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Saddam Awaits Execution; Former President Ford Remembered

Aired December 29, 2006 - 15:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in today for Kyra Phillips.

Bracing for backlash, U.S. troops standing by in Baghdad for the news of Saddam Hussein's execution. That's just one of many angles we're watching in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Live pictures right now. You're looking at the exteriors of St.Margaret's Episcopal Church at Palm Desert, California. That is the family church there in California of the Gerald Ford family.

We understand that the casket bearing the former president's body is arriving there at the church. It will be taken inside, where it will take about three or four minutes before putting it into place.

Family members are there. This will be a very private ceremony for close friends and family members only, here at the family church in Palm Desert.

We're following the developments as this country mourns the loss of the 38th president of the United States over the next four or five days.

We're also expecting, perhaps, to hear from a number of other people who knew and loved the president and his family, remember his service as the president for about two years in the White House and prior to that, about 25 years in the House of Representatives.

He died at the age of 93 after about a year and a half of fighting various different kinds of health matters from pneumonia and on. And now, this country and the world grieves the loss of President Gerald R. Ford.

Ceremonies to take place right there at the family church within the next hour. We'll have more on that as it happens.

LEMON: This information coming across the wires here that paperwork -- we're hearing that the paperwork has been done for the execution of Saddam Hussein. That is according to the Iraqi prime minister. The paperwork has been done.

Someone standing by who may know a bit about this. We're going to go -- let's head straight to Baghdad and talk to Aneesh Raman.

Aneesh, are you hearing anything about this? And tell us what is happening there from your perspective.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that paperwork, Don, could be the Presidency Council signing on to this execution. It had been spoken as a possible legal hurdle that could prolong it. It seems, though, that everything is in order.

According to Iraq's prime minister earlier today, there was going to be no reversal in the death sentence affirmed by the appellate court and no delay in the execution being carried out.

There are right now conflicting reports as to the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. State Department emphatically saying that he remains in U.S. custody. That, despite two of Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers saying they've been told Saddam has been handed over to Iraqi authorities.

Why is this so critical? That handover from U.S. custody to Iraqi authorities is one of the final steps before Saddam Hussein is executed. There are, perhaps, security reasons why U.S. officials will withhold that information until the last possible moment because it suggests the whereabouts, as I've mentioned, of Saddam Hussein, a security issue as he is transferred from Camp Cropper, where he's been held, to where the execution takes place.

But on the ground, all signs are pointing to this execution coming within the next few hours. A Shia member of Parliament has told CNN he has seen within the highly fortified Green Zone the gallows where the execution could take place. He says there a cleric, a judge and a doctor are on standby, waiting for word from the government.

We know as well in the past few hours, Iraq's prime minister and his cabinet had an emergency meeting to discuss the logistics of this execution. Not the least of their issues, of course, is the security situation. Since Saddam's death sentence came on November 5th, there have been lingering fears that when Saddam is executed it could unleash further violence in a country that is already gripped with sectarian warfare.

It is likely we well see a curfew at some point extended if we see the execution happen in the next few hours, which, according to a number of officials on the ground, seems quite likely -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Aneesh, we just got the full wire here, so don't go anywhere. I want to talk to you about it. It says an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told CNN that the paperwork for Saddam Hussein's execution is in order and a defense attorney said the hanging could take place very shortly.

Talk to me about that and also about -- we have these conflicting reports about whether or not he was in Iraqi custody. You said it was probably -- for security reasons, one side may not want to be letting people know exactly where he is for fear of violence or some sort of repercussions.

RAMAN: Exactly. In transport, Saddam Hussein will have to leave Camp Cropper to go to wherever his execution is set to take place. So it is likely that all officials and public statements will wait until the actual moment before they release that information.

As you mentioned, the signs we're getting from reports are that the paperwork is in order. The signs we are getting on the ground is this execution could take place shortly.

An important note in all of this is tomorrow, Saturday, it begins a highly religious holiday eve for Sunni Muslims. Saddam, of course, is a Sunni Muslim. It is against Iraqi law -- penal law, at least, for any prisoner to be executed during a Muslim holiday. It is why, perhaps, we could see this execution happen within the next hour, before Saturday begins.

