Gerald R. Ford returned in death Saturday to the U.S. capital he served as president and congressman, his casket received with the firing of cannon and the muted pageantry he wanted for his farewell.
As night fell, an aircraft from the White House fleet brought the body of the 38th president to Andrews Air Force Base from services near his adopted California home, where mourners streamed past his casket in quiet remembrance of the even-keeled man summoned to the presidency in a time of national trauma 34 years ago.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Ford's chief of staff long ago, attended the brief arrival ceremony and was one of the honorary pallbearers. The arrival opened the Washington portion of Ford's state funeral, with a route taking his casket to the World War II memorial, past the White House and on to the U.S. Capitol for the first service and a lying in state that continues until Tuesday.
Among other pallbearers: Donald H. Rumsfeld, defense secretary for Ford and again, until recently, for President George W. Bush; former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan; and Ford's half brother, Richard Ford.
The Capitol commemorated a man whose highest ambition, never realized in an era of Democratic control of Congress, was to become Republican leader of the House of Representatives.
History intervened; he became vice president when Spiro Agnew resigned in scandal, then president when Watergate shattered Richard Nixon's presidency. "A funny thing happened to me on the way to becoming" House leader, he once cracked.
In Palm Desert, California, a 13-hour period of public viewing ended just as the sun rose over the resort community where Ford and his wife, Betty, settled nearly 30 years ago. People waited up to three hours to pay their respects at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church.
The funeral procession to the Capitol lacked the full trappings, by the design of Ford and his family. A motorcade was arranged instead of the horse-drawn caisson most familiar to Americans from the funerals of Ronald Reagan in 2004 and John Kennedy in 1963.
Ford, a man of modest character whose short presidency lacked the historic drama of Kennedy's and Reagan's, also was mourned without the riderless horse customarily included in the procession. Instead, Ford's procession included a stop at the war memorial, in joint tribute to the Navy veteran who saw action on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific theater and to his comrades in arms from that conflict.
The thundering military flyover that is also part of a full-throttle state funeral in Washington will happen instead in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Ford will be entombed Wednesday on a hillside near his presidential museum. Ford represented the city in the House for 25 years.
Ford died Tuesday at age 93. He became president when Nixon resigned in August 1974 and then was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.
Six days of national mourning began Friday with military honors and a simple family prayer service at St. Margaret's, where the Ford family has worshipped for many years. Mourners ranging from children to the elderly had walked through quickly and then reboarded their buses _ a process taking less than two minutes.
Barbara Veith, 69, said Ford's "everyman" persona drew her to the viewing.
"There is something personal about his passing even though we didn't really know him," Veith said. "He just kind of had an everyman quality to him though he was far from it _ he was the president."
During his weekly radio address on Saturday, Bush called Ford a "courageous leader, a true gentleman and a loving father and husband."
"Gerald Ford distinguished himself as a man of integrity and selfless dedication," Bush said. "He always put the needs of his country before his own, and did what he thought was right, even when those decisions were unpopular. Only years later would Americans come to fully appreciate the foresight and wisdom of this good man."
Bush was referring obliquely to Ford's decision to pardon Nixon, a step so divisive it was widely thought to have contributed to his defeat in 1976. In the years since, some critics of the pardon, as well as a number of historians, have come to see it as a wise move that spared the nation further pain from Watergate.
When they return to Washington from their Texas vacation on Monday, Bush and his wife, Laura, Bush plan to pay their respects to Ford while he lies in state at the Capitol. On Tuesday, the president will speak at Ford's funeral service at Washington National Cathedral before Ford's remains are taken to Michigan.