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The State Funeral of Gerald R. Ford

Aired January 2, 2007 - 10:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Literally a who's who of Washington and the diplomatic community gathered inside the cathedral now. But as you've been discussing, Wolf, with so many of your guests, it's quite a contrast, a final farewell from a distinguished list to a man who wanted to be simply remembered as Gerald R. Ford of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A great man, indeed. A simple man, but a great man certainly with historic perspective.

Tom Foreman is watching all of this here as well in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tom, take us through this motorcade and what we can anticipate in the coming hours.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's take a look at exactly where they are right now through our touch table, which combines satellite and mapping technology. And let's look at it in a unique way. Right over there is the road that they just passed on as they went past the White House. But this is the direction that they're going right now. And we're going to take this shot just a little bit wider here and give you a sense of where we are in this town right now.

What is going on right now is this motorcade is heading out through northwest Washington, going up Massachusetts Avenue at some point, where it will be passing really many of the embassies of the world, the leaders, the countries that have sent people here to negotiate with Washington, to keep an eye on Washington. And keeping track of one of the themes that Jeff raised a short while ago, the truth is, this is also a time to remind the world of who America is.

Take a look at the cathedral itself, which is out here in the northwest along Massachusetts Avenue. This is the interior of the cathedral. And, in fact, right now the -- when President Ford is brought in here, he will be placed right in here. The other presidents will be right over in this area, along with the family. Many other dignitaries right over in this area right here.

He will actually be brought -- this is completely filled in this area with other people who are either close to the family, many of the people we saw, other people in the government. There will be some members of the press over here. During President Reagan's funeral, the Supreme Court was in this area. And a lot of those foreign dignitaries gathered over in this area right here watching what's going on. The band, you've been seeing, is right back in this area. So these people gather around this -- the whole thing, obviously, is shaped as a cross is.

But, as Jeff was saying earlier, it reminds us of who we are, but also reminds the world of who the United States is. Once they're all done at the cathedral, the journey will come back to who Jerry Ford was as a person. They'll got back to Andrews Air Force Base.

Then from there, back on to Grand Rapids, Michigan, a place that he loved a great deal, and to the Gerald Ford Museum right down here on the Grand River. The longest river in Michigan. That's where he will lie in repose and ultimately be buried. A fitting place along side this long river to remind us of his long career and the long span of history that shapes a nation.

BLITZER: A national day of mourning continuing here in Washington.

Over at the National Cathedral here, as you pointed out, right near the corners of Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues in northwest Washington, the guests have assembled. That is the outgoing speaker, Dennis Hastert, and the incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi. It's interesting how the seating arrangements have been put together for this national day of mourning. This memorial service at the National Cathedral.

Let's listen in briefly to some of the music as it's playing inside the National Cathedral right now.


BLITZER: That's the outgoing United States ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who has been invited to attend this memorial service at the National Cathedral, as well. Walter Mears, the former AP, Associated Press, Washington bureau chief is watching all of this unfold.

Walter, this is, as I've been pointing out, a pretty remarkable gathering. Democrats, Republican. When I saw Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president, sitting next to Jimmy Carter, the former president, it underscored, yes, there may be political divisions in the nation's capital, and all of us know that they're pretty intense right now, but this is a moment when people can get together and try to forget about that, at least for a few hours.

WALTER MEARS, FORMER AP BUREAU CHIEF: This is, as you know, President Ford's book was entitled "A Time to Heal" and that's the sense that you get as you watch these people together. I thought as I looked at Hastert and Nancy Pelosi, they have -- are about to get the job that Gerald Ford really wanted most. He wanted to be speaker of the House. And it was forever out of reach.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley is watching all of this fold as well.

Candy, in two days Nancy Pelosi becomes the speaker of the House and that's going to be a powerful moment that we will anticipate as well. CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An historic moment, as a matter of fact. As you know, the first woman to become speaker of the House, third in line to the presidency. Interesting the talk now of what a different time it was when Gerald Ford was in the House and later when he was president of the Senate, as vice president, because while there was commonality within the house and the Senate to a certain degree, the country really had been torn apart in so many ways. The war, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, explosions in urban America. So it was not a calm time at all. There was not comedy in the sense of the country because this was a very difficult time. And Gerald Ford was kind of the eye in the center of the storm in lots of ways and he sort of opened the era that was at least more peaceful domestically.

BLITZER: Ninety-three years old. He lived a long life. A good life. He had his life in Grand Rapids, served in World War II. He was a hero in the U.S. Navy. Fought in the Pacific. Served on the U.S. aircraft carrier the USS Monterey.