At the same time, we are hearing from members of Iraq's Parliament that the government is reaching out to religious clerics in Iraq to get a fatwa, a religious decree that would allow an execution despite Eid, the holiday beginning, because of extraordinary circumstances.

So, again, all of this adds up to time running out for Saddam Hussein -- Don.

LEMON: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad.

Thank you.

WHITFIELD: So, how are Iraqis reacting to these developments? Let's check in with our Ryan Chilcote, who is in downtown Baghdad.

Give us an idea of what people are thinking and feeling right now, Ryan.


Well, it is just after 11:00 at night, but there are still people out on the streets of the Iraqi capital. They have been discussing all day the imminent execution of Saddam Hussein. Lots of speculation about when that might happen. It has been now anticipated for a day or two, so it really is reaching the boiling point in terms of anticipation.

One of the most compelling things, I think, for most Iraqis, one of the biggest concerns is that there could be more violence on the streets. Saddam loyalists and the insurgency have vowed more attacks if Saddam is executed. There are also concerns that there could be a larger backlash among Sunnis who believe that the Iraqi government, which is a Shiite-led government, is really just pursuing its own sectarian agenda by killing Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

So there are concerns there could be anger, that anger expressed by Sunnis on the streets of the Iraqi capital. A lot of people concerned that this execution, while it might bring historical justice for some, will not bring any more peace to the streets of the Iraqi capital -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Chilcote, thanks so much from Baghdad.

LEMON: Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi people, world leaders: all of them waiting for word on the final disposition of a man convicted of crimes against humanity.

One of those leaders is watching from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where we find our Elaine Quijano -- Elaine.


We're actually a few miles away from the president's ranch, where the president is remaining out of view today. He, in fact, has no public events scheduled until Monday, when he returns to Washington.

Now, interesting to note a senior administration official said yesterday that as for the timing of Saddam Hussein's execution, that it would probably be in the next day or so.

Well, now we are not hearing anything from the United States officials that we were talking to about what the government is hearing from the government of Iraq.

Instead, what we have is from deputy White House Press Secretary Scott Stanzel, talking about the United States essentially being observers to that process saying, quote, "... we are observers to that process. They are a sovereign government, and they will make their own decisions regarding carrying out that justice."

So, clearly, trying to discourage any kind of suggestion that there is coordination between the United States and the Iraqi government when it comes to Saddam Hussein's execution.

Now, these developments are all taking place one day after President Bush huddled with his war cabinet for about three hours. Afterwards, the president emerged and said that he believed they were making progress in crafting a retooled Iraq strategy. But the president, at the same time, made very clear he's not ready to announce any changes just yet. He wants to hold more consultations with the Iraqi government and with members of Congress.

As for what he will be doing from now until he returns to Washington, aides say he is going to essentially review the information that he has received. But, of course, at the same time, Don, as you can imagine, they are closely monitoring the events in Iraq.

LEMON: Elaine Quijano, thank you so much from Crawford, Texas.

WHITFIELD: With Hussein's execution all but certain, one big unknown remains apart from the timing, of course: how will the toppled dictator's death be met around the world?

American troops in Iraq are bracing. Let's go to the Pentagon and our correspondent, Barbara Starr Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, there are currently about 134,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. They are always, of course, at a very high level of security. But sources say they, of course, are at an even higher level of security.

Frankly, they are very watchful right now in the hours after the execution of Saddam Hussein. They have every expectation there may be street demonstrations, there may be an uptick in violence.

The hope is the Iraqi forces will be on the frontlines of any effort to counter that violence. U.S. troops will be on standby ready to lend a hand, if needed.

But, frankly for U.S. troops, commanders say, the execution of Saddam Hussein simply doesn't mean that much. They are already involved in trying to stop the growing violence in Baghdad, in al- Anbar province in the West. Deeply involved in trying to assist the Iraqis in getting the handle on the sectarian violence that is now plaguing the country.

Much of the war really, of course, in the last couple of years has moved far beyond the original expectations that when Saddam Hussein was caught several years ago, that that would lead to some measure of stability in the country, that the people of Iraq would then believe that he was gone forever.

That's what a lot of commanders used to talk about. Now, you don't hear them talking about it. They have every expectation that the current high levels of violence due to the sectarian clashes will certainly condition even with and after the execution of Saddam Hussein -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Barbara Starr from the Pentagon, thank you.

