ARLINGTON, Aug 30 – Democratic lion Edward Kennedy has been reunited with his slain brothers — laid to rest in a Virginia cemetery as a lone bugle player brought the curtain down on a US political dynasty.
Surrounded by his tight-knit family which has dominated US politics for half a century, Kennedy’s body was brought to Arlington National Cemetery Saturday, to rest on a hillside overlooking the nation’s capital.
The late senator was buried 100 feet (30 meters) from the grave of his brother, Robert Kennedy, assassinated in 1968, and close to the eternal flame marking the last resting place of president John F. Kennedy, shot dead in 1963.
Three days of high emotion drew to a close as the nation bid a final farewell to the man who had the Kennedy mantle thrust on him and who spent 47 years tirelessly working in the US senate to improve the lives of others.
At a Catholic mass earlier in the Kennedy fiefdom of Boston, President Barack Obama, who won key support from the Kennedy’s in his race for the White House, eulogized him as "the lion of the Senate."
Obama, three former presidents and the nation’s elite gathered at Boston’s Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to say farewell to the Kennedy family patriarch, who on Tuesday lost his fight with brain cancer. He was 77.
Obama hailed Kennedy as a "champion for those who had none, the soul of the Democratic Party, and the lion of the US Senate."
"He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party, of platform and philosophy from becoming barriers of cooperation and mutual respect, a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots," the president said.
After the mass, Kennedy’s flag-draped coffin was flown to Washington on the last leg of his final journey which had begun Thursday when it was placed in a hearse outside his Cape Cod home.
Thousands of people again lined the routes Saturday, mirroring scenes seen over the past three days in his home of Hyannis Port and then in Boston in an enormous outpouring of grief at Kennedy’s death.
Outside the US Capitol the crowds broke into loud applause as the funeral procession halted briefly for the senator’s final visit to the imposing white national assembly.
In unprecedented scenes, thousands of other ordinary by-passers had gathered solemnly on the lawns and roadsides nearby to pay their respects.
Outside the Senate which shook for almost five decades with the sound of Kennedy’s voice, his widow, Vicki, and other family members stepped out of their cars to greet hundreds of Congress staffers and lawmakers.
The members of the Irish-American clan were earlier moved to tears at the mass when Kennedy’s son, Ted Kennedy Jr, gave a moving address about his father’s tenderness to him during childhood when he had a leg amputated because of cancer.
"He taught us that even our most profound losses are survivable," Kennedy Jr said.
Recounting how his father helped him climb an icy hill with his new prosthetic leg, Kennedy Jr said: "He taught me that nothing is impossible."
"He was not perfect, far from it. But my father believed in redemption and he never surrendered, never stopped trying to right wrongs — be they his own failings, or ours," Kennedy Jr said.
Although many Americans disliked his leftist politics, the senator’s passing has been a national event, signaling the end of a half-century era in which his legendary family was a highly influential force in the Democratic Party.
In uncanny echoes of JFK’s funeral more than four decades ago, thousands of people lined the route from Washington’s Lincoln Memorial over the Arlington Memorial Bridge, clapping as they paid their last respects.
And in a poignant moment, as the sun set over his graveside, the senator’s voice could be heard in the gathering dusk from beyond the grave when his recent letter to Pope Benedict XVI was read out.
"The disease is taking its toll on me," admitted Kennedy frankly in the July letter, saying he was "preparing for the next passage of life."
The Vatican said in its reply the pope "was saddened to know of your illness and asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness."
Benedict asked that Kennedy "may be sustained in faith and hope and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God."
A three-shot volley rang out, followed by the haunting sounds of the bugle player, as darkness fell leaving the eternal flame flickering in the night.