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Ford Makes Last Trip To Washington

Members of the family (front right) watch as the casket of former US President Gerald Ford is removed from the hearse to be placed onto Special Air Mission 29000 during a departure ceremony for the flight to Washington, DC, 30 December 2006 in Palm Springs, California. Former first lady Betty Ford is accompanying her husband's body on the flight. Two services are planned in Washington, with Ford is to be buried in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 03 January 2006.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
An aircraft from the White House fleet took off Saturday with the casket of former President Gerald R. Ford, carrying him from his adopted California home back to the nation's capital.

The flight to Washington followed solemn ceremonies for a leader whose understated manner was a salve for a nation wracked by the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal.

A 13-hour period of public viewing ended just as the sun rose in this desert community where Ford and his wife, Betty, settled nearly 30 years ago.

The casket was removed from St. Margaret's Episcopal Church during an elegant departure ceremony as a military band played "Hail to the Chief," then was taken in a motorcade to Palm Springs International Airport.

A Marine Corps band played "America the Beautiful" as the casket was removed from the hearse and placed onto a Boeing 747 from the presidential fleet for the flight to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Ford's body was accompanied by the 88-year-old Betty Ford and other members of the family.

After landing at Andrews, a motorcade was to take the casket to the Capitol, stopping briefly at the World War II Memorial in deference to Ford's Navy service.

Before the casket was flown to Washington, thousands of people filed solemnly past the casket at the church, paying silent tribute to the leader whose understated manner was a salve for a nation racked by the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal.

When the doors were opened after a private service, mourners started flowing in and filed past the casket all through the night and continue to come to pay their respects, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.

Beginning Friday and continuing into the wee hours of Saturday morning, buses brought people to St. Margaret's Episcopal Church from a gathering point at a tennis center five miles away. Mourners ranging from children to the elderly walked through quickly and then reboarded their buses — a process taking less than two minutes.

"It's so moving, especially with someone like Ford, who had such an important place in history," said Michelle Dhami, who came with her two young children.

Ford was to lie in repose for public viewing of the closed casket until late Saturday morning, when former first lady Betty Ford was to board a Boeing 747 and accompany her husband's body to Washington. Two services were planned in Washington, and Ford was to be buried in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Jan. 3.

The emphasis for the ceremonies will be on simplicity, very much in keeping with Ford's style, reports CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer

Ford died Tuesday at age 93. He became president when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, but was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.

He was a Republican congressman from Michigan when Nixon named him vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973.

Ford's pardon of Nixon not long after taking office sparked intense criticism, but with time many Americans have come to see Ford's decision as courageous and one that helped heal a nation fatigued from Watergate and the Vietnam War.

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 30 years.

Betty Ford and her children watched as uniformed enlisted men from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines carried Ford's flag-draped casket.

A Marine Corps band played the hymn "O God Our Help in Ages Past" and a sailor honored Ford's Navy service by carrying an ebony staff flying the presidential seal.

"We receive the body of our brother, Gerald, for burial," the Rev. Robert Certain, church rector, said as the casket was carried inside. It was then placed before the blond-wood altar decorated with wreaths of white flowers.

The Ford family asked the Reverend Robert Certain, their pastor and friend for almost a decade, to preside over the service, as well as the others next week in Washington, D.C. and Grand Rapids, reports Whitaker.

The private family service was followed by a visitation for invited friends, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former New York Congressman Jack Kemp and former California Gov. Pete Wilson. When it ended, Mrs. Ford left in a motorcade headed back to her home in the neighboring city of Rancho Mirage.

Several men stopped and snapped salutes. One woman wore a red, white and blue scarf.

A modest early turnout at the staging area grew through the evening. No official count was kept, but buses carrying about 50 people per trip came and went steadily. The trip took about three hours by late Friday.

"You wait all that time for just one minute, but it's historic and you just can't not go," said Pam Veith, 45, of Cathedral City.

Earlier Friday, a motorcade brought Ford's casket and family to the church. Local police saluted and residents of the desert resort region watched silently as it passed.

"It's such a historical event, especially to see this in your own town," said Jeanine Lee, 60. "This is really the end of an era. Nixon is gone. Sinatra is gone. Bob Hope. And now Ford."

Among the spectators was Evelyn Tidholm, 80, a visitor from Oklahoma who said she voted for Ford in 1976.

"I just have never seen anything like this. I thought that at my age it's something that I should see," she said.

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Bush eulogized Ford, who died Tuesday, as a "courageous leader, a true gentleman and a loving father and husband."

Mr. Bush said Saturday that the last time he saw Ford, the ailing former president was still cracking jokes.

"Gerald Ford never lost the spirit that Americans grew to admire so much," Mr. Bush said, recalling his visit with Ford and former first lady Betty Ford last April at their home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

"At age 92, and battling health problems, he was still telling jokes and displaying the optimism that helped guide our nation through some of its darkest hours," Mr. Bush said.