(Grand Rapids, MI-AP) January 3, 2007 - Tens of thousands of mourners with their winter caps in their hands and bundled-up children in tow snapped photos, quietly prayed and offered military salutes Wednesday as they filed past the casket of their state's only president, Gerald R. Ford, on the final official day of national mourning.
Following an afternoon church service, the late president was to be interred in a private ceremony just a few steps from the lines of mourners stood, on the grounds of his presidential museum.
Grand Rapids was Ford's boyhood home, and he played football for the University of Michigan's national champion teams in 1932 and 1933.
Many people in the crowds that lined up through the chilly night and into Wednesday to say a final goodbye paid tribute to his state ties by wearing Michigan sweat shirts. Officials estimated that some 60,000 people would pass through during the 17-hour Michigan viewing.
Julie Setlock adjusted a football with the words "A true American and hometown hero" at a makeshift memorial outside the museum.
The 37-year-old from nearby Rockford had arrived Tuesday night with her three children to view the late president's casket, but the lines were so long, she decided to try again Wednesday morning. Even at 7 a.m., she faced a 30-minute wait.
"It's not very often you have an opportunity to pay respect to a president, so I couldn't pass it up," said Bill Kleinhans, a Grand Rapids business owner who was also in line early Wednesday.
Donald Rumsfeld, who served in Ford's cabinet as his chief of staff and as his defense secretary, was to deliver a eulogy during the afternoon service at Grace Episcopal Church. Former President Jimmy Carter, who defeated Ford in 1976 but later became a close friend of his former opponent, and Richard Norton Smith, who used to be the director of the Ford museum and presidential library, also were scheduled to speak.
Ford, who became the nation's 38th president after Richard Nixon resigned, died Dec. 26 at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 93.
On Tuesday, people jammed streets and waved as Ford's casket was carried from the Grand Rapids airport, where it arrived following services at Washington National Cathedral.
"You were a paradoxical gift of remarkable intellect and achievement wrapped in a plain brown wrapper," Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said of Ford. "Welcome home to the people that you reflected so well when you were in Washington."
Tuesday's elaborate national funeral service in Washington drew 3,000 people. President Bush spoke Tuesday, as did NBC newsman Tom Brokaw and Ford's secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, among others.
"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," President Bush said in his eulogy.
Bush's father, the first President Bush, called Ford a "Norman Rockwell painting come to life" and cracked gentle jokes about Ford's reputation as an errant golfer.
Kissinger paid tribute to Ford's leadership in achieving nuclear arms control with the Soviets, pushing for the first political agreement between Israel and Egypt and helping to bring majority rule to southern Africa.
"In his understated way he did his duty as a leader, not as a performer playing to the gallery," Kissinger said. "Gerald Ford had the virtues of small town America."
Brokaw said Ford brought to office "no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit list or acts of vengeance," an oblique reference to the air of subterfuge that surrounded Nixon in his final days.
updated 10:44am by Bryce Mursch