At public viewing, chance to honor a president and the political sacrifice he made for the United States
WASHINGTON (AP) - Ordinary Americans paid their respects to Gerald R. Ford, walking slowly by his flag-covered casket in the Capitol and remembering how the 38th U.S. president likely sacrificed his career by granting the pardon he thought right ...
WASHINGTON (AP) - Ordinary Americans paid their respects to Gerald R. Ford, walking slowly by his flag-covered casket in the Capitol and remembering how the 38th U.S. president likely sacrificed his career by granting the pardon he thought right for the nation.
Visitors said Sunday they thought about Ford's pardon of predecessor Richard M. Nixon as they walked past the casket and military honor guard, in the center of the Rotunda that Ford so often traversed as a member of Congress.
Some mourners also were greeted in the afternoon by two of the late president's sons, first Jack and then Steven.
"Thank you for coming on behalf of the family," Jack told people as they filed in. "Sorry for your loss," some responded.
Jack Ford spent about an hour in the Rotunda in early afternoon, while Steven was there for roughly the hour before nightfall, sometimes sitting off to the side watching people file by and occasionally getting up to exchange pleasantries with some of them.
Among the people visiting with Jack Ford was former Sen. Bob Dole, an honorary pallbearer and Ford's vice presidential running mate in 1976, who showed up in the Rotunda unannounced and without fanfare.
No official count of the number of mourners was available, but a steady stream of an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 people per hour walked slowly past the casket for just over nine hours on Sunday, after a similar outpouring for nearly three hours Saturday evening.
The Rotunda was closed to the public at just after 6 p.m. Sunday, but a military guard, changed every hour, stood silent vigil throughout the night. Viewing was to resume Monday morning and continue until 6 p.m. New Years Day.
Several people said they recalled Ford's toughest moment as president: the pardon, in September 1974 of Nixon for any Watergate crimes. It came only one month after Ford became the nation's only unelected president, following Nixon's resignation over the scandal surrounding the break-in at the Democratic National Party's headquarters by members of his administration.
"I thought when he pardoned Nixon he stood up and did what the country needed, not what would further his political career," said John Banks, 51, of Calhoun, Georgia. "I don't think we have presidents that do that any more."
Banks, who said he was in the Air Force when Ford was president, drove more than 10 hours to Washington to pay his respects.
Ford ran for president in 1976 and lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Then and now, political analysts believe the pardon played a major _ if not the major _ role in Ford's defeat.
According to the funeral schedule, Ford was to lie in state for public viewing through Monday. On Tuesday morning, his remains will rest outside the Senate chamber on their way before the funeral service at Washington National Cathedral.
While Saturday's arrival ceremony in the Capitol was for dignitaries, Sunday's viewing was for people such as Gerald Mitchell, 49, who walked around the casket with his hat over his heart.
Mitchell was visiting Washington with his wife, Susan, 43, from College Station, Texas.
"It's our American duty," Susan Mitchell said.
Jack and Mary Oslund, both 67 and from Springfield, Virginia, recalled Ford as a president who had the job thrust upon him in the last chapter of Nixon's Watergate scandal.
"I think what he brought back to the White House was integrity, trust," Jack Oslund said. "Honesty," added Mary Oslund. "Watergate kind of tore the nation apart. It was a change of regime, completely," she said.
Some visitors said it took about an hour to pass through security checks and make their way past the casket. Mourners lined up for a few blocks, starting near the U.S. Botanic Garden at the base of Capitol Hill. Some people wore blue jeans and sweat shirts; others had something like their Sunday best.
President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, planned to view the casket upon their return to Washington on Monday after spending the holiday at their Texas ranch. Bush will deliver a eulogy at the cathedral service.