At JFK Eternal Flame grave site, a former honor guard recalls escorting Jackie Kennedy

November 24, 2013

The Rev. Tyrone L. Broadus stood, awaiting his guests’ arrival to the cemetery on a rainy Wednesday morning.

Earlier, about 6 a.m., Broadus was asked which family member he wanted to escort to the grave. He chose the widow.

He held her umbrella while she knelt to place flowers on her husband’s grave.

Broadus was proud to escort Jacqueline Kennedy to the permanent burial site of her husband, John F. Kennedy.

“I ended up in the postcard,” said Broadus, 69, of DeFuniak Springs, Fla.

A photo of the native Washingtonian with Jackie Kennedy made its way onto a postcard for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. He was barely recognizable, but for Broadus, it meant an eternal connection with an American icon.

Kennedy was “a symbol of great hope” to Broadus.

“He opened avenues that had been closed, and opened up hope for others,” said Broadus, who so admired the president’s style that he cut his own hair like Kennedy’s — “combed on the right, with a part on the left.”

Broadus was one of the 13 honor guards chosen to escort the Kennedy family and President Lyndon B. Johnson to the consecration of the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame grave site on March 15, 1967.

Broadus’s duties as a member of the Old Guard, formally the 1st Battalion, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, were to conduct memorial services for fallen soldiers and to serve at special events.

Broadus said two speeches greatly influenced him: Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech, with the famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

“I took that to heart,” he said.

The second speech was delivered at New Bethel Baptist Church by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He said, ‘Whatever you do, be the best that you can be,’ ” Broadus recalled. “If you are a street sweeper, you should do it so well that they’ll say, ‘There goes a good street sweeper.’

“I made sure to be the best I could be,” Broadus said.

His silver 2002 Honda Civic’s tags says “JFKHG.” “I was that impressed,” Broadus added.

His sister and mother remember Broadus’s service with pride.

“Ty took whatever he did very seriously,” said his sister, Gwen Leftwich, 67, of Waldorf. “Some people thought he took it to the extreme, but he was proud.”

Added his mother, Mary, 87, of DeFuniak Springs: “Not that many blacks had the chance to be in a position of honor. I am proud to call him my son.”

Broadus, who was born at the old Garfield Hospital (now MedStar Washington Hospital Center), lived in Shaw for 43 years. His military career began at Cardozo High School, where he reached lieutenant colonel in his cadet corps. Through that distinction, he was selected to serve as honor guard at the Pageant of Peace ceremony on Dec. 17, 1962, which landed him in the same room as the president.

“I gave the command to present arms, and we raised our sabers for Kennedy to walk under, like a tunnel,” Broadus said.

After high school, Broadus worked at the John I. Thompson Co. and as a police officer securing parking lots at Howard University. Then he enlisted in the military.

He joined the U.S. Army Military District of Washington’s presidential firing party after basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. Next was the honor guard.

The Old Guard has served as the Army’s ceremonial unit and the escort to the president since 1784. Honor guards are tasked to serve at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the White House, the Pentagon and at national memorials. Their motto, “Touch Me Not,” is a reference to how still they must stand. Broadus was originally a member of the Old Guard’s firing party, and “they liked my performance so much,” the lieutenant colonel at the time promoted him to serve at the Kennedy grave site.

“You had to keep the uniform spit shined, polished and keep ourselves up. No sideburns, clean cut. We represent the best of the military on the home front.”

Being at such a popular memorial allowed Broadus to “come off the pedestal” and “pose for pictures and converse with the tourists.” He still has letters from visitors thanking him.

Broadus left the honor guard to join the D.C. police force in April 1968. In September 1969, he was struck by a drunken driver while directing traffic.

“The driver was coming from an early retirement party. [He injured] my knees, my hip and my back.” Broadus returned to the force a couple of months later. “I was young and thought I was invincible.”

He wasn’t, and he retired three years later.

“I was having a pity party,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why would God cut me down in my youth? Then the Holy Spirit said to me, ‘Maybe God has something else for you to do.’ ”

In 1974, Broadus enrolled in Washington Saturday College, held at Howard University, and earned his associate’s degree in religious education (he received his bachelor’s in 1981).

He was ordained at True Gospel Baptist Church in June 1985 and moved to DeFuniak Springs to preach, first at Mount Nebo Missionary Baptist Church and then St. Mark’s Missionary Baptist Church, where he still serves.

“It’s just like it says in Proverbs 18:16: A man’s gifts will make room for him, and he’ll be in the company of great people.”

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