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CHURCH LEADER BURIED BESIDE WIFE. CACHE PAYS TRIBUTE AS CORTEGE PASSES.

SHARE CHURCH LEADER BURIED BESIDE WIFE. CACHE PAYS TRIBUTE AS CORTEGE PASSES.

After the formality of the service in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, a funeral procession took President Benson's remains to a simpler setting for burial.

He was interred Saturday in the Whitney, Idaho, cemetery beside his wife of many years, Flora Smith Amussen Benson, who died in 1992. The president's burial site in the small, tree-dotted cemetery is surrounded by a remarkable number of gravestones that also bear the Benson name.Cache County residents paid tribute to a native son coming home. In communities from Logan to Whitney, small groups gathered along the highway to await the funeral cortege.

Some held signs saying "We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet" or draped American flags on their vehicles, denoting President Benson's many years of service to his country. Although it was a Saturday, many families dressed in their Sunday best out of respect for the man they revered as a prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The quiet community of Whitney, population several hundred, likely doubled as people flocked to the cemetery to attend the burial or drive past the Benson family home on a rural road in the town.

At the cemetery, members of the LDS Church's Council of the Twelve formed two ranks as pallbearers carried the casket between them to the gravesite.

Speaking to several hundred people gathered at the cemetery, President Gordon B. Hinckley noted "the return of the native after a marvelous career that saw his influence spread across the world."

President Hinckley noted that President Benson had often expressed a love for Cache Valley as his "real home."

"He would have been familiar with this cotton flying in the air," President Hinckley said, referring to the mini snowstorm that fell from cottonwood trees in the cemetery.

President Benson, the 13th prophet of the LDS Church, is only the third leader to be buried outside of Salt Lake City. Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church, is buried in Nauvoo, Ill.; Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president, is buried in Brigham City.

President Benson's oldest son, Reed, dedicated the grave for his father. Reed Benson expressed gratitude for his father's influence with his family and in his country.

He said that Ezra Taft Benson was a true servant and expressed thankfulness for the promise of salvation offered by Jesus Christ's sacrifice. The Savior's empty tomb assures that every tomb will be empty, Reed Benson said.

After the dedication of the grave, the audience spontaneously broke into the hymn "We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet," the LDS church membership's musical declaration of a belief in a divinely appointed leader. Many in the crowd were moved to tears.

A number of Idaho officials were present or sent condolences to the family, but the burial service was essentially a gathering of common people. Still, the number of LDS Church dignitaries caused one Whitney resident to comment, "Never before have there been so many general authorities in Franklin County at one time."

But the conversations among the hundreds who traveled to the cemetery were of the Benson family in its private setting away from the notoriety of church and political leadership.

After the brief service, family members, including grandchildren, gathered under a canopy to pay their last respects before the brown coffin covered with blankets of white roses. One child approached the gravestone and ran her hand over the flowers etched in the stone.

The family gathered afterward in the Whitney Ward chapel, where local church members served them dinner.