by Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service
12/28/2006 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Almost 4,000 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members are gearing up to support the national farewell to former President Gerald R. Ford that will span a seven-day period with events in California, Maryland, the nation's capital and Michigan.
"This is DOD's way of showing respect and honor to a former commander in chief and president, so it's very important to us," said Army Col. Jim Yonts, public affairs officer for the Military District of Washington.
The military's experience in planning, attention to detail and execution makes it ideally suited to conducting state funerals honoring former presidents, Colonel Yonts said.
"It ensures the synchronization of many, many moving parts, with ground assets, air assets, intelligence assets and all kinds of other assets coming together to ensure a safe and secure state funeral that properly honors a former commander in chief and president," he said.
The MDW, operating as the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, will serve as the Defense Department's command and control headquarters for the funeral activities. Military support ranges from color guards and honorary pallbearers to airlift and other transportation to logistics, Colonel Yonts said.
About 100 members of a joint-service honor guard from throughout the National Capital Region arrived Dec. 27 in Palm Desert, Calif., where Ford will lie in repose Dec. 29 and 30, he said.
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., will coordinate events in California, and the Michigan National Guard will coordinate events in Michigan, he said.
The U.S. Marine Corps Twentynine Palms Band will play a military arrival ceremony and private family prayer service at 4 p.m. Dec. 29 at Palm Desert's St. Margaret's Episcopal Church.
After the service, Ford's remains will lie in repose through early Dec. 30. Members of the Washington-based 3rd U.S. Army Infantry Regiment, "the Old Guard"; the U.S. Marine Corps Ceremonial and Guard Company; the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard; the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard will attend the casket, Yonts said.
A military honor guard will accompany Ford's remains as they are flown to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Dec. 30.
There, a joint-service honor cordon and color guard will meet them for a 5:30 p.m. arrival ceremony. The U.S. Air Force Band will provide music, and The Old Guard's Presidential Salute Battery will render a 21-gun salute, Colonel Yonts said.
Joint-service pallbearers will carry the casket to a hearse, which will lead a motorcade through Washington, D.C., en route to the U.S. Capitol. The motorcade will pause in front of the World War II Memorial, a tribute to Ford's service in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Once at the east side of the Capitol, the pallbearers will carry Ford's casket into the House chambers, where he will lie in state to commemorate his many years as a U.S. congressman. From there, the pallbearers will carry the casket to the rotunda to lie in state, before moving it again to the Senate chambers to honor Ford's time as vice president, and therefore, president of the Senate.
On Jan. 2, the pallbearers will carry the casket down the Senate steps to the awaiting hearse. His motorcade will proceed to a 10:30 a.m. state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral, where President Bush will speak.
Following the state funeral, Ford's body will be flown to Grand Rapids, Mich., for burial on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in the former president's hometown.
There, he will lie in repose before being moved at 1 p.m. Jan. 3 for a private funeral service at Grace Episcopal Church, Colonel Yonts said. Following the ceremony, the casket will be returned to the presidential museum for burial.
Throughout the funeral events, every branch of the armed forces and the U.S. Coast Guard will provide personnel, support and ceremonial units to the Joint Task Force National Capital Region, Colonel Yonts said. These ceremonial units have participated in state funerals for Presidents Eisenhower, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan.
Photo Credit: President Ronald Reagan was the last former president to receive a state funeral, in June 2004. The bugle call "Taps" originated in the Civil War with the Army of the Potomac to signal the end of the day. The call later came into another use at funerals as a figurative call to the sleep of death for soldiers. (U.S. Air Force file photo)