Eventually becoming a lawyer in Grand Rapids, a graduate of Yale Law School. And finally becoming a member of the U.S. Congress, served for more than 20 years there before some say accidentally becoming vice president of the United States after the forced resignation of Spiro Agnew and then becoming president of the United States with the forced resignation of Richard Nixon. What a history there.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The accidental part of his vice-presidency was, I would decent in saying it was quite a deliberate choice on the part of Richard Nixon. He had to replace Spiro Agnew, who resigned in disgrace. He thought either that he could get some points with Congress by appointing a popular member of Congress. Maybe he thought that people didn't think Ford could be president, so this was impeachment insurance. But it turned out to make the removal of Nixon far more likely than had the polarizing Vice President Agnew remained a heartbeat from the presidency.

He is also, as you know, with Gerald Ford's passing, among presidents, only George Herbert Walker Bush has a connection to World War II. That so-called greatest generation is passing on. Except for Robert Dole, who almost lost his life in World War II, I think no major, significant, political figure on a national level comes with that World War II experience. In fact, being in the military isn't necessarily a prerequisite to being elected president, which for a time it was.

BLITZER: There are some, Bob Green (ph), some president whose have spoken of the loneliness of the White House, the loneliness of being president. You talked about that with President Ford during the course of your interviews.

BOB GREEN: Yes, he said that he had read about the White House being the loneliest job in the world. But he never found it to be so. He said he'd never been a lonely person, which I found sort of an interesting thing to say because, as you know, there was an abandonment when he was a young boy by his father. But he never saw himself as a lonely person. He says, now I can be alone and I sort of like to be alone. But loneliest job in the world, no. He said he really didn't like it when he saw people rise to high station and become self-important. He said you can take yourself seriously, but if you become self-important, you become boring. And I never want to be that way. He said that he knows that people assume that the pardon of Mr. Nixon must have been a very lonely moment for him, but he said he just didn't feel that way because he always had people around him who he loved and trusted.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield wants to add a nugget as well.


GREENFIELD: It's a story I ran across today that at one point Gerald Ford's dog, Liberty, had done what sometimes dogs do in the Oval Office and a Navy stewart (ph) ran over to clean it up and Ford said, no, let me do it. No man should have to clean up after another man's dog. And that's a remarkable statement of a literally down-to- earth fellow who said, I'm sorry, this is my responsibility.

BLITZER: John King is over at the National Cathedral.

And, John, that motorcade, I take it, is very, very close, if not already there.

KING: It's very close, Wolf. We see some motorcycles, police motorcycles arriving at the front of the cathedral now. We can't see -- oh, the motorcades are approaching from the back, but they are standing at full attention. The honor guard out here, as well as the military band.

We know inside that the minister has made his way to the back of the cathedral. The altar boys to greet the casket and the family and the procession when it arrives. And as we watch the final preparations underway, it is a brisk, blustery day here in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the type of day a boy from the Midwest might remember along the river in Grand Rapids.

Quite a moment. Everyone now inside, all of the guests inside and waiting. And again we see Washington, D.C. police and a D.C. police honor guard making -- the motorcycle making their way by. And the motorcade now, we believe to be the procession, pulling up to the front of this cathedral. Police cars first, Wolf, that is approaching from the back. As you noted, making its way past the White House and then through downtown Washington.

Quite a windy day here. A sunny day, though, and quite a beautiful day in Washington as we await the arrival of the motorcade in front of the National Cathedral.

BLITZER: And the right reverend, John Bryson Chane, will receive the body once it's there. And there we see the hearse has arrived on the grounds of the National Cathedral. Once that casket goes inside, the formal memorial service will begin. There will be various readings. The children will participate, as well, including Jack Ford, one of the sons, Susan Ford Bales will do a reading.

And then there will be tributes to the 38th president from former President George H.W. Bush, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, the current president, George W. Bush. They will participate in the eulogies. There will be more readings. Eventually the service will conclude. The body will then make its way to Andrews Air Force Base and will head over to Grand Rapids where the body will be interred.

Let's bring back Jeff Greenfield.

You know, this is the National Cathedral and this whole notion of separation of church and state, it gets blurry at a moment like this.

GREENFIELD: One in the same time we have a Constitution that says there will be no religious test for public office. The First Amendment says, no establishment of religion and no government interference with free exercise. But as a civic matter, our traditions are enveloped with religion.

The same Supreme Court that outlawed pray in public schools opens each day, "God save this honorable court." The Congress opens with a prayer. The National Prayer Breakfast, as you know, Wolf, you've covered them, is one of the more significant intersections of religion and power. And Justice Douglas, one of the most ardent church/state separationists ever on the Supreme Court once wrote, "our institutions pre-suppose a supreme being."

