WASHINGTON - Hundreds of Michigan National Guardsmen are preparing to welcome home President Gerald R. Ford, who died Dec. 26 at age 93 at his residence in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., and will be buried on the grounds of his presidential museum there Jan. 3, after being honored in Washington.
Between 400 and 500 Michigan Army National Guard and Air Guard members are getting ready to man information desks, escort VIPs and reporters, chauffer visitors and officials, provide medical support, augment security, and perform other duties associated with providing a final farewell to the fallen president, said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Penny Carroll, spokeswoman for the military’s Joint Information Bureau set up in Grand Rapids for Ford’s funeral events.
The 126th Band, made up of Army National Guard musicians, will perform in the Ford Museum as Ford’s body lies in repose there prior to a private funeral service to be held at a local church before his burial.
“It’s very interesting and an honor to us, because this is the first time that the Guard has gotten to participate and really take a lead in an event like this,” said Carroll, who normally serves as a public affairs officer for the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mount Clemens, Mich.
“Most of the time it’s active duty that gets to do that,” she said.
Michigan state and military authorities have trained and prepared to honor Ford for some time, Carroll said, noting the Michigan National Guard is proud to participate in the final goodbyes to a fallen commander in chief.
“We’re honored to do it, and we’re working hard,” she said.
Ford served as a U.S. Navy officer in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. After the war, he was elected to Congress as a Republican and 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, and he assumed the presidency when Nixon resigned in August 1974.
A national day of mourning will be observed Jan. 2. Most federal offices will be closed.