by Ann Jamieson
For a public grieving its fallen commander, the vision of the riderless horse said it all. And the horse knew, knew he had a role of immense importance to play that somber November afternoon. His proud carriage, his elegant movement, told the world how completely he understood the assignment.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the youngest and 35th president of the United States, was dead, ambushed by bullets the source of which the world may never know. The United States mourned, the world mourned, this inspirational man who had proven such a source of hope for his country. The nation was dumbstruck by his death.
The horse was solid black, a sixteen-year-old Quarter Horse/Morgan cross. The boots placed in his saddle faced backwards, representing the slain leader, as Black Jack trotted up Seventeenth Street.
First Lady Jackie Kennedy was unaware of the horse’s name when he was selected for the funeral procession. When she learned that it was Black Jack, she was overcome with emotion: her father had regularly been addressed by the nickname Black Jack.
Black Jack–the horse–became a hero and a symbol for the nation. The horse’s comportment during President Kennedy’s funeral caused him to be selected for the funerals of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, and General Douglas MacArthur.
His fame brought Black Jack scores of visitors. Unlike most horses, who interact mainly with horse lovers, Black Jack’s highly visible role caused him to be seen and remembered by the entire nation. On his 29th birthday 1500 guests attended his party, and a fan brought him a butter pecan cake weighing nearly 200 pounds.
When he was humanely put down after 24 years of distinguished service, Black Jack was granted a full military funeral. Black Jack was buried in Virginia on the Fort Myer parade ground, Summerall Field.
His stall still remains as a shrine.
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