Jonesboro man recalls his role in planning, leading JFK funeral

A photo from Copenhaver's military career
A photo from Copenhaver's military career
Copenhaver discusses when he led the funeral procession
Copenhaver discusses when he led the funeral procession
The funeral procession led, at that moment, by Copenhaver
The funeral procession led, at that moment, by Copenhaver

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Fifty years later, Dr. Harold Copenhaver still remembers a lot from the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

"Of course, everybody remembers where they were when they heard it," Copenhaver said. "Everyone has their own story."

Copenhaver's story, now a 50 year old memory, could've been different.

"I was in the barracks out at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington DC," he said. He and an assistant leader of the Air Force Band heard the announcement over the radio.

Copenhaver, an officer at the time, was called upon to help plan part of JFK's funeral. It wasn't supposed to be his job but his boss was out of town that day.

"It was my responsibility then, kind of second in command, to go down to the White House that night."

Representing the Air Force Music Program, Copenhaver said he and dozens of others began to plan the funeral that would take place four days later.

"Where the band was going to be, what band was going to lead the parade, what band was going to be at the White House, what band was going to be at the grave site," he recalls.

Certain aspects of that day still stick out in his mind.

"I remember Mrs. Kennedy was there...I remember she still had blood on her dress," Copenhaver said. "She wasn't crying or weeping at all, she was organizing."

Copenhaver said Jackie Kennedy was very business-like. "She was very much in charge. We just kind of stood back and said 'Where do you want us to go?'" he laughed.

Most of the funeral plans were already in place, as they are for all Presidential funerals, but Copenhaver recalls Mrs. Kennedy did make some special requests.

As for the funeral procession, though the Army Band led most of it, when they crossed Memorial Bridge heading to Arlington Cemetery, The Air Force Drum and Bugle Corps led the way and they were led by Dr. Copenhaver. The moment, memorialized in an iconic wide shot photo of the funeral.

"The funeral procession went around this way," he told Region 8 News, pointing at the photo. "They went this way, and we went that way and got in front and led the procession across the bridge. Then we stopped over here, and they took his body on up to the burial site."

For the Jonesboro retiree, who's career in the military and in music has provided him with so many memories, on November 22, 1963, he was simply doing his duty.

"Did it ever occur to you that you were becoming a part of history that weekend?" we asked.

"No. It was just another day at the office, another part of the job," he answered without hesitation.

As Copenhaver played at the White House often for the Air Force Band, he met the Kennedy's on multiple occasions before JFK's assassination. He said out of all of the presidents he'd met and played for, the Kennedy's were the most hospitable.

Copyright 2013 KAIT. All Rights Reserved.