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Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was laid to rest Saturday night alongside his slain brothers, John and Robert, at Arlington National Cemetery. The Kennedy family paid final respects in a simple graveside service as darkness fell and lightning flickered across the sky.
The sounds of a military gun salute, and Taps being played by a bugler, marked the end of four days of public and private mourning for the senator.
Kennedy represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate for 46 years and made a deeply personal connection to millions of Americans. The last Kennedy brother, he fought personal demons and mourned public tragedies. He was called the hardest working member of the Senate — and possibly the most effective senator in the history of the chamber. He continued working through 15 months of brain cancer, a disease that ultimately took his life Tuesday. He was 77.
After an earlier funeral Mass in working-class Mission Hill, the senator's body left the showers of Boston for the late summer heat and humidity of Washington.
The motorcade traveled to the Capitol steps, where almost 1,000 staff members and people who had worked with Kennedy over the decades were waiting to pay their respects. They waved miniature American flags, and most were dressed as though for a formal funeral.
When the hearse arrived, it was silent. When Vicki Kennedy stepped out, two minutes of applause. The House chaplain said a prayer, and the crowd joined in when a soloist sang "America the Beautiful."
It was stunning to see how many people Kennedy had worked with over his nearly five decades in the Senate. And whether they worked with him for a few years or a few decades, the devotion to him was the same.
Barbara Arnwine worked with Kennedy on civil rights issues at the Boston chapter of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights.
"I'm just going to think about the deep debt our nation holds and how much he really made a difference," Arnwine said. "He was a game-changer in every respect — there are so many civil rights laws that just wouldn't be law today if it weren't for his perseverance, his ingenuity, his incredible diplomacy, his, just, all-out sacrifice."
The motorcade then proceeded to Arlington National Cemetery. Capitol police say about 4,000 people lined Constitution Avenue for that final procession. All along the way, Vicki rolled down the tinted windows of her limousine and thanked the onlookers for coming.
Several old-time Washingtonians said they had never seen anything like this for a senator — a president, maybe, but not a senator. But Kennedy was not an ordinary senator.
He was the youngest of the Kennedy clan and had a hand in almost every piece of major legislation over the past 40 years — the civil rights act, Americans with Disabilities act, immigration policy, school loans and health care.
That's why more than one person said that, even though not from Massachusetts, they saw him as a senator for the whole nation, and they wanted to show thanks to the Kennedy family for their public service.
Kenny French was visiting Washington from Victoria, Tex.
"I think that he was a great man, and this is an opportunity for me to be a part of history today," French said. "That's why I'm coming out here to say good-bye to Ted. I wore my shirt, my Red Sox shirt, for Teddy today."
At the burial site, the presiding priest read a special letter Kennedy had sent to the pope earlier this year. The letter revealed how big a role Catholicism played in his life.
"I know that I am an imperfect human being but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path," the letter said.
The senator's grave lies on a gently sloping hillside, flanked by a pair of maple trees. His brother, Robert F. Kennedy, lies 100 feet away. It is another 100 feet to the eternal flame that has burned since 1963 for John F. Kennedy.
An oak cross, painted white, marks the head of his grave, and a flat marble footstone bears the simple inscription: "Edward Moore Kennedy, 1932--2009."
This program aired on August 30, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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