A handful of close family members--both for Kennedy and his 33-year-old wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her 34-year-old sister Lauren--were aboard the United States Naval destroyer Briscoe for the somber event. Among the mourners: Kennedy's uncle, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, as well as his older sister, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and cousins Maria Shriver and William Kennedy Smith. The Bessettes' mother, stepfather and Lauren's twin sister were also present.
The half-hour ceremony took place only three miles from where Navy divers had found the three bodies about 24 hours earlier.
President Clinton and Defense Secretary William Cohen personally signed off on the burial at sea, even though the younger Kennedy, unlike his PT-boat hero-turned-chief executive dad, had never served in the military. "The Navy was meeting the needs of the nation in responding to the request of the Kennedy family," spokesman Kenneth Bacon said. "It was a completely appropriate response."
A chaplain aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, stationed off the coast of Virginia, also read a brief prayer and asked for a moment of silence for JFK Jr., his wife and sister-in-law, who were killed on the night of July 16 when the small plane he was piloting crashed violently into the water upon approach to Martha's Vineyard.
The trio was on a short trip from New Jersey to Cape Cod. Lauren Bessette was to be dropped off at Martha's Vineyard, then Kennedy and his wife were to hop over to Hyannis for the wedding of Kennedy's cousin, Rory, Saturday.
An extensive search involving the Navy, Coast Guard--even CIA satellites--finally located the three's remains in the fuselage of Kennedy's Piper Saratoga late Tuesday night, and divers were then able to descend 116 feet into the water to retrieve them yesterday.
An autopsy--one in which the Kennedy family requested there be no photos taken to keep images from turning up in the tabloids or on the Internet--revealed that all three died almost at the moment of impact from numerous traumatic injuries.
Invitation-only memorial services will be held by the Kennedys Friday at New York's Church of St. Thomas More and by the Bessettes Saturday at an Episcopal church in the sisters' bucolic hometown, Greenwich, Connecticut.
New York's Irish community is also planning a public ceremony Thursday night at Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.