Nation pays its respects to Richard M. Nixon Farewell to a president

April 28, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Sun Staff Correspondent

YORBA LINDA, CALIF — YORBA LINDA, Calif. -- Richard Milhous Nixon, dominant, divisive and accomplished 37th president of the United States, was laid to rest yesterday behind the house his father built at the beginning of a century his son did so much to shape.

Twenty years after he resigned the presidency in disgrace, Mr. Nixon was eulogized by President Clinton in the presence of all four living ex-presidents.

Mr. Clinton sounded the theme of reconciliation that dominated the 75-minute funeral, calling yesterday a "day for his family, his friends and his nation to remember President Nixon's life in totality. To them, let us say, 'May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.' "

Speaking for his country, Mr. Clinton added, "On behalf of former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and on behalf of a grateful nation, we bid farewell to Richard Milhous Nixon."

It was an extraordinary day of reconciliation. Strong men cried eulogizing Richard Nixon. Proud men expressed humility. Partisan men laid aside old wounds.

Henry A. Kissinger, who served as Mr. Nixon's secretary of state, appeared to choke back tears as he led the audience of 2,800 invited friends, family, colleagues and former adversaries in saying "goodbye to our gallant friend. . . . He stood on pinnacles that dissolved into precipice. He achieved greatly, and he suffered deeply, but he never gave up."

Quoting from Shakespeare, Mr. Kissinger added, "He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again."

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole predicted that "the second half of the 20th century will be known as the Age of Nixon."

The Kansas senator, a stoic who has carried his World War II injuries for 50 years without complaint, broke down in tears as he concluded his eulogy.

This was the first funeral of a sitting or former U.S. president since Lyndon B. Johnson was buried in January 1973. It was, in many respects, a celebration of American democracy as well as the funeral for an 81-year-old statesman.

After the eulogies, the Air Force's 338th Fighter Wing did the traditional flyover. The U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard fired four 105 mm howitzers in a 21-gun salute that reverberated through the grounds.

Mr. Nixon's body was carried to the grave by a military guard while the Marine Band played "The Star-Spangled Banner."

After a rifle company fired a second 21-gun salute and a Marine bugler played "Taps," the American flag that draped Mr. Nixon's mahogany casket was folded and handed to his eldest daughter, Tricia Nixon Cox.

His body was then committed to a grave of soft California dirt in a rose garden next to his wife Pat, who died nine months ago.

"Dick Nixon's heart, shaped by the grit and mores of this town, never left California," said California Gov. Pete Wilson, who described himself as "an eager young advance man" of 29 who once sought out Mr. Nixon's advice.

The service took place at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace here, the most-visited of the presidential libraries, on a blustery Southern California evening.

It began with several pieces by the Marine Band, including "America," and "Hail to the Chief." The Rev. Billy Graham opened the service with a prayer for Mr. Nixon; a Navy chorus then sang a rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" so rousing that it brought a smile to the face of Julie Nixon Eisenhower, the former president's younger daughter.

Outside the 9-acre compound, which includes the house Mr. Nixon lived in as a boy, passers-by were still trying to move nearer the funeral, which was closed to the public. In the previous 26 hours, some 40,000 people, most of them from Southern California, filed by Mr. Nixon's closed casket.

At the funeral last night, dignitaries and old friends came from around the world. The size of the guest list provided testimony to the reach of Mr. Nixon's influence -- and to the length of time he was on the world scene.

The four living ex-presidents sat in the front row, with their wives and with Mr. Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On the other side of the aisle, also in the first row, were Mr. Nixon's daughters and their husbands, his four grandchildren and his sole surviving sibling, his brother Edward.

Former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, who quit the office in a plea bargain, was also here, in a reconciliation of sorts. Mr. Agnew confided to his former speechwriter, William Safire, who also was a guest at the event, that he and Mr. Nixon had not spoken since Mr. Agnew's forced resignation in 1973.

Chaim Herzog, former president of Israel, made the trip. So did Edward Heath, former prime minister of England. Some 87 nations were represented, library officials said.

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