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Former President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy in a 1992 photo.
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RONALD REAGAN: 1911-2004

Mourners gather for first of farewells

By Associated Press
Published June 8, 2004

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) - Nancy Reagan touched her cheek to the flag-covered casket, then made way for Americans by the thousands to pay respects Monday to Ronald Reagan before a cross-country journey to a state funeral in Washington.

A steady, near-silent stream of people - some saluting, some praying - circled through the rotunda of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where the body of the nation's 40th president will lie in repose through Tuesday before traveling to Washington. After Friday's state funeral, the body will return to California for a hilltop burial service at sunset.

A Marine Corps band played "Hail to the Chief" as eight armed forces members carried the casket into the presidential library, past a 10-foot-tall sculpture titled "After the Ride" depicting Reagan as a smiling cowboy with a Stetson in his hand.

The journey began at a Santa Monica funeral home, where the mahogany casket was placed aboard a hearse for a 40-mile drive to the library in Simi Valley.

Clusters of people watched from overpasses and roadsides as the motorcade headed north, then west on the Ronald Reagan Freeway, its path cleared by motorcycle officers. One banner hung along the route declared, "God bless you Ronald & Nancy." Another proclaimed, "God bless the Gipper."

Flags at half-staff fluttered under an overcast sky as the casket was carried into the library rotunda before a brief family service.

"As we were in procession, I couldn't help but think of the love and the outpouring that has begun in the nation for a great president, a great world leader and a faithful servant of almighty God," said the Rev. Michael Wenning, retired senior pastor at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, where Reagan had worshipped.

When the service ended, Mrs. Reagan, dressed in a black suit and pearls, walked to the casket, placing her left cheek against the flag's field of stars. Her daughter, Patti Davis, hugged her tightly and other family members joined them, placing hands on the casket.

Soon after the family departed, the first of many chartered buses arrived, bringing members of the public who had been waiting - in some cases for hours - for a chance to pay respects to Reagan, who died on Saturday after a 10-year struggle with Alzheimer's disease.

Between noon and 5 p.m., more than 9,200 people passed by the casket, said Melissa Giller, chief of staff for the library foundation. The library had prepared for 2,000 visitors an hour for 30 hours. Twenty-seven buses shuttled mourners about five miles from a college, which was shut down to provide parking.

Among the early arrivals were Arnold Schwarzenegger, like Reagan an actor-turned-governor, and California's first lady, Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan. Both crossed themselves.

Mourners, including many children, stood quietly in line as they waited to enter the library, then moved rapidly past the casket flanked by an honor guard representing all branches of the military. Some people carried carnations or tiny U.S. flags; dress ranged from dark suits and ties to Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses.

Mauchese Franklin, 31, from Laverne, said he had wanted to visit Reagan's library for years and was sad that his trip resulted from the former president's death.

Standing with his 8-year-old son, Franklin recalled that as a boy he stayed up late to listen to election returns from Reagan's presidential campaign.

"I couldn't wait to turn 18 to be able to vote," he said. "I can actually say he's the reason I am a registered Republican, even though everyone else in my family is a Democrat."

Mrs. Reagan, accompanied by Patti and son Ron, had paused earlier on her way into the funeral home as she passed a display of impromptu remembrances. American flags, flowers and jars of jelly beans - Reagan's favorite treat - were left along with notes, stuffed animals and candles in the spontaneous shrine.

Mrs. Reagan, 82, read some of the messages.

"Thank you for changing the world," said one handwritten note.

Roxanne Kubicek, 42, gave officers guarding the mortuary a card for Mrs. Reagan.

"I just wished her lots and lots of love," she said. "I admired the beautiful love that they have. I told her that their love will last for all eternity."

Peggy Sheffey, 85, said she drove to the funeral home from the nearby Mar Vista area to "just feel closer" to the man she had never seen in person.

"He's a wonderful man," she said, choking back tears. "He was so real, absolutely real. Down to earth. He didn't just think of himself. He thought of everybody else."

Besides Mrs. Reagan, Ron and Patti, others attending the service at the library included Reagan's son, Michael, and his family; Dennis Revell, husband of Reagan's late daughter Maureen; and Merv Griffin, the veteran entertainer and family friend.

On Wednesday, the former president's body is to be flown to Washington, D.C. Following a ceremony Wednesday night in the Capitol Rotunda, the body will lie in state there.

Friday will be a national day of mourning, with all federal offices and major financial markets closed. The state funeral will be held at Washington National Cathedral; President Bush will deliver a eulogy and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will be among the mourners.

The body will then be returned to Reagan's library in Simi Valley for a private burial service Friday evening. Reagan will be buried in a crypt beneath a memorial site at the library some 45 miles north of Los Angeles.

Praise for Reagan, and condolences to his family, streamed in from across the world. In a jarring contrast, a Cuban government radio station assailed Reagan's policies and said he "never should have been born."

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Reagan "will be remembered for his leadership and resolve during a period of momentous change in world affairs, as well as for the warmth, grace and humor with which he conducted affairs of state."



VIEWING THE CASKET: The casket will remain inside the library for public viewing until this evening. It will then be flown to Washington on Wednesday, where it will be placed on a horse-drawn caisson and led up Constitution Avenue to the Capitol by a solitary drummer. In the Capitol Rotunda, the former president will lie in state until Thursday evening.

PALLBEARERS: Honorary pallbearers selected: Frederick J. Ryan Jr., chairman of the board of the Ronald Reagan Foundation; Merv Griffin, entertainer and family friend; Charles Wick, head of the U.S. Information Agency during the Reagan administration; Michael Deaver, one of Reagan's top White House advisers; Dr. John Hutton, Reagan's longtime physician.


TODAY: At 9 p.m., Former President Gerald Ford appears on CNN's Larry King Live. At the same time, MSNBC's Deborah Norville focuses on widow Nancy Reagan, bringing in friends such as Mickey Rooney.

WEDNESDAY: At 6 p.m., all networks have live coverage of funeral procession to U.S. Capitol and state funeral that follows. At 9 p.m., former President George Bush appears on CNN's Larry King Live.

FRIDAY: At 11:30 a.m., all networks have live coverage of national funeral service at Washington National Cathedral. At 7:45 p.m., NBC has live coverage of ceremonies surrounding casket's arrival back in California.


FEDERAL FACILITIES: President Bush has ordered flags lowered to half-staff, the midpoint on the display pole, until July 5, 30 days after the former president's death.

FLAGS THAT CAN'T BE LOWERED: The American Legion says attaching a black ribbon or streamer to the top of the flag is an alternative. The ribbon should be the same width as a stripe on the flag and the same length as the flag. For a wall-mounted flag, three black mourning bows should be attached to the top edge of the flag, one at each corner and one in the center.


$20 BILL: Republican supporters in Congress are launching a campaign to have Reagan's image printed on the $20 bill. That would mean bumping former President Andrew Jackson. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., plans to introduce legislation today. SIGN GUESTBOOK: Visit to leave a comment on the death of the former president.

[Last modified June 8, 2004, 01:02:05]

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