June 9, 2004
Eurekan helps plan state funeral
Coast Guard Lt. Scott Wolland is playing a critical role in Reagan's service
By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - When the funeral procession carrying the body of former President Ronald Reagan rolls solemnly toward the U.S. Capitol tonight, Coast Guard Lt. Scott Wolland might - just might - be able to relax.
Wolland, 30, of Eureka is one of the Coast Guard representatives planning logistics for Reagan's state funeral. He finds himself playing a small but critical role in the historic funeral of a president he strongly admired.
"It's a huge logistical effort to get all the right people in the right place at the right time," said Wolland, one of hundreds involved in the preparation for the funeral and surrounding events that are expected to draw at least 20 heads of state and an estimated 100,000 mourners.
The ceremonial aspects of the week's events are planned by the U.S. Military District of Washington, D.C. Each branch of the Armed Forces provides members and support. The Coast Guard is supplying about 500 people to march in the funeral procession, line the procession route, serve as ushers and
participate in a joint service honor guard at the U.S. Capitol and at the funeral at the National Cathedral.
When Wolland reported to work at 4:30 a.m. Monday, the funeral operations center at Fort Leslie McNair was deceptively quiet. But by noon, the phones were ringing off the hook. As many as 40 people from all branches of the military manned the hastily installed phones and laptop computers.
The Coast Guard was short about 100 pairs of white gloves for dress uniforms, a problem Wolland handed off to someone off-site. He also had to find an extra 80 ceremonial rifles for a marching unit from Coast Guard headquarters that didn't have enough. He arranged for recruits from the training center in Cape May, New Jersey, to supply them.
"The epitome of military formality occurs for a state funeral," Wolland said.
Then, volunteers who were recruited to drive in the funeral procession got lost on the way to practice and ended up at the wrong Army base in suburban Virginia.
Wolland's greatest fear? A breakdown of the bus carrying the Coast Guard cadets from the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut to march in Wednesday's funeral procession.
"That's why we have them arriving a day early," Wolland said.
A final full-scale dress rehearsal was scheduled for 9 p.m. until midnight Tuesday.
Wolland, a reservist assigned to the Marine Safety Detachment in Peoria, was mobilized for a third yearlong tour of duty last fall and assigned to Washington to help implement a new port security law. He had worked previously as an intern for Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, in 1997. When Wolland volunteered in February to serve as the Coast Guard representative for planning state funerals and other joint ceremonies, he never imagined he would ever actually get to work on one.
And, getting the opportunity to help plan the funeral of Reagan has a special significance for him. He heard the former president speak at Eureka College in 1992 when Wolland was a senior at Eureka High School.
While he doesn't remember details of the speech, he remembers laughing at Reagan's jokes.
"I remember that it was a big deal. I had been, at that young age, influenced by the major historical events of Reagan's presidency," he recalled. In particular, the end of the Cold War "had a huge impact on my personal political development."
In his off-duty time, he hopes to stand among hundreds of thousands of others to watch the horse-drawn caisson traveling along Constitution Avenue from the White House to the Capitol.
He also hopes to be among the throngs of people late today or Thursday lining up and going through security checkpoints to view the closed casket as Reagan's body lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
"Even though I joined the military after his presidency, I think that this week especially has been a true honor and privilege to be able, in a sense, to serve him," Wolland said.