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THE SITUATION ROOM
Special: President Gerald R. Ford's Funeral
Aired December 30, 2006 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. His body arrived at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington only moments ago and a motorcade is now making its way through the streets of Washington on its way to the U.S. Capitol.
Let's get some more on what's go on. CNN's Tom Foreman is here with us as well. Tom, give our viewers a sense of what's happening.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that this tour being taken by the former president's family really is a tour he would have liked to take in life, because it's of the places that he touched in Washington and that touched him.
Let's look at the touch table here. This is where he landed. This is Andrews Air Force Base right over here. And the motorcade is not heading towards Washington up here immediately but instead as we have noted it's going to go this way, it is going to wheel down here and it is going to head right over to this little community right over here.
BLITZER: That is across the Potomac River?
FOREMAN: Absolutely. Potomac River right here. And it matters because this Alexandria.
BLITZER: So he goes from Maryland into Virginia?
FOREMAN: It's kind of odd the way it wraps around here. Maryland wraps around Washington, DC, Virginia's over here.
He comes into Alexandria, a city of about 130, 140,000 people, one that was personally important to him. And the streets over here are going to be lined by many, many thousands of people who were not always his official friends but his real friends and his neighbors, because he lived here for so long.
And in fact he did live here for 10 days as the sitting president. A very unusual thing that Alexandria can lay claim to.
Then he is going to head north up the Potomac River. Along the way he's going to pass this, Reagan Airport, many people have flown in here. If you know the area very well, Reagan Airport is named after the next Republican president, after Gerald Ford left office.
BLITZER: He'll be on the George Washington Parkway.
FOREMAN: Exactly. George Washington Parkway coming up this way. Then he'll go along this place right up here, which of course is important in this time, the Pentagon of the United States. Then he's going to continue a little bit further up where he'll actually cross back over, and for the first time he will go into Washington, DC. Let's take a look at this area right here because this is important in this entire trip. When they comes across the river here ...
BLITZER: This is the Memorial Bridge.
FOREMAN: The Memorial Bridge is one of the famous ones that many people who have traveled here to Washington have traveled across. He'll come here, this is the Lincoln Memorial. You have all seen that if you've come here as tourists.
Then he will come down this way, along this road, up to right here. We've been talking all about it. That's an important landmark to remember in all of this, because that is the World War II Memorial that we've been talking about. It's become enormously popular here since it opened just a number of months back, I suppose.
Then he's going to head a little bit further north this way, up this road, crossing here, the Washington Monument is this way. Then turn right here on this road and move over here. Not going to stop but keep going along this road. Also an important location, because when he is here, he will be right next to the place that he called home when it wasn't Alexandria. The White House is right over here. And a place that became home to the man who beat him, Jimmy Carter, not by much in years later as both Mr. Ford and Mr. Carter has told me in recent years they became very close friends, after they were both out of that residence.
BLITZER: So he'll be driving from the south of the White House, the south side of the White House.
FOREMAN: The south side of the White House along this road here. Let's take a look at what's going to happen after that. As he heads up this road right here, he's going to be headed toward the Capitol, and as he goes he'll be passing the Commerce Department, the IRS, the Justice Department, the Smithsonian Institution, many places that were important in his presidency. Obviously, his work on the U.S. economy involved the Commerce Department, obviously, the National Archives are further up the way making his way through official Washington. And then coming here to the Capitol proper.
At the capitol, what's going to happen, if you've ever been to Washington, your tendency is to think of Washington as a place where of front of the Capitol faces down the mall. Technically the Capitol is considered to face to east and he'll be taken to what's called the east front of the Capitol. At the east front of the Capitol, what will happen Mr. Ford will be brought in around here. He'll stop in this area. Then he'll be brought up the steps into the House side of the Capitol, the place where he really built his career and where he told me very emphatically he wanted to spend his entire career.
He never wanted to leave this chamber.
BLITZER: This is the House side. The Senate side is on the other side.
FOREMAN: Exactly. So he'll be here where honor and respects will be paid to him. Then he will be carried through the Hall of Statuary, if you've been to Washington and visited the Capitol, you've likely gone through there and then into the Rotunda itself. It will be an extraordinary place. He will be visited while he is in the Rotunda, no doubt, by many coming into the front or what we think of the Mall here, visitors from all over the capital but from all over the area.
BLITZER: You are looking at this live picture of the Rotunda right now that you can see on the screen.
FOREMAN: Quite an extraordinary journey when you think about it. For a young man who was adopted, started off life as Leslie King and when he was a teenager flipped hamburgers for a living to finally wind up here inside the Nation's Capitol where he will be honored by thousands and thousands of people over the next few days.
BLITZER: And he loved this U.S. Congress.
FOREMAN: He did. He loved this. As I said, I think this tour that we're talking about is something that in many ways, I think, he would have enjoyed to take in life because it really is hitting the touchstones of the places where he affected America and where America affected him.
BLITZER: Tom, stand by. Fascinating tour for our viewers. John Roberts is at the World War II Memorial. Momentarily the hearse will be pulling up there, John. We'll be pausing to pay respects if you will, not only to Gerald Ford but all men and women of that generation.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Reporter: yes, Wolf. And one of the particularly poignant aspects of his stop off here at World War II Memorial is that there are 100 female members of the military service. With us right now is one of them, Commander D'Ercolle, Tina D'Ercolle, good to see you.
COMMANDER TINA D'ERCOLLE, U.S. NAVY: Hi.
ROBERTS: You are here because you were in the graduating class of 1980 U.S. Naval Academy, the very first graduating class following legislation that Gerald Ford signed in 1976 allowing women to participate in the military academies. What is his significance to you?
