- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

Thousands of visitors yesterday again lined up at the U.S. Capitol to say a final goodbye to Gerald R. Ford, recalling the 38th president as a healer to a country sharply divided by Watergate and the Vietnam War.

Retired government scientist William Kachadorian of Olney called Mr. Ford “a calm in the midst of a great storm.”

“I suppose I came here today to show respect to the president and to demonstrate a sense of his patriotism in myself, which I think is a very important thing to do,” Mr. Kachadorian said. “He demonstrated sincere leadership.”

Mr. Ford’s body will continue to lie in state today in a closed, flag-draped coffin at the Capitol Rotunda before his funeral tomorrow at the Washington National Cathedral. President Bush will give the eulogy. Mr. Ford will be buried Wednesday near his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Most of those who came to pay their respect over the weekend were ordinary people, dressed in NASCAR jackets, jeans or sneakers. They said Mr. Ford’s tenure was short, but his calm helped stabilize the country in the two years after he replaced President Nixon, who resigned in August 1974 amid the Watergate scandal.

“I think he was a good president, and I think he kind of just brought the country together,” said U.S. Department of Justice employee Sharad Tilak of Fairfax. “He was a peace president, rather than a war president.”

Many who lined up to view Mr. Ford’s coffin had not planned on doing so, but decided that it was too important of an opportunity. Others extended holiday visits.

“It was history happening. It was obviously a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said tourist Rachel Miles of Georgia, leaving the Rotunda with her daughter, Katie, 18.

“We were in the area, so we figured we’d come,” added Kathryn Corbin, Mrs. Miles’ sister. “We really appreciated the opportunity. I remember when became president. It was my time. I remember him as a people’s president.”

The wait in the viewing line and the walk past the coffin yesterday took about an hour, said Patty Calloway, 31, who lives in Naples, Fla., but was visiting family in the area over the holidays.

She brought six children, including her own and nieces and nephews, ages 7 to 14.

“It’s important for the kids to know they were a part of history,” she said. “I want them to tell everybody at school about it when they go home.”

Some mourners also were greeted in the afternoon by two of the late president’s sons, first Jack and then Steven.

“Thank you for coming on behalf of the family,” Jack Ford told visitors as they filed in.

“Sorry for your loss,” some responded.

Jack Ford spent about an hour in the Rotunda in the early afternoon, while Steven was there for roughly the hour before nightfall, sometimes sitting off to the side watching people file by and occasionally getting up to exchange pleasantries with some of them.

No official count of the number of mourners was available, but a steady stream of an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 people per hour walked slowly past the casket for slightly more than nine hours yesterday, after a similar outpouring for nearly three hours Saturday evening.

The Rotunda was closed to the public at just after 6 p.m. yesterday, but a military guard, changed every hour, stood silent vigil throughout the night.

The lines were much shorter than those in 2004 to see the casket of former President Ronald Reagan. Many people waited eight hours or more in lines that zigzagged across the Mall, said Frank Enten, who attended both ceremonies.

Yesterday, Mr. Enten stood close to where the lines formed, hoping to catch some business. Among the vendors hawking $4 hot dogs and $1 hot chocolates, Mr. Enten, 76, was selling political campaign buttons, some as old as the 1940s.

“You got any Ford-Dole’s?” one man asked, referring to Mr. Ford’s unsuccessful 1976 presidential bid with former Sen. Bob Dole against Jimmy Carter.

“Sure, why not?” Mr. Enten replied. “How about $5?”

“The Fords are selling real good today,” Mr. Enten added. “Only a few left.”

Several people said they recalled Mr. Ford’s toughest moment as president: the pardon, in September 1974 of Mr. Nixon for any Watergate crimes. It came only one month after Mr. Ford became the nation’s only unelected president.

“I thought when he pardoned Nixon he stood up and did what the country needed, not what would further his political career,” said John Banks, 51, of Calhoun, Ga. “I don’t think we have presidents that do that anymore.”

Mr. Banks, who was in the Air Force when Mr. Ford was president, drove more than 10 hours to Washington to pay his respects.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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