Kennedy laid to rest at Arlington cemetery

Sen. Edward Kennedy was laid to rest Saturday evening at Arlington National Cemetery as the sun set on a day that began with a somber funeral service in Boston and included a final tribute at the U.S. Capitol.

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A 25-minute burial held in growing darkness included military honors such as a volley of rifle fire and a playing of "Taps," and an address by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington and a longtime Kennedy friend. McCarrick read a letter Kennedy had sent Pope Benedict that President Obama had delivered personally in July. The letter asked the pope to pray for him as Kennedy approached the "next passage of life."

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, attended the service, along with Kennedy’s wife, Victoria, and eldest son, Edward Jr., and other members of the Kennedy family.

Kennedy died late Tuesday at 77 after a 15-month long battle with brain cancer. The senator served 47 years in the Senate, first winning election in 1962 to the seat formerly held by his brother, President John F. Kennedy. The senator was memorialized in a two-and-a-half-hour funeral service in Boston Saturday morning, then flown to Andrews Air Force Base and driven to the Capitol for a brief outdoor ceremony.

Four presidents, more than half of the U.S. Senate, and celebrities from film, sports and music attended his funeral. At the Capitol, more than a thousand senators, House members, congressional staff and ex-Kennedy aides waited patiently on the steps for a final viewing and to express their condolences to Victoria Kennedy and Kennedy's children.

Thousands of more people who had likely never met Kennedy lined the route to Arlington. Police estimated 4,000 people stood along Constitution Ave. as the motorcade traveled slowly through D.C. The procession was greet by the sounds of cheers, applause and shouted condolences from the crowd along the road.

Delays meant the burial service originally scheduled for 5:30 p.m. was instead held two and a half hours later. After the sun set, the only lighting came from the Robert E. Lee House above the hill and the headlights of cars from the funeral procession parked nearby. A constant ringing of cicadas created a background to the prayers and final remembrances. Rain, although forecast, did not interrupt the ceremony.

"They called him ‘The Lion of the Senate,’ and indeed that’s what he was," McCarrick said of Kennedy. "His roar and his zeal for what he believed made a difference in our nation’s life."

"We always knew and were always touched by his passion for the underdog, for the rights of workers, for better education, for adequate healthcare for every American," McCarrick said. "His legacy will surely place him among the dozen or so greats of the Senate of the United States."

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McCarrick also read a letter that Kennedy wrote to Pope Benedict this summer and had been delivered in July by President Barack Obama. In it, Kennedy discussed his mortality, his personal failures and his political legacy.

"I am writing with deep humility to ask you to pray for me as my health declines," Kennedy wrote the pope. "I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and although I have continued treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.

"I know I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my path. I want you to know, Your Holiness, in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I have worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination, and expand access to healthcare and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a United States senator. I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to healthcare for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life."

Kennedy’s grave is between two maple trees in a softly sloping hill, 20 feet from the nearest cemetery road. It is 100 feet from the grave of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and about 200 feet from the eternal flame that marks the grave of President John F. Kennedy.

Plans call for Kennedy’s grave to be simple — a white, wooden cross and a marble footstone inscribed "Edward Moore Kennedy, 1932-2009." That would make the grave identical to Robert Kennedy’s nearby, although a cemetery guard on Friday also said the family was careful to leave room for a later stone memorial surrounding the grave, possibly with inscriptions from Kennedy’s speeches. Such memorials already decorate the other two Kennedy gravesites.

Arlington National Cemetery Superintendent John Metzler Jr. said he was contacted by Kennedy’s staff a few weeks ago to discuss burial options, although final decisions were put off until the day of Kennedy’s death. The grave was dug early Saturday morning, with workers accidentally piercing an irrigation line in the process.

Metzler said once in place, the wooden crosses marking the Edward and Robert Kennedy graves will be the only two in the entire cemetery.

The cemetery superintendent said he accompanied Kennedy many times on his frequent visits to the graves of his brothers.