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


Senator Robert A. Taft
Funeral Without Formal Classification
31 July-4 August 1953

Robert A. Taft, son of former President William Howard Taft and renowned Republican senator from Ohio, died of cancer in a New York City hospital on 31 July 1953. The Senate, promptly adopting a resolution offered by Senator William F. Knowland of California, the acting Republican floor leader, ordered a State Funeral to be held for Mr. Taft on 3 August.

Under funeral plans and policies published in 1949 and then in force, a State Funeral was conducted only for a President, former President, President-elect, or "other persons when specifically designated by the President of the United States." The Senate resolution hence was extraordinary. But since the U.S. Congress controls the use of the Capitol itself and a State Funeral is distinguished by the period of lying in state in the Capitol rotunda, there was authority for the Senate action.

Nor was established procedure followed in delegating the responsibility for arranging the funeral of Senator Taft. According to current directives, the Commanding General, Military District of Washington, was "the designated representative of the President of the United States for the purpose of making all arrangements including participation of all Armed Forces and coordination with the State Department for participation of all branches of the Government and Diplomatic Corps" for a State Funeral. But in arranging the ceremonies for Senator Taft, the Senate assumed responsibility and the Military District of Washington handled only armed forces participation.

Except for the lying in state period at the Capitol, the ceremonies planned by Senate officials, working closely with the Taft family, were decidedly different from the current prescriptions for a State Funeral. On 2 August Senator Taft's body was to be brought from New York to Washington and taken to the Capitol to lie in state in the rotunda, which was to be open to the public from 1500 to 2100. At noon on 3 August a memorial service was to be held in the rotunda, attended by the Taft family, invited civil and military officials, and members of the diplomatic corps. Immediately after this service the Senator's body was to be flown to Cincinnati, home of the Taft family, where, as the family wished, a private funeral service and burial were to take place on 4 August. In none of the


movements was there to be the large military escort and cortege described in the existing concept of a State Funeral.

Early on 2 August Air Force officers from Mitchel Field, Long Island, arrived by sedan at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home in New York, where Senator Taft's body had been taken on 31 July, to escort the body to the airfield from which it would be flown to Washington. The hearse bearing the casket and the sedan carrying the escorts left the funeral establishment about 0900. At Mitchel Field the casket was put aboard a plane furnished by the Military Air Transport Service. Two of Senator Taft's four sons, Robert A. Taft, Jr., and Lloyd B. Taft, and their wives had come from Cincinnati to accompany the body on the flight to Washington. Another son and his wife met the plane at Washington National Airport. Body bearers and a guard of honor representing all of the armed forces except the Coast Guard handled the casket and acted as escort to the Capitol.

At the Capitol the Lincoln catafalque, which in 1930 had held the casket of Senator Taft's father, stood in the center of the rotunda, with several floral pieces nearby. (The Taft family had requested that no flowers be sent, preferring that any offerings be made in the form of gifts to charities.) When the small procession from the airport reached the Capitol, the casket was borne into the rotunda and placed on the catafalque and an honor guard, representing the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force and organized into reliefs by service, immediately took post at the bier.

From 1500 until 2100 on 2 August, the rotunda was open to the public. Persons paying their respects entered the west door of the rotunda, filed by the closed casket in two lines, one on either side of the bier, and left by the east door. By 2 100 between 30,000 and 35,000 people had passed through the hall.

During the morning of 3 August, in preparation for the noontime memorial service, the casket and catafalque were moved from the center of the rotunda to a position near the west entrance, and the floral pieces were rearranged around the bier. Some 900 chairs, which fairly filled the chamber, were set up. No facilities for photographic, radio, or televised coverage of the ceremony were allowed.

In the Senate resolution ordering the State Funeral for Senator Taft, invitations to the memorial service were extended to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his cabinet, the entire House of Representatives, all justices of the Supreme Court, the military chiefs of all the uniformed services, including the chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff, and representatives of the diplomatic corps. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, a friend of Mr. Taft's for many years, received Mrs. Taft's personal invitation to attend. An invitation from the Senate also had gone to former President Harry S. Truman, but he was not able to attend.

Within the hour before the scheduled beginning of the service, the US Marine Band took seats in the rotunda to play during the arrival of the invited audience. At 1140, as the band began "America the Beautiful," the members of the Senate entered the rotunda by the north door, marching two abreast but in no


special order of seniority. Next to enter were the Chief Justice of the United States and associate justices of the Supreme Court. Then, through the south door, came the members of the House of Representatives. General and Mrs. MacArthur, and the general's aide, Maj. Gen. Courtney Whitney, and Mrs. Whitney entered about the same time, followed by invited military dignitaries. The diplomatic corps representatives were next to arrive. Mrs. Taft, who was an invalid, then entered in a wheelchair, escorted by two of her sons. Her other two sons followed. About five minutes before noon the last of the guests-President and Mrs. Eisenhower and the members of the cabinet-came into the rotunda.

Upon the arrival of the President and his party, the Marine honor guard on duty at the bier was replaced by a relief that included a soldier, a sailor, an air­man, and a marine. After two minutes of silence had been observed, the Reverend Frederick Brown Harris, the Senate Chaplain, stood before the casket and offered the invocation. Senator John W. Bricker, Mr. Taft's Republican colleague from Ohio, then rose and delivered a eulogy. When Senator Bricker had finished, the Reverend Bernard Braskamp, Chaplain of the House of Representatives, gave the benediction, and the Marine Band concluded the service by playing the national anthem.

Shortly after the memorial service, Senator Taft's casket was taken from the rotunda and, under escort, returned to Washington National Airport, where it was placed aboard a plane of the Military Air Transport Service for the flight to Cincinnati. Two of the Senator's sons, their wives, and I. Jack Martin, who had been an administrative assistant to Mr. Taft, accompanied the body on the flight. Mrs. Taft and the remaining members of her family took a later plane for Lunken Airport in Cincinnati.

The plane bearing Senator Taft's body landed at the Greater Cincinnati Airport in Boone County, Kentucky. Morticians of the Schaefer and Busby funeral establishment of Cincinnati met the plane. Kentucky state highway patrolmen and Cincinnati motorcycle police escorted the hearse bearing the casket from the airport to the funeral establishment, where the body was to remain until the funeral service on 4 August.

Actually, two funeral services were conducted for Senator Taft on 4 August, both at noon. The private service was held in Indian Hill Church, a Protestant Episcopal-Presbyterian Church which the Tafts attended in the suburb where they had lived for many years. A public service was held in downtown Cincinnati in the Christ Protestant Episcopal Church to accommodate the many friends of Senator Taft who would be unable to attend the private service. Arranged by Mayor Carl W. Rich of Cincinnati, it was conducted jointly by the Right Reverend Henry Wise Hobson, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, and the Reverend Morris F. Arnold, rector of Christ Church.

The private service was conducted by the Reverend Luther M. Tucker, rector of Indian Hill Church. Following the funeral service, Senator Taft was buried in


Indian Hill Church Cemetery; he was the first person to be buried there. It was Mrs. Taft's wish that her husband's grave be close to the Taft home.


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