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Solemn Ceremonies Mark Passing of a President

January 1, 2007 at 10:45 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Now, remembering former President Gerald Ford. Kwame Holman takes us through the weekend’s tributes.

KWAME HOLMAN: Some of President Ford’s former staff members stood in darkness on the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base on Saturday evening to greet his coffin and escort it to Washington.

A 21-gun salute sounded in honor of President Ford, the start of four days of ceremony in memory of the country’s 38th president.

Mr. Ford’s wife of 58 years, Betty, escorted her husband’s hearse in a long motorcade to the Capitol building, traveling through Alexandria, Virginia, where President Ford lived during many of his 25 years of service in the House of Representatives. Hundreds braved chilly temperatures to watch the procession.

Entering Washington via Memorial Bridge, the caravan paused before the World War II memorial. A boatswain mate came forward to render “Piping Ashore,” a piercing whistle used for centuries to welcome officers aboard a ship, and now to honor naval service. The president served as a navigator and gunnery officer in the Pacific during World War II.

About 7:00 p.m., the motorcade arrived at the east front of the Capitol building. Mrs. Ford watched as pallbearers carried the flag-draped casket slowly up to the Capitol entrance.

Once inside, the president’s remains were placed on the same bier used for President Lincoln’s funeral 141 years ago and for President Reagan’s two-and-a-half years ago. President Ford’s family, former congressional colleagues, staff members and dignitaries attended a private service in honor of Mr. Ford.

Hastert's remarks

Outgoing Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert spoke of Gerald Ford's legacy.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), Speaker of the House: Mrs. Ford, members of the Ford family, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, and distinguished guests, I don't think it's a coincidence that American history seems to be an almost providential narrative, a story about finding the right man at the right time to lead this nation.

Like Abraham Lincoln, another great Midwestern president who confronted a nation divided, Gerald Ford was called upon to bind our country's wounds. The twin crises of Vietnam and Watergate had crippled America, sapped our strength, shaken our confidence. And with humility and devotion to purpose, Gerald Ford united us once again.

In an era of moral confusion, Gerald Ford confidently lived the virtues of honesty, decency and steadfastness. His example of fairness and fair play, of dignity and grace, brought forth in us our better instincts. He reminded us who we should be, and he helped us to heal.

Vice President Cheney's remarks

KWAME HOLMAN: Vice President Cheney, once Mr. Ford's White House chief of staff, spoke next.

RICHARD CHENEY, Vice President of the United States: In his congressional career, he passed through this rotunda so many times, never once imagining all the honors that life would bring.

He was an unassuming man, our 38th president, and few have ever risen so high with so little guile or calculation. Even in the three decades since he left this city, he was not the sort to ponder his legacy, to brood over his place in history.

Sometimes, in our political affairs, kindness and candor are only more prized for their scarcity, and sometimes even the most careful designs of men cannot improve upon history's accident. This was the case in the 62nd year of Gerald Ford's life, a bitter season in the life of our country.

It was a time of false words and ill will. There was great malice and great hurt and a taste for more. And it all began to pass away on a Friday in August, when Gerald Ford laid his hand on the Bible and swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

He said, "You have not elected me as your president by your ballot, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers." What followed was a presidency lasting 895 days and filled with testing and trial, enough for a much longer stay.

This president's hardest decision was also among his first. And in September of 1974, Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon.

The consensus holds that this decision cost him an election; that is very likely so. The criticism was fierce, but President Ford had larger concerns at heart. And it is far from the worst fate that a man should be remembered for his capacity to forgive.

In politics, it can take a generation or more for a matter to settle, for tempers to cool. The distance of time has clarified many things about President Gerald Ford. And now, death has done its part to reveal this man and the president for what he was.

He was not just a cheerful and pleasant man, although these virtues are rare enough at the commanding heights. He was not just a nice guy, the next-door neighbor whose luck landed him in the White House.

It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely through a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe.

Waiting to pay respects

KWAME HOLMAN: Outside the Capitol, people waited as long as five hours to get into the rotunda to pay their respects Saturday night. Long lines persisted through the weekend.

This morning, thousands more braved rain showers this New Year's Day for a final chance to view the president's casket. Mr. Ford's daughter, Susan Ford Bales, and son, Michael Ford, stood near the casket and greeted some of them.

President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, who did not attend Saturday's service, visited the rotunda this afternoon.

The first President Bush and wife, Barbara, entered the rotunda shortly afterward. President Bush and his father will speak at tomorrow's funeral service at Washington's National Cathedral.