D'ERCOLLE: Well, the fact that he had the courage to do that, I think, in a time when it was not probably the highest priority on people's lists, he had a vision and could see, probably from his experience even earlier in his life, he could see that women could and needed to contribute to this great country.
ROBERTS: How did it change your life?
D'ERCOLLE: Well, getting the opportunity to go to what I considered the most incredible institution to become a naval officer in order to serve my country, I guess I couldn't imagine anywhere else to go.
D'ERCOLLE: And so, it led me down a path that allowed me to fulfill my dreams.
ROBERTS: And your mother was in the military, too.
D'ERCOLLE: Yes, she was. My mother was a wave in World War II, the 11th Regiment, she went to Hunter College and she met my father at Chelsea Naval Hospital, he was also in the Navy.
ROBERTS: Terrific. So what will be you thinking when the hearse pulls up here carrying the remains of the 38th president.
D'ERCOLLE: Probably a plethora of memories but a respect for him. I think that he is a silent strength. And often doesn't get the credit due him. And courage, I think of his courage. To live to 93 and to think of all of the things that he saw and the impact that he had on our country, I just -- it's awe-inspiring.
ROBERTS: There's no question that he lived a very good life. That's a ticket that I wouldn't mind punching myself. The president, of course, he was only president for about some two and a half years, but you feel he made a significance impact in two and a half years?
D'ERCOLLE: Absolutely, and continued to after that. I think that, once again, I talk about a silent strength. I think that he was always there. And even years previous to that you read about his interactions and friendships with other people, Nixon, you know, all of those things.
ROBERTS: What's interesting, I was covering the funeral of Ronald Reagan a couple of years ago as well, that was seen as a passing of a national icon. This is more like a good-bye to a good friend.
D'ERCOLLE: Yes. I think that's a very good way to describe it, to be quite frank. And it makes me reflect.
ROBERTS: Well, thanks very much for joining us.
D'ERCOLLE: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Good of you to be here. We'll let you get back.
D'ERCOLLE: Thank you very much.
ROBERTS: Because the procession will be arriving in a few moment's time. And thanks very much for being here. Commander Tina D'Ercolle. Now retired from the U.S. Navy. 2000, right?
ROBERTS: Class of 1980 at the U.S. Naval Academy. First graduating class after Gerald Ford signed that legislation, Wolf.
KING: John, the motorcade is making its way to where you are right now at World War II Memorial. Walk us through what we can expect once that motorcade and the hearse reaches your location.
ROBERTS: Well, what's going to happen, Wolf, is that the hearse will pull up just to my left here. There's a line in the street that it's going to pull up to a mark there. The limousine carrying the first lady will pull up just to my right shoulder here.
There is an honor guard that you can see assembled behind me at the monument that carries the inscription for the World War II Memorial. Also a Chief Boatswain is going to come out and he is going to pipe the 38th president aboard. Of course this follows in the tradition of dignitaries being piped on board ships at seal. They are going to treat this World War II Memorial like a ship at sea or like a naval facility and he'll be piped aboard to honor his service in the U.S. Navy. He was in the navy from 1942 to 1946. Served as a trainer at naval preflight academies and served asea aboard USS Monterrey.
It's interesting, Wolf, that when Gerald Ford first tried to get into the military he wanted to be an intelligence officer. They didn't accept him as an intelligence officer, so he applied for physical education. And at the very first naval preflight training academy that he attended at Chapel Hill he coached all nine sport that the Naval Academy offered concentrating though on boxing, swimming and football, as well, since of course he had that great history at Michigan with football.
He was also the athletic director onboard the USS Monterrey and at one point, Wolf, actually turned the forward elevator of that light aircraft carrier into a basketball court. This is an elevator that typically brings the aircraft up and down from below deck to the top deck there where the runway is, he turned that into a basketball court. There are pictures, by the way, on the Web site of his library if you're ever interested in of a very young Gerald Ford. He's got a pretty good jump shot, Wolf, I've got to say.
BLITZER: We're going to be coming right back to you, John, very soon. As soon as that motorcade gets to where you are. Stand by for that. Bob Franken is standing by on Capitol Hill, he is at the Capitol right now. There's some activity under way over there where you are, Bob.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're seeing the honor guards get into place, as you can see. It's quite an awesome sight. Each branch of service is accompanied, is represented here. They're getting in place for the arrival of President Ford. Also the army band is here. They'll be playing songs -- I assume you can hear that, that was the close order drill as they establish their positions here. They'll be awaiting arrival of the casket that's going to be taking route that Tom Foreman described. But the plaza is filling up now. It gives you a real sense of the ceremony, the tradition that accompanies the death of a president and the display of him in the United States Capitol. BLITZER: It's interesting, among the so-called official greeters for the former president's casket are not only Republicans, but Democrats as well.
FRANKEN: It is so interesting. And it represents a time and it represents a style of Gerald Ford where there was a belief that you could be adversaries but also you could be friends and they were friends.
Some of the people are names that we have not heard for a while, like Dan Rostenkowski, a Democrat through and through but a good friend of Gerald Ford. And there are so many rooms in this Capitol where they could get together and did and sit there and tell their stories, tell their sometimes bawdy jokes and sometimes share a drink. It's an era that just doesn't exist anymore. We're in a much more confrontational television kind of age where that kind back room politics, that kind of moderate politics to use the word that is so often used, isn't really practiced as much anymore.
BLITZER: It's a lot different. Bob, stand by. Jeff Greenfield is here with us as well.