And while we have this enormous fight that's gone on for almost forever about where religion and politics are separate and where they are united, there is no question that the civic business of the United States always has a religious aspect. Whether you're John Kennedy or saying "God's work must truly be our own," or George W. Bush a born- again Christian.

BLITZER: And it's interesting that representatives of all the major faiths will be in attendance at this memorial service, including Dr. Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic studies at American University. The archbishop, Demetrios, the Primate of the Greek Orthodox church in America. The right Reverend Frank Griswold III, the 25th presiding bishop and Primate of the Episcopal church. The Metropolitan Herman, the archbishop of Washington. Rabbi Bruce Lustig, the senior rabbi at Washington Hebrew congregation. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Papal Nuncio representative to the United States. And the most reverend Donald Worrell, the catholic archbishop of Washington. All will be in attendance at this memorial service to underscore this interfaith aspect of this national day of mourning.

Candy, we're watching the children right now. They have arrived at the National Cathedral.

CROWLEY: Yes, they have. And we saw a little earlier, Jack Ford, wiping away a tear at the top of the Capitol steps when the 21 gun salute began. It struck me here watching this. This is a very public pomp and circumstance moment for the Ford family and for the nation. I remember covering Ronald Reagan's burial service out in California at his library. And at the time, it was -- I noticed that from the National Cathedral to home, the tone completely shifts. When the Fords go back to Grand Rapids, that's their final good-bye. This is the country's final good-bye. It is much more personal when they go home, when they go to their libraries and where they are put to final rest. So it seems to me that the family now is doing this for the nation and later on, in Grand Rapids, that is their time to say good-bye with some finality.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, as we see the final moments before this National Cathedral service actually begins, the notion of Washington as such a bitter, bitter partisan battleground, it seems to go away, at least for now.

GREENFIELD: It does. But I must say in all candor that it is a temporary palliative. Politics ain't beanbag, (INAUDIBLE) Peter Dunn once said. It is about real stuff. It's not just about power, it's about policy.

I think the people who practice it want to believe that at root we're all together in the same endeavor. But it's sometimes very hard to see that. It always has been. It was hard to see that at the start of the republic. It was hard to see it during the civil war, Lord knows. Hard to see it during Vietnam and the racial unrest that Candy Crowley talked about.

So while I think that people mean it, they're kind of like new year's resolution, since it's the start of the new year, Wolf. Yes, we really would like to work together in comedy and bipartisanship, except we want to get our agenda done and beat the other guys. And I think 48 hours from now it's going to be a very different feeling.

BLITZER: It's interesting the selection, the choice of those who will make the formal tributes, the eulogies, at this service. Former President Bush, the current President Bush, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Tom Brokaw, the NBC News anchor.

John King, I know you're watching all of this unfold, as well.

KING: Wolf, the Ford family went inside. Betty Ford led in, her children following her and other members of the family just moments ago into the cathedral. And you can see the honor guard now preparing to open the doors of the cathedral. And then, of course, they will open the hearse and begin the procession of the casket into the memorial service.

It is a blustery day outside as the members of the military honor guard sand here waiting. Many of their hats have been blowing off it is such a windy day here in Washington. Betty Ford, obviously, being escorted. She's a bit frail, but it is also quite a windy day and windy enough to blow someone over walking into the stairs of the cathedral.

You can see just through the doors, it's hard to see in with the camera lights on them, but you can see the ministers and those who are participating in the service preparing just in the back of the cathedral as the family takes its place. Obviously wanting everyone to be in place before they open the doors and begin the procession. A military band standing by, as well as the honor guard, to salute the president as he is removed from the hearse out in front of this majestic cathedral on a sunny, but quite a blustery day, and brought inside. And we expect that to take place, Wolf, momentarily, within a minute or so.

BLITZER: Former Secretary of State General Colin Powell was a young military officer when Gerald Ford was president of the United States, having just returned from his service in Vietnam. We also saw earlier the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani.

It's interesting, Jeff, that among those selected to offer these tributes, both Presidents Bush, Henry Kissinger and Tom Brokaw, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter not speaking today.

GREENFIELD: I hope at some point one of our reporters are able to find out why not Jimmy Carter. We heard what good friends they became after both had left the White House. I'm not sure why that is the case. A very quick note. Giuliani reminds me that 30 years ago, 1975, when the Ford administration would not initially provide aid to a then near bankrupt report. "The New York Daily News" headline read, "Ford To City, Drop Dead." A widely credited or blame for costing Gerald Ford the electoral votes of New York state, which would have kept him in the White House. And now we see Mayor Giuliani, who may well launch a presidential bid based on what he did as mayor of New York.

