Palm Desert, Calif. Borne by eight U.S. servicemen in crisp dress uniforms, Gerald R. Ford's flag-draped casket was carried past his widow into their hometown church Friday for a public viewing that marked the start of six days of mourning for the former president.
Former first lady Betty Ford, 88, stood atop the broad steps of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church to receive the casket. A Marine Corps band struck up "Hail to the Chief" as the coffin of the Navy veteran of World War II was removed from a hearse, then played the hymn "O God Our Help in Ages Past" as the military pallbearers, moving in lockstep, made the slow climb to the doors of the white-columned church.
"We receive the body of our brother, Gerald, for burial," said the church rector, the Rev. Robert Certain.
Betty Ford, clutching the arm of an Army general, stood in silence for a few moments after the casket was laid before a blond-wood altar and three wreaths of white flowers. Then she led other family members to the Presidents Pew, where she and her husband sat nearly every Sunday after leaving the White House in 1977.
A private family service was followed by a visitation for invited friends, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Rep. Jack Kemp and former California Gov. Pete Wilson. When it ended, Betty Ford left in a motorcade to return to the Ford home in the neighboring city of Rancho Mirage.
A public viewing of Ford's closed casket was expected to draw thousands to the resort community 110 miles east of Los Angeles late Friday afternoon.
Earlier, a Boeing 747 from the presidential fleet descended in the distance toward Palm Springs airport as a motorcade brought Ford's casket and family to the church. As the procession passed, police saluted and residents of the desert resort community watched silently.
Betty Ford planned to accompany her husband's body across the country today to Washington, where the nation's 38th president will lie in state at the Capitol. A funeral will be held Tuesday at the National Cathedral. Ford will be buried Wednesday in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he grew up.
Security was tight at St. Margaret's, with helicopters hovering overhead. The Secret Service swept the area, and surrounding residential streets were blocked off.
Ford, who assumed the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday at 93.
The major stock markets will be closed Tuesday as part of a national day of mourning. The Wall Street tradition dates to the 1885 burial of President Grant and was last observed after President Reagan's death in 2004.