As I look at this list of official greeters who will be receiving the casket, in those days they used to fight bitterly on the floor of the House but then they would go play poker at night.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are just a couple of names here worth pause, John Dingell, congressman from Michigan has been there for more than half a century. And before that, his father represented that same district for decades. Most of 20th century that district has been held by Dingell, father and son from Michigan.
Tom Foley, he was the Democratic speaker of the House who was unseated in the 1994 Republican landslide, not only lost his speakership, but lost his own seat.
But so many of these people did come. Bob Michael, the perennial minority leader who Newt Gingrich replaced as Republican leader when Republicans took the House and that was the mark after 40 years of Democratic leadership when the whole notion of the House changed dramatically.
So there's enormous history even in this ceremonial greeting of the president. I recognize - you may remember this, Guy Vander Jagt was the keynoter of the 1980 Republican convention, ad libbed a lot of the speech. You get a sense of history just looking at this list of politics then and now, Wolf.
BLITZER: And I want to bring Bob Greene in, the author, he is joining us as well. He spent quite a bit of time with Gerald Ford over the years. As we get ready for the motorcade and the hearse to come to the World War II Memorial here in the nation's capitol, Bob, did the former president speak often of his World War II experience in the navy?
BOB GREENE, COLUMNIST: He talked about that and also what would have happened. He referred -- as I watch this meandering route of the motorcade referred to presidency as a diversion, a diversion his life had taken and talked about what would have happened had he followed his plan, which was to return to Grand Rapids probably after one more term in Congress.
And he said, had he gone back to Grand Rapids he probably would have established a law practice there in town. He said it would have been a good life and we would have been happy in a different way.
He never wanted to be president. His goal in life, he said, was to become speaker of the House, and he didn't get it. So sort of this unusual consolation prize, he became president of the United States. And we talked about, you know what would happen in the years to come, would he end up on a coin. And he laughed, he said, no, all of the coins have been taken up. Would he be taken up on a postage stamp and he laughed again and said I probably would. And in talking in terms of history he said if I'm history, I hope it's history that's good.
BLITZER: Well, he certainly did make history, albeit only a few years in the White House but certainly historic moments. He did an credible, incredible job after turmoil and the anguish of not only the Vietnam War, but Watergate as well. You're looking at live pictures coming in from Capitol Hill. That motorcade that you saw was at nearby Alexandria, Virginia, the motorcade going through Alexandria on its way to Washington, DC. Alexandria, the Ford home for many years while he served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
And people have gathered in the streets of Alexandria to pay their respects to the 38th president of the United States.
Helen Thomas, the veteran Washington correspondent, is joining us as well in our coverage. Nice -- people are showing up to take a look and pay their respects, Helen. I don't think it's much of a surprise, certainly with history, Gerald Ford's legacy seems to be increasingly improved.
HELEN THOMAS, JOURNALIST: I think definitely the time has really built a great -- improved his reputation in every way. But you know what amaze me? None of the recent presidents have really wanted to be buried at Arlington. Each have chosen their own library grounds or their own home grounds and so forth. In the case of Ford, it's true, there's never been any pomp and circumstances. Simplicity marked their family and their life.
BLITZER: And it was a life that - there was the Michigan years, the Washington years, certainly the White House years and for last 30 years, the California experience. Talk a little bit, Tom DeFrank about that, last 30 years. Near Palm Springs in California he had a wonderful life.
TOM DEFRANK, "DAILY NEWS": He had a wonderful life. He had a wonderful living situation out there in Rancho Mirage. He had a home right off the Thunderbird Country Club golf course. He had an office right next to his home.
He had a big grapefruit tree in the front yard of his home. And as I recall, his office was the home of Ginger Rogers' mother, I believe, if I'm correct about that. And he would shuttle back and forth between the house and the office.
And he loved it out there. He loved the desert. He had been going to the desert long before he left the White House. I first went to Palm Springs with him Easter of 1974. He had a little condo out there for several years before that. But he loved Colorado. He loved California. I knew that the end was near when I heard not too long ago that the house in Colorado was up for sale. But he loved both of them very much.
BLITZER: I once was at that house in Beaver Creek, Colorado. He was an excellent skier, he was an excellent swimmer. He was really a great athlete especially in his day. But even in recent years he would exercise, he would swim. This notion of being clumsy, that wasn't necessarily true, was it?
DEFRANK: One of what I call the five great Gerald Ford myths, the clumsy Ford. Now it is true he would hit his head on helicopters, it is true that he slid down the steps in in Salzburg, Austria in 1975 in a little bit of a rain. And it is also true in San Antonio, Texas, in the '76 campaign, he started munching on a tamale without taking off the husk first. There were little things that happened, but you're quite right he was an accomplished athlete. He was swimming laps twice a day well into his 80s. When I saw him, in May of this year, the first thing he said to me was the doctors won't let me back in the pool. He was really annoyed that even at the age of 92 at the time, the doctors didn't want him swimming and he was really annoyed about it.
BLITZER: And he used to swim all of the time when he was president in the White House pool. In all of those years the man stayed in incredibly good shape.
Jeff Greenfield is here as well. As we take a look at pictures, you see the motorcade still continuing to wind its way through Alexandria, Virginia. You can't hear it, Jeff, but the crowd, they are clearly applauding as this motorcade goes by.
GREENFIELD: To pick up on Tom DeFrank's point, here is a man who was a star football player at University of Michigan. When you ski, I'm told, you fall down once in a while. What doesn't happen to most of us in private life is there aren't 100 cameras pointed at you. When Chevy Chase on "Saturday Night Live" in 1975 began to pick up on this, it became a national joke.
