As an officer of the United States Navy during World War II, where he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. could not have known he would be a popular twelve term Congressman from Michigan, nor did he aspire to be the President of the United States. But Ford had an appointment with destiny and with history. Over time, his colleagues and political opponents came to describe Ford as a moral man of great integrity who possessed an unparalleled sense of duty.
The “Accidental President,” was so named after he was sworn in following Watergate and numerous other scandals that rocked the Nixon Administration. With the conflict in Vietnam still costing thousands of American lives and revelation after revelation about corruption and political chicanery in the Washington Post, combined with the resignation of then-Vice President Spiro Agnew in abject disgrace, Nixon needed a man who could be confirmed by the Democrat-led US Senate. He needed a designated hitter to save America’s sense of self.
Gerald Ford’s brief tenure as President was marked by pragmatism, realism and a moral and principled core. He managed America’s disgust with the Nixon administration and our grief over the Vietnam War. In a speech to the nation immediately following his swearing the Oath of Office, President Ford eloquently remarked: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me with your prayers.”
Honesty, simplicity and modesty marked Gerald Ford’s life and career. Beginning at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California, the State Funeral will reflect his career as a Congressman, as Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate, his personal sense of humility, as well as the military honors befitting a Navy Officer and Commander in Chief. Led by Military District Washington (MDW), the Joint Force Headquarters of the National Capital Region will coordinate logistics and render honors under the direction of Major General Guy Swan, III, Commanding General of MDW.
The ceremonial units of the Honor Guard are comprised of the US Army 3rd Infantry Old Guard, the US Navy Ceremonial Guard, the US Air Force Honor Guard, the US Marine Corps from Marine Barracks 8th & I, and the US Coast Guard Ceremonial Guard. These units are permanent commands in Military District Washington, populated by expertly trained individuals whose presence guided the State Funerals of Presidents Eisenhower, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and most recently President Ronald Reagan in 2004.
The Honor Guard appears at all full diplomatic arrival ceremonies at the Pentagon and the White House. They presided over the State Funeral at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in 1984, when an unknown soldier’s remains were recovered from Vietnam and interred at the Tomb. Burials in Arlington National Cemetery of fallen members of the Armed Forces, and their qualified next of kin, receive military honors from the same units participating in President Ford’s funeral over the coming days.
After departing Palm Desert, President Ford’s remains will be escorted by the Honor Guard, Mrs. Ford, and her family. Major General Swan and a Military Chaplain will escort Mrs. Ford and guide her throughout the State Funeral until it concludes in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
On Saturday, December 30, after an arrival ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington, DC, the motorcade will travel through Alexandria, Virginia in remembrance of President Ford’s long residence in that city as a Congressman and as Vice President of the United States. En route to the US Capitol, the motorcade will pause at the World War II Memorial located on the National Mall at 17th Street, between Constitution and Independence Avenues. The motorcade will then proceed to the U.S. Capitol and be received at the East Steps to the U.S. House of Representatives.
President Ford’s casket will proceed up the East House Steps on the East Capitol Plaza in honor of his 24 years as a U.S. Congressman. His remains will be met by a group of his former House colleagues. His casket will lie in repose at the open House doors honoring his time in Congress. The casket will then be carried through Statuary Hall. His remains will then move to the Rotunda for the Lying in State portion of the state funeral, where a Joint Guard of Honor will be at his side every moment.
After which, President Ford’s remains will depart the Rotunda and rest at the closed Senate doors in honor of his service as the Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate. The motorcade will then proceed to the Washington National Cathedral, passing the White House en route. A national funeral service will then be conducted. Following the service, the motorcade will transport the casket from the cathedral to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, for a departure ceremony.
President Ford’s remains will be received with ceremony at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His casket will then be moved by motorcade to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum for a brief private service. During the service, wreaths will be placed at the casket by the presidents of Yale University and the University of Michigan in honor of President Ford’s law degree and undergraduate degree, from those institutions respectively. Following the service, President Ford’s remains will lie in repose. Finally, President Ford’s remains will depart the museum with ceremony and proceed to Grace Episcopal Church, with ceremony followed by a private funeral service for invited guests only. At the conclusion of the service, the remains will depart the church with ceremony and proceed to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum for a private interment service.
President Ford, the reluctant president, surely would find comfort in sharing a team from the Honor Guard who also buries their comrades serving in today’s controversial war in Iraq. President Ford was a husband, a father, a patriot and a sailor. History will not record the names of the Casket Bearers, nor the firing party, nor the Joint Service Presidential Color Guard. But the men and women of the Honor Guard will share the stories of how they once buried a president, and were humbled more by his service as a member of the Greatest Generation than any political statements made in the wake of his death.
For additional information, visit the official site of the State Funeral.Powered by Sidelines