While the world watched the funeral procession of John F. Kennedy on television, Bob Gill stood just feet away.
The experience was much less solemn than it appeared on TV, he remembers.
“The music was just deafening “» and it was the clip-clop of the horses, the wheels of the wagon, old and creaky. I was flabbergasted at how loud everything was,” Gill said.
At the time of Kennedy’s assassination, Gill was a 21-year-old Marine stationed with the Honor Guard at the U.S. Marine barracks in Washington, D.C.
On the day Kennedy died, Gill — an Orleans, Mass., native — and other Marines were getting ready for a weekend pass at home, tossing laundry into the car they’d share to carpool back to New England.
“And then one guy went back in to get something he forgot, and they said, ‘Everybody back. The president has been shot,’” Gill said.
The next day, the Honor Guard learned it would be standing guard at the funeral procession through the city, and received written orders and detailed instructions of the route it would take.
“I still have them,” said Gill, 71.
More than specific images, Gill remembers the sounds and smells that surrounded him as he and fellow Marines stood guard as the casket went by, then rushed further up the route to ensure there was no part of the trip left without an escort.
Just a dozen feet from where Gill was standing was a riderless horse, boots backward in its stirrups, to represent Kennedy as a fallen hero.
Between the horses’ whinnies and the drums, pipes and bugles of the Marine Corps band, the noise was impossible to ignore, Gill said.
“It just reverberated through you,” he said. “You know, we were just kids, 21, 22. Our jobs were duty as usual. We were only enlisted men “» but it was hard to take that day in stride.”