Black Jack Memorial Event

Black Jack and Andy Carlson at JFKs funeral.

If you are old enough to remember John F. Kennedy's funeral procession in November of 1963, then you almost certainly recall a shiny black horse being led along the street, polished hooves flashing as he pranced, tugging at the line held by his handler, his saddle empty except for the cavalry boots thrust backward in the stirrups, symbolic of a fallen leader. That Caparisoned Horse was Black Jack.

Black Jack, a jet black Morgan / Quarter Horse cross, served as the Caparisoned Horse in thousands of Armed Forces Full Honors Funerals over his 20 years of service, including the funeral processions of Presidents Herbert Hoover, Lyndon B. Johnson, and General Douglas MacArthur.

Black Jack lived a long, happy life, well-cared for by the men of the United States Army Old Guard Caisson Section. Presidents came to his birthday parties, books were written about him; buses full of school children made visits to his meet him.  He passed away on February 6, 1976, and because of his long, faithful service to his country, was awarded an exceptional honor: He became only the second horse in U.S. history to himself receive a Full Honors Funeral, complete with a caparisoned horse being led in his honor. He was buried on the parade ground at Fort Myer, VA, and is still remembered fondly by those who knew him.

Plaque on Black Jack's grave

This February marked the 40th year since Black Jack's passing, and the Old Guard honored this famous horse with a special wreath-laying ceremony at his grave, and the presentation of a Breyer resin Black Jack model to the Caisson Section's Black Jack Museum.

The event was organized by SPC4 Phil "Flip" Godfrey and PFC Andy Carlson.  Flip was privileged to spend time with Black Jack at Ft. Myer and led the Caparisoned Horse during Black Jack's funeral.  Andy was Black Jack's handler during the JFK funeral procession and many others.

The photograph below was sent to us by Mr. Godfrey.  In the top image, Flip is leading the Caparison Horse at Black Jack's funeral.  In the bottom image is Black Jack, led by Andy Carlson, at JFK's funeral.

Flip contacted us in October, trying to find a Breyer Black Jack resin.  When we heard that he was planning this memorial, and intended to purchase the resin to donate to the Black Jack Museum at Ft. Myer, we decided to not only find him one, but purchase it ourselves to give to him for the event.  With the help of donations from Lisa Bickford and Ev Stoviak (the resins usually sell for between $250 and $500), we were able to purchase a model for them.

Breyer Black Jack resin

 By Flip's invitation, we flew down to Arlington to attend the wreath-laying and model presentation on February 6.  I brought the model in a carry-on bag, but was nervous that security might stop me because of the little chrome sword attached to the horse.  They didn't even raise an eyebrow, so he rode with me all the way from Maine to Arlington.

The day of the event was partly cloudy, but warm for February.  As the crowd began to gather, soldiers and horses of the Caisson Section stood for photos and answered questions.  We met today's Caparison Horses, Sergeant York and Hank, and Section Horse Clinger, who is one of the Percheron-crosses that pulls the caisson.  (An interesting note:  The caisson is pulled by three pairs of horses, and the horses on the left side are also ridden while they are harnessed.)

L to R: Sgt. York, Hank (background), and Clinger


Above: Photo-op before the ceremony. Horses, Left to Right: Sgt. York, Clinger, and Hank, with their handlers and a Platoon Section Sergeant holding the wreath.

Below:  Andy Carlson, the Old Guard Commanding Officer Colonel Johnny Davis, and Flip Godfrey place the wreath at Black Jack's grave.

Below:  The horses and handlers stand at attention during the ceremony.

This picture is the most powerful photo of the day for me.  Military men, both active and retired, saluting Black Jack while Taps is played.

Following the wreath-laying, we were invited to the Caisson stables to meet the horses and the men who work with them.  I've been to some show stables, but never have I been to a working stable of over 40 horses that was so immaculate!

Caisson Stable

Harness / Saddle combinations for the Caisson Section Horses.

Caisson Section saddles and harness

Following a great speech by Flip Godfrey, we unveiled the resin model in the Caisson / Black Jack Museum.  Left to right:  Elizabeth E., whose model was donated, myself, Lisa B. who donated toward its purchase, Platoon Leader 1LT Dan Nicolosi, Platoon Sergeant Tyree, and Andy Carlson (background).

Model Unveiling

Andy Carlson and I pause for a photo while he signs my copy of the Black Jack book in front of photos of him with Black Jack in the 1960s.

Andy Carlson with Eleda Towle

The Platoon Leader thanks Elizabeth, whose husband was a veteran, and assures her that her model will remain with the Caisson Section always.  It was a touching moment, for sure.

Retired Old Guardsmen flew in from all over the country for the event, and it was an honor to meet each of them.  I wish I'd had several more hours (or days!) to talk with them and hear their stories.  I know I didn't get a chance to talk to all of them, but I tried to ask as many as possible to sign my book so I could have a wonderful way to remember this powerful gathering of people brought together by one special horse. Among them were Ronald Richards, whose photo in the book is one of my favorites, and "The Nation's Farrier," Pete Cote, whom we suspect may be a cousin of mine!  I sincerely hope to stay in touch with them and get an opportunity to hear more about their service with the Caisson Section.

Below, Tom Chapman, Black Jack's last handler, and ball-bearer at his funeral, signs a photo of him leading Black Jack, leaning on the funeral Caisson.

Tom Chapman with the Caisson, signing book


What a day!  Thank you to Flip Godfrey for organizing this incredible memorial event, and to Base Commander Col. Davis and the Caisson Section for hosting it.  It was a day that none of us will ever forget.

Platoon Leader 1LT Nicolosi, Flip Godfrey, Andy Carlson, and Section Sergeant at Black Jack's grave.  [Note the horseshoe-shaped hedge that rings his grave, meticulously trimmed and maintained in his honor.]

Photo credits:  All photos in this article are provided courtesy of the Old Guard, and may not be reproduced without their permission.