COLUMBIA - Strom Thurmond was a war hero in life and an ardent supporter of the military during his 48 years in the U.S. Senate, and will be given the hauntingly solemn honors of a soldier today during his funeral service in Columbia and his burial in Edgefield, the place he was born more than a century ago.
"He was a soldier's soldier," said Maj. Gen. Stanhope Spears, the commander of the South Carolina National Guard, who will present the folded flag from Mr. Thurmond's casket to his wife, Nancy Moore Thurmond, at graveside. "We just lost a real, true friend and a true leader."
Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are to be among the dignitaries at Mr. Thurmond's full-military funeral service at the First Baptist Church of Columbia.
Mr. Thurmond will be eulogized by U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.; state Sen. John Courson, a key member of Mr. Thurmond's political organization; William "Billy" Wilkins, a former aide and chief judge of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Edgefield businessman and family friend Bettis Rainsford; and state Sen. Kay Patterson, a Democrat who endorsed Mr. Thurmond during several re-election campaigns.
Mr. Courson said most members of the South Carolina Legislature would attend the 1 p.m. funeral service. More than 50 congressional representatives from Washington also are expected to attend, U.S. Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. told funeral organizers.
Scripture from the Old Testament will be read, including Isaiah 40:28-31 and Psalms 30:1-5, Mr. Courson said. The hymn How Great Thou Art will be sung, as will On Eagles Wings, he said. The closing hymn for the 75-minute ceremony in Columbia will be Amazing Grace.
Mr. Thurmond's body is scheduled to arrive in Edgefield at about 4 p.m. for burial with full military honors in the Thurmond family plot at Willowbrook Cemetery, next to Edgefield First Baptist Church.
Political heavyweights from Washington and South Carolina might dominate the scene. But Mr. Thurmond, who was elected to state, local or federal posts in eight decades, touched the lives of thousands in the state with his dogged determination to cut through bureaucratic red tape and get them a passport or locate a loved one serving in the military overseas during a family crisis.
"He's South Carolina's walking history," said Joseph Crawford, 37, of Bamberg, who viewed Mr. Thurmond's casket at the Capitol on Sunday. "You could pick up the phone and know he would flat get it done."
Of all his duties during his record-setting service as a U.S. senator, Mr. Thurmond often said he cherished most his post of chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee late in his career.
Thousands of people are expected to attend his funeral service and burial and line the streets of Columbia and Edgefield during the military processions to the church and the family plot.
At 12:30 p.m. today, his casket will be taken from the Statehouse and placed on a South Carolina National Guard caisson pulled by six white and gray horses, led by a white, riderless horse with boots turned backward in the stirrups, said Maj. Gen. Spears.
After a motorcade brings Mr. Thurmond's casket to the hometown where he spent the last six months of his life, that same unit will place it on a caisson drawn by four horses at the Edgefield County Courthouse for a procession around the courthouse square and the four blocks that lead to the cemetery.
An honor squad that handles burial duty at Arlington National Cemetery, including soldiers from the famed Third Infantry Division, dubbed The Old Guard, will carry Mr. Thurmond's coffin into the church for the full military funeral service and the burial in Edgefield.
Three rounds from seven riflemen will be fired during Mr. Thurmond's burial in a 21-gun salute, said U.S. Army Capt. Joe Janczyk, the commander of the honor guard.