BLITZER: The attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, among those cabinet members who have been invited to participate, to attend this memorial service, as well.

Walter Mears, you won a Pulitzer Prize for your coverage of the era when you were the Washington -- you later became the Washington bureau chief of the Associated Press. That headline in "The New York Daily News," "Ford To New York, Drop Dead," do you agree with Jeff that that was in part responsible for Gerald Ford's losing New York state?

MEARS: No, I have to differ there. If Gerald Ford could have carried New York, I think, you know, he would have had a landslide. But the striking thing about that election was that Gerald Ford came within two percentage points of beating Jimmy Carter. And if you tried to make book on that election a year in advance, you would have had to say the party of the president who would resign, the appointed vice president, the party that in the last 49 House seats in 1974, that the Republicans were going to go down by a wide margin. Ford very nearly pulled it off.

BLITZER: Do you think that the decision he made to dump Nelson Rockefeller as his running mate helped or hurt him when all was said and done?

MEARS: I think it helped him in the primaries. He had a really hard time with Ronald Reagan, as you know, in the primaries. It wound up that Ford won 15 primaries, Reagan won 12. Ford was nominate by only 117 vote margin at that national convention. So I think Rocky had to go because the conservatives were too powerful and their enmity toward Rockefeller after all those years was too great.

And, of course, the pardon was always a burden. Ford never second guessed himself on that. At the time that he issued it, he told his own people, I know this may cost me politically, but it's the right thing to do.

BLITZER: And with historic hindsight, a lot of people have come to agree, even those who were very, very adamantly opposed to that pardon at the time.

It's interesting, Walter, that Nancy Reagan, the former first lady, the widow of the late President Ronald Reagan, has made this journey to Washington. She doesn't come here to Washington very often these days, but she wanted to pay her personal respects as well.

MEARS: Well, it's worth remembering that Gerald Ford's moment on the national stage did not end when he left the White House. There was that incredible sequence at the Republican convention in Detroit when Ford very narrowly was Reagan's choice to run with him on the 1980 ticket. If the Ford people hadn't insisted on basically making him co-president, they might have brought that off.

BLITZER: That was a historic note.

Condoleezza Rice, we saw there, Jeff Greenfield. Now Gerald Ford was the longest serving, the longest -- the oldest ex-president until he passed away. He beat Ronald Reagan, but not by much. Now the two oldest former presidents are George Herbert Walker Bush. He's a few months older than Jimmy Carter. Both of whom are there right now as well.

GREENFIELD: It is -- by the way, I agree with Walter that he had to dump Rockefeller just as a matter of a little history. Ford only lost New York by fewer than 300,000 votes. It was not -- it was a situation where it crystallized the New York opinion.

By the way, in that campaign, to show you how much life has changed, 25 percent of self-identified liberals voted for Ford in 1976 and 25 percent of self-identified conservatives voted for Carter. It was a much less ideological time, which is something that we've been hearing over and over again.

But Walter is right about this, clearly. We sometimes forget how close Gerald Ford came to losing renomination, which hadn't happened, I think, since Chester Arthur. Ronald Reagan almost unseated him. Probably a good break for Ronald Reagan that he waited until 1980.

BLITZER: The choir continuing as it anticipates the formal start of this memorial service. Let's listen in briefly.


BLITZER: There you see the family beginning to emerge, to walk into this National Cathedral. The family, including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Let's listen in now to some more of this music. (MUSIC)

BLITZER: The children now about to be seated in the front row, together with Betty Ford, who will be walking in very soon, as well. The widow of the late president.

Jeff Greenfield, we're going to be hearing 38 bells ring out very soon. Thirty-eight to symbolize the fact that Gerald Ford was the 38th president of the United States.

And there we see Betty Ford walking in, escorted by the current president of the United States, President Bush. Let's listen in and watch a little bit more.


REV. JOHN BRYSON CHANE, BISHOP OF WASHINGTON: With faith in Jesus Christ we receive the body of our brother Gerald for burial. Let us pray with confidence to God, the giver of life, that he will raise him to perfection in the company of saints.

Deliver your servant Gerald, O' sovereign Lord Christ, from all evil. Set him free from every bond. That he may rest with all your saints in the eternal habitations where with the father and the holy spirit, you live and reign one God forever and ever, amen.

Let us also pray for all who mourn that they may cast their care on God and know the consolation of his love.

