Two local women participate in Ford funeral processions

When a former president of our country dies, the funeral and celebration of his life is done with an elaborate amount of planning, work and precision. Astonishingly, Carlton County had four servicepeople who were a part of the small circle of tho...

When a former president of our country dies, the funeral and celebration of his life is done with an elaborate amount of planning, work and precision. Astonishingly, Carlton County had four servicepeople who were a part of the small circle of those entrusted to handle the events surrounding the recent passing of former President Gerald Ford, including Lindsey Fistler and Erica Smith.

Gerald Ford was responsible for the Military Procurement Bill of 1975 - a bill that made women eligible for appointment and admission to the service academies for classes entering in 1976. Because of the former president's work in passing that bill, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd class and Ceremonial Guardsman Lindsey Fistler, formerly of Cloquet and currently of Wrenshall, was directly involved in the ceremony at the Capitol building. Also, 2001 Cloquet Senior High School graduate SN (Seaman) Erica Smith took part in flyway ceremonies at airfields in Palm Springs, Calif., and Grand Rapids, Mich., and at the funeral ceremonies for Ford at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids.

Fistler stood cordon when his casket was brought down the Capitol steps, and Smith traveled the entire country in a matter of only 24 hours as part of the flyway team involved with Ford's funeral.

Capitol Steps

Fistler's part in the former president's funeral, with the exception of the Body Bearers, kept her team closer to the events than anyone. She was part of a cordon that marched on either side of the Capitol as servicemen first carried Ford's casket up the Capitol steps, and later when the casket was brought down.


"It required a lot of practicing over and over again until it looked just about perfect," said Fistler. "You have to stand so still and march in perfect unison - and it was helpful we had cooperative weather, too."

Fistler, a 2003 graduate of Cloquet Senior High School, claims that while she remained completely professional and by-the-book with the ceremonies, it was easy to become awestruck by the people surrounding her, like Betty Ford and Vice President Dick Cheney.

"Of course, the attention is entirely focused away from everybody except the casket and Ford's family most of the time, but it was quite a jolt knowing you're on all three major national television networks at the same time," said Fistler. "When the casket was first brought up the Capitol steps on Saturday, I was at the very top of the stairs near Betty Ford. I could see her out of the corner of my eye, and that was very cool. The last day I was at the bottom of the stairs and close to Vice President Dick Cheney. When I joined the military, I never expected to see these kinds of things. But as a member of the ceremonial guard, we do - to a point - expect to be near people like that."

Aside from taking part in the celebration of a former U.S. president's life, Fistler also had an even closer encounter with Cheney only a few months ago.

"In the Navy, my training is as a military chef," added Fistler. "So my commanding officer actually gave me some on-the-job training at Dick Cheney's house, cooking for him. I got to meet him, his wife and bring them their food. I even got to pet his dog! It was something I never imagined I'd do."

Fistler claims she's beyond fortunate to be part of such an important event such as the celebration of a man who devoted much of his life to the betterment of this country.

"It was just a really cool experience and I was happy and honored to be a part of it," added Fistler. "I'm really glad I was there."

Standing Guard at the Airfields


Smith didn't go to Washington. However, when it came to Ford's funeral events, her involvement wasn't as high profile as Fistler's - but equally important - and training was intensive.

"When we first found out about President Ford's death, we only had a short time to gather our things and go," said Smith. "Starting off from D.C., we took a C17 straight to California, where he passed away. The very first day we were out there, we started training for the airfield cordon to take place."

According to Smith, being involved in airfield cordons meant she was one of the members of the military standing on either side of the plane as the casket was carried to the plane where it was loaded on a truck that hydraulically lifted the casket to a door in the back of Air Force One.

"Taking place in the airfield cordons meant we stood on either side of the plane saluting with our rifles," said Smith. "Only hours after Ford's casket left Palm Springs, we went to Michigan and trained for the airfield cordon there, too. When the casket arrived in Michigan after the ceremonies in Washington, D.C., we did the same type of cordon there as we did in Palm Springs. Soon after that, we trained for the chapel cordon at Grace Episcopal Church and completed that cordon there, too. It was fairly hectic."

Smith also recently became only the second female ever on the Navy's Ceremonial Guard Drill Team, which is quite a feat in itself. Being the only female involved in the two airfield cordons and chapel cordon meant a lot to Smith, whose two-year contract with the Ceremonial Guard will be up in May. Next, she'll go to fleet to train in Great Lakes, Ill., as a corpsman (field nurse).

"Few people get to say that they've been a part of a historic event like this," said Smith. "I appreciate the things that President Ford was doing for women before I was even born and I'm proud to be giving something back to his family by honoring his memory."

Pine Journal Editor Mat Gilderman can be contacted at: .

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