GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Gerald R. Ford was laid to rest on the grounds of his presidential museum Wednesday after eight days of mourning and remembrance that spanned the country, from the California desert to the nation’s capital and back to Ford’s boyhood home.
The burial at sunset capped the official mourning for the 38th president, whose casket traveled more than 2,700 miles before reaching its final stop on a hill overlooking a river at the museum in Ford’s hometown.
At a graveside service that included a 21-gun salute and a 21-aircraft flyover, Vice President Dick Cheney presented former first lady Betty Ford with the American flag that was draped over her husband’s casket.
Earlier, Ford was remembered as a man not afraid to laugh, make tough decisions or listen to the advice of his independent wife in eulogies delivered during a funeral at the church the couple attended for six decades.
An honor guard carried the casket inside Grace Episcopal Church, where Ford’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, recalled his public service.
His widow, Betty, wiped away tears as she sat with the couple’s four children and more than 300 dignitaries and family friends, including Cheney and golfing legend Jack Nicklaus.
“He was one of us,” Rumsfeld said. “And that made him special and needed in a dark and dangerous hour for our nation.”
Rumsfeld, who recently left his post as President Bush’s defense secretary, remembered Ford as a courageous and steady leader who healed the nation after Watergate.
Rumsfeld said the military is considering naming a new aircraft carrier after Ford, a Navy veteran of World War II. Later at the Pentagon, the Navy confirmed that it would make an official announcement in a few weeks.
Carter described the close personal friendship he and Ford developed over the years.
“I relished his sound advice,” Carter said as his wife, Rosalynn, cried. “I want to thank my predecessor for all he did to heal our land.”
Thousands of flag-waving mourners lined the roads under sunny skies as the motorcade bearing Ford’s casket traveled between his presidential museum in downtown Grand Rapids to the church, before returning to the museum.