Cheney hails Ford's pardon of Nixon
WASHINGTON - The nation honored Gerald R. Ford in funeral ceremonies Saturday that recalled the touchstones of his life, from combat in the Pacific to a career he cherished in Congress to a presidency he did not seek. He was remembered as the man called to heal the country from the trauma of Watergate.
Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon, so divisive at the time that it probably cost him the 1976 election, was dealt with squarely in his funeral services by his old chief of staff, Vice President Dick Cheney.
"It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely though a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe," said Cheney, speaking in the Capitol Rotunda where Ford's body rested. "Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon."
Hundreds of ordinary Americans lined up for a chance to view the closed, flag-draped casket of the 38th president late into the night and through the weekend. From teenagers in sweat shirts to mothers pushing infants in strollers, they flowed into the night in two steady streams along velvet ropes encircling the casket, pausing only for the periodic changing of the military guard standing watch.
The Washington portion of Ford's state funeral opened with a procession that took his casket from Maryland to Virginia and then over the Memorial Bridge — dressed in flags and funeral bunting — to the World War II memorial, past the White House without pausing and on to the U.S. Capitol for the first service and a lying in state that continues until Tuesday morning.
Although Ford's family planned the state funeral to emphasize Ford's long service in the House, Watergate quickly set the tone of the proceedings.
"In our nation's darkest hour, Gerald Ford lived his finest moment," said Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska told the Rotunda service. "He was the man the hour required."
Said House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "In 1974 America didn't need a philosopher-king or a warrior-prince. We needed a healer, we needed a rock, we needed honesty and candor and courage. We needed Gerald Ford."
The Rotunda ceremony was interrupted when William Broomfield, 84, a former Michigan congressman who served with Ford in Congress, collapsed. He was laid out on the floor of the Rotunda, and attended to by Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, before being taken out on a wheelchair. Frist later indicated Broomfield was OK.
Lights bathed the granite arch of the memorial commemorating the Pacific theater as Ford's nighttime funeral procession, bearing his wife, Betty, and the casket of the 38th president, stopped there in tribute to his years as an ensign and gunnery officer. The other arch, representing the Atlantic theater, stood in darkness.
Mrs. Ford sat stoically in the line of gleaming limousines, clutching a tissue and dabbing her face on occasion, then walked slowly at the Capitol in the arm of her military escort, soon followed by the casket bearing her husband of 58 years. Another round of cannon fire rang out.
After the ceremony, Mrs. Ford walked to the casket with the aid of her son and rested her clasped hands briefly on top of it.
The pageantry was muted, as Ford wanted, but the ritual unfolded with regal touches and according to exacting traditions dating back to the mid-1800s.
In one departure from tradition, pallbearers placed his casket outside the House chamber before it was taken to the Rotunda to lie in state. That honored Ford's years of service in the House as a congressman from Michigan and minority leader.
Similarly, Ford's body will rest briefly outside the Senate chamber on Tuesday, commemorating his service as vice president, which also made him Senate president.
On the way to Capitol Hill, World War II veterans and Boy Scouts gathered by the memorial and saluted at the brief, poignant stop. Mrs. Ford waved through the window. A bos'n mate stepped forward to render "Piping Ashore," a piercing whistle heard for centuries to welcome officers aboard a ship and now to honor naval service.
The event, without words, recalled Ford's combat service aboard the aircraft carrier USS Monterey. In December 1944, when a typhoon struck the Third Fleet, Ford led the crew that battled a fire sparked by planes shaken loose in the storm, taking actions that some credited with saving the ship and many lives. He sought no award, and received none.
The Capitol commemorated a man whose highest ambition, never realized in an era of Democratic control of Congress, was to become House speaker.
History intervened; he became vice president when Spiro Agnew resigned in scandal, then president when Nixon left office in disgrace. "A funny thing happened to me on the way to becoming speaker," he once cracked.
In Palm Desert, Calif., a 13-hour period of public viewing ended just as the sun rose over the resort community where Ford and his wife settled nearly 30 years ago. People waited up to three hours to pay their respects at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church before an aircraft from the White House fleet flew Ford's remains and the funeral party to Washington.
The funeral procession to the Capitol lacked the full trappings, by the design of Ford and his family. A motorcade was arranged instead of the horse-drawn caisson most familiar to Americans from the funerals of Ronald Reagan in 2004 and John Kennedy in 1963.
Ford, a man of modest character whose short presidency lacked the historic drama of JFK's and Reagan's, also was mourned without the riderless horse customarily included in the procession.
The thundering military flyover that is also part of a full-throttle state funeral in Washington will happen instead in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Ford will be entombed Wednesday on a hillside near his presidential museum. Ford represented the city in the House for 25 years.
Ford died Tuesday at age 93. He became president when Nixon resigned in August 1974 and then was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.
Six days of national mourning began Friday with military honors and a simple family prayer service at St. Margaret's, where the Ford family has worshipped for many years. Mourners ranging from children to the elderly had walked through quickly and then reboarded their buses — a process taking less than two minutes.
Barbara Veith, 69, said Ford's "everyman" persona drew her to the viewing.
"There is something personal about his passing even though we didn't really know him," Veith said. "He just kind of had an everyman quality to him though he was far from it — he was the president."
During his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Bush called Ford a "courageous leader, a true gentleman and a loving father and husband."
"He always put the needs of his country before his own, and did what he thought was right, even when those decisions were unpopular," Bush said. "Only years later would Americans come to fully appreciate the foresight and wisdom of this good man."
When they return to Washington from their Texas vacation on Monday, Bush and first lady
Laura Bush plan to pay their respects to Ford while he lies in state at the Capitol. On Tuesday, the president will speak at Ford's funeral service at Washington National Cathedral before Ford's remains are taken to Grand Rapids.