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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The funeral service for President Gerald Ford is now underway at the National Cathedral in Washington.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) America, America, I pledge…

We're listening to music from the funeral service, “America the Beautiful.”

NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea joins us now.

And Don, the casket has just been carried in, I gather, to the National Cathedral.

DON GONYEA: It has. It has. And President Bush is there. He's one of the many dignitaries there. We just saw him escort former first lady Betty Ford down the aisle.

MONTAGNE: Now this has been described as a simplified ceremony for a former president who wanted it simple. And yet listening to it and looking at the cathedral, which is quite grand, it's still quite a powerful moment.

GONYEA: We should all have such a simple send off. It's a really powerful thing to see, the ceremony, the ritual, then the music - and things are just getting underway - has been spectacular with military bands and the church choral, and other groups performing and still coming up to perform.

But again, the family and the president himself, he did make a conscious effort to kind of strip it down. And there is a good deal of contrast from what we saw just a few years back at the Ronald Reagan funeral, the last really big funeral of this kind in this town.

There is no military fighter-jet flyover, no horse-drawn caisson carrying the casket, no rider-less horse with the boots and the stirrup backwards. Watching the president's family, they were so moved as they witnessed the Honor Guard carrying the flag-draped casket from the rotunda of the Capitol. It's the place that he's served for 25 years before moving onto the vice presidency and eventually the presidency. It was a place that he truly loved. And they all stood there and you can see them, their eyes welling as they watched him carried from this place for the last time.

MONTAGNE: You mentioned just now President Bush escorting Betty Ford into the church to the cathedral. Tell us more about the mourners there.

GONYEA: There are a number of former presidents - the first President Bush. President Carter is there. President Clinton is there. He's seated next to his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton. Around the crowd you can see the former House speaker Dennis Hastert; right behind him, the incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi. World leaders - I saw former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Perez, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. There are Supreme Court justices there. People like Rudy Giuliani, also the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, Clarence Thomas I saw. So it's really a wide array of people.

MONTAGNE: President Bush is among those who will offer a eulogy to President Ford. What's he expected to say?

GONYEA: He will speak, as will his father, as will former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and Henry Kissinger, who was President Ford's secretary of state and national security adviser. They will all speak. We've gotten some brief excerpts of what President Bush will say, and he will talk about how Gerald Ford assumed the presidency when the nation needed a leader of character and humility. I'm quoting here, “and we found it in the man from Grand Rapids.” He said President Ford's time in office was brief but that he made a powerful impact on the office and on the country.

MONTAGNE: Don, thanks very much. NPR's White House correspondent.

We close with music from the funeral service for President Gerald Ford.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

This is NPR News.

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