San Diego Union Tribune

June 10, 2004

People's hero at rest
Farewell to the chief

Grant Biniasz
and Simone Finney

WASHINGTON Former President Reagan lay in state under the Capitol dome yesterday after a highly choreographed and symbolic ceremony befitting the former actor, whose presidency was marked by careful stagecraft and a harkening back to American traditions.

Thousands of mourners lined the route as Reagan's flag-draped casket was taken to Capitol Hill upon a horse-drawn caisson, trailed by a solitary riderless horse, in the waning light of afternoon.

Many mourners had waited all day in blistering heat and oppressive humidity to watch the historic procession and to line up for a public vigil in the Capitol Rotunda that will continue until tomorrow morning.

Along the procession route, some spoke of the 40th president as an iconic figure, reflecting the aura of gung-ho optimism Reagan cultivated for himself.

"He took this country from a hand-wringing, worry-about-everything state to hope for a better one," said Ken Loveland, a Navy veteran from nearby Fairfax, Va.

"There's no one else we would do this for, outside of family," said Angela Ucci, who with her husband had driven from New York to pay their final respects. "He gave us back our country. It was in bad shape and he gave it back to us."

Those sentiments were echoed by officials from around the globe who gathered for a state funeral ceremony in the Rotunda yesterday. They credited Reagan with lifting the nation out of a "powerful malaise" and bringing an end to the Cold War by standing up to the Soviet Union.

While historians are still considering Reagan's legacy, the day's events were unrelentingly upbeat, bathing Reagan in a heroic glow.

"Ronald Reagan was more than an historic figure. He was a providential man who came along just when our nation and the world most needed him," said Vice President Dick Cheney.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush are scheduled to pay their respects this evening after they return from a summit of world leaders in Sea Island, Ga.

Where to tune in

In conjunction with network and cable news coverage, most of San Diego's TV news stations will carry tomorrow's state funeral of former President Reagan.

The president's casket will be removed from the Capitol Rotunda at 7:30 a.m. PDT. Its procession to Washington National Cathedral will begin 15 minutes later.

The national funeral service is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m.

After the speeches yesterday, Nancy Reagan strode to the bier and smoothed the flag and patted the casket as tears welled in her eyes.

Washington's first presidential funeral in 31 years is following a lengthy, detailed script dictated by military protocol and the Reagans' wishes. It will culminate in a national funeral service at Washington National Cathedral and a national day of mourning tomorrow, followed by the return of Reagan's casket to California for interment at sunset on the grounds of his presidential library in Simi Valley.

Reagan's body was brought here yesterday after more than 100,000 people viewed his coffin at his library. Drivers and crowds watching from overpasses paid their respects as the motorcade made its way along U.S. 101 to Naval Base Ventura County in Point Mugu.

Reagan's casket, accompanied by his wife and family, was flown across the country in one of the Boeing 747s that serve as Air Force One.

After the casket was lowered from the back of the plane at Andrews Air Force Base, a military band played "Hail to the Chief" while a 21-gun salute boomed in the background.

The casket was then carried by motorcade, moving at a steady 20 mph, through the Maryland and Virginia suburbs to downtown Washington.

As Nancy Reagan, wearing a black dress and a gold necklace, emerged from a limousine on Constitution Avenue between the White House and the Washington Monument, the crowd applauded.

The former first lady, who was escorted by Army Maj. Gen. Galen Jackman, commander of the Military District of Washington, acknowledged the crowd with nods and words of thanks.

In one of the most stirring rites of the day, eight military pallbearers lifted the casket onto a horse-drawn caisson, made in 1918 and originally used to transport a 75-millimeter cannon. Six black horses, with three riders from the Army's 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment in blue wool uniforms, slowly pulled the caisson east toward Capitol Hill.

A riderless former racehorse named Sgt. York slowly trotted behind the wagon, often becoming skittish amid the applause of the crowd and the drumbeats of the military bands.

The horse wore an empty saddle, and a pair of boots sat backward in the stirrups, symbolizing the warrior who will never ride again and a commander's final look back at his troops.

The boots, provided by the Reagan library, had belonged to the former president.

Nancy Reagan followed in a limousine, waving to the crowd.

"God bless you, Nancy," one man called out.

"Missing man"
Shattering the hushed tones of the funeral procession as it neared the Capitol, 21 Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles roared overhead at a ground-rumbling altitude of 1,000 feet. Executing a "missing man" maneuver, one pilot shot skyward, leaving a hole in the formation.

There were also more homespun tributes.

David Bohannon, 27, a Lancaster native, raised a large California state flag alongside the parade route. "President Reagan was a good president and also a good governor," said Bohannon, a graduate student at the University of Maryland who waited almost seven hours for the procession. "His role as governor gets overlooked but there was a lot going on in the '60s and he did a good job of holding everything together."

Bohannon added that Reagan was an example of a "real Californian. He showed that California is not just Malibu and Berkeley."

As dusk began to settle over the city, the cortege arrived at the Capitol. Following another 21-gun salute, the casket was lifted from the caisson and slowly carried up the 116 steps of the west entrance, where in 1981 Reagan was the first president to be sworn in eschewing the traditional east-front inauguration.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" played as Nancy Reagan watched from the steps, grasping Jackman's arm as she had at funeral events in California.

The military pallbearers carried the casket into the Rotunda, where it was placed atop a catafalque, a wooden bier made in 1865 to support the casket of Abraham Lincoln.

The Reagan family, members of Congress and other officials formed a circle around the casket as a hush fell.

House Chaplain Daniel P. Coughlin broke the silence with a prayer, saying Reagan "brought humility to greatness and presided over embracing life to its natural end and dying with dignity, surrounded by love."

Reagan died of pneumonia at age 93 after battling Alzheimer's disease for a decade.

Thatcher on hand
Numerous dignitaries filed by Reagan's casket yesterday to pay their respects, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

After the ceremony, the Rotunda was opened to the public for viewing.

By one estimate, nearly 200,000 mourners were expected to file by the coffin by tomorrow morning, when it will be transported to Washington National Cathedral for a national funeral service.

Bush and his father, who was Reagan's vice president for eight years and succeeded him as president, will be among the eulogists.

"It was almost surreal to think Reagan was in the casket," said Ames Tiedeman, 37, of Austin, Texas, who waited in line for three hours. "The country without Reagan in it is not the same country. He was a father figure for our generation."

Some mourners staked out their positions as early as 5 a.m. More than 100 people were treated for heat-related illnesses, including some military personnel.

The Capitol was briefly evacuated and crowds were ordered to move back from the building after a private plane strayed into restricted airspace. Hundreds of people scattered in panic after one police officer yelled, "You have one minute to impact!"

But officials quickly determined that the aircraft, which was bringing Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher to the ceremonies, was no threat. The incident occurred about 20 minutes before the plane carrying Reagan's casket landed.

Copley News Service staffers Jerry Kammer and George Condon contributed to this report.