LEMON: All right. That was the latest on Saddam Hussein, but now we want to turn to President Ford. The next several days, President Gerald Ford will be honored by presidents, prime ministers and princes in monumental settings, but official mourning for the man once who described himself as a Ford, not a Lincoln begins with a small service at the family church this hour.

And as we watch honor guard going in and people going into the church, we are going to be joined by CNN's Dan Simon in Palm Desert, California to give us the very latest -- Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Don. Mr. Ford's motorcade expected to arrive here in about ten minutes, as you see the honor guard go into the church. There's going to be an arrival ceremony here. We will see the Marine Corps band play.

As you can see, a lot of pageantry going on at the moment. There's going to be a brief service with close friends and family. And then at 4:00, the public will have an opportunity to file into the church and members of the community will be able to pay respect to the former president.

It is a glorious day here in Palm Desert. That church you see there, the St. Margaret's Episcopal Church is on a quiet hillside so very intimate atmosphere here as Mr. Ford is laid to rest.

LEMON: And Dan, a lot of ceremony going on here today. We understand the casket is going to be removed from the hearse, part of the Marine Corps band will play three songs, including "Ruffles and Flourish" and "Hail tot he Chief.".

SIMON: That's right, Don. And, obviously, this was well- rehearsed over the last few days. And there is going to be a lot occurring the next few days. The first here at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church. Let me tell you a little bit about this church and why it means so much to the family.

They've been coming here Don, for the last 30 years. There's a pew dedicated to them inside. This is where his daughter Susan was married and the Ford family knew a long time ago this is where they wanted at least the first funeral to take place.

Tomorrow, Mr. Ford's body will be flown to Washington, D.C. He will lie in state in the Rotunda on Sunday and Monday. There will be a service at the National Cathedral on Tuesday. On Wednesday, his body will be flown to Michigan where he will be laid to rest at his presidential museum.

Now, in Washington, Don, Mr. Ford specifically requested that things be a bit understated in comparison to some of the other presidential funerals. For example, there's not going to be a flyover with the missing man formation. He didn't want that. He didn't want his body to be on a horse-drawn carriage.

Instead, he wanted a simple motorcade. Also, Don, one of Mr. Ford's favorite songs was the Michigan fight song, the University of Michigan fight song. As you know, Mr. Ford attended the University of Michigan and they are going to be playing a somber version of that tune in Washington, D.C. Again, things about to get under way here.

LEMON; Apparently, Dan, quite an athlete too as well. We've been talking about the former president and just what his neighbors and people who knew him, just talking about what a down-to-earth person he was and his family, many members of his family still are.

And you can sort of see that in the simplicity of the ceremony. Very clean and simple, if you want to put it that way. And this is -- they chose this place to retire because of its beauty and also because he liked to golf so this place is very much home for him, Dan.

SIMON: Indeed. And, of course, the Fords very much beloved in this community. Mrs. Ford starting her very famous clinic here and you're right, he was very active in the community.

He attended this church frequently, I'm told. Made a lot of public appearances in the community. For example, he went to various restaurants and things very visible here. As you said, Don, a great athlete.

Even when I was here about a year ago when Mr. Ford was sick, when he was being treated for pneumonia, I was told by people very close to him, even at that time, he was still swimming regularly. Even in his older years, Mr. Ford was very active.

WHITFIELD: Dan, this is Fredricka. President Ford, before his years in the White House, before retiring there to Palm Desert, California, he spent 25 years in the House of Representatives.

And perhaps among those Congressmen who knew him the best, Congressman John Dingell, also a Michigan man and a Congressman from Michigan and in the House of Representatives for a remarkable 51 years and, Congressman, you're joined by your wife Debbie Dingell there in Washington and also able to see some of these services about to play out.

Perhaps you can express how important Palm Desert, California, this place of respite and natural beauty, how important a role it played in the lifestyle of this former president and his family.

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D-MICH): Well, I think President Ford wanted a place where he could be with people, but, at the same time, live a fairly simple, quiet and sheltered life. He was active throughout the community, but I happen to know that he loved the place that he stayed and I think he loved the, as was mentioned, the game of golf and the fact that he could come back, see his friends here in the east and around the country, while, at the same time, having a private life, which was very hard for a president to have.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Difficult for a president to have and difficult too for a president to also be seen on the ski slopes in Vail. I mean, he was out there. People saw how active he was and really how down-to-earth in a way he was. People would approach him, talk to him, and, you know, he didn't shy away from the public at all.

