Cortege Honors a Quiet Dignity

Capitol officials have brought out the famed pine board catafalque on which Abraham Lincoln's body lay and prepared it to receive Ford's closed coffin.
Capitol officials have brought out the famed pine board catafalque on which Abraham Lincoln's body lay and prepared it to receive Ford's closed coffin. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 30, 2006

Unlike President Ronald Reagan, for whom Washington was a stage, and President Richard M. Nixon, for whom it was a trial, President Gerald R. Ford returns today to a Washington region he called home for almost 30 years.

And his funeral this evening will reflect a homecoming of sorts, devoid of some of the pomp of state funerals past, yet marked by his affection for the area and reverence for the capital and a recognition of the pace and time of the season, officials said yesterday.

The body of the president, who died Tuesday at his home in California, will be borne through the District's streets in a standard funeral hearse, rather than a horse-drawn caisson like the one that carried Reagan's body with elaborate and solemn ceremony two years ago.

There will be no military aircraft flyover tonight, officials said, unlike with Reagan's services, when a large flyover took place as the procession neared the Capitol.

At the family's request, Ford's cortege is scheduled to make two special stops as it travels from Andrews Air Force Base, where it is set to arrive at 5:20 p.m., to the Capitol, where his body is to lie in state through Tuesday morning.

The cortege will first pass through Alexandria, where Ford and his family lived as Washington suburbanites in a red-brick Colonial with a pool and a bay window.

It will then pause at the World War II Memorial, on the Mall, in recognition of his Navy service during the war. His hearse will stop in the middle of 17th Street, which will be closed to traffic, for several minutes, said Army Col. Jim Yonts, a spokesman for the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, which is coordinating funeral events.

Yonts said the vehicle in front of the hearse will pull ahead and the one behind will stay back to give the president's body a solitary moment before a memorial, at which several veterans and Boy Scout groups are expected to pay tribute.

Ford -- who had been an Eagle Scout -- was deeply and quietly proud of his service on the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey near the height of the struggle in the Pacific.

"It must have been very important to him, or he wouldn't be making the stop," said former U.S. senator Bob Dole, who is an honorary pallbearer for the funeral. "Plus, it's sort of a salute to his generation."

During a typhoon that devastated a U.S. fleet in 1944, Ford, then a young gunnery officer, fought fires that could have sunk the carrier, said historian Robert Drury, who two years ago interviewed Ford on the phone about the incident.

Ford's funeral plans seem as different from Reagan's as the two men were from each other, although both relished Washington in different ways, historians say. Neither Nixon nor President Harry S. Truman -- who also died Dec. 26, in 1972 -- had funerals in the capital.

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