Have They Finally Buried Reagan's Corpse
All right, have they finally buried Reagan? I can't even count how many bottles of rye I've had watching all these memorials and tributes to the Gipper. The next thing they'll do is build a masoleum for him in DC and put his stuffed corpse on permanent display, like they did with that Lenin guy in the Soviet Union.
Nation Bids Final Farewell to Reagan
By NANCY BENAC, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Mustering its most magnificent tributes for America's 40th president, the nation bid a final farewell to Ronald Reagan (news - web sites) on Friday in a funeral praising the former president for his lifelong optimism and certainty about America and its place in the world. With his sunset burial, said President Bush (news - web sites), "a great American story will close."
Bush, whose father served as Reagan's vice president for eight years, celebrated the former president's steadiness, gentlemanly manner and firm convictions.
"We lost Ronald Reagan only days ago but we have missed him for a long time," Bush said, alluding to the former president's long battle with Alzheimer's disease (news - web sites). "It has been 10 years since he said his own farewell, yet it is still very sad and hard to let him go.
"Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to us."
In a moment of tenderness, Nancy Reagan visited her husband's casket in the Capitol Rotunda before the funeral cortege departed for Washington National Cathedral. She caressed the flag-draped coffin, gave it a kiss and several gentle pats and appeared to have one last talk with her husband of 52 years.
At the funeral service, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a close friend and ideological soulmate of Reagan, paid tribute to "Ronnie," as his friends knew him, for facing the world's greatest challenges with "almost a lightness of spirit."
"His politics had a freshness and optimism that won converts from every class and every nation ? and ultimately from the very heart of the evil empire," she said in taped remarks presented at the funeral. Thatcher, who has given up public speaking after a series of small strokes, recorded her remarks months ago.
America's four living ex-presidents ? Ford, Carter, Clinton, Bush ? and dozens of current and former world leaders were among those who assembled for the funeral. The cathedral's great bells pealed as Reagan's casket arrived in the rain and when it left. A rousing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" followed the eulogies.
Titans of power, past and present, sat shoulder-to-shoulder to pay their respects. There was former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, next to Thatcher, Britain's Prince Charles not far away, and the first President Bush and his wife, Barbara, one row behind the current President Bush and wife, Laura.
The elder Bush said Reagan was beloved because he was "strong and gentle."
"I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life," Bush said, his voice choked with emotion.
Reagan's ability to see humor in serious times was a recurring theme throughout the funeral, drawing an occasional smile from Mrs. Reagan and the family.
The senior Bush recalled a time when Reagan was asked about his meeting with South African Bishop Desmond Tutu and Reagan replied, "So-so."
"It was typical," Bush said. "It was wonderful."
Reagan's three surviving children, Patti Davis, Ron and Michael, sat alongside Mrs. Reagan at the cathedral. A daughter, Maureen, died from cancer in 2001.
American guns around the world were firing in Reagan's honor ? at noontime, 21-gun salutes at every U.S. military base with the artillery and manpower to do it; at dusk, another worldwide round of 50-gun salutes.
Reagan was being buried at sunset at a hilltopsite that he and Mrs. Reagan had selected at his presidential library in California.
It was all a fitting stage exit for the Hollywood-smooth former actor who died last Saturday at age 93. Reagan had been thinking about his last rites since he became president in 1981 and personally invited several speakers to take part.
Proud to have put the first woman on the Supreme Court, Reagan years ago asked Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (news - web sites) to read at his funeral. At his request, she read from John Winthrop's 1630 sermon that inspired Reagan's description of America as a shining "city upon a hill."
Thatcher and the first President Bush, too, got their speaking invitations long ago.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a good friend of the Reagans, remembered the former president as possessing "a rare and prized gift called leadership ? that ineffable and magical quality that sets some men and women apart."
Mrs. Reagan invited Irish tenor Ronan Tynan to sing Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria." The Reagans specified an interfaith service, inviting participants from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and other religions.
Reagan's honorary pallbearers were friends from throughout his life: former Reagan aides Michael Deaver and Frederick Ryan; entertainer Merv Griffin; his White House physician John Hutton, and Charles Wick, former Hollywood producer and former head of the U.S. Information Agency.
The casket was actually carried by "body bearers" drawn from each of the military services.
The cathedral's invitation-only crowd of 2,100 included Democratic presidential contender John Kerry (news - web sites), who canceled political events during the week of mourning.
Americans around the nation found ways to publicly mourn the president's passing. Church bells far and wide were ringing 40 times in honor of the nation's 40th president; Las Vegas casinos planned to dim their lights briefly Friday night. Several governors called for a moment of silence in their states during the funeral. In Illinois, where Reagan was born, Gov. Rod Blagojevich named a stretch of road for him.
Not since Lyndon Johnson died in 1973 has America gone through the high pomp and ritual associated with a presidential state funeral. Former President Nixon's family, acting on his wishes, bypassed the Washington traditions when he died in 1994.
The funeral was the final public commemoration of Reagan after a week of remembrance and pageantry. More than 100,000 Americans filed past Reagan's casket as it lay in repose at the presidential library in California before it was flown to Washington on Wednesday and borne on a caisson drawn by six horses to the Capitol Rotunda, where his body lay in state for 34 hours.
Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said more than 84,000 people had visited the Rotunda as of 5 a.m. EDT on Friday.
A steady crowd continued to file into the Capitol Rotunda throughout the night and into early Friday to pay tribute. Parents toted sleepy toddlers and a guide dog led its blind owner past the flag-draped casket. Several people wore T-shirts and buttons bearing Reagan's image, others clutched small American flags.
Police briefly extended the viewing past the planned 7 a.m. cutoff to accommodate people still waiting to get in.
The final family in the line came from Conyers, Ga., and drove all night with little expectation that they would be able to view Reagan's casket lying in state.
"I think we came on adrenaline," said Stephanie Guerry, 43.
Her husband Ted Guerry, 46, said that as he walked down the steps from the Capitol he felt, "numb and struck and awed."
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