It was a simple service to remember a complex man.

Paul H. Nitze, a consummate Washington insider whose government service spanned eight presidencies, was remembered yesterday in a one-hour service at Washington National Cathedral as more than a key architect of American strategy against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Nitze, the former senior State Department official, assistant defense secretary, Navy secretary and deputy defense secretary, was also an opinionated uncle, an extraordinary colleague, a generous neighbor and a member of a select group of elite intellectuals who put others at ease. He died of pneumonia Tuesday at his home in Georgetown at age 97.

He was remembered for how he practiced Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on the piano, eyes partly closed, tongue between his teeth. He was remembered for how he was on the dance floor, a smile on his face, his feet twinkling below.

"He considered himself the luckiest of men, to be given the opportunity to resolve great conflicts, the resources and skills to make a difference and the temperament to enjoy the struggle," his son Peter Nitze said to about 1,100 mourners.

The memories began far from Washington yesterday as flags on U.S. ships at sea flew at half-mast for Nitze, who in April was only the eighth living person to have a Navy warship named for him.

In Washington, eight pallbearers -- crew members of the USS Paul H. Nitze -- carried his flag-draped casket down the aisle after an organ prelude by Bach, one of his favorite composers.

Nitze's second wife, Elisabeth Scott Porter, was to present the flag later to the ship's commanding officer, Cmdr. Michael A. Hegarty.

In the shadows near the cathedral entrance, where Nitze's body initially was received, a wreath of flowers with a banner in German provided a tribute from the people of the Federal Republic of Germany, grateful for Nitze's work after World War II.

Nitze helped determine U.S. economic policy during the war and pushed the Marshall Plan to rebuild postwar Europe. He advised President John F. Kennedy during the Berlin and Cuban missile crises and helped stave off a nuclear arms race.

He was outspoken, and he famously shifted positions on arms control issues, drawing criticism from the right and the left. He was never made a Cabinet member, to his lasting regret. His bitter opposition to the nomination of Paul C. Warnke, a former colleague, as President Jimmy Carter's chief arms negotiator alienated even his friends, who called him an obstructionist and a character assassin.

After readings by family members yesterday, including Nitze's other children -- William Nitze, Phyllis Anina Moriarty and Heidi Nitze -- the Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon delivered a homily that noted Nitze's lack of fear over speaking his mind and changing his views.

As the power of the cathedral's organ sent vibrations up 10 stories, choral voices echoed off the vaulting, and mourners began to file outside.

"He was a man who believed in the possible, not the perfect," Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said after the service. "He was a guy who had enormous clarity of mind and great vision and great moral courage in being willing to say what he thinks, which is sometimes rare."

Nitze was a man of peace, not war, Wolfowitz said, a grandfather to the 21st century for all the support and leadership he provided to scores of ambassadors and public servants who studied at the school Nitze co-founded, which is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and later was renamed the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld called Nitze's life of public service extraordinary. "People think of him as connected with the Cold War because that was the longest period, but he was broader and deeper and ranged well beyond that one important event in our life," he said.

Terry Marsh, a lawyer who house-sat for Nitze's family for two years, spoke of a side of him that few leaders exhibit today.

"He had his sharp side, like any man of his intellect," Marsh said. "He didn't think [President Richard] Nixon was involved with Watergate. I said he was up to it in his eyeballs. I was this punk kid out of college at the time.

"When it all came out, he pointed to me," Marsh recalled. "He said, 'This young fellow here, he called it right to the bone.' He would always recognize an opposing position, analyze it and, if he found it stood up, he could admit he was wrong."

As the cathedral reopened to tourists after the service, William Nitze stood out front and said his father would have liked the simplicity of the service. "He really did believe in duty, honor, country."