Cadets who impressed John F. Kennedy in Ireland offered final salute at his graveside

By Helen O'Neill

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6 2013 8:00 a.m. MST

"It was all very haunting, but enveloping at the same time," said Michael McGrath. "It was like the drill just became part of you, and we all became one."

And though it passed in a blur, they knew they had executed it flawlessly.

Afterward, when they had marched away, the cadets found themselves surrounded by senators and congressmen, eager to thank them for their comportment and composure. Back at Fort Myer, their American peers took them out on the town, where everyone recognized Kennedy's Irish honor guard and strangers treated them to meals and drinks.

A hero's welcome followed in Ireland, with de Valera congratulating them individually.

Letters of praise poured into The Curragh from top American military officials. But the most moving expressions came from ordinary Americans.

"Your honor guard made me feel proud to tears," wrote Frank Gulland, who described himself as "just a salesman of building materials, from a small city in Ohio."

Soon after returning from Washington, the cadets received a gift from their counterparts at Fort Myer — a large, framed photograph of their honor guard standing at attention at Kennedy's grave. The picture still hangs in the cadet mess at The Curragh.

On a visit to the barracks this summer, Coughlan and Sreenan reminisced as they gazed at the faded photograph, picking out their younger selves, pausing to remember colleagues who have passed. They pondered the irony of it — that in training for a film of the drill, specially requested by Kennedy himself, they had in fact been rehearsing for his funeral.

Over the decades, the cadets who became known as "Kennedy's Class" have remained close, hosting annual reunions and trips back to The Curragh.

They plan a 50th anniversary visit to Arlington this year. There, they hope to lay a wreath at Kennedy's grave. They will pause in a moment of reflection. And they will cast their minds back to that crisp November day, when, with the eyes of the world upon them, they performed the finest drill of their lives.

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