He had the bearing of a Patton, the camera presence of a Cronkite. For nearly 25 years, simply by standing proudly at the funerals of the high and mighty, he symbolized the grief and thanks of the United States.
But on Feb. 6, 1976, barely able to walk or see, about 106 years old in "people" terms, having taken part in perhaps 10,000 funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, Black Jack was put to sleep and buried on the parade yard at Fort Myer.
And mostly forgotten.
But not beyond recall. Anyone who saw John F. Kennedy's funeral will remember Black Jack as if it were yesterday.
The riderless horse. Black with a white spot about his nose. The one who was named for Gen. John (Black Jack) Pershing. The one who always followed the caisson. Whose saddle always had boots inverted in the stirrups to symbolize a fallen leader.
But in a sense, once he was gone, the old gelding was barely missed. Oh, they placed a plaque on his grave. But the very day he died, Black Jack's role as the Third Infantry's riderless horse was handed over to another black gelding named Raven. And funerals at Arlington Cemetery continued, as they still do, every weekday, one every couple of hours, all day long.
Now, however, an Arlington housewife who was a Black Jack fan for the last 13 years of the gelding's life is trying to thank her favorite horse posthumously in a way she hopes will be "as special as he was."
Nancy Schado is trying to raise $50,000 to erect a life-sized bronze statue of Black Jack at Fort Myer. She is about a quarter of the way there, and she is determined to get the rest of the way by the end of the year.
"People sometimes think I'm strange when I tell them," she admits. "But I can't think of a $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE better way to say thank you."
Or, as it has turned out, a more complicated way.
Schado first got the Black Jack statue idea shortly after the horse's death. It figured, for she had thrown the horse a birthday party every Jan. 19 for the previous dozen years.
Before she could set up a nonprofit corporation and begin to raise funds, Schado had to get permission to erect the statute at Fort Myer. She had to snip the red tape of one historical commission and three military commanders before permission was granted.
But hammering away at a project is nothing new for Nancy Schado.
Every Wednesday for the last 16 years, she has baked and brought a cake to the Old Guard stables at Fort Myer, where Black Jack lived for so long. The Old Guard stablehands get first crack at it, but that is simply right place, right time. Since the mid-60s, the cake has been butter pecan, which just happened to be Black Jack's favorite flavor. He almost always got a taste.
Still, it is love of country, not of horses or baking, that spurs Nancy Schado's drive for a Black Jack statue.
Around their home, near Crystal City, the Schados are known as the couple who fly the American flag in front of the house every day. The family car sports an "America Love It or Leave It" bumper sticker. And even though her husband has been retired from the Army for 16 years, Schado still volunteers to do odd, thankless jobs for military social occasions around the Washington area.
But Black Jack is now Nancy Schado's obsession.
"There isn't always the opportunity to do something that amounts to anything," Schado explained. "A lot of women would do this if they were here. But it's me who's here, and I feel I just have to do it."
Schado has the help of two part-time secretaries, a lawyer, an accountant and a board of directors, all of them volunteers. But it is she who designed and placed the ads in military magazines, she who answers letters, she who sees to it that every contributor gets a miniature Black Jack medallion.
It has gotten so purposeful that, when Michael Schado, her husband, bought himself a plaque a few weeks ago that said "I Am Married to a Nut," "I didn't even get mad," said his wife.
To meet her is to wonder if she ever has. A native of Springfield, Ill., Nancy Schado is a sunny, smiling soul who "married into the Army at 16" and accompanied her husband and three children to posts all over the country. She did a little secretarial work here and a little volunteer work there, but never anything having to do with horses. "I haven't even been riding in 20 years," she says.
Shortly after moving here, Schado attended an Arlington funeral and noticed Black Jack.
"It was on the 24th day of June, nineteen hundred and sixty-three," Schado intones, very slowly, as if the date were holy. "I thought, "I must find out more about him." " ther first visit to Fort Myer was shyness itself ("All I did was pat his nose a little"). But the rest, as they say, is history.
Nancy Schado thinks that Black Jack's disposition, more than his looks or bearing, is what cemented her love for him.
"He seemed to know when people were watching. He was a natural ham," she said. "In fact, the only time he was ever skittish that I saw was at President Kennedy's funeral. I think he was showing his objection to the way this man died."
Aw, come on.
"No, I mean it. I think horses sense an awful lot. At least he could."
Nancy Schado knows she could have surrendered to playing bridge with the ladies long ago."And I do wish I was more the sweet, grandmotherly type," she said.
"But I believe people should speak out. I don't mean to be a fanatic or an idiot about it, but I consider myself lucky. How many people get the chance to do something as important as what I'm doing?" CAPTION: Picture 1, Nancy Schado with memorial medals to Black Jack. By Craig Herndon - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Black Jack, with inverted boots, at President Eisenhower's funeral in 1969. By Charles Del Vecchio - The Washington Post.