Elite Air Force Unit Transports Former President's Body
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2006 The U.S. Air Force 89th Airlift Wing, based on Andrews Air Force Base, Md., will transport the body of former President Gerald R. Ford, a U.S. Navy veteran, as his remains are flown between points in California, Washington and Michigan, Air Force military officers based here said.
Ford, the nation’s 38th president, died Dec. 26 at age 93 at his residence in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., and will be buried on the grounds of his presidential museum there Jan. 3, after being honored in California and Washington.
A blue-and-white painted military VC-25, a 747-model jet like those used to transport President Bush, will fly Ford’s casket from California to various honor ceremonies, said Air Force Capt. Herbert McConnell, spokesman for the 89th Airlift Wing.
Activated in 1951 and located at Andrews since 1966, the 89th is a special Air Force unit that supports the president, vice president and other senior civilian and military leaders, according to the organization’s Web page.
“The 89th Airlift Wing has a long and well-established reputation for professional excellence in support of our nation’s senior leaders,” Air Force Brig. Gen. John I. Pray Jr., the 89th’s commander, said in a statement provided to American Forces Press Service.
“We take great pride in being able to be part of the team that has been called upon to represent the U.S. military and help care for our 38th president and his family during this difficult time,” Pray wrote.
Ford’s body is to be flown tomorrow from California to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., arriving there in the afternoon. He will be taken to the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda, where he’ll lie in state until the morning of Jan. 2, when he will be transported to the National Cathedral for a state funeral service. President Bush will speak at the service.
After the funeral service here, Ford’s body will be flown to Grand Rapids for burial Jan. 3.
“The passing of a former president provides all Americans, not just the military, an opportunity to reflect upon how that individual served us all and the tremendous impact they had on our growth as a nation, our way of life and the freedoms we hold dear,” Pray said in his statement.
Ford served as a U.S. Navy officer in the Pacific theater of operations during World War II. After the war, Ford was elected as a Republican member of Congress where he represented Michigan for 24 years in the House of Representatives. In 1973, Ford became vice president in the administration of President Richard M. Nixon. Ford assumed the presidency when Nixon resigned in August 1974.
“While President Ford’s passing is a loss for our nation, the celebration of his life should serve to inspire current generations as we continue, ‘To support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Pray wrote.