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Hometown Pays Tribute to Former US President


The body of former President Gerald Ford has arrived in his home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan, after a state funeral Tuesday in Washington. VOA's Michael Bowman reports, residents turned out in large numbers to pay their final respects to a local hero.

The casket containing the body of President Ford arrived in Grand Rapids amid a formal military ceremony, and was then transported in a 75-car motorcade through the city. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets in quiet reverence to catch a glimpse of the hearse as it passed by, including large contingents of military veterans and Boy Scouts. Gerald Ford fought in the Pacific during World War II and was an Eagle Scout in his youth.

President Ford's casket is in public repose at his presidential museum in downtown Grand Rapids. It will remain there until midday Wednesday, when it will be transported to a local Episcopalian church for a private service. Burial will follow at the presidential museum.

Ever since his death last week at the age of 93, local residents have been reflecting on the life of Gerald Ford, a long-serving Michigan congressman who rose to the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal.

Grand Rapids resident Mary Beth Bott says President Ford's life was and remains a matter of great pride for the area.

"He wasn't elected to the presidency, he inherited it," she said. "He had to step up [rise to a challenge]. It was something he never intended to do [becoming president]. He always seemed like a regular guy, and that is what I really liked about him. He seemed very human."

President Ford was perhaps best known for pardoning his predecessor, Richard Nixon, a move that cost him politically, but has since been recognized as an important step in America's recovery from the Watergate era.

"President Ford become president at a very difficult and challenging time for this nation," said local resident Sharon Hartlein. "It was a time when things could have gone from bad to worse. And instead of that happening, because of him the nation was healed to a degree that probably would not have happened if the new president had been someone with less integrity, less honesty, and less compassion and caring for the country."

"Honesty," "integrity," and "decency" are words this reporter has heard over and over as people in Grand Rapids describe their impressions of President Ford. People say those values were sorely needed at the time when Gerald Ford became president, and residents here say they are proud that their city gave the nation a man who embodied those values in an hour of need.