J. DINGELL: No. He would come back, for example, to the University of Michigan. We would see him here in Washington. He would attend his library which is in Ann Arbor and the dedication of buildings and things of that kind that were related to it. He also was very active in participating in things like fundraising for it, with which he was very much concerned.

WHITFIELD: Well, talk to me about the Michigan part of his life. Alma mater -- University of Michigan. Star football player. We mentioned, he wants the fight song from the University of Michigan to be played during his funeral. The people of Grand Rapids, how much are their hearts breaking for the loss of this president?

J. DINGELL: Jerry Ford was very much loved by the people that he served his various time in the House and I happen to know that after -- even after he left the House, became president, then when he retired after he was defeated, he maintained a very close relationship with the people there and he had a very, very warm feeling, which he shared for them and which they shared for him.

So he was always very much a part of Grand Rapids and western Michigan. And rather like Harry Truman, he loved the place where he was from. As you remember, Harry was very fond of Independence, Missouri and was rather much the same in his thinking and his uncomplicatedness. LEMON: And as we want to remind our viewers, they're watching a ceremony happening in Palm Desert, California. Family, friends, and admirers are joining today to mourn former President Gerald Ford's death.

Lots of folks expected to attend the funeral here. Dan Simon is standing by in Palm Desert, California. A couple of things that are going to happen, Dan, here.

We think it's going to start very shortly. You can see the color guard or the honor guard -- rather the honor guard getting ready there.

This will be the first time, Dan that we see Mrs. Ford since the president' death. Am I correct in that?

SIMON: That's correct, Don. And from what we understand, we will not see Mrs. Ford walk into the church. She's going to be brought to the back and then at some point, she and family members will come to the entryway of the church to accept Mr. Ford's body...

And there are a number of cameras set up there. And, you're right, it will be the first opportunity we've had a chance to see Mrs. Ford since her husband's passing.

LEMON: Yeah. And feel free to jump in any time here, Dan. We understand, it's going to start -- this is 3:20 Eastern time which is -- right now, so it's expected to get under way very soon. The hearse will arrive and the band will play "Ruffles and Flourishes" and then "Hail to the Chief."

The band is Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Band. And then the casket moves toward the church. The band plays "Oh, God Our Help in Ages Past." And then the rector of the church, Reverend Certain will preside over the ceremony. And I believe that is who the former first lady is going to be standing next to.

SIMON: That's right. And, you know, the Fords have a long- standing relationship with Reverend Certain (ph). He wasn't there when Mr. Ford died, but he visited with Mr. Ford and his wife around Christmas time and he says they had a great chat. One thing that is noteworthy is one of their sons is a minister and the three sons, the three boys and Mrs. Ford were, of course, with the president when he died. And we're told that the son, who is a minister, actually ministered last rights to Mr. Ford.

LEMON: This is -- is this a private ceremony? Are people coming up? Have you had a chance to speak to any people who either knew the Fords or just people who may be coming to pay their respects?

SIMON: We've talked to a number of people who live in the community. And, you know Don, we're expecting thousands of people to file into the church. You know, he meant so much to the folks who live in Palm Desert, really put this place on a world stage. And he did the same for Vail, Colorado where he spent his summers and loved to ski, brought a lot of attention to both of these communities. And they certainly appreciated that.

And of course, you know, many are expected to file in and pay respect to the former president.

You know, this church has a very small parking lot. It's a relatively small church. So what they've asked folks to do is to go to the Indian Wells Tennis Center, which is about ten miles away, and the city has chartered buses. And so folks will get on those buses and they will bring them here to the church. They've told people to plan and prepare because there could be long lines and they may be on the bus for sometime as people in front of them go into the church and pay their respect to the former president -- Don.

WHITFIELD: This is Fredricka. About 3000 miles away to the east in Washington, D.C., other close friends and family members are also watching this. Among them, Congressman John Dingell still with us in Washington along with his wife, Mrs. Debbie Dingell.

Congressman, what is this moment like for you, watching this, knowing that this is your close friend that Palm Desert is honoring?

