Nation Continues To Remember, Honor Ford

Mourners for former president Gerald Ford wait in line outside the Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2006.
Eyewitnesses to history, Americans paraded through the Capitol on Sunday to pay their final respects to former President Gerald R. Ford, with parents seeking to convey to their children the significance of the 38th U.S. president's short tenure.

They remembered a leader without pretensions or even the ambition to be president until the job was thrust upon him in the last chapter of Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal in August 1974.

Dan Shirey of Herndon, Virginia, said he was moved, as a teenager, by Ford's declaration that "our long national nightmare is over" as Ford replaced Nixon. Shirey and his family — wife Juliette, and son Joshua, 6, and Nathan, 9 — left home at 6:30 a.m. (1130 GMT) Sunday for the chance to view Ford's closed, flag-draped casket in the Capitol Rotunda.

"I think they have to recognize where they come from so when they grow up, they understand," Shirey said, explaining he wanted his sons to witness history. Added his wife: "This is part of building up memories with our children."

Some visitors said it took about an hour to pass through security checks and make their way past the casket. Mourners lined up for a few blocks, starting near the U.S. Botanic Garden at the base of Capitol Hill. Some people wore blue jeans and sweat shirts; others had something like their Sunday best.

Ford will lie in state for two more days before his funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday and interment the next day in a hillside tomb near his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the city he served in Congress for a quarter-century.

President Bush and his wife, Laura, on vacation in Texas, planned to view the casket upon their return to Washington on Monday. Mr. Bush will deliver a eulogy at the cathedral service.

Ford's decision to pardon Nixon after Watergate, so divisive at the time that it probably cost Ford the 1976 election, was dealt with squarely Saturday in funeral services by Dick Cheney, the current vice president who was Ford's chief of chief.

"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 Rotunda where Ford's body rested. "Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon."

The Washington portion of Ford's state funeral opened with a procession that took his casket from Maryland to Virginia. Then it was over the Memorial Bridge — adorned with flags and funeral bunting — and to the World War II Memorial. Next, the procession went past the White House and to the Capitol.

"I think that history is going to look kindly on President Ford," said CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. "In the first part of his presidency people thought he would be just sort of a footnote to history but, in fact, what he did may be one of the most significant things that any president in the last half of the 20th century did. He gave the country a chance to catch its breath and go forward."

"All those who eulogized President Ford talked about his commitment to country, his decency as an individual and of course, his love for Betty Ford," reports CBS News anchor Katie Couric. "It was really quite moving. One quoted the president as saying 'I'm indebted to no man, and only one woman.'"

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.

Said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican of Illinois: "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."

Cheney, an honorary pallbearer, stood silently among the dignitaries attending the brief arrival ceremony, which was punctuated by cannon fire. The arrival opened the Washington portion of Ford's state funeral, with procession that took his casket from Maryland to Virginia and then over the Memorial Bridge — dressed in flags and funeral bunting — to the 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.

Mrs. Ford sat stoically in the snaking line of gleaming limousines, clutching a tissue and dabbing her face on occasion, then walked slowly up the steps of 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.

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, unfolding 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.