Dimitri Simes's role during former president Richard M. Nixon's trip to Russia last month was incorrectly described in an article yesterday. Simes was an advisor to Nixon. (Published 4/29/94)
YORBA LINDA, CALIF., APRIL 27 -- Richard Milhous Nixon, a man of painful and enduring paradox whose successes and failures helped define the postwar era, was buried today in the shadow of the plain white farmhouse where he was born.
President Clinton and four former presidents joined in honoring Nixon in a historic gathering that brought together in an improvised amphitheater much of the nation's political establishment and many of the men and women -- friends and enemies alike -- who played key roles in Nixon's extraordinary career.
It seemed a fitting conclusion to the long, hard effort by the only man ever to resign the presidency to redeem himself and redefine his place in history.
Noting the presence of all five of Nixon's successors in the White House, Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state, said it symbolized "that his long and sometimes bitter journey had concluded in reconciliation."
Clinton in his eulogy sounded the same theme. As a young man the president had protested against the Vietnam War and he began his political life working against Nixon's reelection in 1972. But this afternoon Clinton instead recalled his association with the former president during the past year and offered a graceful tribute and historical vindication.
"Today is a day for his family, his friends and his nation to remember President's Nixon's life in totality," said Clinton. "To them let us say, may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close."
"He made mistakes and they, like his accomplishments, are part of his life and record," said Clinton of the man who stepped down from office on Aug. 9, 1974, under threat of impeachment. "But the enduring lesson of Richard Nixon is that he never gave up being part of the action and passion of his time."
Sitting in white chairs and bleachers under cold and threatening skies on the grounds of the Nixon presidential library during the 80-minute service were about 2,000 guests, including envoys from 47 countries. While some guests wiped tears from their eyes during the service, it was Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), who showed the most emotion.
Concluding his eulogy of the man he described as "the largest figure of our time," Dole was choked with emotion as he said: "May God bless Richard Nixon and may God bless the United States."
Arrayed in the front of the speakers were Nixon's two daughters, Tricia Cox and Julie Eisenhower, and their families. Across from them sat all five men who have followed Nixon to the White House, seated in chronological order with their wives: Clinton; George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford.
More than 100 senators and House members were among those attending the first funeral for a former president since Lyndon B. Johnson died in 1973. Other guests came from every stage of Nixon's long public life. California Gov. Pete Wilson (R), another eulogist, was an advance man in Nixon's own ill-fated campaign for California governor in 1962, and drove him home after what the former vice president declared would be his last news conference. Dimitri Simes served as Nixon's interpreter on his trip to Russia just a month ago. Celebrities Bob Hope, Red Skelton and Buddy Ebsen also were present.
But the most notable mourners, their presence a jolting bolt from the past, were those former aides and officials who played a role in the scandal that shattered Nixon's presidency.
There was Spiro T. Agnew, the vice president whose resignation and plea of no contest to a charge of income tax evasion preceded Nixon's departure by just under 10 months. There was Rose Mary Woods, Nixon's longtime personal secretary, whose name will forever be associated with the famous 18 1/2-minute gap in a crucial Watergate tape. And there was G. Gordon Liddy, the former staff assistant who helped lead the botched June 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters that ignited the Watergate affair and eventually brought Nixon's downfall.
Their presence made for some incongruous scenes. At one point Liddy stood next to former senator Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), a key member of the Senate Watergate committee. Former senator George S. McGovern, overwhelmingly defeated by Nixon in what was probably the high point of the former president's career, was among the guests as was Elliot L. Richardson, who resigned as Nixon's attorney general rather than fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox in October 1973.
But there was no direct mention of the Watergate scandal by the Rev. Billy Graham, who presided at the ceremony, or by the four eulogists, only allusions to the controversies Nixon had faced and his indomitable will to persevere.
Kissinger quoted from "Hamlet" to characterize the president with whom he had worked to recognize China and achieve detente with the Soviet Union: "He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again."
Addressing the Nixons' two daughters and their families, Graham said: "Always be proud of your father and grandfather, for he was one of the great men of this century."
Graham, who also presided at Johnson's funeral 21 years ago, began today's observances shortly after 4 p.m. Pacific time, walking ahead of Nixon's casket as it was carried by military pallbearers from the lobby of the library, where thousands of people had waited in line to see it since it was brought here Tuesday afternoon.
The ceremony had all the pomp and solemnity of a state funeral. A military band played patriotic hymns. Four F-16 fighters flew overhead in the traditional "missing man" formation, after a fifth plane peeled off. There was a 21-gun salute, and the public ceremony closed with a Navy bugler playing taps. The burial, next to Nixon's wife of 53 years, Pat Ryan Nixon, was limited to family members.
Nixon was 81 when he died. He suffered a stroke April 18 at his home in Park Ridge, N.J., only a month after returning from a trip to Russia in which he had held a series of highly publicized meetings with Russian opposition figures. He was moved to a hospital in Manhattan, where he slipped into a coma and died Friday night at 9:08.
It was Clinton who announced Nixon's death. Appearing in the White House Rose Garden, he read a statement that in its warmth and conciliatory tone presaged his appearance here this afternoon. Clinton also declared a day of national mourning, a tradition on the death of every president since Herbert Hoover, and announced his intention to deliver a eulogy at Nixon's funeral.
Nixon's friends insisted there was no special significance in the former president's desire to be honored at Yorba Linda, rather than in the nation's capital where he had lived for most of his public life. They said Nixon took special pride in the Spanish-style library and museum, especially in light of the prolonged and controversial struggle to build it.
But the symbolism was unmistakable: He chose to be buried on his own terms in the California soil in which his father, Frank, had tried unsuccessfully to make a living raising lemons. He chose to be surrounded by the people of Orange County, still a bastion of conservative white Republicanism despite sweeping demographic changes in the past decade. And most of all, he chose to be a continent away from the eastern establishment and the opinionmakers he both courted and resented.
The night of Nixon's death, a trickle of visitors and curious neighbors bearing flowers and personal notes began appearing at the library. That was just the beginning of a huge outpouring of sentiment that seemed to confirm Nixon's sense that as much as he had wandered, he was still among friends in his home town.
Several hundred persons were already on line when Nixon's simple wooden casket arrived Tuesday afternoon after being flown from New York on a presidential jet. The line continued to grow all day, stretching several miles down Yorba Linda Boulevard. At 1 a.m. today library officials began warning people they would not make it to the front by the time the public viewing was scheduled to end 10 hours later.
A library spokesman said that 42,000 people filed past the casket and received a beige card from the Nixon family thanking them for "expressing your affection and respect for the president."
Some were longtime Nixon supporters, and some came to give their children a sense of history. Many came to express their respect -- and their forgiveness -- to a president who in some way had touched their lives.
"He got us out of Vietnam," said Bill Gormley, 43, who served there in the Coast Guard. "We needed to leave there."
Gormley had ridden his motorcycle for hours to get to Yorba Linda, then waited hours more and was the last member of the public allowed to pay his respects to his former commander in chief.
"I think he really thought he was doing well for this country and I believed it," he said. "I don't think he intended to bring harm."
But perhaps the best epitaph was contained in the funeral's printed program: a paragraph from the rambling, stream-of-consciousness speech Nixon made to White House staff members when he resigned the presidency.
"We think that when someone dear to us dies, we think that when we lose an election, we think that when we suffer a defeat that all is ended," he said then.
"Not true," he concluded. "It is a beginning always."