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The tender story of how Prince Philip comforted JFK Jr. after father's assassination

The Duke of Edinburgh's treatment of a young John F. Kennedy Jr. after his father's death in 1963 is being remembered ahead of Philip's funeral this week.
/ Source: TODAY

Decades before Prince Philip was a pillar of strength for his grandsons after the loss of their mom, Princess Diana, the Duke of Edinburgh comforted a grieving child following the death of another iconic figure.

Philip's tender treatment of John F. Kennedy Jr. in the wake of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 is being remembered as the royal family prepares for Philip's funeral on Saturday following his death at 99 on April 9.

Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Jackie Kennedy, John Jr. and Caroline
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip with Jackie Kennedy and her children John Jr. and Caroline during the inauguration of Britain's Kennedy memorial at Runnymede on May 15, 1965.Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Author Paul Brandus tweeted an anecdote from the book "The Death of a President" about how Queen Elizabeth's husband consoled a 2-year-old JFK Jr. after flying to Washington, D.C., for President Kennedy's funeral.

"A story about Prince Philip, who died today at 99," Brandus wrote. "The weekend of the Kennedy assassination, he flew to Washington for the funeral. At the White House on Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy was looking for John Jr. and opened the door to his playroom.

"There she found the Prince sprawled on the floor, playing and laughing with the murdered president's son. Days from his 3d birthday, John had said earlier that he "didn't have anybody to play with" (also: "where's Daddy?") and her Majesty's husband decided that he would entertain the boy. RIP."

Brandus also shared a touching photo of Philip holding the boy's hand a year and a half later at a ceremony in Britain.

"In May 1965, the British government gave an acre of land to the United States for a memorial to the murdered president at Runnymede - site, 750 years earlier, of King John signing the Magna Carta," Brandus wrote. "Here, John Jr. holds hands with his Mom and the Prince."

Three decades after JFK's death, Philip was once again a rock for children who lost a parent. Prince Harry and Prince William endured the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in 1997.

William was 15 and Harry was 12 when they decided to do walk behind their mother's casket at her public funeral procession.

Giving them strength was their grandfather Philip, who promised he'd be with them every step of the way. William said in the BBC documentary "Diana, 7 Days" that he agreed to do it because Philip promised to walk beside him.

William's aunt, Princess Anne, reflected on that family decision in an interview after her father's death with the U.K.'s ITV.

"Memory is a strange thing, isn’t it?" she said. "I seem to remember him saying that it was a question of, if you do it, I’ll do it. And that was him as a grandfather, saying (to his grandsons), if you want me to be there, if that’s what you want to do and you want me to be there, I’ll be there."

"I think the reason that Prince William agreed to, despite hesitation at the beginning, to walk behind his mother's coffin was because his father, and also especially his grandfather, were also doing it," NBC News British historian Andrew Roberts said on TODAY Monday. "His grandfather, a tower of strength, all the way through his life. And he thought that if he was going to be standing there, so close to him, that it was all going to be all right."

Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Jackie Kennedy, John Jr. and Caroline
Prince Philip had some tender moments with a young John F. Kennedy Jr. following the assassination of his father in 1963. AP

Tragically, the boy Philip consoled all those years earlier had his own life cut short two years after Diana's death. JFK Jr. died at 38 in a plane crash in 1999.

William and Harry remained close with their grandfather right up to the end, with Harry keeping in touch over Zoom from his home in California during the pandemic. The two princes are expected to join their father, Prince Charles, in walking behind Philip's coffin in a short procession inside Windsor Castle on Saturday.