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National mourning for Ford begins

Chris Carlson/AP PhotoFormer First Lady Betty Ford, escorted by Maj. Gen. Guy C. Swan III, watches as the casket of her husband, former Pres. Gerald R. Ford arrives at St. Margaret's Episcopal church Friday, in Palm Desert, Calif.
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PALM DESERT, Calif. – Military pallbearers carried the flag-draped casket of Gerald R. Ford past his widow and children Friday afternoon and into the church where the late president had attended services for years in the “Presidents Pew.”

Former first lady Betty Ford, 88, stood at the top of the steps of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church to receive the casket, then followed it inside as a Marine Corps band played “Ruffles and Flourishes” and the hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”

Honoring Ford’s Navy service, a sailor was deputized to fly the presidential seal.

“We receive the body of our brother, Gerald, for burial,” a minister said as the casket was carried in and placed before three floral wreathes, with an honor guard at its side.

Mrs. Ford was escorted to the front by an Army general and was followed by her family for a small, private prayer service.

The ceremony began the first of six days of formal mourning and was to be followed by a private visitation and then a public viewing at the church that was expected to draw thousands to the resort community east of Los Angeles.

Security was tight around the community, with helicopters hovering overhead. The Secret Service swept the area, and surrounding residential streets were blocked off.

A silent crowd watched from well beyond the parking lot of the church, not far from the former president’s Rancho Mirage home, where Ford and his wife had worshipped nearly every Sunday since 1977.

After the viewing, Mrs. Ford planned to accompany her husband’s body across the nation for ceremonies in the Washington, D.C., and then in Grand Rapids, Mich., where the former president grew up and will be entombed on Wednesday.

Ford, who assumed the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday at 93 with his family at his bedside.

In his honor, the six days of formal mourning will include a day of silence on Wall Street, with the major stock markets closed Tuesday, the day of Ford’s funeral service at the National cathedral.

The Wall Street tradition dates to the 1885 burial of President Grant and was last observed after President Reagan’s death in 2004. Other U.S. financial markets were expected to close for at least part of the day Tuesday to honor Ford.

After arriving at Andrews Air Force Base on Saturday, the coffin will be taken to the Capitol in a funeral procession, then carried up the steps of the East Front of the House by a military escort.

It will then lie in repose in front of the House chamber and be carried into the Rotunda for a ceremony and public viewing before being moved to the National Cathedral for funeral services there Tuesday.

Some of the most regal touches of a full state funeral are being bypassed, by request of his family and, most likely, according to Ford’s own wishes.

In Washington, a hearse rather than a horse-drawn caisson will drive Ford’s casket to the Capitol. Fighter jets will do a flyover with a “missing man” maneuver only in Grand Rapids, where Ford will be interred on a hillside north of his presidential museum. He spent most of his childhood and practiced law in the city before representing the area in Congress for 25 years.


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