By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 28, 2006
The body of Gerald R. Ford will arrive Saturday in Washington and lie in repose in the Capitol Rotunda, but in keeping with the unassuming former president's style, his state funeral will be as modest as such an affair can be.
Unlike the 2004 state funeral for Ronald Reagan, the funeral for Ford will include no horse-drawn caisson, no caparisoned horse and no grand military parade down Constitution Avenue. Instead, at the request of the family, the body of the nation's 38th president will be whisked by motorcade around town in a hearse.
"That's the decision of the family," said Army Col. James Yonts, a military spokesman for the command overseeing funeral arrangements.
Ford's death at 93 nonetheless triggered preparations both intricate and massive in and around Washington yesterday, with plans culminating in a funeral Tuesday morning at Washington National Cathedral.
After a private prayer service tomorrow in Palm Desert, Calif., Ford's body will be flown Saturday to Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, with arrival expected about 5:20 p.m. A motorcade will take the former president's body to the Capitol via the Mall, pausing in tribute at the National World War II Memorial.
After arriving at the Capitol, the former president's casket will be carried up the east steps to the door of the House of Representatives, where Ford represented Michigan from 1949 to 1973.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, a service will be held in the Capitol Rotunda. Ford's body will continue to lie in state until Tuesday morning, allowing the public to pay last respects. The hours of visitation have not been announced.
On Tuesday morning, the casket will be moved from the Rotunda to the U.S. Senate, and following a departure ceremony on the east steps, taken by motorcade to Washington National Cathedral for a 10:30 a.m. funeral.
Ford's casket will be taken afterward to Andrews and flown to Grand Rapids, Mich., site of the Gerald R. Ford presidential museum. Services will be held Wednesday, followed by burial in a tomb on a hillside near the museum.
A special military task force created for the funeral began assembling key personnel at Fort McNair in Washington early in the morning yesterday, soon after Ford's death was reported.
The commander of the Joint Force Headquarters for the National Capital Region, Army Maj. Gen. Guy C. Swan III, departed from Andrews about 6 a.m. aboard a military aircraft with dozens of personnel on a flight to Palm Springs, Calif., near the Ford family home in Rancho Mirage. A second planeload left later in the morning.
"This is really the Super Bowl for the command, so these soldiers are ready," said Yonts, spokesman for the command.
About 3,000 to 4,000 service members in the Washington area are expected to be involved in the funeral.
Swan met with members of the Ford family beginning late in the morning yesterday to review existing plans that had been prepared with the involvement of the family, including the former president.
Ford was known for his consideration for others, and the funeral preparations reflect that, officials said. "The family is very sensitive to the approaching holiday weekend and a lot of key members of the leadership being out," Yonts said.
The military party sent to California includes an honor guard, chaplain and band members. They are preparing formal ceremonies to mark the casket's departure from Palm Springs and to greet it at Andrews.
The task force, known as Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, has established an operations center at Fort McNair that will be operating 24 hours a day for more than a week. The command has recalled some military personnel from holiday leave to begin the preparations. "We've asked them to cut leave short," Yonts said.
Military officials began coordinating road closings and security with National Park Service, U.S. Capitol and District police. The Capitol and Washington National Cathedral were showing signs of bustle and dash. "All those sites are starting to take on the look of activity," Yonts said.
The funeral plans prompted D.C. officials to push back the time of Tuesday's inauguration of Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty. Fenty decided to delay all inaugural ceremonies until after Ford's body leaves Washington.
The inauguration, and the swearing-in of D.C. Council members, had been set for 10 a.m. It now is tentatively set for 2 p.m. Fenty plans to go ahead with plans for an inaugural ball Tuesday night.
Staff writer Elissa Silverman contributed to this report.