Vicarious vacations 05: The JFK Eternal Flame at Arlington Cemetery, 1966

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THEN: In summer 1966, dressed for the occasion, Linda Turner (left) and cousin Karen Mason (now Hansens) gaze over a picket fence to the eternal flame marking the grave of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery.  (Mary Mason)
NOW: Four visitors stand before the larger Kennedy gravesite plaza, which opened in 1967 and has been expanded to include the graves of other Kennedys. (Jessica Meyerzon)
The JFK Eternal Flame at Arlington Cemetery, 1966
‘There was absolute devastation … this was very important’
Linda Turner
By Clay Eals

She was a 6-year-old tag-along from West Seattle to provide company for a Tri-Cities cousin seven months older. The cousin’s parents were leading the two on a cross-country summer 1966 car trip during which the pair sometimes had turf fights in the Cadillac’s broad backseat.

“It was a love-hate relationship the whole time,” says Linda Turner. “Sometimes I would be literally sitting on the floor behind the passenger seat with my back against the door and my nose in a book.”

An alternate view of the eternal flame in 1966. (Mary Mason)

But when they got to Arlington Cemetery and the eternal flame marking the grave of assassinated President John Kennedy, the girls knew something was up.

“I’m sure they gave us instructions on ‘You need to be quiet’ and ‘Behave’ and ‘We’re going to do this’ and why we were doing it. v… There was absolute devastation. It was heart-rending to the family around me and to people who were much more aware of the history at the time.”

Linda says it was “obvious that my aunt took a lot of care in making sure that we were dressed nicely.” Their hair was bound in tidy ponytails. “That was a challenge because neither of us particularly cared to have our hair done.”

What impresses Linda today was the site’s austerity. “For such a large public figure and important monument, they had a small, white picket fence, and you are not more than a few feet from the gravesite. That is totally amazing.”

She has never returned. But doing so “is certainly on the table.”

WEB EXTRAS

Here is a video interview of Linda Turner, plus one additional photo. And please click here for a backgrounder on the JFK Eternal Flame.

VIDEO (12:06):Click the photo to see Linda Turner talk of her early childhood trip to see the JFK Eternal Flame at Arlington Cemetery and other cross-country sights. (Clay Eals)
The JFK eternal flame in July 1966. (Clay Eals)

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