And one of the things you have to give Jerry Ford credit for is he played along with it. He actually laughed at himself. I'm sure there must have been a certain kind of if not resentment, let them be as physical as I am, but he actually once had Chevy Chase join him, in fact, at one of these interminable White House dinners so he could laugh at himself on that score.
BLITZER: We're waiting to for this motorcade to make its way across the river from Alexandria into the nation's capital and eventually to the World War II Memorial where the motorcade will pause with the hearse to pay respects to President Ford's service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. You can see the hearse, motorcade. There's the World War II memorial. Go back to that other shot in Alexandria, Virginia, there you see the motorcade and hearse making its way through there.
Helen Thomas, as you see this hearse go through Alexandria, it recalls his congressional years as opposed to White House years.
THOMAS: Right. And his first day as president, we went to his home at the pool of reporters and went to his kitchen and saw him making his breakfast. We knew we had a down to earth president.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Tom?
DEFRANK: His critics said, toasting his own English muffins was bologna, he did that just for television cameras. But he did that kind of stuff when the cameras weren't rolling. While we're watching him go through Alexandria, for the last time, the first week he was president he made a speech to Congress, five or six days after he had become president and he was working on the draft of the speech in the study of his home in Alexandria, right near where this picture is, and he was going over it with a naval aides, he had a martini in one hand and he is editing the speech and he looks up at his aide and he says, have you had dinner?
He said, no, sir, I haven't had dinner. So he said, come with me. Put his martini down, puts his speech text down. He leads Commander Howard Kerr into the kitchen, he roots around in there and opens the oven and pulls out Betty Ford's tuna noodle casserole, puts it on the table and says, have dinner, I'm going to work on my speech. There were no cameras there to record that. I think that was the real Jerry Ford.
BLITZER: Also, as I recall in the few encounters, the direct ones I had over the years after he was president, while he was retired, I always got the impression and I'd be anxious for Tom and Helen to weigh in, unlike many other politicians he actually liked us. He liked the news media, he liked reporters who covered him, and he was open to talking bluntly and candidly with us. But, Tom you spent a lot more time with him than I ever did.
DEFRANK: Well, he did like reporters generically, Wolf, you're exactly right about that. But the other thing about him was, he was a grown-up about the press, he understood that the press and the presidency are two great institutions of this democracy but they are competing institutions to a large extent.
And we had a job to do, he had a job to do. Sometimes it didn't work out. And Ford understood that you could be nice to reporters and he was very nice to reporters. He invited six reporters to his first state dinner, those of us who had been with him on all those Air Force Two travels were official guests at his first state dinner. He liked reporters and he was nice to us. But he also understood there were times when reporters did and will and do today bite the hand that feeds them. He understood it. He just understood that was part of the system. BLITZER: And Helen, what was your experience?
THOMAS: He treated us like human beings and he always invited us to his appearances at the National Press Club long after he left the presidency. Three years ago, when he became 90, I got up to the Ford podium and I said, oh, to be 90 again, and he started to laugh. He really understood us. He gave us wide berth and always treated us fairly.
BLITZER: And you can see the motorcade continuing to make its way through Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. This motorcade eventually, there it is, the hearse carrying the coffin of President Ford will go over, through the George Washington Parkway, across the Memorial Bridge, right toward the Lincoln Memorial and eventually drive over to the World War II Memorial, pause there to pay respects to President Ford's service in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Jeff Greenfield is here watching all of this with us. He really was a likable kind of guy. Everybody who dealt with him seems to agree on that.
GREENFIELD: I met him just a few times after he had been president. And I think Tom DeFrank put it perfectly, there were no ruffles and there were no flourishes. Now I think to some extent politically, when he got to be president in this bizarre and unprecedented way, that may have been a bit of a liability. Because I think his very down to earthness meant that people didn't look at him in awe.
We sometimes elevate presidents almost to the stature of gods. Jerry Ford from what I saw post presidential was an amenable fellow that he might as well been the insurance agent in Grand Rapids you were dealing with his house with.
But I'm not sure that didn't take away something of his authority. One other quick point, when he got to be president, a massive Democratic majority of the Congress, Congress was cutting back on presidential power in the weak of Watergate and Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam, he came to be president at a time when it was tougher to exercise presidential power than maybe any time in the decades before or since.
So that's just part of the political context in which we talk about this. I always thought he was the mentally healthy person that ever occupied the White House, at least in the 21st century.
BLITZER: You may be right on that.
Tom DeFrank, as nice as a guy as Gerald Ford was, you saw that occasionally he could be a tough guy as well.
DEFRANK: Well, this is not an original line to me, but I absolutely agree with it, Wolf. One of his military aides still says to this day, Jerry Ford was a 98 percent koala bear and two percent grizzly and you never knew exactly when the two percent dark side of Jerry Ford was going to jump up and grab you by the throat in a rage.
It didn't happen much but it happened. It happened once with me when he was angry about something I had written about his financial dealings and he really pounded his fists on the table and gave me a very hard time about it, forgetting that he had been helpful to me in doing the story in the first place. And I had to remind him he had been very helpful. He said I didn't like you thinking that it was bad for me to make money. So he did have a temper but he was really a genial, kind and decent guy for the most part.
BLITZER: Was that when you were working at "Newsweek" magazine?
DEFRANK: That was when I was working at "Newsweek." That's right.
BLITZER: I remember those articles. I remember them very well. Bob Greene, talk a little bit about your experiences with Gerald Ford, you remember the press. How did he deal with you?
