.

When the motorcade reached the gate, the vehicles carrying the special honor guard and the clergy halted on the left side of the street. The others lined up on the right, with the family cars and those bearing the honorary pallbearers and dignitaries at the front. (Diagram 36) After the cortege was in place, the hearse was driven to a position at the left and slightly ahead of the caisson. As the Navy Band sounded ruffles and flourishes and played a hymn, the body bearers re­moved Admiral Leahy's casket from the hearse, which was then driven away, and placed it on the caisson. After this brief ceremony, the escort commander led the procession into the cemetery.

From a distant position in the cemetery, the saluting battery of the 3d Infantry fired a slow-paced 19-gun salute as the procession marched to the gravesite. The escort units moved via Roosevelt and Wilson Drives, then turned right and marched off the roadway across the grass to McClellan Drive. Moving on McClellan to a point almost due south of the gravesite, the escort units formed on line along the edge of the road facing north toward the grave. In front of them,


Diagram 36. Formation at Memorial Gate. Click on image to view larger scale diagram.

Diagram 36. Formation at Memorial Gate.


on the grass between McClellan and Sheridan Drives, stood a squad ready to fire the traditional three volleys following the burial service. (Diagram 37)

The escort commander and the cortege continued on Wilson Drive, then turned right on Sheridan Drive, which passed immediately south of the gravesite. The clergy, caisson, and mourners halted on Sheridan, while the escort commander, special honor guard, and honorary pallbearers left their cars on a narrow unnamed roadway leading off Sheridan and passing north of the gravesite. (Diagram 38)

With the customary ceremony and honors, Admiral Leahy's casket was carried to the grave, where Chaplain Zimmerman read the burial service. A final cannon salute, the traditional three volleys, and the sounding of taps closed the final rites for the five-star admiral.

Diagram 37.  Route of march, Memorial Gate to gravesite.  Click on image to view larger scale diagram.

Diagram 37. Route of march, Memorial Gate to gravesite.


Diagram 38. Formation at the graveside.  Click on image to view larger scale diagram.

Diagram 38. Formation at the graveside.


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