Almighty God, look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants for whom we pray, remember them, Lord, in mercy. Nourish them with patience, comfort them with the sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon them and give them peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To my left. Face. Forward, march.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Halt. Forward, march.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am the resurrection and the light, says the Lord. He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live. And who so ever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

I know that my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the Earth and though this body be destroyed yet shall I see God whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold and not as a stranger.

For none of us liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lords.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, even so, said the spirit, for they rest from their labors.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Halt. Forward, march.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forward, march.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Halt. Center face. Casket down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To my right. Ready. Forward, march.



AUDIENCE: And also with you.

LLOYD: Let us pray. Oh God whose mercies cannot be numbered accept our prayers on behalf of thy servant, Gerald Ford. And grant him an entrance into the land of light and joy and the fellowship of thy saints. Through Jesus Christ, thy son, our Lord who liveth and reignth with thee and the holy spirit, one God, now and forever, amen.


JACK FORD, PRESIDENT FORD'S SON: A reading from the prophet Isaiah. Have you not known, have you not heard, the Lord is the ever lasting God. The creator of the ends of the Earth. He does not faint or grow weary. His understanding is unsearchable and strength and the powerless.

Even youse will faint and be weary and the young will fall and be exhausted but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint. The word of the Lord.

AUDIENCE: Thanks be to God.


SUSAN FORD BALES, PRESIDENT FORD'S DAUGHTER: A reading from the letter of James. You must understand this my beloved, that not everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.

For your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore, rid yourself of all sortedness and rank growth of wickedness and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be the doers of the word and not merely the hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers they are like those that look at themselves in the mirror for they look at themselves and on going away immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act, they will be blessed in their doing. The word of the Lord.

AUDIENCE: Thanks be to God.


GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the story goes, Gerald Ford was a newly minted candidate for the United States House of Representatives in June of 1948. And he made plans for the reporter to visit the dairy farmers in western Michigan's congressional district, First Congressional district, Fifth, sorry.

It was pouring rain that particular day and neither the journalists nor the farmers had expected the upstart candidate to keep his appointment. Yet he showed up on time because he explained to the journalists they milk cows every day, and besides that I promised. Long before he arrived in Washington, Gerald Ford's word was good.

During the three decades of public service that followed his arrival in our nation's capital, time and again he would step forward and keep his promise even the dark clouds of political crisis gathered over America.

After a deluded gunman, assassinated President Kennedy, our nation turned to Gerald Ford and a select handful of others to make sense of that madness and a conspiracy theorist can say what they will but the Warren Commission report will always have the final definitive say on this tragic matter. Why? Because Gerry Ford put his name on it and Gerry Ford's word was always good.

And a decade later when scandal forced a vice president from office, President Nixon turned to the minority leader in the House to stabilize his administration, because of Gerry Ford's sterling reputation for integrity within the Congress.

To political ally and adversary alike Gerry Ford's word was always good and of course, when the lie that was Watergate was finally laid bare, once again we entrusted our future and our hopes to this good man.

The very sight of Chief Justice Berger administering the oath of office to our 38th president instantly restored the honor of the Oval Office and helped America begin to turn the page on one of our saddest chapters.

As Americans we generally askew notions of the indispensable man. And yet during those traumatic times, few if any of our public leaders could have stepped into the breach and rekindled our national faith as did President Gerald R. Ford.

History has a way of matching man and moment and just as President Lincoln's stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the Union together, during the Civil War, and just as FDR's optimism was the perfect antidote to the despair of a Great Depression, so, too, can we say that Gerry Ford's decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate.

For this and for so much more, his presidency will be remembered at a time of healing in our land. In fact, when President Ford was choosing a title for his memoirs, he chose words from the book of Ecclesiastes (INAUDIBLE)

To everything there is a season and a time, to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, a time to die, a time to kill, and a time to heal, a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

He acknowledged that he was no saint. To know Gerry was to know a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. An avuncular (ph) figure quick to smile. Frequently with his pipe in his mouth. He could be tough, he could be tough as nails when the situation warranted, but he also had a heart as big and as open as the Midwest plains on which he was born. And he imbued every life he touched with his understated gentility.

When we served together in the House of Representatives years ago. I watched from the back bench, I watched this good man, and even from way back there, I could see the sterling leadership qualities of Gerry Ford.

And later, after I followed his footsteps into the Oval Office, he was always supportive. On the lighter side, Gerry and I shared a common love of golf and also a reputation for suspect play before large crowds. I know I'm playing better golf, President Ford once reported to friends because I'm hitting fewer spectators.


BUSH: He had a wonderful sense of humor. He even took it in stride when Chevy Chase had to make the entire world think that this terrific, beautifully coordinated athlete was actually a stumbler. Ford said it was funny. He wrote that in his memoir.


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