GREENE: Well, you would go to visit him and as Tom DeFrank said, it was a rather modest office in a house. It was Ginger Rogers' or her mother's house. Over his desk he had the seal of the president of the United States which you might not have expected because of the absence of ruffles and flourishes.
But if you opened the sliding glass door and walked out, his office was right on a golf course. And the fairway ran down, and a lot of time his would stand there, I stood there with him, and the golfers would be on their way to the green and they might have had no idea this man looking back at them had been president of the United States.
And I asked him about that. And he laughed and said it's no big deal.
You were talking also about the stereotype of the clumsiness and about his feelings towards the press. They sort of melded together in that he said he was probably -- not probably, he was best athlete ever to live in the White House and yet he said the photographers would stake him out. He had a home as you know in Colorado and they would watch him go down the ski paths for two hours.
And as people will do, at one point during two hours he would fall and he said they would take the picture and that's always the one that would make front pages. He said outside you laugh, you tried to show that you're a good sport. But inside it hurts a little bit and you say to yourself it's not really fair. And I asked him, did he ever complain about it? He said if you were to complain, it would just exacerbate it.
You thought there was a certain unfairness to it but he was smart enough to know the only way to get through it was to laugh at it.
BLITZER: These are live pictures that we're seeing of the World War II memorial here in Washington. The Pacific campaign, the Atlantic campaign, this is, if you have ever been to the nation's capital and seen this relatively new memorial, you should come by and pay your respects because it is really majestic.
And people have gathered there. They are awaiting momentarily for the arrival of the motorcade, including, you see some eagle scouts who are there as well. John Roberts is there. The Eagle Scouts who are there, the women military members who are there, all very symbolic, John, of the work that the former president did.
ROBERTS: Absolutely, Wolf. The 12 eagle scouts here from the National Capital Area Council are paying tribute to the fact that Gerald Ford is and was the only Eagle Scout ever to become president. I spoke with the Scouts about that earlier, they were very proud about that fact. And they were quick to remind you of that fact as well.
The 100 women service members here, both current and retired, are here because of the fact that in 1976, Gerald Ford signed legislation which for the first time allowed women into these military academies. And we spoke with a naval commander just a few minutes ago who was from graduating class of 1980 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the first graduating class after that legislation was signed.
So a big connection here between Gerald Ford and World War II and this memorial as well because he was one of four honorary chairman of the memorial campaign fund that also included former presidents Reagan, president Clinton and the first President Bush.
There are probably about 500 people here, Wolf, who are waiting to see the president's cortege arrive. That would include the service women who we talked about. There are also many veterans of -- I don't believe World War II because there don't seem to be any people who are old enough to be veterans of World War II. But certainly veterans of the Vietnam War, and perhaps the Persian Gulf or the current Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns who are assembled behind the inscription monument here.
There is an honor guard here as well. And there is Chief Bosensmaid (ph) who is going to, quote, "pipe" the 38th president aboard when the funeral arrives here, when the funeral motorcade arrives here in probably five minutes' time.
It's only going to be a very short, very brief ceremony lasting about two minutes' time. But it is very significant because of his connection to World War II and what he did for women in the military, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's called the greatest generation with good cause, to be sure.
You see the motorcade now going across the Memorial Bridge into Washington, D.C. from Virginia, momentarily it will be heading up to where John Roberts is at the World War II memorial. And it will pause there to pay respects to the former president and his service during World War II.
Barbara starr is our Pentagon correspondent. For the military, this World War II memorial and this entire funeral has importance, great significance, especially now when so many men and women are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well it really does, Wolf. And what you are seeing tonight as the motorcade approaches the World War II memorial, really I suppose, is President Ford's influence of his life across some 60 years or more of the nation's military history, honoring his service in World War II, as you say that greatest generation.
But also the fact that he signed legislation that allowed women to enter the military service academies, of course, really changed the course of this country's military life and military history.
Now, as a matter of routine, thousands of women each year volunteer to join the military. Today, thousands serving in combat. Something more than 60 women having died on the front lines in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the global war on terror. Something I think that possibly no one could have imagined just a few years ago.
The women, of course, have honorably served in the United States military for decades and generations. It was really President Ford's allowing that legislation to come into being allowing them to join the service academies that fundamentally changed the United States' military not women just serving honorably, but women now an integral part of the United States military. This country no longer goes to war unless America's women go with the military.
As we look at the picture of the Capitol, I also want to draw people's attention to that picture we saw moments ago of the 50-man honor cordon, and military horon cordon, standing outside the House steps, lining the 45 steps leading into the house entrance.
That is a very significant change in a presidential funeral. The casket is usually, of course, carried up the center steps of the Capitol. President Ford's family, wishes of cuorse, because of his service in the House, he will be carried up the steps of the House Capitol, Wolf.
BLITZER: And this, Barbara, is the motorcade winding its way to the World War II Memorial. It will stop, it will pause there for a brief ceremony honoring President Gerald Ford's service during World War II. He was a sailor, served aboard USS Monterey, was nearly killed in a horrific horrific typhoon that John Roberts was describing for us earlier.
John, give us a little sense of the mood there. You say there is about 500 people who have gathered to pay their respects to the late president.
ROBERTS: As we were speaking with the commander -- Commander D'Ercolle about -- this is different in its tenor and its tone from the funeral of Ronald Reagan. That really was the passing of a national icon, his significance to the country, his eight years in office, led in that stature. Gerald Ford, as you have been talking about all evening, Wolf, much more sort of casual person, much less given to pomp and circumstance. And the atmosphere here, Wolf, really is more of saying good-bye to a good friend, somebody who they believe really helped them out, made a difference in their lives, and, you know, particularly for the women who are represented here. They are people who without that act of Congress and without President Ford lending his signature to that piece of legislation would not have been able to go to military academies.
