At Capitol, mourners honor Ford's integrity and sacrifice
WASHINGTON -- Ordinary Americans paid their respects to Gerald R. Ford yesterday, walking slowly by his flag-covered casket in the Capitol and remembering how the 38th president likely sacrificed his career by granting the pardon he thought right for the nation.
Visitors said 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.
Mourners also were greeted by one of the late president's sons, Jack. "Thank you for coming, " he told people as they filed in.
Several people said they recalled Ford's toughest moment as president: the pardon of Nixon for any Watergate crimes. It came in September 1974, just one month after Ford became president following Nixon's resignation.
"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, Ga. "I don't think we have presidents that do that any more."
Banks drove more than 10 hours to Washington to pay his respects.
Vice President Dick Cheney alluded to the pardon during arrival services Saturday in the rotunda.
"The distance of time has clarified many things about President Gerald Ford," Cheney said. " It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely through a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe."
Jane Keliher, 61, from Wichita, Kan., said yesterday that Ford "healed the nation and gave up his future as a politician to do it."
Ford ran for president in 1976 and lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Then and now, political analysts believe the pardon played a major role in Ford's defeat.
Ford was to lie in state for public viewing through this evening. Tomorrow morning, his remains will rest outside the Senate chamber before the funeral service at Washington National Cathedral.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, planned to view the casket upon their return to Washington today after spending the holidays at their Texas ranch. Bush will deliver a eulogy at the cathedral service.
While Saturday's arrival ceremony in the Capitol was for dignitaries, yesterday'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.
Her husband added, "With the soldiers standing there I felt humble. It was an honor . . . to have that privilege to be there. I think he was a good president."
Jack and Mary Oslund, both 67 and from Springfield, Va., 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.