A Final Salute in a Hall of Heroes; Ronald Reagan Rests in State in the Capitol

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 10, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Final Salute in a Hall of Heroes; Ronald Reagan Rests in State in the Capitol


Byline: Stephen Dinan and Jon Ward, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Capitol dome became the focus for a nation in mourning for former President Ronald Reagan, whose remains were delivered by horse-drawn caisson yesterday to the Rotunda, where he will lie in state through tomorrow morning.

Surrounded by statues of the nation's greatest heroes, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Dick Cheney eulogized Mr. Reagan.

"Ronald Reagan was more than a historic figure. He was a providential man who came along just when our nation and the world most needed him," Mr. Cheney said. "And believing as he did that there is a plan at work in each life, he accepted not only the great duties that came to him, but also the great trials that came near the end."

Several groups of eight pall bearers, two from each branch of the armed services in each group, carried Mr. Reagan's body up the steps of the West Front, over the spot where he was sworn in as 40th president in 1981, and into the nation's grandest funeral parlor, the majestic Rotunda that stands at the center of the Capitol and, therefore, the city of Washington.

Mr. Reagan had been here before - he made history in 1985 when he took his second oath of office inside the Rotunda, the first president to do so, driven indoors by a bitter January day. And, in 1984, he honored the unknown soldier from the Vietnam War.

Attendance in the chamber was restricted to members of Congress, the Washington diplomatic corps, justices from the Supreme Court, President Bush's Cabinet, and Reagan family and a few friends. Some of the members of Congress, trying to see over the standing-room crowd, stood on the benches.

Mr. Reagan's wife, Nancy, sat throughout the solemn 45-minute ceremony, while her husband was eulogized by Mr. Cheney, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens.

Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, noted Mr. Reagan's Midwestern roots.

"It is altogether fitting and proper that he has returned to this Capitol Rotunda, like another great son of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, so the nation can say 'goodbye,'" Mr. Hastert said.

Mr. Cheney said the former president was different from many of those Washington often honors, though, because his stature has only grown as history continues to judge him right.

"It's the nature of the city of Washington that men and women arrive, leave their mark and go their way. Some figures who seemed quite large and important in their day are sometimes forgotten or remembered with ambivalence," the vice president said. "Yet, nearly a generation after the often impatient debates of the Reagan years, what lingers from that time is almost all good. And this is because of the calm and kind man who stood at the center of events."

Earlier in the day, crowds 30 deep in places lined Constitution Avenue in the 90-degree heat to watch the former president's casket pass.

Thousands more lined up outside the Capitol to pay respects, waiting until the conclusion of the official, invitation-only state funeral ceremony for the opportunity to walk past the flag-draped casket.

Police have said that they expect up to 150,000 mourners to pass through before 7 a.m. tomorrow.

The remains of the former president, who died Saturday at 93 after years of battling Alzheimer's disease, arrived at Andrews Air Force Base on board Air Force Two, and a funeral procession carried the casket to the corner of 16th Street and Constitution Avenue downtown.

Along the route into the District, flag-waving crowds lined Suitland Parkway, Interstate 395 and the George Washington Parkway, welcoming Mr. Reagan on his last visit to Washington.

When the hearse stopped in front of the White House at about 6 p.m. to deposit the casket to the caisson, the traditional two-wheeled military wagon, the crowd gave Mrs.

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