Commander D'Ercolle was saying that it did afford her an opportunity perhaps she wouldn't have had without it. And certainly one that her mother didn't have. Her mother was a wave serving in World War II. So, that shows you the difference in the passage of time.
But people here, just again Wolf, really just gathering, and gathering on a chilly night. And you can see the Scouts there dressed in short sleeves on this chilly night, really just gathering to say good-bye to an old friend, to say thanks to Gerald Ford for all that he did for them, even given his short ten tur as presidency.
BLITZER: And I think we can say thanks as well.
The hearse, that part of the motorcade, and this is a long motorcade, Jeff Greenfield. It includes family members who flew from California, including Mrs. Betty Ford, children, the grandchildren. It includes family, friends who came as well. It also includes the honorary pallbearers who are in separate vehicles themselves as they make their way eventually to the U.S. Capitol with a brief stop at the World War II memorial. You see lights there from this memorial, the former president will be there within literally a few moments.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And what it remains us of is taht with the passing of Gerald Ford, we have one ex-president who was of the era, George Herbert Walker Bush, who was I think one of the youngest, if not the youngest, naval air pilots in World War II, almost died. His plane ditched at sea. The whole group of our presidents came out of World War II, whether it was Eisenhower the commander, John Kennedy who almost lost his life in the Solomans, Nixon was in the Navy, George Herbert Walker Bush, Reagan I think was in California making training films. George Herbert Walker Bush will be the last one.
And in fact, as we look ahead, only John McCain, and I guess John Kerry if he runs again, will have combat experience. That used to be almost a cini qua non (ph) of running for high office. Times move on.
BLITZER: That's correct. President Bill Clinton did not serve in the U.S. military, as all of us recall. But it used to be a cini qua non (ph), an absolute requirement.
GREENFIELD: Bob Dole almost died in World Worlf II as well. Never got to be president, but spent two years just trying to learn to be mobile again.
That was an experience that almost every American man of a certain age went through, at least to serve in World War II. As we all know, for the last 30-something year, we haven't had a draft. It's a very different kind of country and a very different kind of political requirement or nonrequirement.
BLITZER: We saw Bob Dole, Tom DeFrank, earlier. A lot of us remember when he was a Senator. We remember when he ran for president, unsuccessfully. But you can rememeber when he served as the running mate for Gerald Ford in his unsuccessful bid to be elected president back in 1976.
DEFRANK: I asked President Ford about that once about what was the real reason for Bob Dole. And he said to me, and I think he said the same thing in his memoirs, it wasn't a proprietary comment, he said, I felt like we had some problems in the midwest that we needed to shore up. And I thought that Bob Dole could make sure places look Iowa, and Kansas and Nebraska, normally Republican strongholds, that Ford thought were a little shaky, could be shored up. And Dole was -- Dole was the bad cop to Gerry Ford's good cop in that campaign. And they still came pretty close, as everybody knows. They came roaring back from a 30-point deficit and almost overtook Jimmy Carter, but they fell short.
BLITZER: It was a controversial decision to dump Nelson Rockefeller at the time. You remember that.
DEFRANK: I remember it very, very well. And there's still some controversy to this day about the role of some of Ford's staffers, including chief of staff Don Rumsfeld in dumping Rockefeller. Ford to his dying day, President Ford, felt like one of the things he regretted most about public service was dumping Nelson Rockefeller. He felt badly about it even to the end.
BLITZER: We see the hearse, John Roberts, getting very close to you at the World War II Memorial. Once this motorcade stops, within literally a few seconds, we will see this brief ceremony begin.
ROBERTS: Correct. Here comes the hearse right now. It's just coming up from the left side here, Wolf. It's going to stop at a position just past the endescription monument here at the World War II memorial.
Other cars have passed through. The limousine carrying the former first lady, Betty Ford, will stop behind that on the other side of the street. And then what you'll see is just this really brief ceremony.
BLITZER: Hold on.
ROBERTS: This honor guard and the chief (INAUDIBLE), Carlos Rebot (ph), who wil pipe, quote/unquote, Gerald Ford aboard.
BLITZER: Let's listen.
And there it is, a brief pause for this hearse carrying the body of the former president of the United States at World War II memorial. A pause -- a very, very symbolic and significant. John Roberts, you're there, not only because of his service during World War II, but what he did as president in opening up the U.S. military academies to America's women.
ROBERTS: Very significant, Wolf. And we can see there, that the former first lady, Betty Ford's limousine has paused now in front of the memorial. She was waving to the people who gathered there to pay tribute to her husband. We saw an elongated salute by the 100 or so female members of the military who are gathered here to pay tribute as well.
The saying that one of them who we talked to earlier saying the act that he signed in 1976 had a significant impact on her life, gave her an opportunity she probably wouldn't have had otherwise. And there Betty Ford just waving again to some of the people in the crowd.
You can see six Eagle Scouts lined up on the north side of the memorial. There are another six lined up on the south side of the memorial to pay tribute to the fact that Gerald Ford was an Eagle Scout. And is there quick to remind you the only Eagle Scout to ever become president.
And that brief ceremony that we saw here with the Chief Boesman (ph) made to pipe Carlos Rebot (ph) was to pipe the 38th president aboard, paying tribute to his service in the U.S. Navy between 1942 and 1946, Wolf.
BLITZER: An emotional moment. I can only imagine what must be going through the mind of Betty Ford as she waved to those who had gathered at the World War II Memorial. And from this motorcade, we're going to go to Capitol Hill. This is the next stop for the motorcade, for the hearse carrying the casket of Gerald Ford here in Washington.