J. DINGELL: Well, he is being honored in palm desert, but he will also be honored throughout the entire country, very much so in Michigan, and here in Washington.

There are eight members of the current Congress who served with President Ford when he was a member of the House of Representatives, a number of senators. Then there are a number of us who served also with him during the time that he was president of the United States.

Obviously, he had a remarkably close relationship with members of the House on both sides of the aisle.

And one of the things about Gerry Ford that I think is most noteworthy is the way he got along with his colleagues. He stood strongly for his principles, he fought for what he believed was right, but as an institutionalist, he understood it was necessary that the business of the Congress be properly conducted. And that when all was said and done, that the arrangements to legislate, achieve the best possible results for all concerned.

And that is, I would note, that the way things should be done and, rather, the way it has not been done of late.

WHITFIELD: And you underscore how well he got along with his colleagues -- and as well as adversaries or what some people would believe to be adversaries. You know, he had a great relationship with you, a Democrat. He had a great relationship with President Jimmy Carter.

In fact, we've all learned in studying about the preparations that President Ford made about his own funeral, that he and former President Carter kind of had a gentleman's agreement, didn't they? That either one would speak at the other's funeral, whoever passed away first. And Jimmy Carter speaks of a delightful relationship that they had had over the years. J. DINGELL: Well, he also was great friends with members on both sides of the aisle. He was a golfing partner of Tip O'Neill's. And they had a very close friendship. Indeed, they were close friends even during times that they were having strong differences on matters of policy, on the House floor, and also when Gerry Ford became president.

But that was a wonderful character quality of his. And that was that he was able to work with everybody. And when he differed, he could still be friends and they could still understand that the business had to be completed for the public.

LEMON: And Congressman Dingell, we thank you for that and want you to stick with us.

Live pictures you're looking at in Palm Desert, California. Folks are expected to arrive there for the memorial service for former President Gerald R. Ford.

Just a beautiful scene there. It looks like the perfect weather today, very beautiful day. And we've been watching the band, I think it's the honor guard and then the Marine Corps Band will play.

Tell us -- keep me honest here, Barbara Starr. Tell me about these uniforms and the folks we're looking at and who is going to perform today.

STARR: Well, Don, what you see, of course, is the United States military paying honors to their former commander in chief. This is something that the U.S. military takes extraordinary pride in.

What you see today are members from all of the military services. And the discipline that these young people show is a reflection of how much they rehearse these types of ceremonies as a matter of pride and discipline.

Of course, sadly, they get an awful lot of practice, given the number of military honors that they render these days at funerals from young people who were fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But for presidential funerals, this is something that they regularly practice. The military has a procedure every six months, they practice the basic rendering of honors to a fallen president.

Of course, each presidential funeral is basically planned out at the request of the family. It is what the family wants that the military does.

What they tell us, though, is, of course, there are these basic ceremonies that they try and offer, escorting the casket, escorting the presidential family, escorting in particular the widow of a late president, is something they take very great pride in.

Many of these young people that you see standing here today themselves are, in fact, though, veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have returned to the United States, of course, and taken the very honorable duty of joining these ceremonial units.

Again, what you see here is basically the discipline, the pride of many, many months of rehearsing, of knowing exactly what they are called upon to do here. Many of us in the civilian world look at this and we find it remarkable that they can stand at such attention, that they simply do not move, that they are rendering their final honors to a former commander in chief.

What we have learned from talking to members of these ceremonial units, though, is remarkably, of course, they take the same pride, the same discipline in rendering funeral honors to a commander in chief that they take for the most junior enlisted private or marine who may have fallen in combat.

Here in Washington at Arlington National Cemetery, there are some 30 military funerals a day now.

Interestingly, of course, not just for those fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the military is seeing, due to the passing time, of course, many funerals for World War II veterans as President Ford was, for veterans of the Korean War, even veterans of the Vietnam War. I think we're about to see the motorcade approach.

LEMON: Yeah, the motorcade is approaching. We got word just a short time ago that it was a mile away. And now it appears to be approaching.

And Barbara, thank you. That was great for your wisdom on all of that.

This is St. Margaret's church in Palm Desert, California. Palm Desert, Palm Springs, neighboring communities there, lots of folks have made this their retirement home -- or the place where they retire, I should say.

