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.
Reagan's grand services befit his popularity and outsize personality. His rites were also the first presidential funeral services in the city since those for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973, which also had a military flyover and a horse-drawn caisson.
Officials said presidential funerals often are prepared years in advance. Donald A. Ritchie, associate historian of the Senate, said the military, which choreographs the events, offers an array of scenarios from which a family may pick.
Capitol officials said yesterday they have brought from storage the famed pine board catafalque on which Abraham Lincoln's body lay and prepared it to receive Ford's closed coffin later today. Most people who lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda do so on the Lincoln catafalque.
The Ford family's decline of the horse-drawn caisson to the Capitol might have been due in part to the season, Yonts said. The arrival at the World War II Memorial is expected to be about 6 p.m., well after the sun sets at 4:56 p.m.
Reagan's body was carried through the city at almost exactly the same time. But his journey was in early June, with sunset about 8:30 p.m. and plenty of daylight ahead.
It was not clear yesterday whether Ford's lower presidential profile would affect public attendance.
"A lot of people have a lot of respect for this man," Yonts said. "The opportunity, that if you're a tourist in this town at this time, to come by and show your respect plays into it."
But Ed Rudzinski, chairman of the board of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., said that, compared with Reagan's funeral, Ford's probably will be "a five versus a 10. Reagan was more pomp and circumstance. That was huge."
Still, he said, the thousands of people coming to attend will boost business during a time when rooms aren't in heavy demand.
Colleen Evans, a spokeswoman for Marriott International, said the Ritz-Carlton is experiencing a "big pickup" in reservations from foreign dignitaries and media groups.
"We'll have a book in the lobby for guests to sign -- they can put in their thoughts and recollections of the great healer."
In addition, the hotel's dinner special will include one of Ford's favorite dishes, Evans said: pot roast and red cabbage.
Staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed to this report.