Already, the honorary pallbearers led by the Vice President Dick Cheney have gathered on Capitol Hill. And we saw earlier in the rotunda, people beginning to come in where the casket will lie in state.
There is the vice president of the United States right now.
Bob Franken is up on Capitol Hill. He's watching all of this with us.
I saw the diplomatic corps enter the retenotunda. Several of the major -- several of the ambassadors came to pay their respects to the 38th president of the United States, Bob.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And what we have at top of the House steps, some of the former colleagues of at the time Congressman Gerald ford who was a member of Congress for 25 years, are waiting, the likes of former house speaker Tom Foley, Bob Michael who was the man also the Republican leadership of the House. You see Lee Hamilton up there. Lee Hamilton was a long time member of the House of Indiana a Democrat.
We've, of course, been familiar with him recently as part of the Iraq study group, a co-chairman of the Iraq study group, and the co- chairman of the 9/11 commission. So many of these people, as I believe Jeff was pointing out earlier, still have prominence in Washington so many years later.
But as we've talked many times, Gerald Ford would have wanted to be brought here to the House of Representatives, his casket will be taken up those 45 steps to the second floor of the House of Representatives on the House side.
A little journey he made up those steps so many times himself in his time in Congress to conduct the business of Congress. To have both competition and friendships with people on the other side of the aisle.
In any case, other dignitaries are coming here now. The chairman of the different service branches, the joint chiefs of staff, they have all arrived, including the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Peter Pace. They have come and are going inside. The various limosines are being brought in now.
People coming to take their places as this ceremony that has been so careful coreographed is played out.
BLITZER: And it's being played out on the east steps of the Capitol, specifically in front of the door to the House of Representatives, Bob, because it was in the House of Representatives where Gerald Ford served for so many years winding up as the minority leader during the Vietnam War and into Watergate.
FRANKEN: His ultimate ambition was to be the speaker of the house, which would have happened had the Republicans taken over. That did not happen for quite some time. And I want to continue emphasizing the spirit of commity that existed in the House of Representatives in the political world when Gerald Ford was a member of Congress.
It was years later that the speaker of the house, Jim Wright, described an atmosphere that probably prevails to this day. He talked about a mindless cannibalism that had overtaken politics in the house.
But that was after the era of Gerald Ford and pretty much after the era of so many people now at the top of the House steps waiting for the body of the former president, former member of Congress to arrive.
BLITZER: There's the vice president, one of the honorary pallbearers who have already gathered there. They're standing by, waiting for the rival of the hearse carrying the casket of the former president.
There's Bob Dole over there, as well. Bob Dole, Dick Cheney, among others.
Jeff Greenfield, this list of honorary pallbearers who have come together for this service up on Capitol Hill, Brent Scowcroft was the national security adviser at the time for Ford.
GREENFIELD: Yes. And in fact, it was Brent Scowcroft, also very close to the first George Bush, who has had some very tough things to say about another Ford significant player, Dick Cheney, who was secretary of defense -- I'm sorry, he was chief of staff at age 34 to President Ford.
Scowcroft said not that long ago, Dick Cheney today I don't know him. I don't know who he is. So there have been gaps in these people.
The other people we should mention, we shouldn't leave them out, some people from the private sector -- Sandy Wild (ph) who was the chairman of Citigroup one of the more powerful banking institutions in America, and Kenneth Chinow (ph), chairman and chief executive officer of American Express, one of the highest ranking African-Americans in the business world. So it's a pretty diverse list.
I should just add briefly to what Bob was talking about, when Bob Dole left the Senate, when he was running for president, he celebrated all the bipartisanship that he was part of, even though he was a partisan Republican. He bragged about working with senators like George McGovern. You don't hear a lot about that today, especially in the House. It is a very different institution.
BLITZER: You know, it's very interesting. I'm looking at these pallbearers, the honorary pallbearers, over on the east steps of the U.S. Capitol as the motorcade makes its way from the U.S. World War II Memorial to the Capitol. Donald Rumsfeld, former defense secretary is listed as one of the honorary pallbearers. I haven't seen him. I don't know if you, Jeff, have seen him, or Tom DeFrank. Have you seen Donald Rumsfeld in any of these pictures of these honorary pallbearers?
DEFRANK: No, I haven't. But I see right in the middle of the picture there, Wolf, Paul O'Neill, the former secretary of the Treasury who was the deputy director of the office of management and budget for President Ford. And Ford thought that Paul O'Neill was one of most capable government officials ever.
And it's an interesting tableu, because many of your listeners will remember that Paul O'Neill was forced out by this President Bush a couple of years ago. Vice president Cheney was asked to deliver the bad news. And Cheney and O'Neill had a falling out about it and they are not close any longer.
But that's the same point that Jeff was making about Scowcroft and Cheney and the distance between them. But it is also somehow reassuring about this crazy democracy of ours that in situations like this, even old adversaries and even people who were once friends and have had falling outs come back together.
BLITZER: I take it, Tom, correct me if I'm wrong, or Jeff, that the former president, the late president, personally hand-picked these honorary pallbearers. Is that right, Tom? DEFRANK: Yes it is. And, you know, we've all talked recently in the last hour or so, Wolf, about how Gerald Ford would have liked this funeral. Of course he would have liked the funeral because basically he put it together. It's not like the military went to Mrs. Ford last Wednesday, the day after he died and said, here what we're going to do Mrs. Ford.