WHITFIELD: A place he retired to 30 years ago. Among other folks, it's kind of considered the celebrity desert playground.

LEMON: Bob Hope was there.

WHITFIELD: Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore. A lot of folks found respite here and the president did in his home along the links there.


WHITFIELD: Enjoying, as we heard Congressman Dingell explain, enjoying golf and then of course, he would head to the Colorado hills to do a little skiing as well.

LEMON: And you know, Fred, we're looking at a hearse here. He did not want a horse-drawn carriage. And Dan Simon touched on this a while ago. He wanted to keep it simple. And so now, you're seeing a motorcade and sort of a toned-down or a pulled-back ceremony -- Dan.

SIMON: That's right Don. You know, this reflects the former president's desires and the desires of his family. They wanted this to be a very simple, intimate ceremony and that's exactly what they're getting.

Don, in terms of tomorrow when Mr. Ford's body is flown back to Washington, we should tell you the current administration has loaned the family a 747 jet from the presidential fleet and that plane will carry Mr. Ford's body, as well as his entire family back to Washington.

LEMON: Yes. And this may be out of your bailiwick, Dan, I'm not sure. Do you know anything about, and maybe Barbara. I'm not sure if Barbara is still there can tell us about. Who, Barbara or Dan, whomever, who is going to be escorting the former first lady here when she arrives at the church which she is now? Barbara? All right, Dan? Why don't you tell us about that.

SIMON: Well, we understand that somebody from the military is going to be escorting Mrs. Ford which is customary in cases such as this. It is going to be Major General Guy Swan. He is the commanding general of the joint task force in Washington, D.C. And you will see him escort Mrs. Ford and the family when they receive the body there at the entryway of St. Margaret's Episcopal.

WHITFIELD: And Dan, when we were watching this motorcade make its way in, I think for the first time we got a real view of how many dozens of people were lining that last mile stretch to see this very simple motorcade, to pay their respects.

Can you set the scene for us? I know 15,000 people are considered permanent residents there in Palm Desert, but the amount of people that we saw along the street, is that representative of mostly people who live there, consider themselves neighbors of the president, or people who have come from afar?

SIMON: I think it's a mixture of both, Fredricka. I know, obviously, people who live in the immediate vicinity of the church, they are curious and they wanted to come out and see what's going on. But, also, people in the region, people in southern California have made the trek here to say good-bye to the former president.

Again, we are expecting thousands of people to file into the church. The church is going to be open all night and they're going to allow as many people as possible to come inside and pay respect to the former president.

But in terms of the day, it is a gorgeous day. Sunny. A little bit of wind. But just a picture perfect day. That church sits on a hillside and just a gorgeous setting.

LEMON: Yes. Dan, we were talking about former First Lady Betty Ford. Apparently they took her to the back of the church so that she could exit the vehicle and then move inside the church. And then once inside, we'll get a glimpse of her. But somewhat ailing the former first lady. We're not sure if she will be walking or she'll be in a wheelchair. If she's in a wheelchair, we understand that she is going to be assisted by one of her grandchildren. Not sure which grandchild but Mrs. Ford has expressed her preference to walk as much as possible but she is often forced to use a wheelchair.

And as we said earlier, this is the first time we will have seen the first lady since the death of her husband. Just amazing to watch these pictures. Very quiet. You see the military there starting do their thing, starting to perform.

Some indication as to we're getting close to the time where the casket will be brought in. Tell us about what Dan, what might happen after this. I know it will go up the steps and take a couple of moments and then they are going to play music. And then from there what happens?

SIMON: From there, there will be a private service. We're told it's going to be relatively short. This is for invited guests. Reverend Certain will deliver a sermon, a eulogy. Also, Captain Thomas Tease from the U.S. Navy is also on hand. He's a chaplain. He will also be present.

Then, from there, the family will file out and then at 4:00 local time Mr. Ford's body will lie in repose. That will be the opportunity for people in this community to come inside the church and say good- bye to the former president.

As you see now inside the church, people starting to file in now and I imagine within the next couple of minutes, they will begin this arrival ceremony. We're told this church holds about a thousand people. I don't know the precise amount in terms of the number of people who are going to be attending this private service, but we're told it's going to be very intimate and small, Don.

