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Memorial services honor aspects of Fordís life

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the thunder of cannon and the whistle of a bosín pipe, the nationís capital honored Gerald R. Fordís memory Saturday in funeral ceremonies recalling the touchstones of his life, from combat in the Pacific to a career he cherished in Congress to a presidency he did not seek.

Old colleagues, todayís leaders and ordinary Americans remembered him as a man called to heal the country from the wounds of Watergate, the scandal that shattered Richard Nixonís presidency in 1974 and brought the even-keeled Ford to the Oval Office.

Fordís decision to pardon Nixon, so divisive at the time that it probably cost him the 1976 election, was dealt with squarely in his funeral services by his old chief of staff, Vice President Dick Cheney.

ďIt was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely though a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe,Ē said Cheney, speaking in the Capitol Rotunda where Fordís body rested in a flag-draped casket. ďGerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon.Ē

An aircraft from the White House fleet brought Fordís body to Andrews Air Force Base from services near his adopted California home, where mourners streamed past his casket in quiet remembrance.

The arrival opened the Washington portion of Fordís state funeral, with a procession that took his casket from Maryland to Virginia and then over the Memorial Bridge — dressed in flags and funeral bunting — to the World War II memorial, past the White House without pausing and on to the U.S. Capitol for the first service and a lying in state that continues until Tuesday morning.

The Rotunda ceremony was interrupted when William Broomfield, 84, a former Michigan congressman who served with Ford in Congress, collapsed. He was laid out on the floor of the Rotunda, and attended to by Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, before being taken out on a wheelchair. Frist later indicated that Broomfield was OK.

Although Fordís family planned the state funeral to emphasize Fordís long service in the House, Watergate quickly set the tone of the proceedings.

ďIn our nationís darkest hour, Gerald Ford lived his finest moment,Ē said Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska told the Rotunda service. ďHe was the man the hour required.Ē

Said House Speaker Dennis Hastert: ďIn 1974 America didnít need a philosopher-king or a warrior-prince. We needed a healer, we needed a rock, we needed honesty and candor and courage. We needed Gerald Ford.Ē

Lights bathed the granite arch of the memorial commemorating the Pacific theater as Fordís nighttime funeral procession, bearing his wife, Betty, and the casket of the 38th president, stopped there in tribute to his years as an ensign and gunnery officer. The other arch, representing the Atlantic theater, stood in darkness.

Mrs. Ford sat stoically in the snaking line of gleaming limousines, clutching a tissue and dabbing her face on occasion, then walked slowly at the Capitol in the arm of her military escort, soon followed by the casket bearing her husband of 58 years. Another round of cannon fire rang out.

After the ceremony, Mrs. Ford walked to the casket with the aid of her son and rested her clasped hands briefly on top of it.

The pageantry was muted, as Ford wanted, but the ritual unfolded with regal touches and according to exacting traditions dating back to the mid-1800s.

In one departure from tradition, pallbearers placed his casket outside the House chamber before it was taken to the Rotuna to lie in state. That honored Fordís years of service in the House as a congressman from Michigan and minority leader.

Similarly, Fordís body will rest briefly outside the Senate chamber on Tuesday, commemorating his service as vice president, which also made him Senate president.

On the way to Capitol Hill, World War II veterans and Boy Scouts gathered by the memorial and saluted at the brief, poignant stop. Mrs. Ford waved through the window. A bosín mate stepped forward to render ďPiping Ashore,Ē a piercing whistle heard for centuries to welcome officers aboard a ship.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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