Later on, in the next few days, please ask me about an incredibly funny story about the day President Ford found out he had to put together a funeral plan. It's much too long for this particular moment, but it's a great story.
But for 30 years, 25 years or so, President Ford has routinely reviewed his funeral plan, made additions, subtractions, ammendations. So the military runs it with great precision. But this is a plan put together with the active participation of President Ford himself.
BLITZER: It's a majestic, beautiful night in the nation's Capitol. You're looking at these live pictures of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Capitol, where this state funeral will continue.
As we watch all of this unfold, Jeff Greenfield. I can't help but think that gerald ford, the former president of the United States, even, even after his death, certainly has made a lot of news in these various interviews including one with Tom DeFrank himself that he granted but embargoed for release only after his death.
DEFRANK: Well, it's an interesting notion that here is it the quietest newsweek of the year, and it's not just that we had the death of a former president, but we learn that a couple of years ago, according to Bob Woodward, the president -- this President Ford said, you know, if I had been president I wouldn't have gone into Iraq.
He had some very skeptical things to say about the notion of bringing democracy to the world. He said something like I don't think we should go hell-fire damnation around the world thinking we can bring democracy.
I guess he's identified in what is called the so-called realist schooling of foreign policy as opposed to the ambitious neoconservative school.
The irony here is that Dick Cheney who came out of the Ford administration is probably the most widely identified neoconservative advocate in the entire Bush administration. So it just shows you how the times can reshape what we think about as politics.
BLITZER: What was his thinking, Tom, in giving you this interview, giving Bob Woodward of the Washington Post an interview, giving some other journalists some interviews on his thoughts, but asking that you not publish what he had to say until after his death?
DEFRANK: Well, I can't speak for Bob's arrangements, I can only speak for my own. And this interview that you're talking about that I had with him last May, which turned out to be the last interview that he gave, was not the first one of these. I've been interviewing him under these circumstances since 1991.
And it was my proposel to him in 1991 that I wanted to come out and do these sorts of interviews and on the theory that he could be more candid.
I saw it as more of a akin to an oral history project whereas you know, individuals who have had powerful jobs in government will give interviews and then sometimes they'll say, this can't be unsealed for 25 years, or 50 years or until the children of all of the people on this list have passed away.
I just thought Ford would be able -- President Ford would be able to be more candid in those circumstances. He thought about it for a couple of days. And he said I agree, let's do it. And so, we've been doing it.
BLITZER: Do you have any reason, Tom, to believe that the views that he expressed to you and Bob Woodward among others in private for release after his death, he actually presented those same views to the president himself?
DEFRANK: I can -- I can't be sure about that except for one -- in one respect. He said to me, and listening to Bob Woodward's tape, he said to Bob as well, that he thought using weapons of mass destruction as the rationale for going into Iraq was not a smart idea. He said that to Bob and he said that to me. And he said to me that when President Bush visited him about three weeks before he and I were visiting, he told President Bush that.
So I know that he told Bush that he had made -- he, President Bush, had made a mistake on the WMD rationale.
BLITZER: I wonder, in any of the remarks that we're about to hear, we'll get any inclination, any reference, anything that could be a clue to those controversial remarks.
Jeff is shaking his head. You don't think there will be.
GREENFIELD: I suspect it's going to be a much more ceremonial kind of tribute. I think unlike what President Bush said today in his radio speech, where he talked about the fact that history may prove unpopular decisions right, where I think you can certainly detect the reference to the current troubles with Iraq, these kinds of events at the Capitol are -- I think it would be unimaginable. But I've been wrong before, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll soon find out.
Let me just reset what we're seeing right now. This motorcade making its way to the U.S. Capitol with the hearse. There it is in the middle of your screen right there, carrying the casket of the former president of the United States, Gerald Ford.
These are the east steps of the U.S. Capitol. It's now approaching this area. You see some of the U.S. army van buses that have gathered there as well. Eventually, after the casket is brought into the Capitol and into the rotunda, there will be eulogies that will be delivered by the Vice President Dick Cheney who had served as President Ford's chief of staff in the '70s when he was president of the United States, the outgoing Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the -- one of the long standing senators who has been around forever almost, Jeff, the senator pro tem.
GREENFIELD: Only for about five more days. It's always the longest serving member of the party who controls the president. And as president pro tem which matters in political novels, because he's three removed from the White House.
But these are the traditions. You have the speaker of the house, the official presiding officer of the Senate, doesn't mean anything really, and the vice president who is technically the president of the Senate. So they are the ones who will pay tribute to this man of the Congress.
When President Ford was sworn in, gave a speech to the Congress, and one of the lines I remember, he looked at them, he said it's from your ranks I come. He was literally a man of the House more than any other president.
BLITZER: And Tom DeFrank, even though he was a man of the House, he also became, as vice president a man of the Senate because the vice president of the United States automatically is the president of the U.S. Senate. And his main job is in case of a 50/50 tie, he breaks that tie.
DEFRANK: But he didn't break many ties if any, as I recall, as president of the Senate and vice president of the United States, Wolf. He -- he never considered himself a man of the Senate. He was -- his heart was in the House. That's -- that's why I think this motorcade begins pulling up in front of the House chamber, because he was -- he wasn't like he was an alien in the Senate, but that wasn't his deal. He wanted to sit in the speaker's chair as speaker of the house, not as vice president -- as president of the Senate for joint addresses. I always thought that it kind of pained him a little bit to be sitting up there as vice president when he really wished he was sitting up there as speaker of the house.
BLITZER: As this hearse comes to a stop, Bob Greene, you've been watching this, together with all of us, you spent a lot of time with Gerald Ford.
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