MALVEAUX: The honor guard there at attention outside the St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California. The family church of the Ford family. As they await the casket with the former president, the 38th President of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford, to arrive there at the church inside invited guests only as Dan was describing.

Our Barbara Starr is also watching this, these developments in this service from the Pentagon. And Barbara, perhaps can you explain for us the procedure of the honor guard there, the traditions that are in place for a presidential funeral service.

STARR: Well, Fredricka, I think what we can expect to see in the next couple of minutes is the very traditional, very historic practice of the United States military, that the honor guard representing all of the military services will escort, will carry President Ford's casket into the church in front of the family as we understand it.

This is something that they take extreme pride in doing. For the United States military right now, at this moment, what they will do is perform the traditional historic military honors, military duties, but they are also there for the comfort of the Ford family, especially for Mrs. Ford.

One of the things going on behind the scenes right now and for the next several days will be to make sure that Mrs. Ford is looked after, that if she needs anything, they will be there, they will make sure that Mrs. Ford never has to question what the next step is, where she goes, what she does. They will make sure that her children, the Ford children are with their mother, that if Mrs. Ford has any questions about any of the proceedings, they will be there instantly to answer it, to make sure that everything she wants done is done appropriately as she wishes.

If she wishes to be escorted by General Guy Swann, who is the senior officer on-site, she will be escorted by him. He will take her arm if that is what Mrs. Ford wishes. If Mrs. Ford wishes instead to be escorted by her children, General Swann will step back, but he will always be within ear-shot so the Ford children can turn around and ask him anything, get any questions answered.

You begin now of course to see the honor guard. You see Mrs. Ford. That is General Swann escorting her with the Ford children nearby of course. He is there to make sure that Mrs. Ford is completely taken care of.

The military, of course, is very aware this is a woman who is on in years, as was Mrs. Reagan. They want to make sure that she has no issues, that she is looked after, everything she wants will be taken care of.

You will begin now, of course, to see the honor guard representing all of the military services, remove the casket from the hearse and begin to escort it into the church.

MALVEAUX: All right. Well Barbara, let's listen and watch this moment.


REVEREND ROBERT CERTAIN: With faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the body of our brother Gerald for burial. Let us pray to confidence to God, the giver of life, that he will raise him to perfection in the company of the saints.

Deliver your servant Gerald, oh sovereign lord Christ, from all evil. Set him free from every bond that he may rest with all of your saints in the eternal habitations where, where with the father, and the holy spirit, you live and reign one god, forever and ever.


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 sorrow of your servants with whom we pray. Remember them, lord, in mercy, nourish them with patience, comfort them with the sense of your goodness, lift up your countence upon them and give them peace through Jesus Christ our lord, amen.

LEMON: You're looking inside the St. Margaret's Church in Palm Desert, California now outside. We witnessed just a short time again, military pallbearers carrying in the flag-draped casket of former President Gerald R. Ford. Past his widow there, the former first lady Betty Ford. This is really sort of a sad moment to watch all of this.

Our guy there on the ground who is witnessing this in person, Dan Simon -- Dan, tell us a little bit about what you saw and the folks' reaction outside where you are.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you're getting a really good sense of how intimate this affair really is. I think, considering the circumstances, Mrs. Ford really looks terrific. As you saw there, she was walking and you saw the family there. Obviously, an emotional moment for them, and for the friends who have gathered here with them.

But, clearly, the pageantry on display -- and this is exactly how Mr. Ford wanted this day to be. He wanted it to be simple and he wanted it to be intimate. And that is what we have here today, Don.

LEMON: That's exactly what we got. This will -- we're talking Eastern time here. This will probably -- until about 4:15 Eastern. The service is a private service inside will last. And then they will visitations starting at about at 4:15 and then the public repose will begin at 7:20 p.m. And then from there, after this is over, of course, Dan, he's going to be flown to Washington.

SIMON: That's exactly right, Don. After this service, which I'm told will not be very long, the family and friends will depart. Then there will be a gap for of a couple of hours until 4:00 local time. The public will then be invited to come to the church to go inside and say good-bye to Mr. Ford.

And then at about 9:00 tomorrow morning, Mr. Ford's body will be brought to the Palm Springs Airport. His body will be put on a presidential aircraft, a 747 plane that the current administration has loaned to the family. He'll be flown to Washington, D.C.

