He stood in salute that day in 1963 as his father's casket rolled past, a 3-year-old model of propriety and decorum for a nation then grieving over a president's untimely death and which now fears his own.
John F. Kennedy Jr. was piloting a plane carrying his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, when at 9:39 p.m. Friday the plane disappeared from radar and, it appears, from the life the world expected of him. Debris washing up on the beaches of Martha's Vineyard suggests the plane crashed into waters around the island. Faint hopes for survivors have dwindled with each passing hour until they too have all but disappeared.
For a family that has already borne much grief, the news was one more blow upon a bruise that has never fully healed. For a nation that has known Kennedy since the day he was born to a president-elect, the news was an unhappy reminder of man's mortality and the conceit involved, as the Scriptures put it, in storing up treasures on Earth.
The media responded to the grim tidings as though a head of state had died, and in some respects it's not hard to understand the interest. It is an unnatural and terrible and newsworthy thing for a parent to have to bury a child, as those in the violence-prone District of Columbia know all too well. Kennedy's very public childhood at the White House and his upbringing in a very public family effectively put him into almost every living room and dining room in the country. Americans aren't ready to bury a "son" they had watched grow to a life full of promise.
In adulthood, Kennedy also has remained a figure of fascination to the media because in the distorted fun-house mirror of life they reflect, he has been a disproportionately large figure. His beauty, wealth, power and influence are all things that Americans like to see when they look into that mirror. Although he occasionally has stumbled in his professional life - as when he failed to pass the New York state bar exam - before finally entering the publishing business with George magazine, he has remained famous primarily for being famous. …