- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

The nation paid tribute yesterday to Gerald R. Ford’s legacy of service — in the military, in Congress and as the president who helped to heal the country after the Vietnam War and Watergate.

“Tonight we say goodbye to a true gentleman, an exceptional leader and our good friend,” Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, said in the Capitol Rotunda, where the former president’s body rested in a flag-draped casket. “In our nation’s darkest hour, Gerald Ford lived his finest moment. He was the man the hour required.”

It was noted repeatedly that Mr. Ford never aspired to be president, but served honorably after the Watergate scandal forced Richard M. Nixon to resign.

“President Ford proved as worthy of that office as any who had ever come before,” said Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as Mr. Ford’s chief of staff. “He assumed power without assuming airs; he knew how to treat people. He answered courtesy with courtesy; he answered discourtesy with courtesy.”

Mr. Cheney also addressed the 38th president’s decision to pardon Mr. Nixon, which was so divisive at the time that it probably cost him the 1976 election.

“It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely though a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe,” he said. “Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon.”

Mr. Ford died Tuesday at age 93.

Yesterday evening, an aircraft from the White House fleet brought Mr. Ford’s body to Andrews Air Force Base from services near his adopted California home.

In Washington, hundreds waited along the route the former president’s motorcade took on its way to the Capitol — through Alexandria, where he once lived; to the National World War II Memorial, in honor of his service in the Navy; and past the White House.

Lights covered the arch at the World War II Memorial dedicated to the Pacific Theater, where Mr. Ford served aboard the USS. Monterrey. As the funeral motorcade paused at the memorial, a bos’n mate stepped forward to play “Piping Ashore,” a piercing whistle heard for centuries to welcome officers aboard a ship and now to honor naval service. Mr. Ford’s wife, Betty, was seen waving to the crowd from her vehicle.

The pageantry was muted, as Mr. Ford wanted, but the ritual unfolded according to traditions dating back to the mid-1800s.

A motorcade was arranged instead of the horse-drawn caisson familiar to Americans from the funerals of Presidents Ronald Reagan in 2004 and John Kennedy in 1963.

The military flyover that is also traditionally part of a state funeral in Washington will happen instead in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Mr. Ford’s body will be entombed Wednesday on a hillside near his presidential museum.

In another departure from tradition, pallbearers placed Mr. Ford’s casket outside the House chamber before it was taken to the Rotunda, where his body will lie until Tuesday morning. That honored Mr. Ford’s 25 years of service in the House as a congressman from Michigan and minority leader. On Tuesday, Mr. Ford’s body will rest briefly outside the Senate chamber, commemorating his service as vice president, which also made him Senate president.

During the Rotunda ceremony, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said the country “needed” the man whose ambitions were said to go no further than the post the Illinois Republican currently holds.

“In 1974, America didn’t need a philosopher-king or a warrior-prince,” Mr. Hastert said. “We needed a healer, we needed a rock, we needed honesty and candor and courage. We needed Gerald Ford.”

The ceremony was interrupted when William Broomfield, 84, a former Michigan congressman who served with Mr. Ford in Congress, collapsed. He was attended by outgoing Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, before being taken out in a wheelchair. Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, later indicated that Mr. Broomfield was OK.

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.

As the crowd followed her out of the Rotunda, the Rev. Barry C. Black, chaplain of the Senate, made one final reference to Mr. Ford’s role in healing the nation.

“Accept our gratitude for his courage to decide based upon principles, for his pragmatic leadership during cynical times and for his long life of exemplary service,” Mr. Black said.

Earlier yesterday, in Palm Desert, Calif., a 13-hour period of public viewing ended just as the sun rose over the resort community where Mr. 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.

Barbara Veith, 69, said Mr. Ford’s “everyman” persona drew her to the viewing.

“There is something personal about his passing even though we didn’t really know him,” Miss Veith told the Associated Press. “He just kind of had an everyman quality to him though he was far from it. He was the president.”

President Bush, who plans to attend the funeral service on Tuesday, praised Mr. Ford during his weekly radio address.

“In his 2 years as President, Gerald Ford distinguished himself as a man of integrity and selfless dedication. He always put the needs of his country before his own, and did what he thought was right, even when those decisions were unpopular,” Mr. Bush said. “Only years later would Americans come to fully appreciate the foresight and wisdom of this good man.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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