EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – President Bush and first lady Laura Bush arrived on Capitol Hill Monday afternoon for a brief salute to former President Gerald R. Ford, who was lying in state for a third day.
The president and his wife crossed the Capitol Rotunda from the Senate side after their motorcade arrived from Andrews Air Force Base. The two were returning from Texas where they spent the last week.
They spent about a minute over the 38th president's casket with their heads bowed before walking back out. Afterward, the Bushes headed to Blair House, across the street from the White House, to visit former first lady Betty Ford.
About 10 minutes after the president and first lady left, the first President Bush arrived with former first lady Barbara Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker. They too approached the flag-draped coffin and bowed their heads before departing minutes later.
Ford died last Tuesday at age 93. A memorial service is being held at Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday in which President Bush will give a eulogy. Last Wednesday, Bush made a statement about Ford's passing from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He also recalled the late president in his weekly radio address on Saturday.
On Tuesday morning, Ford's remains will rest outside the Senate chamber before the funeral service. The body will then travel to Grand Rapids, Mich., for a service at the church where Ford and wife Betty were married. Burial will follow.
Former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld also appeared to honor the former president. Rumsfeld served as Ford's secretary of defense and chief of staff.
Before the Bushes went to the Hill, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who this week becomes the first woman speaker of the House, and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and his family paid respects. Former President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, visited as well.
Thousands of Americans were also paying their last respects to the "accidental president," the only U.S. president not elected to the post. Many of those who arrived on New Year's Day were greeted by two of Ford's children, Michael Gerald Ford and Susan Ford Bales.
The two handed out blue remembrance cards and thanked those who braved a rainy wait to pay their last respects to the former president.
Michael Gerald Ford shook 8-year-old Christopher Witkowski's hand and gave him a blue remembrance card.
"My father would have wanted you to have this," he told Christopher, who is from Alexandria, Va.
The blue remembrance cards had the presidential, vice presidential and House of Representatives seals and a biography of Ford on one side. On the other was a photograph of the former president in the Oval Office, his head bowed.
The message on the card: "The family of Gerald R. Ford deeply appreciates your prayers and many kindnesses as together we celebrate and honor the life of a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather and the 38th president of the United States."
Another Ford son, Jack, greeted mourners on Sunday. The personal acknowledgements were a departure from former President Ronald Reagan's state memorial.
Although fewer Americans lined up to pay their respect to Ford than did at Reagan's funeral, which was in June 2004 and not on a national holiday, the crowds have been steady for the two and a half days of viewing in Washington. Mourners came wearing parkas, bearing umbrellas and clutching snack sacks on a rainy New Year's Day.
Karen Olson, 53, of Herndon, Va., said the rain couldn't dampen her determination to see Ford's casket. Her mother, who's now deceased, was on his staff, she said.
"I wanted to come pay my respects. He was a big part of my life," said Olson. "I have a lot of ties to his family."
"The few times that I met him, he was just really nice," she said.
Both of Olson's parents have passed away.
"I kind of felt like I wanted to be there for them," she said. "There's just an emotional connection there."
Kirk Scofield, 44, and his wife Mary Scofield, 50, of Sterling, Va., also were among those who lined up early.
Mary was dressed in a parka, poncho and had "six hours of food" in her backpack. She said she was expecting a six-hour wait, though they had been in line less than an hour.
"She looks like she's ready to go camping," Kirk joked.
Mary said she wanted to come to the viewing because it was a unique opportunity.
"It's just kind of neat to see," she said.
John Erb, 56, and his wife Karen Erb, 55, of Alexandria, Va., said they were in line at 8:20 a.m. and stood less than an hour to see Ford's casket.
"Between being New Year's Day and rain, it kept a lot of people from being ahead of us," John said.
John said he was in the Army during Ford's administration and came to the viewing because "it's part of the old commander in chief thing."
Following the pardon of Richard Nixon for any crimes from Watergate, Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter. Former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, Ford's running mate in that campaign, returned unannounced to pay his respects again Sunday, after being among the invited guests as an honorary pallbearer at Saturday evening's ceremonies in the Rotunda.
Political analysts believe the pardon played a major — if not the ultimate — role in Ford's defeat.
Ford was out of the White House after just 2 1/2 years in office, having been appointed by Nixon as vice president to replace Spiro Agnew, who resigned in a bribery scandal stemming from his days as Maryland governor.
One of the more unusual sites at the Capitol on Monday was that of Glynn Crooks, vice chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community from Prior Lake, Minn. Dressed in full American Indian regalia, including a headdress with 31 eagle feathers and a staff with 11 eagle feathers, Crooks is an "official representative" of his nation, and has corresponded as such with many presidents, including Ford, Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy and both Bushes.
A Navy veteran who fought in Vietnam, Crooks presented a peace pipe to Ford on June 24, 1976, in honor of the U.S. bicentennial. The pipe was not accepted by Ford but by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.