Not often is it possible to see a state funeral and perhaps even less possible to see one as awe-inspiring as that of former president Gerald Ford, held in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on 02 January. It was an Episcopal service complete with the Liturgy, great music of the church, and spoken word, including the Scriptures, all conducted in a setting/decorum/professionalism that unmistakably remarked the connection obtaining between God and this nation. It was an exercise in solemnity appropriately celebrating a life and pointing to the eternality of the soul, as promised by God.
It’s ironic that at this particular time, when there’s such a constant uproar by a relative handful of people/institutions concerning the notion that the Judeo-Christian God should have no thread of any kind in the national fabric, that an occasion such as this comes along, fairly blazing forth and proclaiming in ultra-decibels the fact that, indeed, the God of the Holy Bible has provided the linchpin of the republic, grounded in both the message/guarantees of Holy Writ and the prescription it advances for obtaining and maintaining the best good of the individual, embodied in freedom, personal dignity, and the need to live by God-mandated principles. It’s not by accident that people who serve in high places make no secret of their dependence upon God.
I appreciated this service, especially since it reminded me that adhering to the precepts of and worshiping the God of the Bible does form the foundation of the nation, as the founders unmistakably realized. Hopefully, we will never take God out of our emblems or our national life.
There was some mention among the TV talking-heads during the days since Ford’s death that the nation faced a crisis serious enough to force it asunder upon the resignation of former president Nixon in 1974 and the accession of Ford to the presidency. There was even mention of the possibility of some sort of “palace coup.” This was so ridiculous as to make one laugh at either such misreading of the times or plain ignorance of the strength of the society and its laws. A nation that could withstand the trauma of the times leading to the Civil War and the war itself was not about to fold because of a silly burlary-cover-up.
There was, however, in Gerald Ford a calming influence that, while not needed to preserve the union, was needed to preserve a sense of national worth and will. The Vietnam War had sapped the nation of its vitality, not least because it had been poorly conducted, with all troops in the South disallowed, for instance, to fight on North Vietnamese territory (roughly north of the 17th parallel) and thus doomed to purely defensive warfare. This caused attrition with nothing to show for it, and thus the death of 58,000 valiant Americans. Gerald Ford, through no fault of his own, had to oversee the end of the war and feel all the sadness connected to it…but he did so and, as noted by Henry Kissinger in his eulogy, also looked out for the tens of thousands of refugees.
In May 1975, elements of the Khmer Rouge pirated a ship that was part of an American commercial fleet and kidnapped the crewman – Americans. Within hours Ford put into place a military force halfway around the world that in a relatively few more hours secured the release of the crewmen and put the world on notice – in the face of the Soviet and Chinese communists right in their own backyards during the height of the Cold War – that this nation would not be cowed, no matter the outcome of Vietnam. It was a replay of sorts of the Cuban crisis in 1962, when President Kennedy through both negotiation and using military strength backed down the Soviets. Ford, as Kennedy before him, acted in the interest of the nation and exhibited a leadership unmistakable in its will and strength. Folks such as the Taiwanese, South Koreans, and Japanese recognized the strength in Ford that had resided in the White House since World War II, the only factor worldwide that guaranteed their existence.
By contrast, President Carter in November 1979 did nothing to secure the release of the Americans taken hostage in Iran just months after the evil ayatollah Khomeini had taken control of the government. In July of that year, Carter delivered what became known as his “National Malaise” speech, though he did not use that term. Instead of performing in a manner dissipating that perceived “malaise,” he enhanced it by doing nothing until the following April, when he approved a “rescue mission” so doomed to fail that the nation was shamed. He should and could have acted as Ford acted, thus exhibiting leadership that would have given both pride and hope to the nation. The hostages languished for 14 months, until the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.
The consensus has always been that Ford’s pardoning of Nixon doomed his run for a term of his own in the White House in 1976, when Carter narrowly defeated him. One wonders how the nation might have been different. Though it was not then, the consensus now seems to be that Nixon’s pardon was absolutely the right thing for that time. Ford had to know when he effected the pardon that he was greatly diminishing his chances, but he did what he thought was right. History has proven that he was right.
Gerald Ford, former Great Depression warrior and World War II naval officer who distinguished himself in combat, belonged to what author Tom Brokaw called the “greatest generation.” As proven by his actions, he was a man of strength and integrity. As so graphically portrayed in his burial rites, he was a man of faith, and this is what undoubtedly informed his life.