National Day Of Mourning For Gerald Ford

People stroll past an avenue of flags after signing a condolence book for President Gerald R. Ford at the Gerald R. Ford Museum, Monday, Jan. 1, 2007, in Grand Rapids, Mich. AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

America pays tribute Tuesday to Gerald R. Ford, in a national day of mourning that will include a funeral service at the National Cathedral in Washington, with the eulogy delivered by President Bush.

Mr. Ford's body will be removed from the Rotunda Tuesday morning and will lie in repose briefly outside the Senate before leaving the Capitol where he served as a congressman for 25 years.

A bell at the Washington National Cathedral will toll 38 times for the 38th president as the cortege moves through the streets of Washington on the way to the funeral.

The funerals for former presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan were also held at the cathedral and Woodrow Wilson is buried there.

Speakers at the funeral – which the former president himself had a hand in planning – will include former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former President George H.W. Bush.

Two of the Ford children will do Bible readings; Jack Ford, reading from the Prophet Isaiah, and Susan Ford Bales, reading from the Book of James.

Monday, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush returned to Washington from their ranch in Texas and briefly paid their respects to the nation's 38th president, who is lying in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Former first lady Betty Ford was surrounded by her children and held hands as they watched the military honor guard and the casket.

After standing alongside Ford's flag-draped casket Monday and bowing their heads in silent farewell, the Bushes went to Blair House, across the street from the White House, where they paid a condolence call to Mrs. Ford and then walked back to the Executive Mansion.

Vice President Dick Cheney - who was President Ford's chief of staff - and his wife, Lynne, also visited Mrs. Ford Monday afternoon.

The president, who says the former president was a great American who helped heal the nation after Watergate, saluted Mr. Ford in a statement last week and at greater length on Saturday in his weekly to the nation.

Mr. Bush and his wife visited the Capitol on the third day of mourning there for President Ford, who died at 93. Two of Ford's children stood in the Rotunda Monday, greeting people who came to pay last respects to their father.

Just a few moments later, Mr. Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, and his wife, Barbara, stood by the casket and bowed their heads.

The casket has been resting on a wooden catafalque first used when President Abraham Lincoln's body was placed in the Rotunda and honored in the same way.

Michael Gerald Ford shook 8-year-old Christopher Witkowski's hand and gave him a blue remembrance card. "My father would have wanted you to have this," he told Christopher, from Alexandria, Va. Ford's sister, Susan Ford Bales, stood nearby, greeting others who had come to pay their respects.

Before the Bushes went to the Hill, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who this week becomes the first woman speaker of the House, paid her respects. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton were also among the long line of mourners, which included many Americans of all walks of life.

Karen Olson, 53, of Herndon, Va., said the rain couldn't dampen her determination to see him. Her mother, who's now deceased, was on his staff, she said.

"I wanted to come pay my respects. He was a big part of my life,'' said Olson, who was among the people lined up before 9 a.m. EST to enter the Capitol building. "I have a lot of ties to his family."

"The few times that I met him, he was just really nice," she said.

Both of Olson's parents have passed away.

"I kind of felt like I wanted to be there for them," she said. "There's just an emotional connection there."

Inside the Rotunda, Ford's daughter and son handed remembrance cards to some of the visitors.

The blue cards had the presidential, vice presidential and House of Representatives seals and a biography of Ford on one side. On the other was a photograph of the former president in the Oval Office, his head bowed.

The message on the card: "The family of Gerald R. Ford deeply appreciates your prayers and many kindnesses as together we celebrate and honor the life of a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather and the 38th president of the United States."

The mourners came wearing parkas, bearing umbrellas and clutching snack sacks on a rainy New Year's Day.

Kirk Scofield, 44, and his wife Mary Scofield, 50, of Sterling, Va., also were among those who lined up early.

Mary was dressed in a parka, poncho and had "six hours of food" in her backpack. She said she was expecting a six-hour wait, though they had been in line less than an hour. "She looks like she's ready to go camping," Kirk joked.

Mary said she wanted to come to the viewing because it was a unique opportunity. "It's just kind of neat to see."

John Erb, 56, and his wife Karen Erb, 55, of Alexandria, Va., said they were in line at 8:20 a.m. and stood less than an hour to see Ford's casket.

"Between being New Year's Day and rain, it kept a lot of people from being ahead of us," John said.

John said he was in the Army during Ford's administration and came to the viewing because "it's part of the old commander in chief thing."

Following the pardon of Richard Nixon for any crimes from Watergate, Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter. Former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, Ford's running mate in that campaign, returned unannounced to pay his respects again Sunday, after being among the invited guests as an honorary pallbearer at Saturday evening's ceremonies in the Rotunda.

Political analysts believe the pardon played a major - if not the major - role in Ford's defeat.

Ford was out of the White House after just two and a half years in office and was the only unelected president. Nixon had appointed Ford vice president to replace Spiro Agnew, who resigned in a bribery scandal stemming from his days as Maryland governor.

Following Tuesday's funeral service in Washington, Ford's remains are to be flown to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he grew up, for a brief private service at his presidential museum and public viewing overnight. A private funeral service will be held at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids on Wednesday, followed by a private burial on the grounds of the museum.
  • Michelle Singer

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