Nightly News   |  November 25, 2013

Jackie Kennedy’s strength in a time of mourning

As the nation grieved the death of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jackie Kennedy found the self-control to design every detail of his funeral. According to historians, she was determined to supplant the brutal images from Dallas with ones that would put her husband on a level with Abraham Lincoln. NBC’s Kate Snow reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> finally tonight a look back 50 years. on friday from dallas we showed you the solemn anniversary of the jfk assassination . that event, the shock, sadness in late november of '63 started a marathon period of mass mourning in this country. for the next four days, americans watched an average of eight hours of television each day trantransfixed by what they saw. during the funeral of jfk one gripping moment stood out for most. our report from kate snow .

>> reporter: it was one of the first times the nation mourned together by watching live tv .

>> in all of the succession of moving scenes that have passed before our eyes these three days, none has been more so than mrs. john kennedy .

>> reporter: she was only 34 years old, a young wife and mother who had lost a newborn child just months before. but in the hours after a gunman changed the course of this nation, it was jackie kennedy who took the lead.

>> she was absolutely determineded that the often sordid and brutal images from dallas be supplanted by images that would put her husband historically on a level with abraham lincoln .

>> reporter: so the east room was draped in black, just as it had been for lincoln. the flag-covered casket was covered on a horse drawn caisson. the drums and a riderless horse in the procession.

>> she has never been less than perfect. more than any other one person it was she who raised the level of it all from is a vasavage insanity up to solemn grandeur.

>> reporter: she had no choice but to share her private grief.

>> she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

>> reporter: a personal moment at the hospital after kennedy was pronounced dead became the refrain in his eulogy. perhaps the most enduring image that day, a young boy saluting his father. the story behind the image? president kennedy took john john to arlington cemetery for veterans day . the kennedys were trying to teach him to salute. he practiced with his mother but because he was left-handed he couldn't salute with his right hand until that monday when his mother said it was time. it was his third birthday.

>> for the first time he gave an absolutely perfect salute as his father's coffin went by. that's what everyone remembered.

>> reporter: that and the first lady's grace.

>> maybe no one will know how she did it, how she found the strength and self-control to do it, but she did.

>> reporter: kate snow , nbc news, new york.