From there, his body will be put on another hearse, as is customary for presidential funerals. Bodies are put on horse-drawn caissons, but the former president didn't want that. He wanted a very simple motorcade. The motorcade, for a time, will pass in front of the World War II Memorial in Washington. Mr. Ford, of course, served in World War II and he wanted sort of pay homage to people he served with in the military.

Then Sunday and Monday will be another opportunity for the public in Washington to file into the Capitol and also pay respect to the 38th president -- Don.

LEMON: Dan Simon, thank you.

WHITFIELD: And we're going to continue to watch how this nation, how the world honors the 38th president of the United States from Palm Desert, California, to Washington, D.C., and then to his home state of Michigan over the next few days.

We'll have more coverage right after this.


WHITFIELD: Moments ago, you watched this live here on CNN. The flag-draped casket of President Gerald R. Ford arriving at the family's church of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California. And for the first time, we saw the former First Lady Betty ford there in attendance since her husband's death, attending this very private, invited-guest only ceremony there at the family church, where they have lived in this city for the past 30 years following retirement from the White House.

And then later on, for the viewing of this casket, this church will be opening its doors to the general public there.

LEMON: And, Fredricka, you know, if there was one constant in Gerald Ford's life, it was Betty Ford.

Why don't we take a look at CNN's Randi Kaye? She takes a look back at the love affair that lasted more than half a century.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Politics was Gerald Ford's second love. His first was partner and friend of more than 50 years, his wife Betty.

BETTY FORD, FMR. FIRST LADY: We just thank the good Lord for the days he's given us. And we just hope to keep going, as Jerry says, another 50.

CARL SPERRAZZA ANTHONY, PRESIDENTIAL BIOGRAPHER: I think they enjoyed each other's company enormously.

KAYE: Carl Sperrazza Anthony has known the Ford family for a quarter century and has written about many first ladies. He saw firsthand the love affair between Betty Ford and the former president.

SPERRAZZA ANTHONY: On that day he inherited the presidency when Nixon resigned, he immediately mentioned and thanked his wife in his speech and basically said he had no obligation to anyone except one person, his wife. And that was unprecedented.

KAYE: Gerald Ford first met Betty Bloomer back in 1947 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They married the following year, two weeks before he was elected to his first term in Congress. Over the years, through four children, a host of health problems and personal battles, their affections only grew.

SPERRAZZA ANTHONY: He certainly was a man who had absolutely no reservations about kissing his wife in public. And I think as president, that was really unprecedented.

KAYE: In 1974, when Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer, just a month after they moved into the White House, they battled it together. And when she went public with her prescription drug and alcohol dependency, it was Mr. Ford who stopped drinking.

SPERRAZZA ANTHONY: He decided that he would stop drinking. He would do that not because he thought he had any problem or she thought he had a problem, but simply because it would make it easier for her.

KAYE: Their love for one another was not lost on the public or the media. And the first lady handled questions about it with her hallmark frankness.

SPERRAZZA ANTHONY: She said, "You know, I've been asked every possible personal question, except how often I sleep with my husband." And the interviewer said, "And if somebody asked you that?"

"Well, I'd say I sleep with him as often as possible."

You never heard a first lady before or since talking about sleeping with her husband.

KAYE: With her husband at her side, Betty Ford set a new standard for White House candor. She let the nation know she and the president would be sharing the same bedroom, a first at the White House.

SPERRAZZA ANTHONY: He was one of those men, I think, atypical of his generation, who was not at all threatened by a strong, articulate woman.

KAYE: In the end, it was Betty Ford who released word of her husband's passing to the nation, not a family spokesperson or friend. With a love so deep, who would have expected less?

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


LEMON: Some beautiful pictures there.

WHITFIELD: Yes. They really are beautiful pictures.

LEMON: Fantastic couple. And we want to remind our viewers that the body of former President Ford will leave California tomorrow and will flown to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, arriving late tomorrow afternoon. The motorcade carrying the casket will make a brief stop at the World War II Memorial.

And, of course, complete coverage right here on CNN.

And you can also share your memories of the 38th president. Just go to for our special coverage of Gerald R. Ford.

WHITFIELD: And now we send it to Ed Henry and Suzanne Malveaux in the "SITUATION ROOM" for Wolf Blitzer.