WASHINGTON - Eyewitnesses to history, Americans paraded through the Capitol on Sunday to pay their final respects to Gerald R. Ford, with parents seeking to convey to their children the significance of the 38th president's short tenure.
Dan Shirey of Herndon, Va., said he was moved, as a teenager, by Ford's declaration that "our long national nightmare is over" as Ford replaced Richard Nixon in 1974. Shirey and his family - wife Juliette, and son Joshua, 6, and Nathan, 9 - left home at 6:30 a.m. Sunday for the chance to view Ford's closed, flag-draped casket in the Capitol Rotunda.
"I think they have to recognize where they come from so when they grow up, they understand," Shirey said, explaining he wanted his sons to witness history. Added his wife: "This is part of building up memories with our children."
Jack and Mary Oslund, both 67 and from Springfield, Va., recalled Ford as a president who had the job thrust upon him in the last chapter of Nixon's Watergate scandal.
"I think what he brought back to the White House was integrity, trust," Jack Oslund said. "Honesty," added Mary Oslund. "Watergate kind of tore the nation apart. It was a change of regime, completely," she said.
Some visitors said it took about an hour to pass through security checks and make their way past the casket. Mourners lined up for a few blocks, starting near the U.S. Botanic Garden at the base of Capitol Hill. Some people wore blue jeans and sweat shirts; others had something like their Sunday best.
Ford will lie in state for two more days before his funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday and interment the next day in a hillside tomb near his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., the city he served in Congress for a quarter-century.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, on vacation in Texas, planned to view the casket upon their return to Washington on Monday. Bush will deliver a eulogy at the cathedral service.
Ford's decision to pardon Nixon after Watergate, so divisive at the time that it probably cost Ford the 1976 election, was dealt with squarely Saturday in funeral services by Dick Cheney, the current vice president who was Ford's chief of chief.
"It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely though a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe," said Cheney, speaking in the Rotunda where Ford's body rested. "Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon."
The Washington portion of Ford's state funeral opened with a procession that took his casket from Maryland to Virginia. Then it was over the Memorial Bridge - adorned with flags and funeral bunting - and to the World War II Memorial. Next, the procession went past the White House and to the Capitol.
Although Ford's family planned the state funeral to emphasize Ford's long service in the House, Watergate quickly set the tone of the proceedings.
Said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.: "In 1974 America didn't 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."