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Rumsfeld Praises Ford’s Selfless Duty at Michigan Service

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2007 – Former President Gerald R. Ford’s steady, selfless character helped to heal the nation during a time of turmoil, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday at Ford’s funeral service in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“I suspect that when he looked in a mirror, even after he became president, he saw a citizen and a public servant,” Rumsfeld said of Ford during a eulogy at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids. Ford was buried yesterday, not far away on the grounds of his presidential museum and library.

Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s chief of staff, then defense secretary, praised Ford’s actions when he became president in August 1974. Less than a month after taking office as the 38th president, Ford pardoned former President Richard M. Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal

“The pressures were enormous. The stakes were high. The world was watching,” Rumsfeld described the political and social scene when Ford assumed the presidency. “And, the American people were holding their breath, wondering what would happen next.”

Yet, America tends to find strong leaders, like Ford, when it needs them most, Rumsfeld said. He lauded Ford for restoring strength to the presidency and the American people’s faith in their government.

“It’s commonly said that President Ford healed the nation, and he did,” Rumsfeld said, noting that Ford’s sincerity and straightforward words and manner reassured the American people.

“Even in a country coarsened by skepticism, few doubted that the gentleman from Michigan would keep his word,” Rumsfeld said. “That was his special magic.”

Ford’s victories as president would be accompanied by loss, as well, Rumsfeld recalled. The pardon of Nixon has been cited by historians as fatally damaging Ford’s chances of being elected president in his own right. Jimmy Carter defeated Ford in the 1976 presidential election.

“After a long and tough campaign, one might have expected him to carry some bitterness over his narrow defeat” for the presidency, Rumsfeld said.

However, Rumsfeld said he believed that Ford’s inherent optimism quickly overcame any regrets about losing the election. He recalled that the outgoing president was cheered at the sight of a cloudless, sunny sky when he left Washington at the end of his term.

Rumsfeld also saluted Ford’s widow and former first lady, Betty Ford.

“Betty was a first lady like no other, an inspiration for truly millions that she never met and a rock of support for a husband who relied greatly on her wisdom, her candor, and indeed, her personal courage,” Rumsfeld said.

Ford “was a patriot who knew that freedom is precious and that it comes at a cost,” Rumsfeld said. The U.S. Navy is considering naming a new aircraft carrier class after Ford, he said.

Before the Michigan ceremonial and burial yesterday, Fordwas also honored in California and Washington. President Bush spoke at Ford’s state funeral held in the Washington National Cathedral here Jan. 2.

Thousands of military members helped pay tribute to their former commander in chief throughout the funeral services and observances in California, Maryland, Washington and Michigan. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen served as ceremonial guards and honorary pallbearers, provided military bands and choruses and rendered 21-gun salutes and a military flyover to the former president.

Ford died Dec. 26 at age 93 at his home in Rancho, Mirage, Calif.

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Biographies:
President Gerald R. Ford

Related Sites:
Special Report Honoring the Late Former President Gerald R. Ford



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