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Inside Politics

Former President Ford lauded, laid to rest

Story Highlights

NEW: Navy to name aircraft carrier after Ford
Vice president hands folded flag to Betty Ford as family weeps
• Donald Rumsfeld, Jimmy Carter speak fondly of Gerald Ford
• Sara Jane Moore says she's glad she failed to kill Ford in 1975
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GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (CNN) -- The body of former President Gerald Ford ended its sentimental journey Wednesday afternoon in Grand Rapids, where his body was placed in a hillside tomb as the sun declined in the cloudless winter sky.

The 38th president died last week at age 93.

Mourners -- many wearing University of Michigan colors -- watched as the funeral motorcade traversed the sunlit streets of his hometown.

A military band played the national anthem and "God Bless America" as eight uniformed pallbearers carried the flag-draped casket several hundred feet from the hearse to the tomb on the grounds of Ford's presidential museum. (Watch the family and the nation bid farewell to Gerald Ford in Grand Rapids Video)

His diminutive 88-year-old widow, Betty, followed, supported by a military escort on her left arm and her son Steven on her right. Her son Michael, occasionally wiping tears, and daughter, Susan, then sat beside her during the final commitment rite led by an Episcopal priest.

"Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him," the priest prayed.

After an artillery salute and a 21-gun rifle salute, a fleet of fighter jets flew past in the "missing man" formation while a bugler sounded taps.

The flag was lifted from the casket, smartly folded into a triangle and handed to Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney handed the flag to Betty Ford as the entire family wept.

Earlier, an honor guard carried the late president's casket into Grace Episcopal Church, the Ford family's church for 40 years, for a final service attended by Ford's widow and four children and more than 300 mourners.

Betty Ford dabbed away tears as Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Gerald Ford's chief of staff and defense secretary, delivered a somber, gently paced eulogy.

Rumsfeld praised Betty Ford for her contribution to her husband's presidency and for giving inspiration "to millions of people she never even met."

He said Ford was just the leader the United States needed in the wake of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon's resignation.

"He reminded Americans of who they were, and he put us on the right path when the way ahead was, at best, uncertain," Rumsfeld said.

During his eulogy, Rumsfeld revealed that the Navy plans to name the first ship in a new class of aircraft carriers after Ford, a World War II Navy veteran.

"How fitting it will be that the name Gerald R. Ford will patrol the high seas for decades to come in the defense of the nation he loved so much," said Rumsfeld, who said he told Ford about the honor during a recent visit.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who defeated Ford in 1976 but later became a close friend, also spoke.

Carter recalled making a joyous phone call in 1979, along with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, to inform Ford that a peace agreement had been reached between Egypt and Israel.

Ford and Carter later attended Sadat's funeral together.

Carter said he and Ford often traveled together and enjoyed each other's company and shared a common Christian faith.

"One of my proudest moments was at the commemoration of the 200th birthday of the White House," Carter recalled, "when two noted historians both declared that the Ford-Carter friendship was the most intensely personal between any two presidents in history."

After mourners left the church, a knitted blue scarf with the University of Michigan's block "M" logo in maize was left draped over a front pew.

More than 50,000 mourners were estimated to have filed past the casket over 17 hours at the museum. (Watch to see why people waited to pay respects in Grand Rapids Video)

When Ford's body arrived at the museum Tuesday after an elaborate state funeral in Washington, there was a private service for family and close friends, including members of Ford's championship high school football team.

"Oh gosh, I can't say enough about Jerry. He was just a down-to-earth sort of guy from high school on, and if you were a friend of his, you would stay a friend of his for ... life," 94-year-old Leon Joslin, a former teammate, told CNN.

Would-be assassin expresses regret

Ford survived two assassination attempts, both by women, in California in September 1975.

Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a follower of mass murderer Charles Manson, was foiled in the first attempt, in Sacramento, when her handgun jammed because it had been improperly loaded.

Three weeks later in San Francisco, Sara Jane Moore fired a shot at Ford from within a crowd, but missed when a disabled Vietnam veteran bumped her arm as she pulled the trigger.

