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Dignitaries, Average People Mourn Sen. Kennedy

This article is more than 11 years old.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's body now lies by his brothers' on a hill overlooking Washington, at Arlington National Cemetery. Kennedy's last journey from his beloved home state was long one. It began at the Kennedy Library in Dorchester and wended through the streets of Boston, to a funeral Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in Mission Hill.

On Tremont Street, as Kennedy's coffin was taken out of the hearse by the honor guard, it was covered with plastic to protect it from the continual rain.

Four presidents were among the 1,500 people who attended the Mass.

Among the musicians who performed were cellist Yo-Yo Ma, tenor Placido Domingo and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, who sang Brahms' "Let Nothing Ever Grieve Thee."

Kennedy's two sons talked about what it was like to grow up with their father.

Ted Kennedy Jr. spoke of a time when he was 12 and was diagnosed with bone cancer.

"And a few months after I lost my leg there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington, D.C.," Kennedy told the gathering, "and my father went to get the old Flexible Flyer, and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway, and I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg, and the hill was covered with ice and snow, and it wasn't easy for me to walk, and the hill was very slick, and as I struggled to walk, I slipped, and I fell on the ice, and I started to cry.

"And I said: 'I can't do this.' I said: 'I'll never be able to climb up that hill,' and he lifted me up into his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget. He said: 'I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.' "

President Obama called Sen. Kennedy a champion for those who had none.

"But those of us who loved him and ache with his passing know Ted Kennedy by the other titles he held," the president said, "father, brother, husband, grandfather, Uncle Teddy, or as he was often known to his younger nieces and nephews, the grand fromage, or the big cheese."

The president did not use the moment to urge the country to move toward Kennedy's lifelong goal, universal health care for all Americans.

Outside the huge church, security was so tight that the closest anyone could stand at the police barricades was a block away. There, Matt Kerby and John McLaughlin, students at UMass Lowell, spent hours in the rain. Soaked, they talked about what brought them there.

"Kinda being part of it," McLaughlin said, dripping from the rain, "saying thank you."

"The gravity of the whole situation," Kerby said, "I mean, think of all the important people who are in there right now. It's kind of like a changing of the guards, almost, out with the old royalty and in with the new."

From the church where Kennedy prayed so often for his daughter Kara's recovery from lung cancer, and during his own battle with brain cancer, his body was carried to Hanscom Air Force Base and on to Washington. After a final stop at the Capitol, where he worked for 47 years, the motorcade made the last turn down the mall and up the hill where Kennedy was buried next to his brothers, John and Robert.

This program aired on August 29, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.


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