California Paying Last Respects to Reagan

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

The body of Ronald Reagan, accompanied by a fragile Nancy Reagan, arrived Monday at his presidential library to begin nearly a week of journeying across America that will end with his return to California for burial on a hilltop.

A motorcade took the flag-draped casket and the Reagan family on a 40-mile drive from a Santa Monica funeral home to the library, where flags at half-staff gently waved under an overcast sky.

A military band saluted the arriving entourage with "Hail to The Chief" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee," then the coffin was placed inside the library with eight armed forces members standing guard while Mrs. Reagan was escorted to her seat.

After a ceremony for the family, the 93-year-old former president was to lie in repose at the library through Tuesday night, giving Californians a chance to pay their final respects to the man who was their governor from 1967 to 1975.

The 40-mile drive began after members of the armed forces carried the casket from the mortuary in Santa Monica to a hearse while Mrs. Reagan looked on.

Clusters of people watched from overpasses and roadsides as the motorcade headed north on Interstate 405 and then west toward Simi Valley on the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Motorcycle officers cleared traffic from the freeways ahead of the hearse, limousine and accompanying vehicles.

Along the way it passed beneath a huge American flag suspended between the ladders of two firetrucks on an overpass. Traffic on the other side of the freeway came to a halt.

A banner hung along the route through Porter Ranch declared, "God bless you Ronald & Nancy." At another overpass, a banner proclaimed, "God bless the Gipper."

Earlier, Mrs. Reagan, 82, accompanied by children Ron and Patti, paused 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, wearing a black suit and white pearls, read some of the messages.

"Thank you for changing the world," said one handwritten note, and the words "Thank you, Ronald Reagan" were drawn across a map of the United States.

Eighty-five-year-old Peggy Sheffey said she drove to the funeral home from the nearby Mar Vista area of Los Angeles to "just feel closer" to the man she had never seen in person.

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

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.

The national funeral will be Friday 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.

Mourners also gathered at Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon, Ill.

Ken Dunwoody, who grew up outside Dixon, said Reagan, while an icon of Republican politics, transcended political partisanship. "I just think of him as being an American," said Dunwoody, 82. "I wish we all could get back to that."

The Reagan family's spokeswoman said Mrs. Reagan was thankful for the thousands of expressions of sympathy and, despite her sadness, relieved that her husband was no longer struggling with Alzheimer's disease.

When Reagan announced in a letter to the public in 1994 that he had Alzheimer's, he said he was embarking on "the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."

"I can tell you most certainly that while it is an extremely sad time for Mrs. Reagan, there is definitely a sense of relief that he is no longer suffering, and that he has gone to a better place," said spokeswoman Joanne Drake. "It's been a really hard 10 years for her."

In a piece written for Time magazine before Reagan's death Saturday, Mrs. Reagan remembered her husband as "a man of strong principles and integrity" who felt his greatest accomplishment was finding a safe end to the Cold War.

"I think they broke the mold when they made Ronnie," she wrote in the article appearing Monday. "He had absolutely no ego, and he was very comfortable in his own skin; therefore, he didn't feel he ever had to prove anything to anyone."

Former President Carter said Sunday that the death of Reagan, who defeated him in the 1980 presidential election, was "a sad day for our country."

"I probably know as well as anybody what a formidable communicator and campaigner that President Reagan was. It was because of him that I was retired from my last job," Carter said before teaching Sunday school in his hometown of Plains, Ga.

Bush, in France to commemorate D-Day, recalled that 20 years earlier Reagan had come to Normandy on the anniversary of the June 6, 1944, invasion.

"He was a courageous leader himself and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom, and today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan," Bush said.

In an essay on the op-ed page of Monday's New York Times, former Sen. Bob Dole wrote that "Ronald Reagan is smiling upon us today because we are working on what he could not complete."

"Not only did he use his grace, charm, wit and indomitable optimism, he used his strength of character to convey the greatness of America," Dole wrote.

Reagan will be buried in a crypt beneath a memorial site at the library some 45 miles north of Los Angeles.

A curved wall adorned with shrubbery and ivy lines the memorial and has a three-line inscription from Reagan: "I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life."

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On the Net:

http://www.ronaldreaganmemorial.com


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