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Kennedy Gravesite Restoration Work Under Way at Arlington National Cemetery


Knights of Columbus underwrites cost of restoring legibility of JFK inaugural address.

John F. Kennedy gravesite

Stone mason John Everett Benson and restoration artisan Gordon Ponsford (foreground) collaborate in the initial phase of the refurbishment of President Kennedy’s inauguration address text at his gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Restoration work began this week at the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy, where the words of his inaugural address, engraved in a granite wall opposite the eternal flame over his tomb, have become difficult to read after decades of weathering.  The restoration of the lettering is being underwritten by the Knights of Columbus, of which Kennedy was a member from 1946 until his assassination in 1963.

On January 20, 2011, the nation will mark the 50th anniversary of his Inaugural address, which is perhaps best remembered for the phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”   That quote, as well as others from the Inaugural address and additional speeches, is inscribed in the gravesite wall.  The Knights of Columbus is sponsoring an essay contest on the Inaugural address for U.S. high school students this fall, ensuring that this generation of students will gain an appreciation of Kennedy’s legacy.

The original engraving was done by master stone mason John Everett Benson, who continues to ply his trade in Rhode Island at the age of 72.  The restoration work is being done by Gordon Ponsford, who has done similar work at more than a dozen sites in Arlington National Cemetery in recent years.

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson said that the Knights of Columbus “is proud and honored to be able to make this contribution to honoring the memory of President Kennedy.  His words inspired an entire generation, not just in America but throughout the world.  We are grateful for the opportunity to work with Arlington National Cemetery in helping to ensure that those words will continue to inspire all who visit his final resting place.”

The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest lay Catholic organization, with more than 1.8 million members on three continents.  Last year the Knights of Columbus donated more than $151 million to charity, and its members volunteered 69 million hours of their time to support charitable causes.  President Kennedy, America’s first Catholic president, was a member for nearly two decades and belonged to Bunker Hill Council 62 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which was established in 1892.