Moore, serving a life sentence in a California prison, expressed remorse during an interview Wednesday with KGO-TV in San Francisco.

"I know now that I was wrong to try," she said. "Thank God I didn't succeed."

Moore said she was able to watch only snatches of Ford's funeral coverage.

Still, she said, "I've learned more about him in the last few days than I ever knew."

Moore said that at the time of the assassination attempt she was angry over the Vietnam War, which had drawn huge protests around the country, and other actions by the government. Saigon fell during the Ford administration.

Once in prison, she said, she never wished for Ford's death, which might have helped her gain early parole.

"People kept saying he would have to die before I could be released, and I did not want my release from prison to be dependent on somebody, on something happening to somebody else, so I wanted him to live to be 100," she said.

21-gun salute

On Tuesday, Ford's flag-draped casket arrived from Washington at his hometown airport to the sounds of a 21-gun salute and the University of Michigan band playing the school's fight song. (Watch ceremony as Ford leaves Capitol for last time Video)

Ford was an all-star football player at Michigan before embarking on his political career.

Earlier Tuesday, Bush described Ford as "a man whose name was a synonym for integrity" in a eulogy at the Washington National Cathedral. (Watch Bush, others praise Ford's character Video)

Ford led the United States from August 1974 to January 1977, after the Watergate scandal forced Richard Nixon from office.

One of Ford's first acts as president was to pardon Nixon.

To his critics, Ford explained that the pardon was necessary to heal the country and help it move forward.

"In President Ford, the world saw the best of America -- and America found a man whose character and leadership would bring calm and healing to one of the most divisive moments in our nation's history," Bush said.

'America needed him'

The cathedral was packed with dignitaries, including past presidents, members of Congress, and Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres. ( Watch dignitaries gather at Washington National Cathedral to honor Ford Video)

Ford, a Republican, was House minority leader when Nixon tapped him to replace Spiro Agnew as vice president, after Agnew's no-contest plea to bribery charges that dated to his tenure as governor of Maryland.

"When President Nixon needed to replace a vice president who had resigned in scandal, he naturally turned to a man whose name was a synonym for integrity: Gerald Ford," Bush said.

"And eight months later, when he was elevated to the presidency, it was because America needed him, not because he needed the office."

The president recalled Ford's strong beliefs in racial equality -- beliefs that were evident during the former president's football days at Michigan.

When Michigan was to play Georgia Tech in Ann Arbor, the Southern team refused to play unless Willis Ward, a black player, was removed from the Wolverines roster, Bush said.

When Michigan agreed to play without Ward, Ford quit the team.

But Ward persuaded Ford to play without him, Bush said.

It was the only game Michigan won that year, the president said.

Served in House for 25 years

While in the House of Representatives, where he served 25 years, Ford opposed the poll tax that kept poor people, mostly blacks, from voting.

And he supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Despite the two assassination attempts, Ford didn't cut back his public appearances, Bush said.

In the area of foreign affairs, the president said, Ford was one of the signers of the Helsinki Accords, which listed 10 goals for nations, including "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

History has shown that the accords helped dissolve the Soviet Union, Bush added.

Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, recalled Ford's humor about some of his clumsiness and his love of golf.

Ford once said, "I know I'm playing better golf because I'm hitting fewer spectators," the elder Bush recalled.

Henry Kissinger, secretary of state under Ford, also paid tribute.

Kissinger credited Ford for supporting the secretary's efforts in 1973 in working out interim disengagement agreements among Egypt, Syria and Israel.

While in Congress, Ford was a strong friend to Israel.

He was among one of the first politicians to recommend that the U.S. recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"Gerald Ford assumed the presidency when the nation needed a leader of character and humility -- and we found it in the man from Grand Rapids," the current President Bush said.

"President Ford's time in office was brief -- but history will long remember the courage and common sense that helped restore trust in the workings of democracy."

Bush said he most recently saw Ford last year California.

"He was still smiling, still counting himself lucky to have Betty at his side -- and still displaying the optimism and generosity that made him one of America's most beloved leaders."

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.


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